Survey of London: Volume 40, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 2 (The Buildings). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1980.
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Upper Brook Street
All of the land in Upper Brook Street was developed under only four building agreements, each of which comprised a substantial block of land. The first of them was signed in 1721 and the other three in 1725, and the ensuing building leases of all the plots in the street (at first called Brook Street but by the 1740's known by its present name) were granted between 1728 and 1736. By 1734 almost all the houses east of Park Street had been built and occupied, but progress was much slower further west, only nine of the houses there being occupied by 1740, while those built on the shallow plots at the western extremity of the south side were not all completed and occupied until 1759. The pattern of development here was, in fact, substantially different from that to the east in Brook Street and Grosvenor Street, where many of the building agreements had comprised only two or three individual house plots and where most of the houses had been built and occupied as early as 1729.
In 1760, the year after the last house had been taken, there were fourteen titled inhabitants in the fifty-seven rated houses—a substantially smaller proportion than in Grosvenor Street, but greater than in Brook Street. Half of these titled residents were women, and in the whole street there were no less than twenty-six female householders. It was perhaps owing to this strong feminine presence here that houses were often to be had on lease for short-term occupation, as Lady Burgoyne, newly arrived in town in November 1752 and 'still sur le Pavé', described in a letter to the Earl of Guilford. 'We intend going into a Lodging House we have hired ready furnished in Upper Brook Street; it is a most shabby business as all these Lodging Houses are, but nevertheless extreamly expensive'; and three weeks later these fears were confirmed when the house proved to be 'a most horrid Place, … so excessively small that I am at a loss where to put my Boy when he comes hitherto'. (fn. 1)
Unlike Brook Street and Grosvenor Street, Upper Brook Street was not subject to commercial pressure from the east, outside the estate, and although the first inhabitants had included at least five tradesmen (all at or adjoining confined corner sites), their number had not increased by 1792, when the names of all but six of the householders in the street were listed in the court guide. (fn. 1) Upper Brook Street was, moreover, one of the streets to which the Grosvenor Board's new policy, introduced at about this time in the renewal of leases, of banning taverns, shops and 'any Art, Trade or Manufactory whatsoever', was most strictly applied; and by about 1835, when all the original leases had been renewed, the effect of this policy seems to have been (again unlike in Brook Street and Grosvenor Street) to rid Upper Brook Street of virtually all trade. (fn. 1) Residential purity as absolute as that of Grosvenor Square itself had, in fact, been achieved; and it was to be maintained virtually unimpaired until after 1939, diluted only by a growing number of doctors who no doubt combined professional with domestic use, and (after 1918) by one or two foreign legations.
The original house plots in the street varied considerably in size, having frontages ranging from fifteen to fifty-one feet; and there was even greater variation in their depth, those at or near the corners being in general shallow and having much smaller houses built upon them than in the main ranges of the street. Most of the original houses evidently had three main storeys over a basement and garrets, and although many of them have been altered almost beyond recognition, over twenty of them survive in some form. Nos. 20, 23 and 36 still have original internal features.
Alterations made in late-Georgian times may still be seen, the fanlight at No. 21 and the lengthened first-floor windows and projecting iron balcony at Nos. 35 and 36 (externally the best preserved houses in the street) being good examples (Plate 54a). No. 33 was transformed externally and internally by Robert Taylor in 1767–8, within little more than a decade of its first erection, and although subsequently much altered is still an important house (Plate 57). So too, until its demolition in c. 1935, was No. 6, built in 1732–3 by Edward Shepherd, seemingly with a stone or stucco front and a pediment, and lavishly reconstructed internally by Samuel Wyatt in 1787–8 (Plate 56).
More arresting external changes began during the reign of the second Marquess of Westminster from 1845 to 1869. His usual leasing policy here and in other comparable parts of the estate (e.g. Brook Street, Grosvenor Street, Upper Grosvenor Street and Grosvenor Square) was to grant short renewals of varying lengths arranged so that the leases of groups or ranges of houses would all in due course expire at the same time, thereby permitting the simultaneous rebuilding of adjacent houses. In the meantime, however, external changes could be required as a condition of renewal, and projecting porches, first-floor balustrades and window dressings, all in stucco, became the usual but not invariable order of the day, the designs often provided by the estate surveyor, Thomas Cundy II. Nos. 4, 19, 20, 23 and 24 all display variations of this treatment, which was often accompanied at or about the same time by the conversion of the original garrets into square attic storeys with another storey on top. No. 11, which also exhibits the Cundy recipe, is a complete rebuilding of 1852–3, probably designed by Henry Harrison.
But the second Marquess's successor, latterly the first Duke, directed his formidable rebuilding energies from 1869 to 1899 upon other less well-maintained parts of the estate, and, most exceptionally, Upper Brook Street contains no trace whatsoever of his very different taste. The field here was therefore clear for his grandson, the second Duke, under whom about one third of all the buildings in the street were rebuilt. Much of this work took place between 1905 and 1915, when fourteen houses were rebuilt, all except one (No. 54, by Ernest George, now demolished, Plate 55b) having the stone fronts then favoured by the Estate. Six of these (Nos. 1, 2, 16, 17, 18 and 39) were designed by Edmund Wimperis (sometimes with other members of his firm), who became the estate surveyor in 1910, and who after the war of 1914–18 was the architect of two more houses (Nos. 9 and 10) and of three blocks of flats, two of the latter being at corner sites and having their principal fronts to Park Street. Even after the lapse of more than forty years since his last work here, Upper Brook Street is still dominated by Wimperis's opulent manner, ranging from the pre-war Tudor of No. 1 (now altered) and the Beaux Arts of No. 2 to the inter-war red-brick and stone neo-Georgian of Nos. 9 and 10 or the chunky blocks of flats at Upper Feilde and Upper Brook Feilde (Plate 31a: see also Plates 44b, 49a, 49b in vol. XXXIX).
Many of these newcomers, and also many of the older houses in the street, were lavishly embellished internally, £20,000 being spent, for instance, by the tenant of No. 19 in 1903–4, with W. H. Romaine-Walker and Besant as his architects.
Much of this work was in the French taste, usually in the first-floor drawing-rooms, while neo-Georgian or Adam was popular downstairs.
During the last forty years the outward appearance of Upper Brook Street has changed very little, apart from the demolition of Nos. 54–56 in c. 1957 for the building of the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square; but there have been very great changes in the use of the buildings. Private residents, still overwhelmingly predominant in 1939, have largely given place (except in the blocks of flats) to offices, mostly used either by commercial companies, or by a variety of boards and associations, or by the professions, the doctors in this last category being less numerous than in the 1920's and 30's. In 1970 foreign diplomatic missions occupied five houses here.