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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The Rebuilding of Mount Street and Carlos Place
By the 1870's the current leases of property in Mount Street were mostly nearing expiry, and Edward Walford, writing in about 1876, spoke of the shops as 'irregular in plan and size, and by no means of the first calibre'. (fn. 1) It was clear to the Estate that nothing short of complete rebuilding could redeem the street.
The crucial preliminary decision that had to be taken concerned the St. George's workhouse, for which a renewal was requested in 1871 by the Guardians of St. George's Union but opposed by the Local Government Board, which thought the workhouse too small and wanted it moved. Though the Duke of Westminster set his face 'against driving the poor out of the parish of St. George' and was initially inclined to renew, by 1878 he had changed his mind on the grounds that an extension would interfere with the widening of Mount Street. (fn. 2) In compensation, he was in 1883 to sell a site off Buckingham Palace Road for a new workhouse. (fn. 3) In addition, he agreed in 1880 to sell the freehold of part of the workhouse site to the parish for rebuilding as offices for both the Vestry and the Guardians, and in the same year Thomas Cundy III produced a plan for extending Charles Street a short distance beyond Mount Street to the south, in order to give better access to the Catholic Church in Farm Street. (fn. 4) This short cul-desac was eventually to be formed in 1891–2, but an associated scheme for building a road through the old burial ground behind never come to fruition. Instead, the ground was laid out as the St. George's Hanover Square Gardens in 1889–90 and adorned with plants, shrubs and a small fountain topped by a rearing horse in bronze, given in 1891 by the estate agent Henry Lofts and designed by Ernest George and Peto. (fn. 5)
In 1884 the St. George's Vestry invited designs for their new offices from six architects. From those submitted they selected a scheme entitled 'Economy B' by Albert J. Bolton, which after some alterations suggested by the Duke was built in 1885–7 at a cost of some £15,000 by G. H. and A. Bywater. (fn. 6) It was a plainish building with touches of the Queen Anne style.
Far from giving the keynote to the reconstruction of Mount Street, the Vestry Hall was untypical of the ranges of shops with chambers over that were to follow, and of course unique in being built on freehold land. Much more characteristic were two rebuildings on corner sites that anticipated the Vestry Hall, both designed by J. T. Wimperis. These were Nos. 34 Berkeley Square and 130 Mount Street (1880–2) at the very east end of the street (Plate 17a), and Audley Mansions (1884–6), a block of flats further west at the junction with South Audley Street (Plate 90a: see also Plate 33d in vol. XXXIX). In the former case the Duke specified for the elevations 'red brick faced with terracotta or stone', and a further stipulation of dormers in the roof rather than a square attic was soon added. (fn. 7) These were attributes of the new Queen Anne style which the Duke favoured (and Wimperis had previously applied at Nos. 443–451 Oxford Street) and they were naturally again in evidence at Audley Mansions. In both style and function these two blocks, juxtaposing respectable, small-size shops with high-class residential accommodation, were archetypal for the rest of the new Mount Street. In one respect only did they differ from what was to become the norm; they were both speculations undertaken by entrepreneurs (at Audley Mansions the architect himself) rather than the results of consortia of tradesmen who had occupied premises nearby or on the site and were banded together by the Estate for the purposes of rebuilding. Lofts and Warner, the estate agents who undertook the Berkeley Square site, had indeed occupied premises further down Mount Street which were soon afterwards to be demolished, but they acted by themselves here and a strong dash of speculation was involved. In later rebuilding this element was certainly often present, but the Duke and his advisers kept it to a minimum where shops were involved.
The operation of the consortia organized by the Estate for Mount Street is explained in the previous volume. (fn. 8) The first fruit of their labours was Nos. 104–111 Mount Street, a range built contemporaneously with the Vestry Hall in 1885–7. Here there were two lessees, and their architect Ernest George (who was probably suggested by the Estate) took the bold step of designing the two parts in separate styles (Plate 89a, 89b: see also Plate 34b, fig. 20a in vol. XXXIX). Yet the unity of the range was incontrovertible and enabled a short section (Nos. 112 and 113) to be added soon after without awkwardness. Architecturally, this was the outstanding range in Mount Street and the first building on the estate entirely to be faced with terracotta; in both respects it set important standards.
The rebuilding of the rest of Mount Street's south side east of South Audley Street in shops and flats by means of consortia proceeded between 1886 and 1895 in an orderly way. It included Nos. 87–102 (with a long return to South Audley Street and a library behind in Chapel Place North); No. 114; Nos. 115–116 and 117–121; and Nos. 125–129 (Plates 89c, 90c: see also Plate 34c in vol. XXXIX). The odd building out was No. 114, where living quarters, a hall and a private chapel for the Jesuits of Farm Street Church were provided without shops underneath.
On the north side, there was no reconstruction east of South Audley Street before 1888. The Estate was concerned here to improve Charles Street, as the busy approach from Berkeley Square to Grosvenor Square had long been considered 'a source of danger and difficulty'. (fn. 9) Thomas Cundy III was therefore instructed as early as 1877 to 'lay down a curve line of a new street from Charles Street to Berkeley Square for future consideration'. (fn. 10) The line of this eastern curve, possibly reduced from what was at first intended, was settled in 1883 and amended in 1888. (fn. 11) On the central island in front of the curve the Duke planned in 1892–3 to have two plane trees flanking a 'handsome lamp' which he would pay for if necessary. He considered Eustace Balfour or Alfred Gilbert as possible designers of the lamp, but the scheme appears to have foundered. (fn. 12) For the buildings along the curve itself, Balfour suggested his old master Basil Champneys as architect, but in the event the whole large block bounded by what was from 1892 to be called Carlos Place, by Mount Row, Carpenter Street, and Mount Street fell to a speculative builder, George Trollope and Sons. (fn. 13) A consortium was not used here because there were to be private houses instead of shops towards the curve, and also because a large builder was more suitable for helping to make the new road, which was done in 1891–3 (fn. 14) (Plate 34d in vol. XXXIX).
On the west side of Carlos Place, the Coburg (now Connaught) Hotel with its own modest curve into Mount Street was not rebuilt until 1894–6, and its neighbours to the west (Nos. 10–12 and 13–26 Mount Street) are of the same years and shortly after. The earlier groups of shops and flats on the north side of Mount Street were Nos. 1–5 (partly demolished), and Nos. 27–28 with a deep return along Nos. 34–42 South Audley Street, both built by consortia. The latter range incorporated the Audley 'Hotel', the only public house in Mount Street to escape closure, and characteristically set within a residential block. This was the only building on the north side to adorn itself in terracotta, so conspicuous a material just across the street. Another difference was that the north side was in some parts higher than the south, where the buildings were kept down in order to admit light to the northern ranges even though this meant reductions in ground rent. (fn. 15)
West of South Audley Street, it was the Duke's avowed aim back in 1880 to rebuild Mount Street 'in small private houses instead of the present shops'. (fn. 16) This policy, involving changes in use chiefly on the north side, was duly carried out in the 1890's. By then not only did Audley Mansions already exist, but so did the other corner block at Nos. 57–60 South Audley Street, built in a debased Queen Anne manner as early as 1881–2 (see page 303). The rest of the south side east of Park Street was rebuilt by Balfour and Turner in three main ranges (facing Balfour Place and Park Street) which complement and refine the Mount Street domestic style (see page 332). Opposite, the houses were carried out in a more Jacobean version of the same idiom by George Trollope and Sons (Plate 90a), except at No. 54 Mount Street, a special and spectacular house designed by Fairfax Wade for Lord Windsor (Plate 36a in vol. XXXIX). Beyond Park Street the first Duke's rebuildings did not proceed, so that the west end of Mount Street is overshadowed by the bulks of Grosvenor House on the north and Fountain House on the south. Along the rest of the street, little has changed since the 1890's except for the replacement of the Vestry Hall in 1936–8 by the incongruous No. 103, and the redevelopment of Nos. 1–3 with the return to Davies Street in 1965–7. The north end of Carlos Place also underwent changes in the 1920's consequent upon the start of rebuilding in Grosvenor Square, and in 1937 Adam's Mews was renamed Adams Row.
It remains briefly to judge the effect of Mount Street's transformation. Its architectural success can hardly be gainsaid, for if not all the buildings erected were of the first order, they were sufficiently various without discrepancy, colourful without garishness and ebullient without vulgarity to make Mount Street the gayest in Mayfair. They constitute a monument to the 'Queen Anne' way of doing things, in other words to a policy of giving rein to architectural individualism without altogether abandoning regularity.
The social gains, however, were dubious, and exercised some intelligent contemporary commentators. Leasehold enfranchisement was a topical subject at the time of Mount Street's reconstruction, and in 1887 the Duke's solicitor, H. T. Boodle, vigorously defended the Grosvenor Estate's policies before the Select Committee on Town Holdings, especially against the accusation that tradesmen were mercilessly displaced by the Duke's rebuildings. These and similar charges were shortly afterwards restated by Frank Banfield, with cogent reference to Mount Street, whose 'grand edifices', he claimed, were not raised at the Duke's cost, 'but by the present tenants out of their hardearned savings, on the commercial credit they possess, and on pain of having to wander forth. They constructed this massive pile no more willingly than the children of Israel, some thousands of years ago, expended their energies in deference to the task-masters of Pharaoh.' And, alluding to the much-bruited case of a Mr. Ogle, Banfield added: 'A tailor doing business in Mount Street for fifty years is not supposed to be able to bear his share of the expenses of the Duke's architectural mania, and Mr. Boodle contemplated cutting him adrift with equanimity.' (fn. 17)
The evidence certainly supports the contention that rebuilding was lethal to the smaller tradesmen. In 1880 there were over fifty quite distinct trades recorded in Mount Street (including many lodging-house keepers and dressmakers, and a cowkeeper, a music-engraver and a vet), but only half the number in 1899, when the main new concerns were those of picture restorer, antique dealer and art metal worker—callings of limited but significant appeal. Over the same period, the number of food shops declined from twelve to six. (fn. 18) Clearly, only the richer and better-organized shopkeepers were able to survive displacement to temporary premises followed by the complexities of rebuilding, and also to afford the new ground rents which, on Boodle's own admission, were set 'very much higher' than previously, sometimes amounting to as much as £6 10s. per foot. (fn. 19) The prospect of good rents from the high-class flats constructed over their shops may have provided security for some tradesmen seeking loans to carry out their part of the rebuildings. Yet sub-letting too required professional administration and favoured not so much the tenants as the estate agents, who had already multiplied in Mount Street before rebuilding (too much so in Boodle's opinion) but prospered greatly because of it. (fn. 20) Reconstruction also sounded the knell of the numerous lodging-house keepers characteristic of old Mount Street, who had catered for 'people coming up to town'. (fn. 21) They, and with them many of the smaller and more essential tradesmen, disappeared utterly before a smart new commercial tenantry which could afford the ducal rents. Even these new shopkeepers do not seem to have been particularly stable, for in 1908 the experienced builder John Garlick regarded 'the Mount Street shops as unsuccessful, the tenants often changing'. (fn. 22) Nevertheless by then the street had settled down to the pattern it still retains today, with a minority of the shops purveying basic commodities and a majority dedicated to augmenting the conspicuous consumption of the district.