Grosvenor Street: Introduction

Pages 33-35

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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Grosvenor Street

Grosvenor Street was one of the earliest streets to be laid out as part of the Grosvenor family's development of their Mayfair lands. The very first building agreement, concluded with the estate surveyor, Thomas Barlow, in August 1720, was for a large parcel of land which included the south-side frontage of the new street between Davies Street and the estate boundary. The rest of the street was built under a number of agreements made between 1720 and 1725, some of them covering only single house plots. The leasehold terms offered to builders varied from one part of the street to another. On the north side to the east of Davies Street the term was eighty years with the one notable exception of No. 16, where the building lease was for ninety-nine years. (fn. 1) Barlow was granted one lease of the south side between Davies Street and the estate boundary for ninety-nine years, but his sub-leases to other builders of the individual house plots here were usually for eighty years. Between Davies Street and Grosvenor Square, however, on both sides of the street the leases were invariably for ninety-nine years and it was here that in general the grander houses were erected.

By 1729 most of the houses in the street had been built and occupied, the only exceptions being a group of four on the north side to the west of No. 36 (all now demolished), which were not completed until 1733–4, and the tiny onebay house at No. 81, which does not appear in the ratebooks until 1736.

In 1735 Grosvenor Street was described as 'a spacious well built Street, inhabited chiefly by People of Distinction'. (fn. 2) In the following year, of its 74 houses (not including the corner houses with Grosvenor Square), 22 were occupied by titled inhabitants including one duke, two future dukes and three earls. Of the other occupants five were army officers, two were ambassadors and three were churchmen (including the Bishop of Winchester and the Rector of St. George's, Hanover Square). (fn. 3)

The houses originally built in the street varied considerably in size, with frontages ranging from seventeen to fifty-five feet. There was no attempt at uniformity, but the fairly narrow stylistic limits within which house builders operated in the 1720's provided a certain homogeneity which has now been totally dissipated. Most of the houses had three main storeys and garrets with façades of two-tone brickwork in shades of red and brown, segmental-headed windows and flat doorcases with projecting hoods. Twenty of the original houses survive in some form, but most of these have been altered almost beyond recognition. No. 16 (above the ground floor: Plate 9a, fig. 15) and No. 51 (despite Victorian additions) have retained much of their original appearance although the first-floor window openings have probably been tampered with in both cases, and Nos. 43 (Plate 10d) and 60, although altered, are still recognizably of the 1720's. At No. 75, which was rebuilt in 1912, the original doorcase was re-used and is a particularly fine example with elaborately carved brackets.

The changes that had taken place by the end of the century included the increasingly standardized location of the dining-room on the ground floor remarked upon elsewhere (see volume XXXIX, page 112). At nine houses on the estate plans survive showing a readiness to aggrandize one ground-floor room for this purpose at the expense of the other even by the brutal expedient of moving the dividing wall up to the chimney-breast of the lessened room, thus destroying its proportion and symmetry. Of these, six were in Grosvenor Street (Nos. 38, 48, 54, 58, 76 and the house later numbered 50 Grosvenor Square: see fig. 41).

External changes are not well recorded. The Doric portico at No. 66 (Plate 11a) was almost certainly added in 1793–4 by the speculating upholsterer Charles Elliott of New Bond Street, and the slim Ionic porch at No. 43 (Plate 10d) was there by 1796. In his lectures at the Royal Academy in 1809 (Sir) John Soane commented on the neoGreek portico at No. 53 (now demolished), (fn. 4) and the drawings which accompanied the lecture (one of which is reproduced as Plate 8c in volume XXXIX) also show balconies with very slim iron railings resting on cantilevered supports both at No. 53 and No. 54. Porticoes (and balconies) continued to be added to houses throughout the nineteenth century, particularly during the years of the second Marquess of Westminster between 1845 and 1869, and at No. 50 a ponderous enclosed portico was added as late as 1907.

The practice of adding an extra storey to the threestoreyed Georgian houses, which usually involved the conversion of existing garrets into a square fourth storey with additional garrets on top, also took place at various times and cannot always be dated. But there were two periods in particular when a number of houses were altered in this way. The first was also during the years of the second Marquess, when such 'improvements' were often required as a matter of Estate policy. Nos. 18, 52, 69 and 74 are examples of surviving houses which are known to have been heightened in these years. The other period was during the Edwardian age when rich occupants often found a need to provide even more accommodation in their already large houses. Nos. 5, 43, 48, 50, 58 and 59 all had storeys added between 1905 and 1910, and in 1912 No. 66, while retaining three full storeys, had two floors of attics built within a new roof.

Brick façades were occasionally stuccoed —those of Nos. 27 and 34 look to be quite early -and trimmings were added to existing fronts, but the first evidence of a complete rebuilding occurs in 1820–1, when Nos. 45 and 46 were rebuilt as one house (later completely transformed as part of the present No. 46). In 1837–8 Thomas Cubitt rebuilt three houses (Nos. 54, 77 and 78, all now demolished), but it was not until the accession of the second Marquess in 1845 that the outward appearance of the street changed substantially. Then a deliberate policy of updating existing Georgian houses by extensive elevational improvements on the renewal of leases, some aspects of which have already been noted, or alternatively encouraging complete rebuilding, was inaugurated under the rigorous control of the estate surveyor, Thomas Cundy II. Some dozen houses were rebuilt with elevational designs largely dictated (and in most cases drawn) by Cundy. Most of these were on the north side of the street to the east of Davies Street and all had similar characteristics of channelled stucco on the ground floor, Doric open porticoes and balconies with stone balustrades, white Suffolk brickwork in the upper storeys, Italianate dressings to the windows and deep modillion cornices with Vitruvian scroll friezes beneath. The effect on the street can be seen in Plate 8a, and the best surviving examples, despite alterations to the ground floor in each case, are Nos. 17 and 23. Even where houses were not rebuilt their façades were often extensively altered, the most dramatic example being No. 52, where a fine Georgian brick front was transformed by Cundy's designs into an equally handsome Italianate one (figs. 16–17 in vol. XXXIX). Here the brickwork, although it looks to have been renewed, is red rather than grey-white, perhaps a miniscule concession to the Georgian original.

One instance where Cundy did not entirely have his own way was at Nos. 79 and 80 which were rebuilt to Sydney Smirke's designs in 1852–3, but opposite at No. 5 in 1863 Smirke had to be more accommodating even though he did manage to have some changes made to Cundy's first elevational design.

Later Victorian rebuildings included the highly original block by Balfour and Turner at Nos. 21 and 22 and the group of pedestrian Queen Anne houses designed by Edward I'Anson III at Nos. 6–9 (No. 9 having since been demolished). These were, however, harbingers of other changes in the last great age of the rich private resident of Grosvenor Street up to, and a little beyond, the war of 1914–18. The rebuildings in this period ranged from highly competent speculative jobs in the neo-Georgian idiom at Nos. 26 and 75 (both by Wimperis and Simpson) to large specially commissioned works such as C. W. Stephens's disappointing mixture of Queen Anne and Edwardian Baroque at No. 28 for Lord Edward SpencerChurchill or the magnificent Beaux-Arts mansion by Blow and Billerey at No. 46 for the financier Sir Edgar Speyer. It was in the interiors, however, that the opulence of the age achieved its grandest expression. The inside of No. 46 is a bizarre and jumbled mixture of the old and the new, the genuine and the pastiche, and is more a reflection of great wealth than of good taste, but the quality of the new work is superb. Almost equally grand, although not a complete rebuilding, was the recasting of No. 33 for Princess Hatzfeldt by Turner Lord and Company in 1912. Here, behind a new façade of crisply modelled stonework and rich ironwork, an interior was lovingly assembled displaying the best in Edwardian woodcarving and plasterwork.

The ravages of commerce have destroyed much of this Edwardian and post-Edwardian splendour. This is not to say that commerce was entirely a newcomer. From the beginning the Mount Coffee House stood at the eastern approaches where the street narrows as it crosses the estate boundary into the City of London's Conduit Mead territory, and the Red Lion (later the Lion and Goat) was almost opposite on the north side. The Three Tuns tavern stood at the south-east corner with Davies Street, but no doubt had its sign and main entrance discreetly situated in the lesser street. Some of the houses at the eastern end were taken by tradesmen from an early date (fn. 5) and by 1790 some dozen houses were so occupied. (fn. 6)

When leases were renewed in the early nineteenth century the further spread of trades was controlled but even at some of the big houses a complete ban proved impossible. In 1824 No. 16, after standing empty for some years, was let to Thomas and George Seddon, upholsterers and cabinet-makers; they were allowed to use the premises as a showroom but not as a shop or manufactory. No outward show of business was permitted, even at No. 74 in 1849 when a family of silk mercers converted the ground and first floors into offices and 'magasins' behind a normal domestic façade. A few private hotels were established (though not on the scale of Brook Street), including possibly the first premises of William Claridge at No. 9 from about 1850 to 1853, (fn. 7) and during the late nineteenth century several houses were taken over by doctors and dentists.

The Indian summer for the big houses in Grosvenor Street which occurred at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth coincided with a concerted attempt on the part of the Estate Board to rid the street of most of its commercial element. In 1904 the Board was 'of the opinion that Grosvenor Street should as far as possible be maintained for private residential purposes only', and several applications for the establishment of businesses were turned down. (fn. 8) Collards, the piano-makers who had taken over the Seddons' premises at No. 16, were granted short-term renewals of their lease in 1888 and again in 1902, but it must have been seen as a vindication of the Board's policy when, in 1909, they assigned their lease to Mrs Keppel, who restored the house to private use. Even clubs were frowned upon, (fn. 9) but by 1925 there were four, all ladies' clubs, including the American Women's Club in Speyer's mansion at No. 46. (fn. 7)

A more usual fate for the large houses vacated by private residents was to be converted (as had some smaller houses already) into dressmaking establishments. In 1926 this happened to both Nos. 50 and 51. No. 18 followed in 1928, No. 16 succumbed to this use in 1935 after its brief return to private occupation, and in 1937 No. 66 was adapted for use by a millinery and dressmaking concern. Such conversions often involved fitting in workshops as well as showrooms and offices (at No. 18, for instance, there was a workforce of eighty-three in 1928 (fn. 10) ), with disastrous consequences for the internal appearance of the houses.

The impossibility of stemming the advance of commerce was recognized by 1936 when a drawing showing Hillier, Parker, May and Rowden's proposed large new premises at Nos. 76–78 was endorsed 'shown to the Duke and approved subject to details'. (fn. 11) Other visually intrusive office blocks were designed in 1937 for Nos. 64–65 and 71–72. But if the retreat of the private resident was orderly before the war of 1939–45, it afterwards became a rout. Shop fronts, which had been rare before the war, now proliferated, and the building at Nos. 9–13 in 1962–4 of a large new block which was uncompromising in style as well as scale was indicative of a fundamental change in the character of the street. By 1971 no building in the street was in single private occupation. (fn. 12)

Nos. 72 to 81 were renumbered in 1866.


  • 1. GLB 1/28.
  • 2. Robert Seymour, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, vol. II, 1735, p. 666.
  • 3. R.B.
  • 4. S.M., Soane lectures, lecture 8, p. 6.
  • 5. G.L.R.O. (M), WR/PP, Reg. 5, 1749: R.B.
  • 6. G.L.R.O. (M), TC/St. G./1.
  • 7. P.O.D.
  • 8. G.O., Duke's instruction book, 1900–4, pp. 155 6: GBM 20/378; 34/407; 40/11–12.
  • 9. G.O., Duke's instruction books, 1900–4, pp. 155–6; 1919–22, p. 43: GBM 42/41–2.
  • 10. B.R. 101637.
  • 11. G.O., drawing of Nos. 76–78.
  • 12. The Grosvenor Estate Strategy for Mayfair and Belgravia, 1971, p. 37.