Davies Street Area: Introduction

Pages 68-69

Survey of London: Volume 40, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 2 (The Buildings). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1980.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.


In this section


Davies Street Area

Davies Street (named after Mary Davies, the heiress who by her marriage to Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677 brought the London estate into the Grosvenor family) was developed principally as the return frontages of large building plots which faced on to the main east-west streets. These plots were made available to builders by several agreements between 1720 and 1723. (fn. 1) Initially it was envisaged that good-class houses would be built along the street and most of the early agreements contained a long list of restricted uses, but by 1723 these had been reduced to only the most obnoxious trades such as brewing or tallow melting, and even stables and coach-houses were built on part of its frontage. (fn. 2)

Apart from the corner houses which more properly belong to other streets, only two houses of real note were, in fact, built along the length of Davies Street. One of these, Bourdon House, which happily survives and is described below, presented only a return front to the street. The other, No. 48 (formerly No. 56), was also situated on the east side, a short distance from the south corner of Brook Street and adjoined the corner house. It was built by John Barnes, bricklayer, and first occupied by him from 1728 to 1736. (fn. 3) Originally the house appears to have been quite small with a narrow, seventeen-foot, frontage and a centrally placed dog-leg staircase, but it had a large yard to one side, in the manner of builders' houses in Green Street and, in particular, the house of James Richards, the carver, which still survives (see page 185). Within a short time an additional wing had been built on the frontage, leaving only a narrow passageway as entrance to the large courtyard, and more rooms seem to have been added at the back, as well as stables for eight horses. A survey of this part of the estate drawn in 1778–9 shows that the building then had ample accommodation but a very irregular plan (see fig. 4 in vol. XXXIX). Notable occupants included the second Viscount Falmouth, 1737–47; Sir William Codrington, M.P., second baronet, 1758–92; and the Dowager Marchioness of Donegall, 1807–25. (fn. 4) In 1826 the house was taken by the hotelier James Mivart who added it to his existing hotel in Brook Street, later Claridge's. An engraving made shortly after its acquisition by Mivart shows a house of rather untidy appearance with little harmony between the original narrow front and the addition to its right, (fn. 5) but a watercolour of later date shows that in the course of the nineteenth century its façade was altered and an extra storey and a Doric portico were added (Plate 6a). It was demolished in 1894 for the rebuilding of Claridge's.

The remaining houses, which were generally narrow fronted with shallow plots, were mostly occupied by tradesmen. In the mid eighteenth century about four fifths of the householders earned their living from trade, the majority by selling food or drink (including the publicans of the six taverns in the street). (fn. 6) By the end of the century this proportion had, if anything, increased, and the trades had become more diversified. (fn. 7) (fn. c1) In recent years offices and banks have been introduced, but there are still a number of shops, many of them now dealing in luxury goods, even Bourdon House being used as an antique shop.

The first rebuildings to take place were in furtherance of trade. In 1785 a triangular plot at the junction of Davies Street and South Molton Lane (now occupied by Nos. 56 and 58 Davies Street) was made available for the building of a market to be called Grosvenor Market (Plate 19d). The original lease of this site had been for the unusually short term of sixty years, and when the land reverted to the Estate in 1781 some half a dozen small houses and coachhouses and stables which had been built there were demolished. (fn. 8) John Jenkins, architect and surveyor, of Hanover Street, was engaged by Earl Grosvenor to prepare a design for the market, which was carried out in 1785–6. In the centre was to be a paved area, triangular in shape, with a pump in the middle, and surrounded by a covered colonnade, but whether this colonnade was actually completed on all sides is not clear. The west and south sides were enclosed by sixteen houses, a public house and a slaughter-house, the latter being built in the extreme south-east corner, while the north-east side was occupied by fourteen small shops, each only eleven feet deep and consisting of two storeys and a basement. The houses were erected under Jenkins's direction by a consortium consisting principally of building tradesmen to whom ninety-nine-year leases were granted, but the shops and market facilities were built at the expense of Earl Grosvenor for some £1,500. The houses on the western side also had frontages to Davies Street, but no shop windows were allowed on that front. The market was approached from Davies Street through a passageway which was arched over at first-floor level. (fn. 9)

Grosvenor Market was intended to be primarily a food market, but it proved a failure from the beginning. Another market, St. George's Market, had been established at the same time between James (now Gilbert) Street and Davies Street and had no doubt taken away much of the hoped-for trade. In 1791 the builders and tenants of Grosvenor Market petitioned to have this rival market suppressed, claiming that, having spent at least £12,000 on building the houses, they had 'been obliged to lower the rents, the Markett is deserted, the shops half shut and our Tenants given notice to quit'; but as St. George's Market had been erected on land still held on a long lease which contained few restrictive covenants, there was nothing that the Estate could do. (fn. 10) The shops in Grosvenor Market proved difficult to let, and those tenants who could be persuaded to take them frequently absconded without paying their rents. (fn. 11) By 1841 only a few retailers still had premises there, the majority of occupants being building workers, labourers, workers in the dress trades and servants. (fn. 12)

Methodist meetings were held in a room above the slaughter-house from at least 1791 until 1801 when a nearby chapel in Weighhouse (then Chandler) Street was adapted or rebuilt for the congregation. (fn. 13) The slaughterhouse had been leased directly to John Jenkins in 1785, and he may have belonged to the family of Methodist preachers and chapel architects of that name. (fn. 14) In 1858–60 the builder John Newson demolished some of the premises in the market and erected a small block of model dwellings. Called Oxford House, it accommodated seven families and was demolished with the remaining buildings in Grosvenor Market in 1889. (fn. 15)

When the first leases of other buildings in the street expired in the early nineteenth century a number of rebuildings took place. In c. 1802–3 three four-storey houses with plain stock-brick façades were built at Nos. 28–32 (even), formerly Nos. 46–48 (consec.), in place of stabling. (fn. 16) No. 46 was occupied by John Boodle of the firm of Boodle and Partington, who were the Grosvenors' lawyers, from 1806 to 1825. Further rebuilding followed during the 1820's and 1830's and a number of prominent builders were involved.

The first of these was Seth Smith, whose earliest building venture on the Grosvenor estates took place in Davies Street. In September 1818 he applied to the Estate Board for the renewal terms of some houses on the west side 'for the purpose of rebuilding a description of better houses'. He had wanted to rebuild the whole frontage between Brook Street and Three Kings Yard, but eventually settled for about one hundred feet immediately to the north of the then narrow entrance to the yard. For this site Smith had to pay a premium of £2,000 in addition to a ground rent of £75 per annum for sixty-two-year leases which were granted to him in 1820. Here he built five four-storey houses and a large two-storeyed workshop at the rear. (fn. 17) He, himself, occupied the northernmost house and the workshop from 1821 to 1828. (fn. 18) All these houses were demolished in c. 1883.

In the mid 1820's Samuel Erlam, builder and surveyor, built four houses and some stables on ground which had formerly been occupied by the offices, stabling and garden of No. 66 Brook Street. The houses, now Nos. 55–61 (odd), remain and are described below.

In 1838 Thomas Cubitt built a group of three narrow four-storey houses with plain, rendered façades (now demolished) on the west side to the south of No. 54 Grosvenor Street, which he also rebuilt at this time. (fn. 19) And in 1839–40 Joshua Higgs, uncle of William Higgs who helped to found the firm of Higgs and Hill, rebuilt the Running Horse public house and Nos. 52 and 54 (all of which survive and are described below) and workshops and stables in the mews behind.

In 1839 Joshua Higgs, junior, who was associated with his father in their building firm which operated from No. 54 Davies Street for many years, submitted to the Select Committee on Metropolis Improvements a proposal for improving the north end of Davies Street (Plate 24a in vol. XXXIX). Here the configuration of the estate boundary had prevented the street being carried through to Oxford Street in a straight line: instead it bent to the north-west and narrowed into what was in effect a continuation of South Molton Lane. There is no evidence that Higgs's scheme to re-align this part of the street was ever seriously considered, but the need for better communication here exercised the Estate on several occasions (fn. 20) until the building of the Central London Railway in 1898–1900 enabled the improvement to be carried out (see page 178).


  • 1. GBA 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, 12, 15, 33, 36.
  • 2. Ibid., 33, 36: GLB 11/41, 49.
  • 3. GLB 1/27: M.D.R. 1739/1/115: R.B.
  • 4. R.B.: Burke's Peerage.
  • 5. W.C.L., C137, engraving of Mivart's Hotel (1).
  • 6. G.L.R.O.(M), WR/PP, Reg. 5, 1749: R.B.
  • 7. G.L.R.O.(M), TC/St. G./1.
  • 8. GLB 11/41.
  • 9. G.O. box Q bundle 35; box S, bundle 157; chest C, bundle 11, 30 April, 9 May 1787: GLB XXI/551–69.
  • 10. G.O., box S, bundle 157, petitions: GLB IV/99.
  • 11. G.O., box S, bundle 157: GBM 1/42–3, 211, 230, 262, 266, 290, 297; 2/262.
  • 12. P.R.O., HO 107/733, bk. 8, ff. 12–15.
  • 13. Rev. John Telford, Two West-End Chapels, 1886, pp. 86–92.
  • 14. GLB XXI/562: Colvin.
  • 15. GBM 13/533, 538; 14/97: Particulars of Improved Working Class Dwellings at present upon the Duke of Westminster's London Estate, 1884: B. 6 July 1901, p. 6.
  • 16. G.L.C., Photo. Lib., 96.0 Dav., 76/17633: R.B.
  • 17. GBM 7/199, 259, 369, 411; 8/194, 272: GA, Davies St., leases of 22 July, 7 Oct, 7 Nov. to S. Smith.
  • 18. R.B.
  • 19. GBM 11/386, 412–13: GA, Davies St., leases of 10, 22 July 1838, 12 June 1839 to T. Cubitt or his nominees: G.O., war damage photo., no. 20.
  • 20. GBM 15/441; 19/494; 20/17, 23, 26; 21/10, 30, 213–14.
  • c1. Joseph Manton, the well-known gunsmith, occupied Nos 7 and 9 (formerly No. 27) 1792-1820.