Duke Street Area: Duke Street, East Side

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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'Duke Street Area: Duke Street, East Side', in Survey of London: Volume 40, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 2 (The Buildings), (London, 1980) pp. 87-91. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol40/pt2/pp87-91 [accessed 19 April 2024]

In this section

Duke Street: East Side

Nos. 55–73 (odd) Duke Street and 24–28 (consec.) Binney Street.

This was the first of two major ranges of shops rebuilt for the Estate by William Douglas Caröe, who was suggested as architect by H. T. Boodle (the Duke of Westminster's solicitor) in 1889 following his success with the Hanover Schools nearby. The site for rebuilding consisted of six plots leased by four established tradesmen: Rose Brothers (tailors) in the centre, Adolphe Loffet and Company (wine merchants) and John Finch and Son (builders) to the north and Armbrecht, Nelson and Company (chemists) to the south. The policy of allowing the lessees to combine under a single architect and builder chosen by the Estate was therefore adopted. At the northern end (Nos. 55–63) the site stretched through to Binney (then Thomas) Street, but behind Nos. 65–73 the back buildings for the Weigh House Church intervened. The shops were chiefly to have chambers over, but in the centre the upper parts were destined wholly for fittingrooms and workshops for Rose Brothers.

Early in 1890 Caröe produced his elevations which, after some simplification at the Duke's request, were quickly agreed. The builders, Kirk and Randall of Woolwich, began to work in the summer, but the block was not finished until the middle of 1892 because of what Caröe called 'reasonable delays owing to strikes and inclement weather, amounting to about six months'. The difficulties came to the surface in a complaint from Loffet and Company about Caröe, and an attempt by Kirk and Randall to sue Armbrecht 'for a large sum beyond the certificate of his architect'. (fn. 1)

Nevertheless Caröe had designed a notable building which, as if in compensation for its short and modest front in Binney Street, assumes towards Duke Street the most exuberant of Queen Anne styles (Plate 24c). The main façade, of narrow red bricks and plentiful dressings above a ground floor of rough-chiselled Ketton stone, recalls the Flemish idiom employed at Harrington Gardens by Ernest George, particularly in the central gable; but the roof (in the words of The Builder) 'soars into variations of a very picturesque description', with capped dormers, high finials, and scrolls of a northern European flavour. The composition is given slight asymmetry by the placing and shaping of bays, studied so as to show effectively from the side view. (fn. 2)

The King's Weigh House Church and Nos. 21 and 22 Binney Street

The King's Weigh House Church and Nos. 21 and 22 Binney Street (Plates 22d, 23, fig. 25). In the early 1880's it became clear to the small Congregational community at Robert Street (see page 93) that their chapel would probably be demolished soon after the lease expired in 1886, as part of the Estate's policy for rebuilding in and around Duke Street. However the Duke of Westminster, characteristically generous towards religious institutions of all sorts, soon agreed to provide a good new site at a peppercorn rent. In consultation with George Brooks, the chapel's minister, a site at the corner of Robert (now Weighhouse) Street with Duke Street was earmarked in 1882 for a chapel to hold one thousand persons, with education rooms beneath and offices at the back. Next year, following a limited competition, a somewhat spiky Gothic design by John Sulman was chosen; the cost was to be about £8,000 and building was scheduled to commence in 1887. But the Robert Street congregation could make no headway in raising funds. By early 1887 Samuel Morley, M.P., their wealthy chief supporter, had died, while Brooks was on the point of leaving and candidly admitted 'the hopelessness of this enterprise'. (fn. 3)

At this point a solution appeared in the shape of a merger with the old-established King's Weigh House congregation, then seeking a permanent place of worship. This community, founded in the City of London in the late seventeenth century, had latterly occupied a church in Fish Street Hill. But as far back as 1864 a Bill had been promoted to purchase their premises for a new station (Monument) on the underground railway. Though the Metropolitan and District Railway Companies' plans for extension hung fire for several years, in 1883 the King's Weigh House congregation was finally forced to leave, taking with them £37,450 awarded by arbitration. For the next four years their minister, Alexander Sandison, conducted services in the Cannon Street Station Hotel while various central sites were explored. It was not until early in 1887 that Sandison heard of the Duke Street site through Andrew Mearns, secretary of the London Congregational Union. (fn. 4)

Mearns was the chief intermediary in persuading the Duke to grant a larger site stretching back into Thomas (now Binney) Street, so that a minister's house and schools could be included as well as an enlarged chapel to house both the Weigh House and the Robert Street congregations. The Duke's liberality in agreeing to a ninetynine-year lease of all this land, again at a peppercorn rent, was undoubtedly what induced the Weigh House congregation to make the controversial move to Mayfair. The freehold value of the site was calculated by Boodle at 'upwards of £30,000', and another source was to speak of the Duke's contribution as 'the largest gift to a Nonconformist cause, it is said, that has ever been made'. After building was completed the Duke went further and in 1892 did in fact present the freehold of the church. (fn. 5)

Under the new circumstances, the Weigh House trustees agreed to pay for the building and a new design was required. In April 1888 their building committee decided against competition and asked Alfred Waterhouse to be their architect. Though Waterhouse was not primarily a church architect, he had not long previously built a Congregational church in Hampstead; and since he had also been the Duke of Westminster's architect at Eaton Hall, Boodle felt quickly able to tell the committee that they could assume that the Duke would confirm the appointment. Waterhouse's original brief was for a building to seat 800 to 900, costing £16,000 without fittings. He soon presented sketch plans for the committee's approval and by October 1888 he had matured his designs, which he now reckoned should cost just over £20,000. A hitch occurred when the Duke insisted that the buildings in Binney Street should not be so high, but Waterhouse lost no time in reducing them. More seriously the tenders, when received in March 1889, were all too costly. The lowest, from John Shillitoe and Son of Bury St. Edmunds, came to £27,875, a figure which Waterhouse put down to a recent twenty per cent rise in the cost of building materials. Even after omissions, including considerable reduction in the amount of terracotta to be used on the facings, the amount finally agreed was £24,815. Nevertheless Shillitoes began work in the summer of 1889 and continued without major interruption into 1891. The contract seems to have been well handled despite some delays in the delivery of terracotta, which came from the Burmantofts works of the Leeds Fireclay Company. The completion of the building was marked by the meeting here of the first International Congregational Council in July 1891. When the building committee was finally dissolved in 1894 a little over £30,000 had been spent, including all accessories. (fn. 6)

Despite the Duke's generosity the church and its associated buildings occupy a tightly confined site, and they therefore display Waterhouse's characteristic architectural virtues: stringency, clarity, and mastery of plan (fig. 25). The style, a variant of the Carolingian Romanesque of which Waterhouse was fond, particularly suits the mixture of pinkish red brick and plentiful terracotta dressings. The most formal part of the composition naturally faces Duke Street, where the tripartite entrance elevation rises symmetrically to the church's roof level but is then skilfully broken, with a gable and ventilation turret on the left and a sheer tower and steeple on the right at the corner with Weighhouse Street. These features fit abruptly on to what from the side streets can be seen to be an elliptical auditorium, with a high tiled roof and lancets all round to light the gallery (Plates 22d, 23a). Nevertheless the church's ground storey adheres to the street-line in both Weighhouse and Binney Streets, so that the site is compactly filled.

The associated buildings beyond the church in Binney Street (Nos. 21 and 22) are more loosely organized; the schoolrooms and hall above (No. 21) are allotted large windows and a separate entrance, while the minister's house (No. 22), closer to Oxford Street, has its own high gable. The interiors of these subsidiary buildings require only brief notice. The minister's house was always simple and has not been greatly altered; the staircase, like others in the complex, has effective ironwork, and there is a dining-room with a forceful cornice and fireplace. The main schoolroom is a large plain apartment (now partitioned), incorporating open girderwork in part supported on columns. On the second floor is a more elaborate room, a spacious attic hall with a vigorous opentimber roof, the arched braces pierced by cinquefoils, and deep windows on either side (Plate 23c).

Beneath the church is an ample basement whose rooms originally housed the Thomas Binney Institute, named after the Weigh House congregation's most famous minister. The church itself is entered from Duke Street through a broad, open Romanesque porch, with stairs in the flanking towers left and right ascending to the gallery. Within, though the ground floor is rectangular in plan, the sense of an ellipse conveyed by the horseshoe gallery, upper walls and ceiling is complete (Plate 23d). Originally this impression would have been even stronger. As designed by Waterhouse the auditorium exactly followed the traditional arrangement of Congregational worship; the gallery nearly completed the ellipse, being interrupted only by a large organ (by Brindley and Foster of Sheffield) at the east end, filling the space of the present chancel. Beneath the organ and directly at the end of the central aisle was the minister's desk, flanked by choirstalls. Apart from this important exception, the body of the church appeared much as it now does, with walls of glazed bricks and simple woodwork. Among the few decorative features are four structural columns covered in faience tiles (Plate 23b) and some patterned and tinted glass in the windows, which at gallery level are set within continuous arcading.

Under Alexander Sandison the Weigh House Church maintained a settled course and appears entirely to have absorbed the Robert Street congregation. But his successor John Hunter, who arrived from Glasgow in 1901, soon desired to make changes in accordance with his theory that 'a beautiful church may be the least of all aids to worship, but it is an aid, and an aid which ought to be seriously sought and gratefully accepted. . . . Even the faintest suggestion of the Lyceum, the music hall, or the theatre ought to be avoided.' (fn. 7) He therefore in 1903 called in John Burnet and Son of Glasgow, architects sympathetic to Nonconformist ideals. At this stage J. J. Burnet (later Sir John Burnet) was sole partner in the firm, and this appears to have been his first London work. Without disturbing the exterior, Burnet cleverly devised a chancel by removing the old organ and arranging the new one (by Henry Willis and Sons) in two parts on either side of the ends of the gallery, which was slightly curtailed. He then screened the curving east end with a terracotta wall ornamented with representations of the Four Living Creatures and with two statues, and opened out three east windows, filled with glass by R. Anning Bell. Beneath, he built up a chancel with a marble floor and seven steps to a communion table, and supplied a wooden pulpit and stalls. All this was done in a style and in materials to match Waterhouse's work. John Shillitoe and Son were again the contractors (but went bankrupt during the work) and the Leeds Fireclay Company supplied matching terracotta. The cost was £2,934 excluding the organ. (fn. 8)

Figure 25:

King's Weigh House Church, plan, with internal arrangement as in 1901

Though his ministry was a success, Hunter's alterations were not generally popular, and in 1904 he left. The Weigh House then went for some years into a decline that was not arrested until the arrival of William Edwin Orchard in 1914. Orchard, a socialist, pacifist, and Catholic sympathizer, soon introduced a large measure of ritual including the use of incense and reservation of the Sacrament. His ministry enjoyed considerable fashionable success prior to his inevitable conversion to Rome in 1932. Though Orchard appears not to have greatly admired Waterhouse's building, which he likened to an 'ovalshaped boilerette', (fn. 9) he made few alterations, the main one being the insertion of the present wooden reredos, designed by A. E. Henderson and carried out by Allan G. Wyon in 1927. After Orchard's departure the King's Weigh House congregation was never the same again. Its difficulties were increased when a bomb fell on 20 October 1940, killing the minister's wife. However in 1953 a skilful and conservative restoration was completed and the church re-opened. This was not enough to halt the congregation's decline, though the building was frequently let out for meetings and services to other persuasions. Finally in 1965 an agreement was made to merge with the Whitefield Memorial Church. (fn. 10) The freehold of the church and the lease of the adjoining premises were disposed of to the Ukrainian Catholic Church for use as their London cathedral. Following this change of use the organ has been taken out (though the cases remain on either side of the chancel), the pulpit and some of the chancel stalls have been removed, pews have been substituted for chairs in the body of the church, and a rood by W. Borecky is currently scheduled for erection. Among the new fittings is a confessional designed by J. F. Bentley, borrowed from Westminster Cathedral.

Nos. 75–83 (odd) Duke Street.

The second range of shops designed by W. D. Caröe for Duke Street, between Weighhouse Street and Duke's Yard, shows a remarkable progression from the Queen Anne extravagance of his Nos. 55–73 towards a plainer, more architectonic and more original style (fig. 26: see also Plate 35b in vol. XXXIX).

The site of this block did not accord precisely with that of previous buildings here. It consisted of three plots, the southernmost of which (No. 83) was in 1893 agreed to be leased to a dressmaker, Mrs. Oliver Kerr, while the builder George Haward Trollope acquired interests in the adjoining two (Nos. 75–81). Caröe had at the Duke of Westminster's suggestion been appointed architect as early as August 1892. In June 1893 he produced elevations for Mrs. Kerr's portion. These were approved subject (for the sake of economy) to the omission of all stonework on the upper parts, a condition which may have induced Caröe to rationalize his design. The elevations for the northern plots, which were to be treated as part of the same range, were not agreed until early in 1894, by which time George Trollope and Sons had begun work on Mrs. Kerr's site. They soon extended their activity to their own plots, and the building was completed in 1895. A perspective drawing of the range by E. A. Rickards was shown at the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1896 and later illustrated in The Builder. (fn. 11)

Figure 26:

Nos. 75–83 (odd) Duke Street, elevation

The elegance of Nos. 75–83 stems from Caröe's acceptance of the need for simplicity, and his skill in making the building tell from the side view. There is a plinth of Portland stone and several of the shop fronts are arched, but above this the front is built of refined narrow bricks relieved by a minimum of cut-brick ornament, and interspersed with irregular rows of white-painted sashes and casements, some in metal, some in wood. The south elevation to Duke's Yard is given more 'go' with squaretopped pavilions at the corners linked by an arch, and some unusual crowning features, but the rest of the roof is left bulky and simple with irregular dormers and tall plain chimneys.

Duke's Yard and Nos. 85–89 (odd) Duke Street.

The rebuilding of Nos. 75–83 Duke Street left a medley of stable and back buildings to the south, behind Nos. 86 and 88 Brook Street and No. 9 Grosvenor Square. The leases of these houses had been arranged to fall out simultaneously in 1899, when Eustace Balfour as estate surveyor planned to make a short street through to Binney (then Thomas) Street, with a regular block of stables on its south side, separated from the large houses behind. Lord Amherst, the tenant at No. 88 Brook Street, agreed to take a large proportion of the new stabling, which was built to the designs of Balfour and his partner Thackeray Turner in 1900–2 by Jonathan Andrews, who also formed the roadway of the new Duke's Yard at the same time. (fn. 12) This short range is one of its architects' most elegant contributions to the estate, designed in the later manner of Philip Webb, with simple brick detailing, sash windows, and an attic storey in stone above the cornice line (Plate 35c in vol. XXXIX).

The ground floor of these buildings underwent alterations in 1909–10, when two of the stables were converted to garages for No. 88 Brook Street by Mewès and Davis and by John Garlick, while it was apparently at this date that the corner building was turned into a shop, becoming No. 85 Duke Street. (fn. 13)

No. 87 Duke Street was taken out of No. 9 Grosvenor Square in 1924–5 by the lessee of the whole, Syrie Maugham, who had an interior-decorating and antique shop here from that time intermittently until 1939. The present shop front and entrance date from 1924–5 and were the work of a 'decorator', E. Hitchenor, to designs by the architect Owen C. Little. This was a conversion of menservants' bedrooms for No. 9 which had been constructed by the builder G. Chappelow in 1899–the probable date of the arcaded upper part in red brick, as it was here the first Duke had urged 'the more red brick the better'. On the ground floor (only) the shop also included the former dining-room of No. 9, but since c. 1965 this has been separately numbered 89 Duke Street. (fn. 14).


  • 1. GBM 24/171, 271–2, 279–80, 498; 25/527.
  • 2. B. 28 June 1890, p. 466: B.N. 13 Feb. 1891, p. 229; 7 Aug. 1891, p. 178: The Architect, 16 Aug. 1895, p. 104.
  • 3. GBM 20/316, 390; 21/53–4, 56; 22/385–6: B. 25 Aug. 1883, p. 250.
  • 4. Elaine Kaye, The History of the King's Weigh House Church, 1968, pp. 96–103.
  • 5. GBM 22/426, 458; 24/422; 25/351: Dr. Williams's Library, press cutting of 1891 in King's Weigh House Building Committee Minutes 1887–91.
  • 6. GBM 23/354, 24/161–2: Dr. Williams's Library, King's Weigh House Building Committee Minutes, passim: R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in England, 1962, p. 329: B. 18 Jan. 1890, p. 44.
  • 7. Kaye, op. cit., p. 109.
  • 8. Dr. Williams's Library, King's Weigh House Minutes of Church Meetings and of Deacons' Meetings, 1903–4: B. 26 Nov. 1904, p. 550.
  • 9. W. E. Orchard, From Faith to Faith, 1933, p. 116.
  • 10. Kaye, op. cit., pp. 140–52.
  • 11. GBM 25/231, 233, 355, 422, 462, 483, 523; 26/217, 249: B. 13 Feb. 1897, pp. 148–9.
  • 12. GBM 27/523; 28/113–14: D.S.R. 1900/179.
  • 13. GBM 37/224, 226: P.O.D.
  • 14. GBM 27/188, 498: information kindly supplied by Miss J. B. Courtauld: B.A. 16321A; 105059: D.S.R. 1899/229; 1924/180: P.O.D.