Duke Street Area: Artisans' Dwellings in the Duke Street Area

Pages 93-98

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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In this section

Artisans' Dwellings in the Duke Street Area

For the first few Victorian 'improved working-class dwellings' built upon Grosvenor property in London the initiative does not seem to have derived from the Estate. These were the 'model lodging-houses' erected in the 1850's in Grosvenor Mews and Bourdon Street by the builder John Newson and the St. George's Parochial Association (see page 62). Together with Oxford House, a small building of Newson's put up in 1858–60 on part of the Grosvenor Market site, they accommodated some 67 families, and so alleviated only a small part of the need for better working-class housing on the Mayfair estate.

The existence of these buildings and their effect upon the neighbourhood must have impressed the second Marquess of Westminster, for in the late 1860's a policy was inaugurated in which he and his son Earl Grosvenor, the future first Duke, were personally involved, to encourage further improved dwellings on his estates. One further block in Mayfair was built by the St. George's Parochial Association in 1868–9, Grosvenor Buildings in Bourdon Street (see page 63), and at the same time an initiative was planned for the area south of Oxford Street. But for the time being the main drive was directed towards Pimlico. Here, the Estate's earliest and largest venture was Gatliff Buildings in what is now Ebury Bridge Road, erected in 1866–7 to house 149 families by the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes. (fn. 1) In this project the second Marquess was closely involved, as the Metropolitan Association was short of funds and could be enticed to build only when he agreed personally to advance them the necessary capital of £21,000 at a low rate of interest. (fn. 2) As a result the Estate was in full control of the enterprise, and Thomas Cundy III became the architect. For other Pimlico sites nearby where model dwellings were desired, the Marquess was again keen to employ the Metropolitan Association. He was advised against a policy of direct subsidy, and therefore sought to buy £10,000-worth of shares in the Association conditionally upon their building on the estate. (fn. 3) But this proved insufficient for the Association, and so for the later Pimlico model dwellings of this campaign, Coleshill Buildings (1871), Ebury Buildings I and II (1871, 1873) and Lumley Buildings (1875), the Estate turned to Sir Sydney Waterlow's Improved Industrial Dwellings Company.

This company relied for its solvency on offering a higher rate of return on capital than some of the earlier organizations. Its characteristic tenement blocks, idiosyncratic in both plan and elevation, reflected Waterlow's personal involvement in their development. Lord Ebury, the second Marquess's brother, had presided at the opening of the I.I.D.C.'s first building (in Finsbury) in 1863, so the Grosvenor family had some knowledge of its operations. (fn. 4) This first building, evolved with Waterlow by the company's regular builder, Matthew Allen, became the model for most of their subsequent blocks. (fn. 5) As with the Metropolitan Association, the I.I.D.C. flats were provided with balcony access, which allowed ventilation for the stairs and at the same time exempted the blocks from house duty, but they differed from those of other companies by being entirely self-contained, having their own lavatories and sculleries behind the living-rooms no matter how small the flat. Only the washrooms on the roof were communal. Floors were commonly of concrete, as Allen was an early exponent of concrete construction for cheapness. The I.I.D.C. had no regular architect, and normally relied for its designs upon a modification of their original plan, worked out between a consulting surveyor and their secretary, who for many years was the industrious James Moore. 'We have what we call standard plans', said Waterlow in 1884, 'and if plan No. 1 does not fit, plan No. 2 or No. 3 or No. 4 probably fits the peculiar ground we have to deal with'. (fn. 6) Yet at Coleshill, Ebury and Lumley Buildings, an architect was clearly employed, William Ward Lee of Messrs. Lee and Beck. (fn. 7) At Coleshill and Lumley Buildings he may merely have fitted the I.I.D.C. plan to the sites and elaborated the exteriors in accordance with the wishes of the third Marquess, who succeeded his father in October 1869 just as the first of these blocks was being started. But for Ebury Buildings Lee provided an entirely new plan, on a more extensively galleried system. (fn. 5) Though not adopted again, it was one of several signs that the company was using the goodwill of the Grosvenors to experiment in its Pimlico developments. Certainly the Estate was not out to make a profit here. At Lumley Buildings, for instance, the ground rent was reduced at their suggestion so as to allow the housing of poorer people than in the earlier blocks. (fn. 8)

Clarendon Flats, Balderton Street.

In Mayfair, the sole representative of the I.I.D.C.'s first campaign was Clarendon Buildings (1871–2), erected on the site of seven houses on the west side of Balderton (then George) Street (fig. 27: see also Plate 30c in vol. XXXIX). It was a smaller undertaking than any of the Pimlico blocks but nonetheless necessary. Northern Mayfair had a large working-class population employed directly or indirectly in servicing the great houses of the area, some working as out-servants, others in shops and small businesses in and around Oxford Street. Many of them were poorly housed, if not exceptionally so. In January 1884, at a time of national concern over working-class housing and just before the main campaign of rebuilding in this area was initiated, letters sent to clergymen on the estate for comment on this topic elicited complaints about houses in Brown Street, George Street, George Yard, Providence Court, Hart Street, Shepherd's Place, and Thomas Street, that is to say a wide area centred upon but stretching well east and west of the present Brown Hart Gardens, where the main efforts in this direction were to take place. (fn. 9) A little earlier, in 1881, the Reverend J. W. Ayre of St. Mark's, North Audley Street, felt able to say that Clarendon Buildings was 'of itself a great civilizer, and has exercised a very marked influence for good in the Parish'. (fn. 10) The need for such accommodation in 1871 must therefore have been great, and it is remarkable that despite relatively high rents there were nearly five times as many applicants for the thirty-eight dwellings as there were places.

The progress of Clarendon Buildings was straightforward. The future of Nos. 1–8 George Street was under consideration in 1868, at which time a 'model lodging house' was first deemed appropriate for the site because of the deep open space at the back along North Row. The I.I.D.C. was officially approached in 1870. The first elevation submitted by the company having not been accepted, revisions were made by their surveyor, in this case a 'Mr. Robson' (possibly the well-known E. R. Robson, who certainly did private work for Waterlow at a later date). But his role must have been mainly supervisory, as the basic design of the building followed the I.I.D.C.'s normal models. The revisions did not content the third Marquess, who on visiting the completed dwellings expressed 'his dissatisfaction at the elevation as built'. Nevertheless the building, like the I.I.D.C. blocks in Pimlico, did incorporate some novelties. Although the ground rent asked was £44 as against £63 from the houses demolished, this was still more than the company was used to paying, so they built to the unaccustomed height of seven storeys, or sixty-five feet in all, this being the upper limit to which the New River Company could then supply water. The dressings were of cement and at the insistence of the Marquess red brick was used for the facings. (fn. 11)

Figure 27:

Clarendon Flats, elevation to Balderton Street and typical floor plan

The I.I.D.C.'s contractor, Matthew Allen, was quickly on site shortly after the lease of the old buildings expired in March 1871. By November the building was virtually complete, and it was opened early in 1872. (fn. 12) The thirty-eight dwellings consisted of two sets of two rooms, two of four, and two of five on each floor, with two of five on the roof; altogether it housed approximately 175 occupants. (fn. 1) The rents were calculated as averaging 2s. a week per room, and the class that the I.I.D.C. anticipated would occupy the buildings were 'mechanics and others earning from 30s. to 35s. a week for the three and four room lettings, and earning 25s. per week for two room lettings'. (fn. 13) These were good wage-earners paying well for their accommodation, but the rents were no higher than in Pimlico, although the company reckoned to make a decent profit from their centrally located tenements so as to subsidise ones in outlying areas. (fn. 1) The applications for places appear to have been 'processed' by the Reverend J. W. Ayre or his curates, who were asked to recommend occupants. Ayre, who was preparing to build a mission house on the adjacent site to the south, took a keen interest in Clarendon Buildings and accepted a strip of ground behind the flats to add to his parish schools. (fn. 14)

The name of Clarendon Buildings was chosen by the estate because of the proximity of the recently demolished Clarendon House. (fn. 15) As with other blocks in this vicinity, its name has now been changed to Clarendon Flats; it is currently managed by the Grosvenor Estate.

Stalbridge, Balderton, Chesham, Cavendish,Hanover and Moore Flats.

After 1875 the pace of building improved working-class dwellings on the Grosvenor estate slackened. The Improved Industrial Dwellings Company was keen to take more sites, but apart from a small building erected near the Chelsea Barracks in 1877, nothing could be found for them until a big block of leases in appropriate places fell in. (fn. 16) Plainly this was what both parties were waiting for. For its part, the Estate encouraged a further small block in Bourdon Street, built in 1883–4 by the St. George's Workmen's Model Dwellings Association (see page 63), while the company was well enough capitalized to have £150,000 to invest in Grosvenor estate developments in 1880. Late in that year, James Moore, the I.I.D.C.'s secretary, was shown 'the houses between Grosvenor Square and Oxford Street' with a view to submitting a rebuilding plan. (fn. 17) Here, leases for a large and motley group of premises were due to expire in 1886, and it seems that from the start much of the area east of Duke Street, where Seth Smith's leases of the 1820's were also due to expire in 1885–6, was included in the company's sphere of activities as well. Thus in an area bounded by Oxford Street on the north, Balderton Street on the west, George Yard, Duke's Yard and St. Anselm's Place on the south, and Davies Street on the east, the I.I.D.C. was to promote one of the most substantial transformations in the Mayfair estate's history.

In 1882 Moore was still anxious to proceed either here or in Pimlico, but the draft plan prepared early the previous year had to stand over until 1884. (fn. 18) That year marked renewed national outcry over the condition of working-class housing, culminating in a Royal Commission. The poor condition of some parts of the Mayfair estate, notably in the area destined for rebuilding, was briefly mentioned to the Commission by Andrew Mearns, but the Duke's London properties were not implicated in any of the more serious revelations. (fn. 19) Nevertheless, the Estate took the opportunity to review the working-class dwellings so far erected, and the crisis may also have speeded up their activity in northern Mayfair. In May 1885 Thomas Cundy III produced an amended plan for the development, and the rest of the year and much of the next one were spent in working out arrangements. (fn. 20)

In such a large scheme, comprising nine different buildings on seven separate plots, there were many problems involved. For one thing Duke Street, a major thoroughfare, split the site in two (Plate 31a in vol. XXXIX). Here it was decided to treat the street separately, keep the industrial dwellings away from the frontages, and allow lessees to build shops with flats over. Another difficulty was the accommodation of displaced tenants. To facilitate this, the I.I.D.C. agreed to become tenants of the old houses at a fixed rent until rebuilding reached them. (fn. 21) Reconstruction was to proceed roughly from west to east, starting with Stalbridge Buildings in the present Lumley (then Queen) Street in 1886. Close upon this followed Balderton Buildings, in two blocks with ends facing what is now Brown Hart Gardens, and in 1887 Chesham Buildings on the south side of Brown Hart Gardens. Only when these were completed did building operations begin east of Duke Street.

All these blocks were built to a uniform system of plan and elevation, but with what appears for the I.I.D.C. to have been a new arrangement. Unfortunately neither designer nor builder can be traced. By this time the company had its own staff of contractors, (fn. 6) while as usual no mention was made of an architect. One possibility for this role is the firm of Borer and Dobb, who assisted in the I.I.D.C.'s previous big venture, Sandringham Buildings in Charing Cross Road, but the Mayfair blocks are in every respect superior. Surviving drawings are all signed by the secretary, James Moore, and it is safe to say that his was the lion's share in the undertaking. In December 1885 he produced standard plans for the estate showing how the tenements would be arranged lengthwise, in shallow blocks of only twenty-eight feet in depth, with the scullery and water closet in each one positioned off a lobby next to the door. (fn. 22) This differed from Clarendon Buildings and marked a departure from the old 'gallery system'. The staircases were ventilated from open balconies, but placed at the backs of the buildings. Elevations were symmetrically designed in a minimal Gothic, with prominent stringcourses and aprons to the windows. Unusual were the picturesque gable features set into 'curbed' or mansard roofs, executed at the Duke's request (Plates 30d, 31b in vol. XXXIX). These roofs were tiled rather than slated, and detail drawings show that a good deal of iron was used in the structures, both indications of the qualities of strength and appearance aimed at in these dwellings. The Duke also insisted upon red brick, though he was informed that it would cost £2,500 more than picked stocks with red stringcourses. (fn. 23) The blocks were six storeys high including the inhabited basements, and there were wash houses on the flat parts of the roofs.

By December 1888 Stalbridge, Balderton, and Chesham Buildings were all completed and named. The only trouble had arisen over Chesham Buildings, where in order to get the curbed roof and red-brick elevations he approved of on all sides, the Duke had to reduce the ground rent. (fn. 24) In conjunction with these buildings, the Duke desired to have a 'cocoa house' or coffee tavern and a public garden. The coffee tavern was dropped for want of an applicant, but the I.I.D.C.'s contract included an undertaking to clear a space and provide a communal garden on the site between Brown Street and Hart Street. The Duke soon took over the garden scheme except for the surrounding railings, and in 1889 it was constructed to the layout of Joseph Meston on the site of the present electricity sub-station (Plate 23a: see also Plate 31a in vol. XXXIX). The simple garden included a small drinking fountain at the east end, a urinal at the west end and a shelter in the centre; trees were also planted. (fn. 25) None of these features was to survive long (see page 91).

Attention now turned to the area further east. The plans for the three I.I.D.C. sites here had to fit in with reconstruction on the east side of Duke Street itself, where Nos. 55–73 (odd) and the King's Weigh House Church were being built in 1889–92. A lithograph dated 1887 showing an axonometric view of the whole I.I.D.C. estate (Plate 31a in vol. XXXIX) suggests that at that time their plans were at the ready. (fn. 26) In 1889 work began on Cavendish Buildings on the east side of Gilbert Street, with an elevation like that of Stalbridge Buildings. Hanover Buildings, in two blocks on either side of Binney Street south of Weighhouse Street, followed in 1890–1 (Plate 24b), and in 1891–2 the scheme was completed by Moore Buildings between Gilbert and Binney Streets, again in two blocks with a garden in between. The east part of Hanover Buildings and both blocks of Moore Buildings were T-shaped in plan, with the staircases planned centrally (fig. 28). Moore Buildings were named at Boodle's suggestion after James Moore, and opened on 1 November 1892 by the Duke. (fn. 27)

The progress of these later buildings was slightly delayed by an outcry over the question of shops. Among those displaced by operations in this area were several tradesmen, but the I.I.D.C. had not provided shops in any of the earlier blocks, nor did they do so in Cavendish Buildings. In October 1889 Mr. Deignan, 'the son of the second-hand clothes dealer', aired the tradesmen's grievances in The Star; as a result the Estate asked the I.I.D.C. to provide shops and, if possible, separate workshops. The company was not at first convinced of this need and asked for compensation, but yielded to pressure sufficiently to provide five shops each in the eastern section of Hanover Buildings and the southern part of Moore Buildings. This was still only a third of the number that Thomas Cundy III had thought appropriate, and indeed there was some further trouble with excluded tradesmen. (fn. 28)

Figure 28:

Moore Flats, ground-floor plan

Over the question of the ordinary tenancies for the new buildings, the minister of St. Mark's, North Audley Street was consulted as before. (fn. 29) In 1888 Moore suggested that tenants of old houses should move into Clarendon Buildings and that inmates of Clarendon Buildings should go into the new blocks, so that 'those who had not been used to a model lodging house would be gradually improved before moving into new buildings'. This was approved, but it cannot have been generally done. Though no figures are available, the rents for those displaced and rehoused were fixed below market value and indeed below what they had paid before, while for newcomers the terms were higher. This was only possible because of the low grounds rents charged by the Duke on all the buildings on both sides of Duke Street, amounting to £502 per annum as against £2,193 for old leases of the same sites. (fn. 30)

Altogether 332 families were accommodated in the developments of 1886–92. Together with Clarendon Buildings, this meant that the Duke and the I.I.D.C. had between them settled nearly 2,000 people on the Grosvenor estate in Mayfair. (fn. 26) In Pimlico an equivalent number had also been housed in their developments. 1892 marks the end of this collaboration, for though the company did ask the Estate for more sites there were none forthcoming, (fn. 31) and with the setting up of the London County Council in 1889 the days when the burden of working-class housing fell mainly upon voluntary organizations were numbered. In record of this partnership, after the Duke's death a plaque was placed on Chesham Buildings, where it still remains, commemorating his achievement in 'accommodating nearly 4,000 persons of the working class' in I.I.D.C. developments on his London estates.

In recent years the blocks have been taken over by the Peabody Trust, and their names changed from 'Buildings' to 'Flats'. Their inclusion in the redevelopment area under the Grosvenor Estate's strategy of 1971 provoked some protest, and their future remains in question. (fn. 32)


  • 1. G.O., Particulars of Improved Working Class Dwellings at present upon the Duke of Westminster's London Estate, March 1884.
  • 2. GBM 15/49, 62–3, 69–70, 80–2, 98, 103–4, 157–8, 231–3, 270–1, 321, 347–8, 434–5, 490–1, 515.
  • 3. Ibid., 15/444–5; 16/64–5, 80–1.
  • 4. J. A. Mays, Ground Plan and Elevation of Langbourne Buildings with descriptive notes, 1863, pp. 21–3.
  • 5. J. N. Tarn, Five Per Cent Philanthropy, 1973, pp. 50–6.
  • 6. P.P., 1884–5, XXX, R.C. on the Housing of the Working Classes, p. 427.
  • 7. GBM 16/81, 100–2, 316–17, 324–5; 17/487–90; 18/46–8.
  • 8. Ibid., 17/487–90; 18/46–8.
  • 9. Ibid., 21/471–2.
  • 10. C.C., file 66840.
  • 11. GBM 16/75–6, 492–3; 17/48, 141–2, 308: P.P., 1874, X, S.C. on Metropolitan Buildings and Management Bill, p. 252.
  • 12. GBM 17/141–2, 308: B. 10 Feb. 1872, p. 110.
  • 13. GBM 17/141–2.
  • 14. Ibid., 16/493; 17/308.
  • 15. Ibid., 17/309.
  • 16. Ibid., 19/56, 74.
  • 17. Ibid., 20/212.
  • 18. Ibid., 20/212; 21/14.
  • 19. P.P., 1884–5, XXX, R.C. on the Housing of the Working Classes, p. 177.
  • 20. GBM 21/471–2, 497–8; 22/201–2; 23/105–6.
  • 21. Ibid., 22/201–2.
  • 22. Plans in possession of the Peabody Trust.
  • 23. GBM 22/202.
  • 24. Ibid., 23/425–6, 470.
  • 25. Ibid., 23/107–8, 428, 469–70; 24/107–8, 215–17, 379.
  • 26. B.N. 4 Nov. 1892, p. 629.
  • 27. GBM 25/303–5.
  • 28. Ibid., 24/219–20, 283–5, 380; 25/107–9, 303 4.
  • 29. Ibid., 22/202; 23/106, 427.
  • 30. Ibid., 23/426; 25/107.
  • 31. GBM 25/109.
  • 32. Evening Standard, 14 Aug. 1973, p. 21.