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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North Audley Street
North Audley Street today contains a number of fairly undistinguished large buildings of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with their ground floors generally given over to shops and restaurants. But it also possesses one splendid eighteenth-century house, masked by an unpromising stucco exterior, and a church of considerable distinction.
Generally called Awdley or Awdeley Street in early deeds, the street was named after Sir Hugh Audley, from whom the estate had descended through Mary Davies to the Grosvenor family. Both sides to the south of North Row originally formed part of the 'hinterlands' of large plots which had their principal frontages either to Grosvenor Square or Upper Brook Street. The east side was part of the ground taken by Edward Shepherd, the architect and builder, under an agreement of March 1725, (fn. 1) while the west side formed part of the very large area contracted for by Robert Andrews, the estate agent, and Thomas Barlow, the estate surveyor, at the same time. (fn. 2) Although a few plots in the street were subsequently let to builders under direct Grosvenor leases, most of the land was let in large blocks to Shepherd or to Barlow and Andrews respectively at very low ground rents with a minimum of restrictive covenants, to be developed virtually as they wished. (fn. 3)
On the west side this resulted in the building of a large number of narrow-fronted houses from 1727 onwards, some twelve, for instance, being packed into a little over two hundred feet of frontage between Green Street and the opening into Lees Place. (fn. 4) On the east side, with the pragmatic approach that characterized much of his building work, Shepherd was prepared to provide some large and no doubt lavishly appointed houses alongside others as small as most of those on the opposite side of the street. Apart from the surviving No. 12, the house on the site of No. 15, which had extensive grounds at the rear, was imposing enough to sell for £1,000 in 1734, (fn. 5) while at the south corner of North Row were two adjoining houses with frontages of approximately forty feet each.
The northern of these two had the advantage of a corner site with extensive stabling along North Row. It was probably built in c. 1745 by Alexander Rouchead, mason, to whom Shepherd had leased the site in 1737 (fn. 6) (and who, himself, lived from 1736 until his death in 1776 in a house on the north corner with North Row which may also have had a frontage to Oxford Street (fn. 7) ). Its eighteenth-century occupants included Captain William Burnaby, 1745–7; the eleventh Viscount Dillon, 1747–51; Colonel (later General) Noel, 1755–60; the third Earl of Sussex, 1764–71; Sir John Chetwode, third baronet, 1775–9; Fulke Greville, 1782–94; and the Hon. John Charles Villiers from 1796. (fn. 8) In 1795 Greville, who had apparently spent a good deal of money on the house and had run into debt in consequence, sold it for a little over £3,000 to Villiers, who was the brother of the second Earl of Clarendon, and who soon enlarged it by taking in part of the adjoining house to the south. (fn. 9) This remained his town house after he succeeded his brother as third Earl in 1824. He died in 1838 but the Dowager Countess continued to live there until her death in the house in 1844. (fn. 10) In the same year Clarendon House, as it was then known, was sold to James Ponsford, who, though styling himself 'architect', was principally a speculative builder. He pulled it down and in its place erected several houses with ground-floor shops in North Audley Street and workshops in North Row, also since demolished. (fn. 11) There is no known visual record of Clarendon House but, with a sixty-foot front to North Audley Street and a long return frontage with stabling and offices in North Row, it had the very large rateable value of £550 shortly before its demolition. (fn. 12)
Other persons of social distinction lived elsewhere in the street during the eighteenth century. Sir Cordell Firebrace, third baronet, occupied a house on the site of No. 13 from 1743 until his death in 1759, as did briefly the Marquess of Granby, son of the third Duke of Rutland, in 1762. Lady Rachel Austen, who was a sister of Sir Francis Dashwood, acquired the lease of No. 15, since rebuilt, in 1745 and lived there, with some intervals, when she apparently let the house, until her death in 1788. Lady Dillon, probably the Dowager Viscountess, widow of the ninth Viscount, occupied a house on the west side from 1741 to 1751. (fn. 13) This house, later numbered 26 and approximately on the site of the present No. 26, was the only house of fair size on this side of the street and was later occupied by the Berry family, friends and correspondents of Horace Walpole, from 1790 to 1824. (fn. 14) The notable inhabitants of the surviving Nos. 11 and 12 are given in the account of those houses.
Edward Shepherd occupied two houses on the east side, no doubt while he was supervising building operations in the street. He lived in a house on part of the site of No. 13 from 1730 until 1732 and then in one on the site of No. 16 in 1733 and from 1735 until 1740. (fn. 15) Shepherd's neighbour was George Hill, probably the elder brother of his wife, a 'carver in wood and stone', whose name frequently appears as a payee in Shepherd's bank account. (fn. 16)
By 1790 most of the occupants in the street were tradesmen. They included three grocers, two greengrocers, a fishmonger, a butcher, a poulterer and a baker; three peruke-makers, two haberdashers, a tailor and a shoemaker; two apothecaries, a coal dealer, a stationer, a saddler, a cabinet-maker, a carpenter, a corn chandler and a plain chandler. (fn. 17) There were also four public houses, all of which were still in existence in the later 1860's; by 1894, however, the first Duke of Westminster's anti-drink campaign had reduced their numbers to one—the Marlborough Head, which still survives at the corner of North Row. (fn. 18)
Despite the predominance of commercial interests and the unsatisfactory nature of much of the immediate neighbourhood — in 1795 a timber yard, a brewery and Gillows' workshops were in close proximity to the houses on the east side (fn. 19) —the street retained some social cachet in the early nineteenth century. The first house on the east side to the north of Grosvenor Square, generally known as No. 1 North Audley Street, was built in c. 1806 on part of the curtilage of No. 21 Grosvenor Square by Peter Denys, a Swiss emigrant's son who had married the daughter of the second Earl of Pomfret. (fn. 20) According to Boyle's Court Guide Lord Palmerston, the future Prime Minister, was living here in 1807, and the third Earl of Pomfret was the occupant from 1810 until his death in 1830. (fn. 21) The house was then purchased by the brother-in-law of Maria Edgeworth, the novelist, whose descriptions of the interior, and of her 'own—own room' there, survive in manuscript. (fn. 22) These show that it was a wide, well-lit, shallow house having ceiling heights of twelve, fourteen and ten feet on the first three storeys. At the front, firstfloor casement windows opened to a continuous balcony painted 'cane color'. On the ground floor a parlour was oilpainted a 'mud colour' and the dining-room, which Maria thought looked particularly well by candlelight, a 'drabfawn'. Here and on the first floor the doors were painted like oak, except the wide 'grandee doors' of the drawingrooms, which simulated satinwood. These drawing-rooms were papered in a brown fern-leaf pattern on a pale buff ground with a gold-beaded border, and the first-floor library oil-painted 'a kind of Heron's egg color'. On the bedroom floor the doors were all white-painted and the rooms papered. The servants' rooms above and below were partly or fully carpeted which Maria considered an unheard-of luxury. One staircase window was roundheaded and glazed with ground glass within an orange and purple border, giving 'a pretty Claude Lorraine view of trees behind'. The house was demolished in 1855 for the rebuilding of No. 21 Grosvenor Square. (fn. 23) As in the case of Clarendon House no visual record of its appearance has come to light.
With the notable exception of Nos. 11 and 12 all the remaining houses have been rebuilt at least once, some sites having been occupied by as many as four successive buildings. During the rebuilding of the west side in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the width of the street was increased from some forty to sixty feet by setting back the building line. (fn. 24)