Long Term Thinking
The marshes and swamps of West London that flourished
Here’s a short history lesson on how the Mayfair and Belgravia you know today evolved from a swamp. This story is highly relevant to what I do today as I work in the Development Team at Grosvenor with the 7th Duke of Westminster, Hugh, my ultimate boss.
You’ve probably heard a figure of 300+ years used when talking about the Grosvenor Estate. That’s true, however the Grosvenor family ancestry can be traced back to its arrival into England with William the Conqueror in 1066. Since that arrival, the Grosvenor family did well for themselves, growing landholdings, finances and status, and creating a home in Eaton, Cheshire.
So how does a base in Cheshire lead to Mayfair and Belgravia? Well, ever heard of Mary Davies? She was the heiress to ‘Five Fields’ of land in Westminster that had been bought by her great grandfather, Hugh Audley (aka The Great Audley) who was a moneylender, lawyer and philosopher. Mary just so happened to marry a certain Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677, and with that the land passed into the Grosvenor family and marked the start of Grosvenor’s London Estate.
The 1700s was a period of significant change in London. Following the plague and great fire in the 17th Century, the City was being rebuilt and at the same time there was a desire from some to move west to areas outside the congested centre. Son of Sir Thomas, Sir Richard, saw an opportunity on the land inherited through Mary Davies which was previously only known for an annual spring fair called the ‘May Fayre’. The vision was for a fashionable, lively place to live and work, and that was certainly delivered - the area thrived and today Mayfair remains one of London’s most desirable addresses.
Around a century later (around 1820), came Belgravia. A couple of further generations down the Grosvenor family tree was Robert Grosvenor (First Marquess of Westminster), and it was Robert who saw an opportunity to the south-west of Mayfair. There was a property boom in London, wars had ended and Buckingham House was being converted into a palace for King George IV. Robert instructed Thomas Cundy and Thomas Cubitt as surveyor and builder/developer, who together transformed the area into streets, garden squares and crescent in the Regency style. Like Mayfair, Belgravia was very elegant, desirable and attracted leading figures in politics, science and the arts, as well as many embassies after the Second World War.
Later in the 1800s, Mayfair was re-invigorated by the 1st Duke of Westminster, Hugh Lupus Grosvenor. Grandson of Robert who developed Belgravia, Hugh continued with the family vision and instructed many new buildings in Queen Anne revival style. This included dwellings for nearly 4,000 working class Londoners across nine sites including Brown Street and Hart Street (today known as Brown Hart Gardens). Mount Street, however, with its terracotta facades was the 1st Duke’s greatest achievement. Originally built in the 1700s, but with many leases approaching expiry, the first duke struck on a clear opportunity to redevelop, improve and add value.
During the 1900s wars brought changes to the use of Mayfair, with temporary permissions for office introduced as heavy bombing in the City forced relocation. There were also further key developments on the estate and the emergence of steel frame construction triggered a new scale of development, with large mansion blocks and commercial buildings. Social housing also rallied, partly driven by war but also continuing the work of the 1st Duke and George Peabody.
It’s funny to think that the work I do is a continuation of this history. The desire to improve and follow a long-term vision remains in place - Mayfair and Belgravia are ever-evolving. I feel proud to be helping re-shape key parts of the estate and often talk about a long-term view when it comes to development decisions.
I wonder what Mayfair and Belgravia will look like in another 345 years?