Grosvenor Square

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The central garden in Grosvenor Square, now a public park (pictured November 2008) Grosvenor Square - - 1090067.jpg
The central garden in Grosvenor Square, now a public park (pictured November 2008)

Grosvenor Square /ˈɡrvnər/ is a large garden square in the Mayfair district of Westminster, Greater London. It is the centrepiece of the Mayfair property of the Duke of Westminster, and takes its name from the duke's surname "Grosvenor". It was developed for fashionable residences in the 18th century. In the 20th it had an American and Canadian diplomatic presence, and currently is mixed use, commercial.



The north side of Grosvenor Square in the 18th or early 19th century. The three houses at the far left form a unified group, but the others on this side are individually designed. Most later London squares would be more uniform. Grosvenor Square.JPG
The north side of Grosvenor Square in the 18th or early 19th century. The three houses at the far left form a unified group, but the others on this side are individually designed. Most later London squares would be more uniform.

Sir Richard Grosvenor obtained a licence to develop Grosvenor Square and the surrounding streets in 1710, [1] and development took place between 1725 and 1731. The land was sold in individual plots, with 30 different builders or partnerships taking a lease; about half of these had become bankrupt by 1738. [2] Grosvenor Square was one of the three or four most fashionable residential addresses in London from its construction until the Second World War, with numerous leading members of the aristocracy in residence. [3]

The early houses were generally of five or seven bays, with basement, three main stories and an attic. Some attempt was made to produce impressive groupings of houses, and Colen Campbell produced a design for a palatial east side to the square featuring thirty Corinthian columns but this was not carried out and in the end most of the houses were built to individual designs. There were mews behind all four sides.

Many of the houses were rebuilt later in the 18th century or during the 19th century, generally acquiring an extra storey when this happened. Number 23 (later 26) was rebuilt in 1773–74 for the 11th Earl of Derby by Robert Adam, and is regarded as one of the architect's finest works and as a seminal example of how grandeur of effect and sophisticated planning might be achieved on a confined site. It was demolished and rebuilt again in the 1860s. Nearly all of the older houses were demolished during the 20th century and replaced with blocks of flats in a neo-Georgian style, hotels and embassies.

The garden

Providing almost 2.5 hectares of open garden, Grosvenor Square is the second-largest garden square in central London after Russell Square at 2.5 hectares. While Lincoln's Inn Fields at 4.5 hectares is a larger space, it is categorised as an Inn of Court, not a garden square.

Grosvenor Square was originally laid out by gardener John Alston in the 1720s; his 'wilderness worke' design was a celebration of the countryside in the city. However, the gardens have been modified over time to meet the changing needs of those around them. Reserved for residents' use for much of its life, the Grade II-registered landscape [4] was, after the Second World War, made a public space for everyone's enjoyment, through the Roosevelt Memorial Act. [5] It was then managed by the Royal Parks until 2018, when Grosvenor Britain & Ireland took over its management.

Following an international Call for Ideas in 2018, [6] Grosvenor confirmed that the square would be redesigned to enhance its contribution to the environment and local communities.  [7] In June 2022, Westminster City Council approved a proposal to transform the square into "an extraordinary garden with groundbreaking environmental credentials". It is expected that, once started, the works would take around two years to complete. [8]

Bentley Boys of the 1920s

In the 1920s, four of the "Bentley Boys" – Woolf Barnato, Tim Birkin, Glen Kidston and Bernard Rubin – took adjacent flats in the fashionable south-east corner of the square, where their day-long parties became something of social legend. So common was the sight of their large, green sports cars parked ad hoc outside their flats, that for many years London cab drivers referred to the spot as "Bentley Corner".

American presence

Macdonald House, which has since been demolished, was used as the U.S. Embassy from 1938 to 1960, and then by the High Commission of Canada from 1961 to 2014 Macdonald House 2009.jpg
Macdonald House, which has since been demolished, was used as the U.S. Embassy from 1938 to 1960, and then by the High Commission of Canada from 1961 to 2014

Grosvenor Square was long a center of American presence in London beginning when John Adams established the first American mission to the Court of St. James's in 1785. Adams lived, from 1785 to 1788, in the house which still stands on the corner of Brook and Duke Streets.

During the Second World War American general Dwight D. Eisenhower established a military headquarters at 20 Grosvenor Square, and during this time the square was nicknamed "Eisenhower Platz". [9] Until 2009, the United States Navy continued to use this building as its headquarters for United States Naval Forces Europe. A statue of wartime president Franklin D. Roosevelt sculpted by Sir William Reid Dick stands in the square, as does a later statue of Eisenhower, and a statue of president Ronald Reagan. [10] The square also contains the Eagle Squadrons Memorial.

The former United States Embassy of 1938–1960 on the square was purchased by the Canadian government and renamed Macdonald House. It was part of the Canadian High Commission in London until 2014, when all the functions of the Canadian High Commission were transferred to Canada House in Trafalgar Square.

The former American embassy building (1960-2018) on the western side of Grosvenor Square is now a hotel US Embassy London view from SE.jpg
The former American embassy building (1960–2018) on the western side of Grosvenor Square is now a hotel

In 1960, a new United States Embassy was built on the western side of Grosvenor Square. This was a large and architecturally significant modern design by Eero Saarinen, being at the time a controversial insertion into a mainly Georgian and neo-Georgian district of London. In March and October 1968, there were large demonstrations in the square against US involvement in the Vietnam War. On both occasions, the protest became violent. [11] After 2001 a series of anti-terrorist devices were installed around the embassy, and the road running along the front of the building was closed completely to traffic. In 2006, the Grosvenor Square Safety Group residents association took out advertisements in The Washington Post and The Times , accusing the Metropolitan Police and local government of a "moral failure" for not closing two other roads adjacent to the embassy. [12]

In 2008, the United States Government chose a site for a new embassy in the Nine Elms area of the London Borough of Wandsworth, south of the River Thames. Construction of the new Embassy of the United States in London began in 2013, with relocation completed by 2017. In October 2009, following a recommendation by English Heritage, the Saarinen designed building was granted Grade II listed status. [13] The listing means that the new owners will not be allowed to change the facade, which includes the 35-foot-wingspread gilded-aluminium eagle that hovers above the main entrance. In November 2009, the Grosvenor Square property was purchased by the Qatari Diar investment group. [14]

Adlai Stevenson

On 14 July 1965, while walking with Marietta Tree, the then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, suffered a heart attack, later dying at the old St George's Hospital at Hyde Park Corner. As they reached the front of the Sportsman's Club, his last words were reportedly to ask her to slow down. [15]

Oscar Wilde

The writer Oscar Wilde lived in Grosvenor Square between 1883 and 1884, [16] and references to the square appear in four of his works (see section below).

Memorial to victims of 11 September 2001

Since 2003, the east of the gardens has contained a memorial garden to 67 British victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. [17] The poem For Katrina's Sun-Dial by Henry van Dyke was chosen for inscription on an elliptical granite block engraved with the names of the victims, underneath which is buried a piece of the steel wreckage.

11 September 2001 memorial garden Grosvenor Square, 11 September 2001 memorial garden.jpg
11 September 2001 memorial garden

Diplomatic property sell-off

The former United States Navy building at 20 Grosvenor Square was sold in 2007 for £250 million to Richard Caring, who planned to turn it into 41 residential apartments. The Abu Dhabi Investment Council and property developer Finchatton then bought the building for the same amount in April 2013, with planning permission to convert the building into 31 luxury apartments. [18] [19]

In September 2013, the Government of Canada announced its intention to sell its High Commission building at 1 Grosvenor Square and "consolidate its diplomatic activity in the UK in a single, central location in Canada House on Trafalgar Square". [20] [21]

Notable buildings

Most of the buildings on Grosvenor Square are in the Georgian style of architecture.

See also

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  3. Weinreb et al. 2008, pp. 359, 360.
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  8. Not confirmed, not cited (16 June 2022). "Grosvenor Square redesign gets planning approval". BBC News. Retrieved 16 June 2022.
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  17. Grosvenor Square Memorial Garden
  18. "Navy Deal Sealed: Finchatton and Abu Dhabi complete on £250m Grosvenor Square". 4 June 2013. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
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Coordinates: 51°30′41″N0°09′05″W / 51.51139°N 0.15139°W / 51.51139; -0.15139