10 Historic London Garden Squares…6. Grosvenor Square
June 5, 2013
The largest square in Mayfair, Grosvenor Square was laid out in the 1720s on the orders of Sir Richard Grosvenor of Cheshire.
Sir Richard owned the Grosvenor Estate, a considerable tract of land in London’s west which includes in its northern part the land upon which the square was created (the estate is now owned by Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster).
It’s proximity to Hyde Park and Whitehall quickly made it, like many other historic squares, a fashionable place for politicians to live – among those who lived here in the late 18th century were three prime ministers.
The oval-shaped gardens in the middle of the square - which was only opened to the public in 1948 – were once home to a statue of King George I but this was removed at some point. Originally thought to have been laid out by gardener John Alston, they took on their current form in 1948 when they were redesigned by architect BWL Gallannaugh (interestingly, Grosvenor Square is also said to have been the last part of London to exchange gas lighting for electric lighting).
There’s almost no residential buildings on the square these days but among the most prominent buildings (in fact it dominates the west end of the square) is the US Embassy. Designed by Eero Saarinen, the building was completed in 1960 with US President John F Kennedy one of the first visitors.
The hulking embassy is only one of the many American connections to the square, connections which at one point led to it being known as “Little America”. Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the US armed forces in World War II, based his headquarters at number 20 in 1944, while number nine – one of the few residences to survive – was home to John Adams, first American ambassador to the Court of St James and later the country’s second president.
The American theme, which has meant the square has been the focus of demonstrations such as those protesting the Vietnam War as well as outpourings of support such as in the wake of the September 11 attacks, is also evident in the statutory in the square’s gardens with grand, full size statues of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a bronze by William Reid Dick unveiled by Eleanor Roosevelt on the third anniversary of the president’s death – 12th April, 1948 – it is pictured above), President Eisenhower (a bronze by Robert Dean dating from 1989), and President Ronald Reagan (unveiled on 4th July, 2011, pictured right).
On the eastern side of the garden square is the September 11 Memorial Garden opened in 2003 while on the south side is the Monument to the Eagle Squadrons, the three RAF squadrons in World War II mostly composed of American volunteers before the US entered the war. There’s also a set of memorial “Diplomatic Gates”, installed in 1984 to commemorate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Paris and honour US and UK politician who have worked in the service of peace.
Other notable buildings include number one, the Canadian High Commission (previously the US embassy); and number four, one of square’s oldest houses. Now demolished, number 44 was the home of the Earl of Harrowby and where the British Cabinet were dining when word arrived of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.