Grosvenor-Square-1

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.

Grosvenor-Square-2The 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.

Advertisements

Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair (now officially the Rocco Forte Brown’s Hotel) is generally awarded the accolade of being London’s oldest hotel. 

The hotel, which initially fronted on to Dover Street, was founded in a series of former Georgian townhouses in 1837 by James and Sarah Brown, formerly valet and maid to Lord and Lady Byron.

After being sold to the Ford family in 1859, the hotel was extensively modernised with electricity, the installation of permanent bath tubs, lifts, and in first for London hotels, an on-site restaurant. The building itself underwent a major expansion in the late 1890s when the family bought the St George’s Hotel which backed onto Brown’s and fronted onto Albemarle Street. The two buildings were merged into one, an extra floor added, and a new facade built for the hotel facing out onto Albemarle Street (pictured right). Three further townhouses were incorporated into the building in the early 1900s.

Possibly the most notable event to take place at the hotel was in 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call there. Other visitors included authors Rudyard Kipling (who wrote The Jungle Book while resident) and Agatha Christie (At Bertram’s Hotel is said to be based on Brown’s), royalty such as Queen Victoria and the French Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugenie (they stayed in 1871), and world leaders like US Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (said to count the bar among his favorities), Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia, and Emperor Haile Selassie, who took refuge there in 1936 after the Italians invaded Ethiopia.

The hotel, which now features 117 guestrooms, underwent a multi-million pound refurbishment in the mid-Noughties after becoming part of the Rocco Forte Collection of hotels. As well as The Albemarle restaurant and The Donovan Bar, it also serves award-winning afternoon teas at The English Tea Room.

For more about Brown’s Hotel, see www.brownshotel.com.

President Barack Obama has been in London for the past two days, so Exploring London decided to take a break from our series on King James’ I’s London and instead, in honor of the president’s visit, take a look at where you’ll find some other US presidents in London.

First up, it’s President George Washington. A life-sized statue of the first US president stands outside the National Gallery on the north side of Trafalgar Square. It’s a replica of an eighteenth century marble statue by Jean Antoine Houdon which stands in the State Capitol building in Richmond, Virginia. A gift of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1924.

Civil War President Abraham Lincoln stands looking toward Parliament Square and the Houses of Parliament (pictured). The statue dates from 1920 – it was originally proposed to put a statue of President Lincoln in Parliament Square to mark the 1915 centenary of the last time the US and Britain were at war but the plans were put on ice until several years later. The statue, a gift of the US government, is a replica of the Chicago Lincoln Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. (There is also a bust of Lincoln inside the Royal Exchange building).

Next in the chronology is President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose statue can be found on the north side of Grosvenor Gardens (overlooked by the vast and soon-to-be replaced US embassy). This bronze was unveiled by the president’s wife, Eleanor, on the third anniversary of FDR’s death- 12th April, 1948. The statue depicts the president standing – apparently at Mrs Roosevelt’s insistence – instead of seated in a wheelchair.

Across the gardens stands another wartime president, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. A bronze by sculptor Robert Dean, this life-size statue was the gift of the US city of Kansas in 1989 and was unveiled by British PM Margaret Thatcher and US Ambassador Charles Price. It stands only a short distance from Eisenhower’s wartime HQ. (Grosvenor Square has also been home to then future US President John Adams who lived at number nine as the first US Ambassador to the Court of St James between 1786-97).

A bronze bust of the 35th president, President John F. Kennedy, can be found on the corner of Park Crescent and Marylebone Road. Unveiled by his brother, Senator Robert Kennedy, in 1965, it’s a copy of a bust located in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

Among those mooted for the future is one of President Ronald Reagan (also in Grosvenor Square), planning permission for which was granted by Westminster City Council in 2009.