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Ep 165: LWL LIVE - Mary Davies with Leo Hollis

Alex waves excitedly while Leo checks his phone and Fiona looks wistfully away...

We hadn't started yet! This was early doors when were nervously sitting down to try out what the space was like. Yes, Alex and I are both wearing sashes. No, I'm not sure why either. Let's focus on this:

WE DID A LIVE RECORD! And it was fun! And you can listen to the first half (the sensible bit) this week.

We were joined by lovely Leo Hollis to talk about Mary Davies:

Mary by Michael Dahl 1700, after her husband had died and before her trip to Rome

Mary Davies is one of the ancestors of the Duke of Westminster, who is amongst the wealthiest men in Britain. And the family fortune was partly made by developing land that belonged to Mary. 500 acres west of what was then London. At the beginning of the 1700s, when this portrait was painted, it was still farmland and countryside. Now, it's Mayfair and Belgravia, two of the most prestigious parts of London. The twists and turns of Mary's life, are explained on the pod, so have a listen to hear the scandal, the court case, and what little we can piece together about Mary herself. There's hardly anything she wrote herself that survives, and only the one picture of her. So, as sometimes happens, I've gone off on various tangents of images.

At 12 she was betrothed to Thomas Grosvenor, and at 14 she left her childhood home in London to travel up to start married life near Chester.

Eaton Hall drawn around 1740.

The first substantial house at Eaton was built around 1680, and this picture above is the one Mary would have known. We can see it in the wider landscape in this image:

Eaton Hall by Kip 1708

The Grosvenor family had come over with William the Conqueror, and made their money from mines in North Wales, amongst other pursuits. Their previous version of Eaton Hall can been seen bottom right of the image above. so the 1680s house was quite a step up, with large formal gardens surrounding it.

It was knocked down and rebuilt several times later, including a version by Alfred Waterhouse (of the Natural History Museum).

Eaton Hall 2006 Neil Kennedy CC BY-SA 2.0

The current house - rebuilt in early 70s and revamped 1990s, looks like this. With Waterhouse's chapel still standing to the right.

Their London house used to look like this:

Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London, by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd circa 1828.

The family moved here from Millbank, in the 1800s, long after Mary's time. and the house stood on Park Lane until after the First World War. It had been requestioned by the government during the war, and the family decided not to move back in afterwards. They sold up, and the plot was developed as the Grosvenor House Hotel. Obvious really, the clue is in the name!

Strype's map of London 1720 From Layers of London

The Grosvenor house would have been roughly were this map says Park Lane. Layers of London is an excellent website/resource, that allow you to see maps from all sorts of eras, overlaid onto the current street plan. So Strype's map ends halfway across Mary's land, as that was the edge of London. Where it says Pasture Ground, will become Mayfair. Alethea Howard, (remember her? she died in 1654, 12 years before Mary was born) lived right on the edge, with town in front and countryside behind her.

John Roques 1740s Map of London also from Layers of London

By the 1740s, look what has happened! Mayfair is filling in. Grosvenor Sq is visible as an oval within a square, and the grid of streets around it is established. Find where it says Bridge - of Knightsbridge - below Hyde Park, and then follow the diagonal line down to the left. Can you see where it says The Five Fields? That's what Mary's estate was known as.

We can see how Grosvenor Square has changed over the years.

Grosvenor Sq as is now, and as was. Image from Betterlife

The original scheme had a much smaller garden - called a wilderness, within a large paved area. Since then the gardens have grown. Bottom of the left picture is the old American Embassy building - currently being transformed into a Rosewood Hotel. Grosvenor are rethinking the layout, as part of their (sorry Leo) "placemaking" scheme. And are intending to bring back the smaller oval, albeit with more planting softening the outer paved area. Something like this:

Scheme for redevleoping Grosvenor Sq

The bit on Roques map marked five fields is now Belgravia, where you would find this:

Robert Grosvenor. By Jonathan Wylder. 1998. Beata May CCBY-SA3.0

Robert - the first Marquess of Westminster is Mary's great Grandson (I think!).

The 3rd Marquis was the first Duke - given the title by Queen Victoria in 1874. And the 7th Duke is Hugh Grosvenor:

Hugh Grosvenor 7th Duke of Westminster Government, OGL 3 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Here's Hugh in 2018. The bad news for Alex is that he is due to get married on the 7th June 2024. Good friends with both William and Harry, he carried a royal standard at Charles's coronation, and donated £12.5million during Covid to the national covid relief effort, and to help support the NHS. In other news, his sister Lady Edwina Snow (married to Dan Snow the historian) is one of the founders and trustees of The Clink charity. Which we talked about this time last year on the Pancake Race episode.

Davies St in Mayfair

The Davies side of the family is not forgotten. Most of the street names in Mayfair and Belgravia have some sort of family connection, and this one speaks for itself.

Mary's story is a mix of skulduggery, plotting, courtroom drama and legal twists. And at it's heart is a lady who remains enigmatic. Leo's book Inheritance is a brilliant telling of what we know, placed into the context of the time. It sheds enormous light on concepts that were just being thought through, which now we take for granted. Ideas of ownership of land are being created and tested in the courts. Listen to the pod, and then read the book. The first question from the audience was "what would you ask Mary, if you could?" I was certainly moved by Leo's answer.

Huge thanks to Leo for joining us. And to Dan and his team at the Tap for hosting so fabulously. Hopefully it won't be the last live record we do.

As ever, we're here:

Leo is here: And on Twitter @leohollis

And the Tap

Or follow them on Eventbrite for news of events.

Get in touch!

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