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Brief history of '17 Grosvenor Crescent'
On 21 March 2006, the then Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt officially opened the relocated Belgian Embassy at 17 Grosvenor Crescent. The previous 80 years, the Embassy had been based in nearby Eaton Square.
Like the buildings in Eaton Square, the present Embassy premises are part of the Grosvenor Estate. The name ‘Grosvenor’ refers to the Grosvenor family. In 1677, Sir Thomas Grosvenor married Mary Davies who was heiress of 500 acres of rural land on the outskirts of London.
As London grew, this property became the source of the family’s immense wealth. It was developed into the fashionable areas of Mayfair and Belgravia, which remains the basis of the family fortune. At least 500 roads, squares and buildings bear their family names and titles, and the names of places and people connected with them.
Grosvenor Crescent, c. 1900
The Georgian street was designed in 1833 and completed in the early 1860s. It formed part of the development of Belgravia (the Grosvenor’s southern estates), which took place between 1820 and 1860. The road was built to connect Belgrave Square more directly with Park Lane and Mayfair, Hyde Park Corner and the Park. It was designed by the architect George Basevi (1794-1845, cousin of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli), who also drew up the plans for the building at Nr 17. The crescent was intended to be called ‘Westminster Crescent’ to commemorate the Grosvenor family’s newest acquired title (in 1831) but the idea was dropped and the street became Grosvenor Crescent.
The land, situated on an area of four hundred acres, used to be called ‘Five Fields’. From 1826, prior to any building works, a sewage system for Belgrave Square and its adjoining roads was installed. Subsequently, the construction of roads, pavements, cellars under these pavements and lampposts took place. Bricks were made from clay dug on site, the excavations being filled in and the whole area raised and levelled with soil taken from the construction of St. Katherine’s Dock by the Tower.
17 GROSVENOR CRESCENT
Nrs 16 and 17 were built and finished simultaneously and sold to substantial tenants in the early 1850s. Like most houses in the area, they were designed by George Basevi and constructed by master builder Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855) with the backing of the Swiss financiers George and William Holdiman and Alexander Provost. The lease started in 1849. From the late 1860s until 1896 it was home to the Right Hon. Gathorne Hardy (conservative MP), Home Secretary and later War Secretary. In 1878, he became the first Viscount Cranbrook when he was appointed Secretary of State for India (until April 1880). In 1892 he was raised to an earldom.
In 1898, the sisters Agnes and Fanny Keyser, daughters of a prominent member of the London Stock Exchange, moved into the premises and turned their home at 17 Grosvenor Crescent into a nursing home for sick and wounded army officers returning from the Boer War. The Duke of Westminster agreed to the lease being used as a Hospital for Officers on condition it would not be obvious from the outside. Initially, the hospital was set up with the sisters’ own money. They also sent out a private appeal to 24 friends asking for yearly subscriptions of £100.
In 1898, Agnes Keyser met the future King Edward VII. She became his confident until he died in 1910. Under his patronage the hospital evolved into King Edward VII Hospital for officers. Sister Agnes and her staff continued to care for Officers in peacetime. In 1930 it became a registered charity. By 1940, Agnes Keyser (‘sister Agnes’) had moved into Nr 16 while the hospital remained at Nr 17. The Hospital moved to its present site in Beaumont Street (W1) in 1948 and changed its name to King Edward VII’s Hospital Sister Agnes. It is now a private independent hospital open and accessible to Service Personnel and civilians from all walks of life.
From the early 1950s until the mid 80s the Institution of Gas Engineers and its Benevolent Fund occupied 17 Grosvenor Crescent. From 1993 until 2000, the head office of ’Marie Curie Cancer Care’ took over the building. The premises remained empty until the Belgian Embassy moved in in March 2006.
© Tom D'Haenens