Ebury Farm was a simple marshy farm whose lands later became the richest real estate in London.
Ebury Farm covered 430 acres in total with its farmhouse laying just to the south of where Victoria coach station now stands.
Earlier, there was a manor called Eia in the Domesday survey but later known as Eye, from which Eybury or Ebury derives. The manor probably occupied the territory between the Roman road along the present course of Bayswater Road and Oxford Street on the north, the Thames on the south, the Westbourne river on the west, and the Tyburn on the east.
After the Norman Conquest Geoffrey de Mandeville obtained possession of the manor, one of many which he took in reward for his services in the Conqueror’s cause. Before the end of William’s reign de Mandeville had given the manor to the Abbey of Westminster and it remained in the Abbey’s ownership until 1536 when it was acquired by Henry VIII. During this long period two areas came to be distinguished from the main manor. The areas were Hyde in the north-west corner, now incorporated into Hyde Park, and Neyte or Neat(e) in the heart of the district later known as Pimlico.
The Neyte was formerly a manor house or grange of the Abbots of Westminster situated between the modern Warwick Way
and Sutherland Row, and its site, together with some thirty-six acres to the south and east, was granted away separately by the Crown after 1536, and thus did not pass into the eventual ownership of the Grosvenor family.
The Manor of Hyde was enclosed into Hyde Park by Henry VIII, and he also added some land on the east to his new park, for fifteen acres called Tyburn Close and forty acres near Stonehill (apparently the north-eastern and south-eastern extremities of the park) were specifically excluded from subsequent leases and grants of Ebury manor.
In 1618, a lease for Ebury was bought for £4,760 by trustees acting for Sir Lionel Cranfield, the ambitious merchant who held several offices of state under James I and was later impeached for corruption.
In 1626, when his personal and financial fortunes were at a low point, Cranfield sold his interests in the manor and the additional lands for £9,400 to Hugh Audley, a clerk of the Court of Wards and Liveries who amassed a considerable fortune by lending money. Audley held the property until his death at an advanced age in 1662. During this long period he sold some small parcels of land and bought others which had probably once belonged to the manor, but when he died the estate he had purchased in 1626 was still virtually intact.
By a settlement made shortly before his death he left the bulk of the land to his great-nephew Alexander Davies and the detached part at Millbank (known as Market Meadows) to the latter’s brother Thomas Davies, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1676–7. After Audley’s death Thomas Davies sold his holding for £2,000 to his brother so that Alexander Davies possessed all of Audley’s former estate in the area.
Alexander Davies was a scrivener by profession and had worked for Audley. He decided to embark on speculative building on his new property and as the site chose Market Meadows at Millbank, which he had purchased from his brother. He let the land along the river front for building, reserving a large plot at the southern end as the site of a mansion for his own occupation. This was later called Peterborough House and then Grosvenor House when it became the principal London residence of the Grosvenor family in the first half of the eighteenth century.
In 1665, ’in the time of the … greate Sicknesse’ Alexander Davies died at the age of twenty-nine, leaving the speculation unfinished, his mansion half built, and an infant daughter less than six months old as his heir. This was the Mary Davies who was to marry Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677.
At the age of only twelve, Mary married Sir Thomas Grosvenor of Eaton in Cheshire. The marriage portion which the guardians of Mary Davies were able to offer the young Cheshire baronet Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677 consisted of some five hundred acres of land, mostly meadow and pasture. Not all of this was to be available in immediate possession and the income from the land was at that time relatively small, but its potential for future wealth was realised even then.
The most valuable of the inheritance was a vast holding, approximately one hundred acres in extent and sometimes called in early deeds The Hundred Acres, lying south of Oxford Street and east of Park Lane. With only minor exceptions this part of Mary Davies’s heritage has remained virtually intact to the present day and forms the Grosvenor estate in Mayfair. Some six or seven acres to the north of the modern Brick Street were sold to pay the debts of Alexander Davies, Mary Davies’s father, by Act of Parliament in 1675, and therefore did not pass to the Grosvenors.
In the process of time Mary Davies’s inheritance was developed for building, and the Grosvenors became the richest urban landlords in the country, the lustre of their name—for long synonymous with wealth and fashion—being gilded by successive advancements in the peerage, culminating in the dukedom of Westminster in 1874. Today the bulk of that inheritance is still, despite the sale of some of the less select parts, enjoyed by her descendants.