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The Embassy


The Embassy

Grosvenor Square

(Grosvenor Square in the XVIII Century)


The Italian Embassy at No. 4 Grosvenor Square is a fascinating place, with a magnificent art collection and a lively history. The land occupied today by the square and the surrounding area were once part of the manor of Ebury, which belonged to Westminster Abbey and later became the property of the Crown.

James I sold the land in 1623 to private purchasers, and then in 1626 the manor of Ebury was bought by Hugh Audley, who left it to his wife, Mary Davies, upon his death. She later married Sit Thomas Grosvenor, whose son, Sir Richard, began developing the area around 1710. Sir Richard’s plans were ambitious. He wanted Grosvenor Square to be one of the largest in London, extending over six acres and bordered on all four sides by imposing, elegant buildings.

The east side, where the Italian embassy is located, was originally designed by the Scottish architect Colen Campbell (1676-1729), but his ideas were never transformed into reality. A drawing by Campbell, in which the Neo-Palladian nature of his project, is held by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It is unclear why Campbell’s plan was discarded, but work began on the site in 1725 under the direction of John Simmons. No.4, whose location in the centre of the east side made it the most important house on that side, was finished in 1728, and the construction of the whole group of seven houses was completed by 1735.

No. 4 was larger than the other buildings and its façade had a prominent central section crowned with a pediment. Some of the decorative elements were repeated on the end houses, giving the impression that the row of houses was a single palatial building. Despite the exceptional location and the beauty of the architecture, No. 4 failed to sell, until Simmons took the unusual measure of making it a raffle prize in June 1739.

The new owner was Francis Howard, 1st Earl of Effingham, who rented it to Edward Howard, 9th Duke of Norfolk, who lived in it until 1741. In February 1742 Lord Effingham sold the house for £5,500 to Thomas Watson-Wentworth, Earl of Malton, later 1st Marquess of Rockingham, who carried out major renovations to the building, notably changing the layout of the interior and adding plastered ceilings.

His son, Charles, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham and prime minister in 1765 and in 1782, lived at No. 4 Grosvenor Square from 1751 to his death in 1782. He bequeathed it to his nephew, William Wentworth, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, who lived there for fifty years. Lord Fitzwilliam was an important politician of his time. He held the post of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1795 for just eight days before being dismissed by prime minister, William Pitt, who was annoyed by his intention to implement the Catholic Emancipation immediately. Lord Fitzwilliam invested large sums of money in the house, spending £3,986 in 1785 alone.

The Fitzwilliams renovated the house again in 1872 and in 1902, adding an extra floor and a rear extension connecting to the buildings on Three Kings Yard, where the Chancery is today. In 1931 the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam surrendered the lease back to the Grosvenors, and on the 25th of March of the same year Hugh Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster, granted a 200-year lease to the Italian state.