The Grosvenor Estate, 1677-1977
Through the marriage of a baronet and a scrivener’s heiress, writes Francis Sheppard, the Grosvenors eventually became the wealthiest family in Europe.
At a dinner party held at the Portuguese Embassy in South Audley Street in 1819, Nicholas Vansittart, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, told the American Minister in London that the property-tax returns showed that Earl Grosvenor (who, as it happened, was the ground landlord of the very house in which they were dining) was one of the four richest men in England, with an annual income of ‘beyond one hundred thousand pounds, clear of everything’.
Forty-six years later, in 1865, the Grosvenors were said to be ‘the wealthiest family in Europe - perhaps... the wealthiest uncrowned house on earth’. And after the death of Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, second Duke of Westminster, in 1953, the Treasury collected some £17 million in estate duty. How, one may ask, did such vast wealth come to be concentrated in the hands of this otherwise rather unremarkable family?