Mayfair Monopoly

We had come to Brown Hart Gardens in Mayfair for the start of a Land Justice Network event, loosely based on the board game ‘Monopoly’, The Landlords’ Game, an illustrated tour of London’s wealthiest areas reminding us that land ownership in Britain is one of the most unequal in the world, both in rural areas and in cities.

The unequal ownership of land, much deriving back to the Norman conquest and its aftermath is the basis of our class system and the inequalities which still persist which arise from it.

There is an excellent report of the event on the Land Justice Network web site (including one of my pictures) which also has links to the great map and guide for the walk by Nick Hayes which people at the left of the picture above are looking at, and those of you who missed the event can repeat it on your own if you wish.

Much of Westminster is owned by the Duke of Westminster, since 1677 when an area of swamp on the outskirts of the city came into the possession of the 21 year old Sir Thomas Grosvenor by his arranged marriage to the 12 year old Mary Davies (arranged marriages at an early age were not unusual then), who had inherited the land from her father. At the time it was hardly worth much, but eventually it became Mayfair, Park Lane and Belgravia, and the backbone of the enormously wealthy Grosvenor Estates.

Although the land belongs to the Grosvenor estate, many of the buildings are owned by overseas companies, particularly those in tax havens – such as the British Virgin Island – outside whose offices we stopped for several speakers, including Christian Eriksson talked about his investigations for Private Eye tracking the massive increase in tax haven ownership of UK property by various dubious characters.

The tour included stops outside one large house empty for around 15 years, the London offices -‘Grouse House’- of Odey Asset management whose owner Crispin Odey formed ‘You Forgot the Birds’ to oppose the RSPB who want to stop the killing of birds.

Then there was Foxtons, and along Park Lane to the Grosvenor Hotel, which hosts many of London’s most dubious events including awards for property developers, and into Hyde Park, the scene of many former battles over the public right of access, before walking along what was called London’s most expensive street, Grosvenor Crescent, where there is a statue of the first Marquis of Westminster (the family continued climbing, from Baronet to Baron to Earl to Marquis and finally Duke in 1874.)

I left the tour briefly to photograph another event, catching up with it again at the final rally in Cadogan Square, part of the second largest of the surviving aristocratic freehold estates in central London, owned by the Cadogan family, one of the richest families in the United Kingdom. The Cadogan estate began with another marriage, that of the second Baron Cadogan to Elizabeth Sloane, the daughter of Sir Hans Sloane, who had purchased the Manor of Chelsea in 1712.

More pictures at: The Landlords’ Game


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My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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