Where Did the First American Ambassador Live in London

When I began writing An Unexpected Countess, one of my favorite bits of research included where I wanted my characters to live. The Secret Lives of the Ton trilogy is set in London and in a previous article I talked about Albany, the fashionable residence of Regency era bachelors that is home to my hero the rakish Lord Hartwick. Well my heroine, Miss Sarah Forrester, is the daughter of the American Minister to the Court of St James. To determine where Sarah and her family should live, I needed to investigate where the first American Ministers lived in London.

Before I share what I learned, I’d like to explain the title of “American Minister to the Court of St. James”. Currently, the highest-ranking individual at the American Embassy in London is the Ambassador to the Court of St. James. His title does not reference Great Britain because Great Britain is a Constitutional Monarchy and he is appointed to the Royal Court. The Royal Court is where the Sovereign resides. When America gained its independence, George III’s residence was the Palace of St. James in London. George IV, and subsequent sovereigns have taken to residing in a number of palaces throughout the year. In order to avoid confusion, American Ambassador’s continued to reference their post as the Court of St. James.

The first American man to serve as the highest ranking envoy to England was John Adams. Mr. Adams was appointed American Minister by Congress on February 24, 1785 and was presented to King George III on the first of June. While in London, he found a modest property in the best part of Town. I was thrilled to discover the building is still standing—and it’s in Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, across the park from the current American Embassy.  

The American Embassy in London, which is also referred to as a chancery.

Grosvenor Square, London

For his residence, Adams chose the corner building that is 9 Grosvenor Square. There is a plaque attached to the building that informs you that in this house lived John Adams, First American Minister May 1785 to March 1788, afterwards served as President of the United States. From here, his daughter Abigail was married to Colonel William Stephens Smith, First Secretary of the Legation and an Officer of the Revolutionary Army and Washington’s Staff.

No. 9 Grosvenor Square, the London residence of John Adams.

Mr. Adams’s time in London was not an easy one. He had signed the Declaration of Independence which had been considered a treasonous act at the time, promoted America’s independence, and negotiated the treaty that achieved that. The London press had scorned his appointment and the public was not impressed. When Abigail joined him, she also was exposed to slights. The wife of an MP once asked her, “But surely you prefer this country to America?”

For all the bashing by the public, he appears to have had a cordial relationship with people in authority. Although, he had little diplomatic results to show for his time. In fact, when he left his position as American Minister in 1788, the American Government saw no need to fill it until Thomas Pinckney was appointed by President George Washington on January 12, 1792.

By the time Mr. Adams left, the press had softened on him a bit. On March 30, 1788, the Westminster Evening Post reported on his leaving and stated that he “settled all his concerns with great honor; and whatever his political tenets may have been, he was much respected and esteemed in this country.”

While I chose not to use No. 9 Grosvenor Square as Sarah’s residence, it did give me an indication of the size of the house and the location in Town that she should live in . And I did find a charming residence not far from there to serve as my inspiration for her home.

An Unexpected Countess is out now!

Sarah Forrester is an American diplomat’s daughter who must locate the fabled Sancy Diamond or her family will be ruined by a mysterious blackmailer. But the Earl of Hartwick has also been tasked by the Prince Regent with finding the diamond. Little does he know that the feisty woman he meets on a roof top is his competition. As they each follow the clues hidden in a bracelet, Sarah and Hart realize they will have to work as a team. Being together may be as dangerous to their hearts as the hunt is to their lives…and finding the jewel is only the beginning.

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Sources used for this article:

A Founding Father in London, John Adams’ Trouble, History is Now Magazine, July 7, 2015.

The American Embassy

Westminster Evening Post, March 30, 1788.

A Fashionable Georgian Address: Grosvenor Square

“My aunt,” she continued, “is going tomorrow into that part of town, and I shall take the opportunity of calling in Grosvenor Street.”

Jane Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Since the Georgian era, the Mayfair district has been one of London’s most prestigious places to live. And Grosvenor Square was one of the most fashionable addresses.

Grosvenor Square

This garden square surrounded by residential buildings was designed by Sir Richard Grosvenor, the 4th Baronet, who is an ancestor to the modern-day Dukes of Westminster.

220px-Sir_Richard_Grosvenor,_4th_Baronet_of_Eaton

During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the estates in London were being developed. In 1710, Grosvenor designed a plan for a large garden square at the center of his estate. It was intended to be the finest of all the then existing squares. The area was to have uniform houses, with stables behind them. Construction of Grosvenor Square began in 1725. The engraving below shows how the original plan was altered over time. On the far left side, the houses are identical. The further you travel along the street, the houses look different.

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

I visited Grosvenor Square during my last visit to London, to see for myself what it looks like. While some of the original buildings remain, the majority of them have been rebuilt over the years.

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

In the early 18th century, most of the garden squares in London were designed so that the central parkland was reserved for the exclusive use of the square’s residences. Grosvenor hired William Kent to design his garden. Originally a brick wall was constructed to enclose it. Later, this wall was replaced with iron railings, which gives the area an open feel.

Today, the general pubic is allowed into the garden and in the eastern end there is a memorial dedicated to the British victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Grosvenor Square 9/11 Memorial

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square is not cut off from the rest of London. To give you an idea of the surrounding streets during the late 18th century, here is a portion of the Horwood map of London, which was completed in 1799. The southeastern section of Grosvenor Square is in the upper left corner of the map.

Horwood Map of London 1799

If you are familiar with stories set in the Regency era, you’ve probably read about English aristocrats driving along Rotten Row during the fashionable hour. This portion of Christopher and John Greenwood’s map of London from 1827, shows how close Grosvenor Square is to Hyde Park.

Christopher and John Greenwood's Map of London 18276a00d8341c84c753ef0168e7420e96970c-800wiThere were a number of those notable aristocrats who resided in Grosvenor Square over the years. In 1739, a writer for Gentleman’s Magazine wrote, “the centre house on the east side of the square was raffled for, and won by two persons named Hunt and Braithwaite. The possessor valued it at £10,000, but the winners sold it two months afterwards for £7,000 to the Duke of Norfolk.”

The 11th Earl of Derby hired renowned architect Robert Adam to build him a residence at Number 23. It was regarded as one of Adam’s finest works. Unfortunately, it was demolished in the 1860s. The only image I was able to find of the earl’s residence is this engraving of the Third Drawing Room.

Earl of Derby's Third Drawing Room

The Duchess of Kendal, George I’s mistress, lived at Number 43 from 1728 to 1743. Her former residence is still standing.

Duchess of Kendall

The 3rd Duke of Dorset (1745-1799) lived at Number 38.

The 3rd Duke of Dorset

The 3rd Duke of Grafton (1735-1811), the Prime Minister who was famous for his indiscreet private life and racing stables, also called Grosvenor Square home.

The 3rd Duke of Grafton

Other notable residents include: John Wilkes, Esq. who was Alderman and Chamberlain of the City of London; the Marquis of Rockingham; and Lord North, the 2nd Earl of Guilford, who was the Prime Minister during the American Revolutionary War.

Grosvenor Square has other ties to America, which can still be seen today. In 1785, the first American Minister to the Court of St. James, John Adams, took up residence at Number 9 Grosvenor Square. His daughter, Abigail, was married from that house to Colonel William Stephens Smith. In 1788, Adams returned to America and became the second President of the United States. The building Adams lived in still stands on the corner of Duke and Brook Streets.

John Adams House Grosvenor Square

Today, Grosvenor Square looks different than it did in the Georgian era. When I was there, I sat in the park on a warm June evening and three teenage boys road their skateboards past me. On the grassy lawn to my left, a father was teaching his little girl how to dribble a soccer ball. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder what Sir Richard Grosvenor would have thought of the changes to his elegant corner of the world.

Resources used include:

Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice

Gentleman’s Magazine, 1739

Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827

Horwood’s Map of London, 1799

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45202

http://www.georgianindex.net/London/Squares/grosvenorsquare.html

http://thethingsthatcatchmyeye.wordpress

http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2012/02/a-good-map-is-a-joy.html