The Duke and Dunhill in London’s Mayfair

OUR YEARNING FOR visiting the art galleries in London’s West End is growing daily because the current covid19 lockdown has meant that they are all closed. So, when we read that the Gagosian Gallery on Davies Street, just north of Berkeley Square, had put on an exhibition that could be viewed from the street through its huge plate glass windows, we had to ‘take a gander’. The gallery is displaying some ceramic bowls created by Edmund de Waal until the 30th of January 2021 (https://gagosian.com/exhibitions/2020/edmund-de-waal-some-winter-pots/). Frankly, although they embody great craftsmanship, we were disappointed.  However, across the road, facing the Gagosian, there is a detached house that attracted more of my attention than the bowls. It was not only its antiquity that appealed to me but also some huge, inflated spheres with reflecting surfaces in its courtyard that produced fascinating reflections of the building and those nearby.

Bourdon House, a Georgian mansion completed in 1724, possibly designed by Isaac Ware (1704-1766), is now Dunhill’s exclusive shop for discerning “modern gentlemen”. The current building consists of two sections (www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol40/pt2/pp69-76#h3-0002):

“On the west, with a return front to Davies Street, is a much-extended and enlarged early Georgian house built in the 1720’s, and to the east and south-east is a substantial Edwardian wing built in a matching style, with fronts to both Bourdon Street and Grosvenor Hill.”

Bourdon after whom the house was named in 1860, lived in the 18th century and was the first occupant of the house. He was a justice of the Peace for Middlesex and held other important positions.

Over the years, numerous people resided in Bourdon House, which underwent modifications as time moved on. In September 1916, Hugh Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster (1879-1953) took ownership of the house and lived there from 1917 until he died. When he moved in, his former home Grosvenor House, was being used by the Government in connection with WW1. The Duke liked Bourdon House so much that he decided not to return to Grosvenor House when the Government returned it to him in 1920 (it was demolished in the 1920s). During his occupancy of Bourdon House, the Duke divorced thrice.

On his death, the Duke’s fourth wife, Anne (née Sullivan; 1915-2003), whom he married in 1947, remained in Bourdon House until 1957. After she left, the house began to be used as commercial premises, first becoming an antique shop. In 2008, the house became a luxury emporium for the company of Alfred Dunhill. The company’s founder was Alfred Dunhill (1872-1959), who was a tobacconist, inventor, and entrepreneur. By the early 20th century, he was a pioneer in the creation of the modern luxury goods market. He was a collector of smokers’ pipes and, also, an author, publishing his “The Pipe Book” in 1924, and later “The Gentle Art of Smoking”.

Many years ago, in the late 1960s, one of my cousins visited London from his home overseas. He was on a trip to see the major cities of Europe. While he was in London, I spent a day showing him some of the sights, an activity I enjoyed in my teens. My relative, also in his teens, was very keen to visit one of Dunhill’s London shops, probably the one that was in Duke Street. His desire was to purchase a Dunhill pipe to add to the collection he was making whilst travelling around Europe. It is a shame that when he visited and wanted to buy a pipe, the shop in Bourdon House had not yet been established. I would have enjoyed seeing inside this historic building, but now I will have to wait until the lockdown is over before I can enter it on the pretence that I am considering buying some Dunhill t-shirts, most of which cost well over £200. At least, they are cheaper than the De Waal ceramics that can be purchased from the gallery opposite Bourdon House.

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