Mayfair Eccentrics Salute Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor the 6th Duke of Westminster
By Tyne O’Connell
Today Mayfair released black doves in remembrance for the sad loss of one of her favourite sons, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster. He is survived by his wife Natalia, three daughters and his son and heir Hugh; godfather to Prince George, who following William, is the second Stuart heir to the Throne since Queen Anne.
I only met the 6th Duke of Westminster a dozen times over the past forty years. The first few times I met him were via introduction at Mayfair soirées in which everyone blurs into everyone else.
It wasn’t until 2003 that I finally managed to tackle him properly over my life long ambition to have a statue erected to his ancestral Grand (in the truest sense of the word) Mother, Dame May Grosvenor nee Davies 1665-1730.
For Mary, known as May, was the original owner of this magnificent village in which I have spent my life, raising two husbands, three children and penning 13 novels. Mayfair would not exist had not the woman who owned the land, after which Mayfair is named, married his ancestor the baronet, Sir Thomas Grosvenor.
It seems somewhat perverse that we have a statue to William III, the po-faced Protestant who loathed eccentrics and The British and could not ride down St James’s without being spat on, yet the five women who transformed the area from the Catholic and Eccentric Killing Fields into a sybaritic playground, have no commemorative bronzes in their honour.
Dame Mary Grosvenor nee Davies 1665-1730 the Grandest of Grandmothers and direct ancestor of the 6th Duke of Westminster is one of the five extraordinary woman who transformed The Catholic Killing Fields – in which many eccentrics were also tortured and slain – into the most luxurious and magnificent retail and residential 100 acre Village in the world; dedicated to Lovers of Art and Beauty and home to International Eccentrics.
I suggest we honour Gerald Grosvenor Duke of Westminster’s life by erecting that Bronze Statue to his ancestral Grandmother of the 1660’s. For May was Grand in the truest sense of the word and sacrificed much to the Mayfair we know and love to this day.
‘Without your magnificent Grand Ma-Ma of the 1660’s… grand in the truest sense of the word,’ I told the stunned Duke as he purchased his first £20 bundle of Tombola tickets from me, “We would have no Mayfair Village Fair, we would have no Mayfair, no Tombola Stalls on which to try your luck Your Grace.’
He told me he was flattered by my knowledge of his ancestors, to which I replied “Not all your ancestors, Your Grace. In fact only the one really. The Great and Good, Dame May Grosvenor nee Davies. For it is her dowry, her 100 acre land parcel, which your ancestors, and you, have been tremendous custodians. For in retaining Dame May Grosvenor nee Davies’ original parcel of land in tact these past 350 years you have conserved the birthplace of the quintessential characteristics of the British Eccentric.”
He was intrigued, and for my part I was impressed by the “Mary Davies” tenacity I saw in him. His ancestral grandmother was tenacious in her commitment to the Catholic faith and was institutionalised for it for the last half of her life. The Duke showed that same tenacity in spending over £60 on my Tombola stall in his determination to win a bottle of champagne or a dinner at Scott’s.
“Call my office,” he told me as I tore his last bundle of loosing tickets.
The other stall holders dashed over to me. “What did he win? How much did he spend?’
Back then we were still called RAM, which stood for Residents Association of Mayfair, our crest was a ram’s, head and our focus was on stopping Crossrail which we feared would destroy the secret historic underground tunnels and passages of Mayfair and St James’s which have been used by spies, Royals, Catholic Priests, Nuns, and Eccentrics since the early 16th Century when Mayfair was still called, The Killing Fields of Catholics.
Alas, I am ashamed, for I did not call him as he asked. I had three children taking vital exams and two husbands demanding vast tracts of attention and editors clamouring for my series of boarding school books, Pulling Princes – “A right Royal read” according to the Mayfair Times that year.
Perhaps if I had called, a statue of his wildly eccentric, Grand-ma-ma, the fabulous and famous, later infamous, Roman Catholic, Dame Mary “May” Grosvenor would already be in place. This extraordinary eccentric woman tenaciously clung to her Roman Catholic faith. Though her faith was accepted by her trustees during the reign of King Charles II and his Brother James II as they were also Catholic, when the Protestant William IV was brought over from Holland to rule, the writing was on the wall for poor May.
Despite all her wealth, pressure was brought from all quarters on the owner of Mayfair whose life stands as a cautionary tale for all women, however wealthy. After the death of Thomas Grosvenor, with whom she had three sons, the last half of her life was spent in a mental asylum though there was no suggestion at any stage that she was mad.
Her confinement was a punishment for having the temerity to imagine that after doing her duty, first to her mother in marrying the baronet, Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677 at twelve years of age and giving him three sons, she might finally be allowed a little freedom of her own. Tragically following her elopement to Paris with her lover, the Roman Catholic, Edward Fenwick, her dreams were dashed. With the po-faced Dutch Protestant King William on the throne, the trustees of the Grosvenor Estate could not permit the woman who owned Mayfair, even the freedom over her love life or conscience. She spent almost the last three decades of her life institutionalised and apart from her sons and family.
Excuses for my negligence in failing to call the Duke of Westminster aside, the subsequent fifteen years crystallised my knowledge of Mayfair and St James’s History and the prodigious part, five sensational women had on transforming The Catholic Killing Fields into a haven for eccentrics and lovers of art and beauty. For Mayfair was not only the beginning of Modern London but the birthplace of the quintessential characteristics of the British Eccentric.
The accolades for Gerald Grosvenor the 6th Duke of Westminster are rightly pouring in. But we Mayfair Eccentrics Salute Your Grace for maintaining and retaining the 100 acre parcel of land left in trust to the Grosvenor Family by your Great Grander-than-Grand-Mother, Dame May Grosvenor nee Davies 1665 -1730. For the Grosvenor family and you most particularly have conserved one of the world’s most unique urban villages.
We of Mayfair salute Your Grace’s life for conserving Mayfair as a sybaritic haven for Eccentrics and all who celebrate beauty and the artistry of sartorial excellence and the glory of a superbly rolled cigar, the symmetry of a divinely crafted gun, or show or hat, and above all, prefer to cut a line of their own.
For Mayfair celebrates all this. Named for the gentle forbearance and tenacity of your Grand – in every way – ancestor, May Davies, the sons and daughters of Mayfair do not forget.
Obituary Duke of Westminster by Tyne O’Connell.