The Great Estates

Wednesday 22 March 2006

THE GREAT ESTATES, an exhibition opening on 24 March at New London Architecture (NLA), will explore the impact made by London’s historic great estates on the capital’s architectural landscape, right up to their continued influence on the face of the capital today. An investigation of their changing role – from aristocratic land-owners to today’s leading property developers – will reveal how principles established in the 17th Century continue to inform successful development in 21st Century London.

Peter Murray, NLA exhibition director and curator of The Great Estates, explains “London is often described as an agglomeration of villages – a more accurate picture would be a series of estates.” 32% of the West End is owned by the aristocratic estates today; the descendents of the original heads of Grosvenor, Portman, Howard de Walden, Cadogan, the Crown and the Corporation of London still retaining responsibility for large swathes of the capital.

With the 17th Century Square Mile close to overflowing, the estates of the landed gentry around Westminster and the City were developed to house the overspill and newcomers to the growing metropolis. Development in these areas was with an eye for the future; investment was made in high quality architecture, public spaces, and affordable housing to ensure the long term value of property over large areas. Out of this, the cohesive neighbourhoods of Belgravia, Mayfair, Marylebone and Bloomsbury were born; areas that remain notable today for their distinctive architectural characters.

Contrasting maps of London will explain four hundred years of The Great Estates – showing how ownership of land has changed over time. Whilst the Leasehold Reform Act has resulted in the depletion of many of London’s landed estates, those areas over which estates continue to hold responsibility remain amongst the most desirable places in which to live. The historical stewardship of London includes the lesser known but equally influential estates, such as Bedford, Eyre and Dulwich, which are also of great historical interest. Previously unseen material from the estates’ archives will be on show, adding to our understanding of London’s architectural history. 

Comparative studies will showcase the contribution each has made to the capital and highlight recent initiatives, such as the regeneration of Marylebone High Street by Howard de Walden, Regent Street by the Crown and the creation of the Duke of York development by Cadogan, showing the continued impact the estates exert on the built environment. In their current incarnations as leading property companies, the estates maintain their inherited role, investing in their historic developments to support sustainable and viable modern communities. 

This model of development, so specific to London, can also be seen to thrive today through what amount to the city’s new estates. Many of the most successful developments of recent years – Broadgate, Canary Wharf and the forthcoming Kings Cross Central regeneration scheme – borrow many of the key principles on which the historic estates have been built. Investment in the spaces between buildings to create quality public spaces, key-worker housing and schools are all increasingly being considered as vital to developments that are cohesive and financially viable in the long-term. This exhibition at NLA, the first of its kind, demonstrates that such a philosophy is far from being new as the Great Estates continue to breath life into our capital city.

The Great Estates exhibition will be accompanied by a series of free morning talks. For further details see

Notes to editors

New London Architecture (NLA) at the Building Centre is an exhibition centre dedicated to the future of the built environment in London that is open to the public free of charge 6 days a week. The capital is undergoing a period of massive change and NLA is a place where everyone - professionals, politicians and the public- can find out and get involved in what is happening to the city.

NLA has over 2000 visitors a week to the public exhibitions, events, talks and lectures that are organised to encourage constant debate, learning and networking across the profession and local communities.

For more press information or images please contact: Anna Larkin or Debbie Whitfield at Caro Communications T: +44(0)20 7336 8488 E:

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