Where exactly was the house where Queen Elizabeth II was born? Have visitors been seeing the wrong place? Is it true that the house was damaged during the Nazi bombings?
The British monarch was born on April 21, 1926, at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London.
It was not a palace or a large estate, not even a hospital, but a house on a busy capital street.
Just a few weeks before his birth, his parents had moved into the house, which was owned by her Scottish grandparents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore.
“It’s a reminder of how the royal family weren’t so great in those days. Money was a problem, ”says historian Robert Lacey.
Remember that the queen was not born to be queen; at this point, being the king’s youngest son’s daughter, it was not expected that he would assume the throne.
Was the house affected by the war?
The queen’s first house no longer exists, and there are persistent claims on the internet that it was the target of airstrikes during WWII.
For example, Wikipedia says: “The house was damaged in the Blitz and then demolished ”.
Blitz is an abbreviation of the German word blitzkrieg, which means “blitzkrieg” and is associated with the almost continuous bombardment of the British Isles by the Nazi German air force.
But plenty of documents in the British Library and other archives show that the 18th century house even disappeared before the war started.
It was the real estate developers who finished off the queen’s first house.
In 1937, a man in a top hat and frock coat had formally started the demolition of the 17th Bruton Street house and many of the neighboring buildings, which stretched around the corner towards Berkeley Square.
There were plans to build a hotel for the Canadian Pacific Railway, but the site ended up being cleared for a large commercial and office complex.
Were times of little sentimentality on the importance of architectural heritage. Without a hint of regret, the demolition groups razed what was described, in a report at the time, as “20 of the most historic houses in London.”
A poignant drawing by war artist Muirhead Bone left testimony of workers tearing down the facades of elegant old buildings.
To further dispel the doubts, a note from a building inspector, dated May 1939 and found in the London Metropolitan Archives, closed the file of the original house number 17 Bruton Street with a confirmation that the house had been demolished and “its site is part of what Berkeley Square House has been built on.”
Astrea, the company that currently manages the Berkeley Square House site, says the ministry in charge of civil and military aviation occupied a new building located there, in a run-up to World War II.
Is it now a Chinese restaurant?
There is another frequently repeated claim about the queen’s birthplace: that the site is now a Chinese restaurant.
This, again, is not the whole story.
The Hakkasan restaurant has the same address: 17 Bruton Street, as does a stretch of an office that is totally plugged up on the same block. There is also an entrance with a glass facade and a reception next to it.
This entire sprawling commercial block is built on what, in the 1920s, would have been a row of individual, private homes.
It might not be a very romantic story, but it’s the rather anonymous corporate entrance that seems to come closest to the site of the original 17 Bruton Street address: a side entrance that leads to some offices at Berkeley Square House.
In the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell, there are packages of old documents and architect’s drawings, with letters art deco, showing the layout of the original house.
They show that the lost house would have been around this entrance, with the facade extending into what is now an establishment displaying Bugattis and Bentleys cars for sale.
This is confirmed by Westminster City Council, whose planners say this can be marked by tracing the border lines of the original properties across the street.
One end of the restaurant would have overlapped with the original house, and Hakkasan CEO Sharon Wightman says the connection to royalty is a “brilliantly interesting talking point, which falls well with our customers“.
But much of the former queen’s home has now been replaced by corporate glass from the next door entrance.
There are two plaques on an adjacent wall that mark the monarch’s birthplace, including one from Westminster City Hall. But they have moved on as the buildings have been modified and now stand at one end of the original site.
There is no official blue plaque because a spokeswoman for English Heritage says they have to be in original buildings and, in addition, they do not place plates for living people.
Toby Cuthbertson of the Westminster Planning Department says this would have been an upper-class, “first-class” property in London, but the very wealthy would have gone one step further, like naming houses instead of leaving them with numbers.
When the queen was born here in 1926, her royal grandparents came to see her that first day. Queen Maria recorded in her diary that her granddaughter was “beautiful, with a charming complexion and very blond hair.”
The then Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, had to hurry, as it was still protocol for the person holding that position to make an appearance at such a royal family birth.
He was considered an authoritarian, so much so that he was nicknamed Mussolini minor (“Mussolini minor”).
This was the house from which the Queen’s mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, left in April 1923 to marry her shy suitor, the then Duke of York.
They returned here for the birth of their first daughter almost exactly three years later.
The home was also within walking distance of an office located on Harley Street. There he exercised the speech therapist Lionel Logue who, since 1926, helped the future king to overcome his stutter.
No tourist route
This place would have been a venue for high-class parties and trendy gatherings.
But it was a politically volatile and divided time.
The general strike was called only a few weeks after the birth of the queen and her grandfather, King George V, had warned: “Try to live off their wages before judging them“.
The queen and her parents moved that same year to a larger house in Piccadilly, what is now central London.
There were later plans to convert the Bruton Street house into offices, with drawings by architects showing how the rooms, including the room where the queen was born, would have been lined, divided, and redesigned for office workers.
“The room on the first floor, in which the little princess was born, is one of the least ornate of all the rooms, but also one of the sunniest,” read a newspaper review of the time.
But it was later decided that the house should be demolished and it remains a curiously low-key site for its historical significance.
There are not many private houses in London that have been the family home of a future king and two queens; however, it is hardly on the tourist trail.
“I think it reflects the queen’s general modesty“Says historian Robert Lacey. “She doesn’t blow her own trumpet.”
The site is owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family and is part of a portfolio of properties in this part of London said to be worth more than $ 6 billion.
The original 17 Bruton Street infrastructure was managed in the early 1930s by Howard Frank, co-founder of Knight Frank real estate agency.
Simon Burgoyne, who now works for Knight Frank on a property in modern Mayfair, says that this area was, at the time, where families with land and country property had their homes in London.
“But after the war, nobody could afford to keep these buildings large, old and labyrinthine, so many of them were transformed into offices ”.
And the loop has come full circle, Burgoyne says, with offices that have been converted back to luxury residential properties.
If the house had survived, it would have been worth more than $ 33 million, he says, and possibly up to $ 135 million.
But the house was demolished in 1937.
By then young Elizabeth and her parents had moved to Buckingham Palace.
The abdication crisis of 1936 led to his father assuming the throne as George VI, following his brother Edward VIII’s planned marriage to Wallis Simpson, a high-society American who was divorced.
- Wallis Simpson, the American who made the British monarchy reel by being divorced
During this political maelstrom, Simpson had been followed by Special Section officials and noted that there were claims that she had had an affair with a car salesman named Guy Marcus Trundle.
In a final twist of this story, the address where they found this “charming adventurer” was: 18 Bruton Street, now part of the Bentley dealership.
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