I’ve lived my life in the shadow of the name Grosvenor. My first address was Grosvenor Place; I studied art in Grosvenor Building; I met my husband in a club on Grosvenor Street and I even briefly worked at Grosvenor Casinos.
Then last summer we moved to Grosvenor Road in Whalley Range… a tatty late-Victorian street only recently furbished with trees. Three-storey houses dwarf tiny gardens. A bail hostel looms on one corner. There are too many bins.
I love it though… and one day our house will look like someone loves it… I hope. But the new address set me thinking: “What does Grosvenor even mean?”
According to Wikipedia:
Grosvenor (/ˈɡroʊvənər/) is a surname derived from Hugh Le Grande Veneur, a member of a Norman French family that aided William the Conqueror in 1066. “Le Grande Veneur” literally means “the Master Huntsman” in French, an elevated title in William’s 11th century French court. Initially, Hugh was called Hugh Lupus. Lupus was portly, and his townsmen gradually changed the appellation from “Le Grande Veneur”, “the Master Huntsman,” to “Le Gros Veneur”, “the Fat Huntsman”, and Hugh wore the epithet with pride.
The source for this is a Canadian family history blogsite – not exactly a rock-solid academic reference but never mind. The 2011 article explains:
For his services during the Conquest, Hugh was made Earl of Chester, controlling all of what today is Cheshire, parts of North Wales & parts of Lancashire. It was a strategically important area, defending Norman lands from the North & West. In his realm Hugh effectively had the authority of a king.
Apparently Hugh Lupus’s crest, a wolf with an open mouth, became known as Fat Hugh’s Cat due to the poor standard of the artwork. It disappeared from the Grosvenor’s coat of arms in the thirteenth century and was replaced by a golden wheatsheaf following a heraldic dispute (Scrope vs Grosvenor).
The website continues:
According to at least one historian, Lewis Carroll was aware of this story & it served as the inspiration for Alice`s Cheshire Cat.
I should try to discover which historian! Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was originally from Daresbury in Cheshire so it does seem plausible.
The famous drawing of the Cheshire Cat above is from the first edition of Alice In Wonderland, 1865, illustrated by Punch cartoonist John Tenniel.
I associate the name ‘Grosvenor’ with aspirational Victorians for some reason… quite wrongly as it turns out, because the Grosvenor family have been influencing events in this part of the world for a thousand years… and they’re still here! Their base is still in Cheshire: the Eaton Estate, just south of Chester.
I know them by a different name though… the title Duke of Westminster was created by Queen Victoria for Hugh Lupus Grosvenor in 1874, a descendant of the original Hugh Lupus, following his ambitious development of his London estates, including broad swathes of the City of Westminster.
As a result of his ancestor’s property development, the current Duke of Westminster, Gerald Grosvenor has often been referred to as the richest landlord in Britain, although he was superseded by investors from the far east in 2013.
As well as his London and Cheshire estates, he also owns ‘vast’ areas of land in Oxford, Scotland and parts of Europe, according to Wikipedia.
Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, upon whom Queen Victoria bestowed the Dukedom, was also Master of the Horse within her court from 1880-85. This post still exists! It doesn’t sound a million miles away from ‘Grand Huntsman’, does it?
Isn’t it strange that Manchester’s spent industrial legacy has been at the forefront of our minds, while just down the road, feudalism is still going strong? When we learned about feudal order at school, the teachers forgot to mention that it was still thriving here.
You can see why the Grosvenors lost the wolf from the coat of arms – the dispute was about a blue stripe, so they could have kept it. But ruthlessness and viciousness had become qualities best left hidden within the new status quo.
The Grosvenor family’s home, Eaton Hall in Cheshire, which sits within their Cheshire estate, is open to the public today, and also on Sunday July 26th and Sunday August 30th 2015. I’ve never even heard of the place until now. I must go and have a look when I get the chance.