In 1811, when the lease of Marylebone Park to the Duke of Portland expired, an Act was passed establishing a new park and authorising houses to be built and let by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. In 1812 the Commissioners’ Architect, John Nash, drew up a design for the park, and James Morgan laid it out.
By 1824 the west and south terraces had been built, all designed by Nash, except for Cornwall Terrace which was designed by Decimus Burton, son of James Burton, the building contractor who constructed many of the buildings on the estate. Decimus Burton was also concerned with Nash in the design of Clarence Terrace.
The Government then promoted a Bill (5 Geo. IV, Cap. 100, 21st June 1824) for transferring from the existing Local Authorities the care and maintenance of the roads and sewers on the Crown Estate – from Whitehall to the Regent’s Park – to a new Commission to be called “the Crown Estate Paving Commission”. Its Commissioners were given wide authority to make roads and footways, to provide street lighting, water supply, sewerage, refuse collection, and to lay out and maintain ornamental gardens adjacent to the terraces.
To pay for all these activities the Commissioners were empowered to levy certain types of rates on the neighbouring properties. These rates had set upper limits, or rate-caps, and charges were to be calculated from the rateable value of each property, that value being the annual rack rent for the property. The Commissioners were also given the statutory powers to decide the necessary rateable values.
In 1825 a second Act extended the Commissioners’ powers to cover New Palace Yard, Old Palace Yard and other Crown property in Westminster. An Act in 1828 added the property covering the site of Carlton Palace, Richmond Terrace and other Crown properties, to the Commissioners’ jurisdiction. Again in 1832 an Act added Cockspur Street, Great George Street, and more Westminster properties belonging to the Crown.
The Acts also added various powers to the Commissioners, the intention being to secure efficiency and uniformity of treatment for all the Crown Estate properties. For example, Section 29 of the William IV Act authorised the Commissioners to undertake the cleaning and painting (known as colouring) in a regular and uniform manner all the outside stucco and stonework of the houses abutting the streets and terraces, because “such an arrangement would greatly contribute to the beauty of the line of street and of the houses and buildings, and would also tend to the ease and convenience of the inhabitants”.
After a short time it was found necessary to allow Park Square and Crescent Gardens to be used by residents who agreed to pay a subscription for a key. This was probably because the garden rates from the adjacent householders, charged at the maximum of 6 old pence in the pound allowed by statute, were insufficient to maintain the gardens.
The Commission’s minute books show that at the first meeting of the Commissioners on the 2nd August, 1824, Viscount Lowther (Lord of the Treasury) was in the Chair and the three ex-officio Commissioners appointed nineteen new Commissioners, including the Earl of Macclesfield, Viscount Duncannon, John Wilson Croker, M.P. (Secretary of the Admiralty), and John Nash himself. Many of these were Members of Parliament and most were resident on the estate. Lord Lowther generally took the Chair until 1835, but Lord Duncannon and at least eight of the non-official Commissioners did so from time to time.
After 23 years the Government decided to withdraw control of Regent Street, Cockspur Street, Whitehall, Parliament Street Old Palace Yard, and other Westminster properties from the Commissioners. A new Act repealing the former Acts and reappointing the Commission with modified powers was passed (14 and 15 Victoria, Cap. 95. 7th August 1851) but there were no subsequent changes to the legislation affecting the Commission after that.
The various Acts set out the original functions of the Commission:
- To collect and dispose of all house refuse from the houses on the Crown Estate at Regent’s Park.
- To maintain all roads, footways and mews roadways on the Estate.
- To provide and maintain street lighting on the Outer Circle and terrace and mews roadways.
- To scavenge and clean all roads, footways and mews roadways on the Estate.
- To provide and maintain day and night gate keepers at certain entrances into the Regent’s Park to control traffic.
- To maintain the gardens attached to the terraces on the Estate.
- To maintain the surface of the terraces fronting the Mall at Carlton House Terrace (the podium) and also maintain the adjacent gardens.
- To maintain a Lodge Keeper and Night Gate Keeper, and maintain the garden at Richmond Terrace, Whitehall.
These statutory duties have, for the most part, been carried out consistently since their inception, although with various necessary modifications over time. The Second World War resulted in considerable financial difficulties for the Commission because of the extent of the wartime bomb damage. Rising costs and the effects of the rate caps imposed by its statutes meant that the Commission was unable to carry out its full role in maintaining the estate.
The Commission remains today a fully effective and working organisation, a relic of former times, but still maintaining John Nash’s unique Regency exercise in urban planning. It still employs a Clerk and a Treasurer, the latter combined into the role of Director who also acts as the rate collector. An appointed Surveyor is responsible with the Head of Street Services and the Inspector of Pavements for the condition of the roadways and pavements. The Commission’s staff team also includes the Head Gardener and his gardening team, the Traffic & Security Manager and his Traffic Controllers, plus a team of Craftsmen and Administrators. However, the old office of Sergeant of the Night has long fallen into abeyance.