The new Duke of Westminster has entered into a fierce row with Army reservists over the decision to evict them from their headquarters amid plans to build a luxury hotel in its place.
For more than 140 years, riflemen have been stationed in The Rifles Club, a plush headquarters in the heart of Mayfair, opened by the 1st Duke in 1890.
But now reservists affectionately nicknamed the ‘unofficial bodyguard’ of the Duke’s late father have been given their marching orders.
Following Major General Gerald Grosvenor’s death in August last year, the Grosvenor Group has entered into negotiations on behalf of his son and heir, Hugh Richard Louis Grosvenor, the 7th Duke of Westminster and a Trustee, in order to take back the building with a view to developing a luxury hotel in the heart of Mayfair.
The Duke, who is godfather to Prince George and is Britain’s youngest billionaire, recently inherited the bulk of his father’s £8.3billion fortune, including a property portfolio boasting 300 acres of land in Mayfair and Belgravia.
But the decision to move out F Company, The 7th Battalion The Rifles has provoked outrage among its serving members, who claimed the decision would have left his father “turning in his grave”.
A source close to the dispute warned that the decision will break the family’s long-standing association with the infantry regiments housed there, which began when Hugh Lupus Grosvenor first leased the building to the Army at a generous peppercorn rate for 200 years.
They add that the late Duke, who served as Deputy Commander Land Forces in the Territorial Army from 2011-12, was a “great military man” with a close affinity to both their regiment and the building itself.
It comes less than year after he donated £50 million to help complete the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre - a state of the art medical facility that will provide support to injured soldiers at Stanford Hall, Nottinghamshire - a short time before his untimely death.
The deal also coincides with the construction of the Crossrail line, which will see a new Bond Street West station constructed several hundred metres from The Rifles Club.
Speaking to The Telegraph, a source within F Company, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Our lease on the building was still had more than a century until it expired. The Rifles have a long-standing association with the Grosvenor family, and were considered the unofficial bodyguard to the last Duke.
“But now that relationship seems to be over, and the new Duke is slinging us out. As soon as the new Crossrail is finished that building will be prime real estate.
“To add insult to injury we are not only losing our headquarters but our regiment too, because we are being forced to merge with the London Regiment.
“The whole thing has caused outrage, and many in F Company are now looking to join other rifle companies in London. I imagine if the former Duke could see what was happening to us he would be turning in his grave.”
It is understood that Grosvenor approached the Ministry of Defence with a “£25m sweetener” in order to buy-back the 80-years still left on the lease, although a spokesman for Grosvenor Britain & Ireland refused to comment.
After vacating the building, F Company will be merged with the London Regiment, meaning the reservists will lose their affiliation with their infantry regiment, The Rifles.
Commenting, an MoD spokesman said: “The MOD was approached by Grosvenor regarding the remaining lease for 52-56 Davies Street,”
“F Company 7 Rifles are transferring to the London infantry Regiment, as part the Army 2020 Refine plan to optimise the Army Reserves. 7 Rifles are not being disbanded and their transfer is not linked to the on-going lease negotiation.”
However, documents published on the Army’s official website show that the 2020 plan contained no plans for F Company to move headquarters, with the document stating there would be “no change” to its future location.
Opened in 1890 by the Duchess of Westminster, The Rifles Club has remained close to the heart of the Grosvenor family, with five of the six preceding Dukes serving distinguished careers in the military.
Situated at 52-56 Davies Street, the current headquarters includes an armoury, gymnasium, mess and officers’ room, and a drill hall opened in the 1950s for Queen Victoria’s Rifle Corps.