Mayfair

Mayfair, Westminster

An elite residential and commercial quarter bounded by Park Lane, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Piccadilly

Like Bel­gravia, its main rival as the most pres­ti­gious dis­trict in Lon­don, much of the land here became the prop­er­ty of Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677 on the occa­sion of his mar­riage to the Ebury heiress Mary Davies.

In 1686 a two-week May fair trans­ferred from Hay­mar­ket to Great Brook Field, where Cur­zon Street and Shep­herd Mar­ket now stand. In com­mon with almost every Lon­don fair it became noto­ri­ous for its ‘loose, idle and dis­or­der­ly’ crowds – and the event was exiled to Bow in 1764. By this time, the neigh­bour­ing fields had been laid out with high-class res­i­den­tial streets and squares, notably Berke­ley Square, Grosvenor Square and Hanover Square, while Bond Street had filled with fash­ion­able shops.

Some of Mayfair’s most charm­ing streets are the ones that its devel­op­ers reserved for trades­men and which were lat­er dis­tinc­tive­ly rebuilt; the 1890s ter­ra­cot­ta frontages of Mount Street and Arts and Crafts hous­es in Mount Row pro­vide the best exam­ples.

Dur­ing the First and Sec­ond World Wars wealthy res­i­dents evac­u­at­ed them­selves to the coun­try­side and, when many chose not to return after­wards, West­min­ster coun­cil allowed the tem­po­rary con­ver­sion of some homes to offices, many of which were used by spies. As those per­mis­sions have expired, ‘new mon­ey’ has come into south­ern May­fair and restored its rep­u­ta­tion as a prime res­i­den­tial address.

May­fair is renowned for its exclu­sive bou­tiques, many of which hold a roy­al war­rant. Bond Street seems almost down­mar­ket com­pared with the rar­efied retail­ers of South Aud­ley Street and Cur­zon Street, which also has pri­vate gam­bling clubs, the offices of hedge funds and the Cur­zon May­fair cin­e­ma.

Auc­tion hous­es clus­ter on Bond Street, art deal­ers around Cork Street and tai­lors in Sav­ile Row. The vil­lagey Shep­herd Mar­ket has emerged from a dubi­ous past to acquire bars and bistros. The slight­ly less swanky north­ern part of May­fair is pri­mar­i­ly tak­en up by offices and pri­vate col­leges and clin­ics. Embassies and plush hotels are dot­ted all around.

Benjamin Disraeli, prime minister in 1868 and from 1874 to 1880, died at 19 Curzon Street in 1881. Other Mayfair residents have included the writers Richard Sheridan and Somerset Maugham. Queen Elizabeth II was born at 21 Bruton Street in 1926.

The musicians George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix lived at numbers 25 and 23 Brook Street.

Postal district: W1
Further reading: Peter Thompson with Marcella Evaristi, The Private Lives of Mayfair, Thistle, 2014

 

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* The picture of HR Higgins, Mayfair, at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Bex Walton, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.