How did Mayfair become London’s most desirable area? Mayfair is probably the most exclusive and expensive area in Britain.
It’s common knowledge that Mayfair is the most valuable square on the Monopoly board, however this would not have been the case had the game been invented in the 17th century. Back then, there weren’t many blue plaques on its walls. Mind you, there weren’t that many walls, either. Today, this may be the home of Britain’s most expensive property, but circa 1675, this was a nondescript patch of open ground made muddy and boggy by the River Tyburn.
In 1686, the area acquired not just a name, but also a purpose. King James II granted permission for a fair to be held there, during the first two weeks of May.
Unsurprisingly, people who had recently escaped the grip of the Great Plague took the opportunity to let their hair down. Before long, the May Fair became a byword first for music, dancing and merriment, and then for what the authorities termed “lewd and disorderly practices”.
But the area’s downmarket reputation was not to last long. This was thanks to a 12-year-old girl, Mary Davies, who was the daughter of a rich banker. She inherited 100 acres of land, known as “swampy meads”, which was south of Oxford Street and east of Park Lane. Mary was married into a powerful, Cheshire based family, the Grosvenors, which became the base of Modern-day Mayfair. The couple had a a son, Sir Richard Grosvenor, who was behind the construction of upmarket Grosvenor Square. Meanwhile, other wealthy families were also developing other prosperous and thriving streets nearby. They included Brook Street, Clarges Street and Hanover Square. All of a sudden, those meads were becoming not swampy, but swanky.
When it was built, Grosvenor Square put everything else in the shade and became a magnet for dukes, earls, viscounts and marquise . Of the initial 277 houses, 117 had titled owners. It wasn’t long before the area’s reputation grew, helped by testimonies such as that of the Rev Sydney Smith, canon of St Paul’s: “The area,” he said, “contains more intelligence and human ability – to say nothing of wealth and beauty – than the world has ever collected in one space before.” Even Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) found himself enthralled by the area. “I passed an amazing scene of new foundations,” he wrote. “Not of houses only, but, as I might say, of new cities, new towns, new squares and fine buildings, the like of which no city, no town, nay no place in the world can show.”
It was no surprise, therefore, when the May Fair was moved from its original site in Shepherd Market. In 1764 it moved to Bow in the east where the rowdiness would not upset the rich, new residents.
There have been several distinct step changes over the years The First World War bankrupted everyone, and those that didn’t die in the Trenches were killed off by Spanish flu. And in World War Two, what saved the grand houses was when they were taken over and put to commercial and office use.
In 1939, three-quarters of Mayfair’s houses were used as offices, not homes. Those that weren’t demolished that is, with 16 mansions being reduced to rubble, including Aldford House, Londonderry House and Chesterfield House. These days, they are all being returned to residential use. Over 100 or so buildings on the Grosvenor Estate have been turned back into homes.
The residential population of Mayfair could increase by as much as 10 per cent if all planning is approved. These buildings are worth twice as much as homes than they are as offices.
As well as having a substantial amount of money, buyers are from a hugely diverse range of nationalities. Many are personalities and Royalty. The Queen spent some of her childhood in a grand house on Piccadilly. The site is now occupied by The Intercontinental Hotel. There is also a special bell used to ring in the Ritz Hotel, alerting doormen to the imminent arrival of royalty.
Prices for real estate in Mayfair continue to break new boundaries. It’s not so far back that the building housing the In and Out Club, on Piccadilly, sold for £130 million, while the Canadian High Commission, in Grosvenor Square, went for £306 million.
Nor do residential properties come cheap, with average asking prices of £3.31 million, according to Zoopla. Then again, Mayfair is unique. Practically anywhere else, half a million pounds will buy you a couple of houses. In this rarefied part of London, however, it won’t get you half a one-bedroom flat. If you think buying here is anything like the Monopoly version, you have been warned.
The Burlington arcade was one of the the first shopping malls in the UK. It opened in 1819 with originally about 90 shops, of which only about 40 remain now. The arcades were a safe place to go shopping at that time, as the arcade had their own police force, who were ex soldiers from the Burlington regiment.
For such a relatively small area, Mayfair has an abundance of exclusive and famous Hotels – Claridges, The Dorchester and The Connaught amongst the most famous. And you are spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants, with celebrity chefs and Michelin stars on almost every corner.
If you would like a chauffeur driven experience in Mayfair – one of London’s most charming areas, Chauffeur Drive Britain will be happy to help.