Mayfair, W1, remains a byword for aristocracy, wealth and opulence, so it is easy to forget that the place got its name from a raucous annual 15-day May fair that was held in what is now known as Shepherd Market from 1686.
The fair, and the dubious trading and bawdy jollity that went with it, were finally packed off to Bow in the East End in 1764.
Mayfair quickly earned a social cachet that it retains today. Its well-bred Georgian air is enhanced by many elegant houses that ensure it continues to be a sought-after address.
It is bounded to the north by Oxford Street, to the east by Regent Street, to the south by Piccadilly and to the west is Park Lane. Just like its neighbours Belgravia and Pimlico, Mayfair owes its present reputation as a property hot spot to a marriage that took place more than three centuries ago.
In 1677, the heiress Mary Davies married Sir Thomas Grosvenor, bringing with her 500 acres of farmland to the west of Westminster. Those humble fields have grown into a vast property company with investments throughout the world. The group remains in the possession of the descendants of its original developers and still bears the name Grosvenor; its holdings in Mayfair are among its most valuable gilt-edged assets.
In more recent times, Mayfair’s star had seemed to fade: many saw it as a quiet, rather old-fashioned backwater without much sparkle, according to the long-established king of Mayfair estate agents, Peter Wetherell. Today, Mayfair is back in fashion. “It was starting to look cheap when compared with Knightsbridge and Belgravia. But in Mount Street, Mayfair now has some of London’s smartest and most-chic shopping,” says Wetherell.
What is there to buy?
Mayfair has Georgian mansions, pretty mews houses, mansion flats, spacious flats in Thirties blocks around Grosvenor Square, lateral conversion flats over several period houses and smaller flats around Shepherd Market. Nowhere in Mayfair is cheap.
The most expensive house currently on the market is in Hill Street, where estate agent Knight Frank is selling an 18,500sq ft house with 10 main bedrooms, 11 staff bedrooms, a garden, swimming pool and adjoining mews house for £48 million.
The cheapest property is a two-bedroom flat in a red-brick block in Carrington Street (left) that estate agent Chesterton Humberts is selling for £595,000 with 58 years left on the lease.
Who lives there?
Mayfair attracts mainly international buyers. Peter Wetherell says that 75 per cent of his buyers are from overseas but the area is also popular with the many hedge fund and personal wealth managers who are based in the area. Turnover in Mayfair is small; buyers acquire property here as a long-term investment.
The best roads are where houses are either united or can be reunited with their mews houses, such as Upper Grosvenor Street (right), Park Street, Hill Street and Charles Street, where it is common for homes to sell for more than £50 million.
Park House is a new mixed-use development from Land Securities with offices, shops along Oxford Street and flats. The development occupies the whole block between Oxford Street, Park Street, North Row and North Audley Street. It is due for completion at the end of next year. For information, contact Land Securities on 020 7413 9000.
Once a louche hangout, Shepherd Market is now a charming enclave of boutiques, pavement cafés and restaurants. The redevelopment of the iconic Tiddy Dolls restaurant will complete the regeneration. This will be Mark Birley’s new private dining club, scheduled to open before Christmas.
Mayfair has only one primary school: St George’s Hanover Square CofE in South Street. It is judged “satisfactory” by government education watchdog Ofsted. There are no state secondary schools in Mayfair but St Marylebone, a girls’ comprehensive which gets good results, is in nearby Marylebone High Street.
Private schools close by include Queen’s College - a girls’ school in Harley Street - and academic hothouse Westminster, in the precinct of Westminster Abbey, a boys’ school that takes girls in the sixth form.
Mayfair is strong on shopping and eating. From the designer names on New Bond Street and Old Bond Street, to the resurgent Mount Street, and the cutting-edge brands on Dover Street, it is possible to spend a whole day window shopping or burning a hole in your credit card in Mayfair’s elegant streets.
Last year’s big event was the star-studded opening of the Louis Vuitton shop in New Bond Street. The turning point for pretty Mount Street was the opening of the Marc Jacobs shop, and since the relaunch of Scott’s fish restaurant it has now joined the elite of London’s shopping streets.
Branches of Lanvin, Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin (currently with a stunning neon window display), Annick Goutal, Loewe and Stephen Webster have all joined long-standing butchers, Allen’s. In Dover Street, there is the Dover Street Market, a store stocking fashion selected by Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo, French cult brands APC and Loft by design, and Acne, the Swedish fashion brand famous for its jeans.
Mayfair has the greatest concentration of fine hotels - most famously The Connaught and Claridge’s - and fine-dining restaurants in the capital. Only Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester gets three Michelin stars, but those with two stars are: Michel Roux’s Le Gavroche in Upper Brook Street, Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus in Maddox Street, Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in Carlos Place and Philip Howard’s The Square in Maddox Street.
Scott’s in Mount Street is a celebrity hangout, as is film director Guy Ritchie’s pub, The Punch Bowl, in Farm Street.
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Open space and leisure
With Green Park to the south and Hyde Park to the west, there is no shortage of open space. Mount Street Gardens is a manicured small garden behind the shops in Mount Street, while Berkeley Square with its tall plane trees and sandy paths feels almost continental.
Brown Hart Gardens is a small, elevated, recently renovated open space out of the way of the traffic fumes between Balderton Street and Duke Street, a short distance from busy Oxford Street.
The nearest council-owned swimming pools are the Marshall Street Leisure Centre (left), a newly restored Victorian baths behind Regent Street, and the Seymour Leisure Centre in Seymour Place, Marylebone. The Curzon Cinema in Curzon Street shows new releases and art films, and for theatre and other entertainments, the West End is a walk or short taxi drive away.
Mayfair is in the congestion charge area but residents get a 90 per cent discount on the charge for one registered car, and the cost of an annual permit is £252. For the Tube, Mayfair is in Zone 1 and an annual travel card costs £1,104 for unlimited travel in Zones 1 and 2. The main Tube stations are: Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines, and Bond Street on the Central and Jubilee lines.
Westminster city council (Conservative controlled); Band D council tax for 2011/12 is £687.62.
Pictures by Barry Phillips