The story of Mayfair is a less than smart affair. Every may we look forward to two glorious summer Bank Holidays and happily turn our attention to the warmer season ahead and time spent relaxing with family and friends.
The Clubhouse neighbourhood is in fact the location of the original May Fair, from which the area gets its name, when it was mostly farm land, and the River Tyburn – now concealed below London’s streets and directed through sewers – ran though it. Its open fields were home to an annual May Fair that lasted for a fortnight from 1 May. This celebration is why we enjoy a Bank Holiday in early May. The May Fair was held at Great Brookfield (which is now part of Curzon Street and Shepherd Market). Established during the reign of Edward I, the fair was recorded as “Saint James’s fayer by Westminster” in 1560. It was postponed briefly in 1603 because of plague, but otherwise continued throughout the 17th century.
Whilst it was initially established for the sale of live stock, the fair soon expanded to include booths dedicated to entertainment, including theatres, jugglers, boxers, gambling tables, puppeteers, bare-knuckle fighting, semolina eating contests and women’s foot racing and sausage stalls. By the reign of George I, the May Fair had fallen into disrepute and was regarded as a public scandal. The 6th Earl of Coventry, who lived on Piccadilly, considered the fair to be a nuisance and led a public campaign against it along with local residents. It was abolished in 1764. The fair then moved to Fair Field in Bow because the well-to-do residents of Mayfair felt that the event lowered the tone of the neighbourhood!
Mayfair came into the ownership of the Grosvenor family in 1677 but it was not until the mid 18th-century that the land started to be developed into what was to become the most fashionable district of London in which to live. In his book ‘The Story of Mayfair’, estate agent Peter Wetherell explains how a 12-year-old girl called Mary Davies, the daughter of a wealthy banker, inherited 100 acres of what was classified as “swampy meads”, south of Oxford Street and east of Park Lane. Mary went on to marry into the Grosvenors, a successful land-owning family. The couple’s son, Sir Richard Grosvenor, began the development of Grosvenor Square; at the same time, other wealthy families were also developing streets nearby, including Brook Street, Clarges Street and Hanover Square. “When it was built, of the initial 277 houses in Grosvenor Square, 117 had titled owners,” says Peter. Mayfair was on the map – reputation in tact despite its insalubrious start!
Mayfair has many blue plaques on its buildings, due to the proliferation of successful and influential residents. Standing at the corner of Chesterfield Street and Charles Street, one can see plaques for William, Duke of Clarence and St Andrews (later King William IV), Prime Minister Lord Rosebery, the writer Somerset Maughan and Regency-era fashion icon Beau Brummell. The neighbourhood boasts the status of the most expensive property on the standard British Monopoly board at £400, and is half of the dark blue twinset with Park Lane. It commands the highest rents out of all properties; landing on Mayfair with a hotel will set your opponent back £2,000!
“The May Fair was held at Great Brookfield (which is now part of Curzon Street and Shepherd Market). Established during the reign of Edward I, the fair was recorded as “Saint James’s fayer by Westminster” in 1560”
This article was originally featured in The Informer. To read the full magazine, please click here.