I was recently given a copy of The Story of Mayfair by Peter Wetherall; it’s a concise book with cartoons by Martin Millard which chronicles this famous enclave of London from the 1660s to the present day – and beyond.
For a corporate publication clearly aimed at Wetherall’s wealthy client base it had enough detail within its covers to retain the interest of this cynical Londonophile.
[A]long the bottom of many pages run a succinct timeline detailing historical events. Little gems like ’1814 A flood of beer from Tottenham Court Road brewery demolishes houses and kills nine when a series of vats rupture, spilling 1.4 million litres of beer onto the streets of London’.
Its three year gestation shows in the detail: Piccadilly was once a simple country lane known as Portugal Street, but within a few short years the land to its north had been developed for the super-rich, only Burlington House in its guise as the Royal Academy remains giving an idea of the many large mansions that proliferated on these virgin fields in the 18th century.
In 1720 Grosvenor Square was built cementing Mayfair’s reputation as the London playground for Georgian aristocracy. By the mid-century most of Mayfair had by apportioned and was owned by one of the big family estates each building their own ’town house’. They even had their own shopping mall – Burlington Arcade.
The 19th century saw the arrival of the wealthy industrialists, who pulled down the mansions replacing them with ’plutocrat palaces’ as befitted the style of the nouveau riche.
This prompted the arrival of the Ritz in 1906, clearly the area had money and its residents were happy to be seen spending it. The hotel was said to have a special bell alerting staff inside of the arrival of royalty.
Perhaps the area’s most surprising reincarnation was with the shortage of post-war office space accommodation The Temporary Office Permissions Bill was passed which allowed much of this affluent area to become commercial property.
Many Mayfair families left the area, decamping to downmarket Belgravia. By 1960 one-third of Mayfair was being used for business.
Today with much of this property is inappropriate for modern offices, and with planning permission to demolish being denied many of these fine buildings are returning to family homes. One of the most prominent is the conversion of the old Grade I listed In and Out Club [interior pictured above] on Piccadilly into luxury apartments.
Peter Wetherall knows his manor, having lived in Mayfair for a number of years and brought up a family in the area. In 2012 he celebrated 30 years in business for Wetherell as the leading specialist residential Mayfair estate agents.