Mayfair Area Guide
Mayfair became the home of the gentry in the Georgian period, when the aristocracy began to leave the previously fashionable areas of Covent Garden and Soho and move west.
The area took its name from the May Fair held in the area now known as Shepherd Market. It was a fifteen day revel starting on May 1st. In medieval times such fairs were free of taxes, to encourage trade, but by the 17th century they had declined into riotous entertainments featuring jugglers, fire-eaters, prize-fighters and wild beasts. One antiquarian recalled seeing the "Strong Woman", who could lift an anvil with her long auburn hair. Of course, the thing that made the May Fair so wildly popular was the drunkenness and debauchery.
When the nobility arrived they made strenuous attempts to get it banned, the Earl of Coventry eventually succeeding by legal means in 1764.
Development started with large houses being built on Piccadilly, including Lord Burlington's Burlington House, now the home of the Royal Academy, the Earl of Melbourne's house (later converted into apartments for bachelors and now known as Albany) and Lord Palmerston's home, later the famous In and Out Club after the traffic instructions painted on the gate piers.
Three of London's greatest squares were laid out as building spread northwards - Berkeley Square, Hanover Square and Grosvenor Square, attracting residents of the status of Nelson, Clive of India, Benjamin Disraeli, Robert Peel (founder of the police force) and Winston Churchill.
Eventually Mayfair reached its present extent at Park Lane which was lined with town houses with views over Hyde Park.
In the early 20th century, the aristocracy began to move out. The regiments of servants needed to run the great town houses were no longer available and death duties hammered the finances of many ancient families. The process was accelerated in the Second World War when temporary permits were issued to allow companies that had been bombed out of the City to use them as offices.
In the post-war years Mayfair became predominantly commercial, but recently there has been an astonishing turnaround. Planning and conservation policy changed to favouring residential use of the classic Georgian houses and many of the office permits were finally revoked.
As a result, life has returned to Mayfair. Houses have been beautifully restored, retaining the period features but adding the latest technology.
This has had a knock-on effect on the local economy. Restaurants and cafes are flourishing, offering an unrivalled selection of international cuisine and a fantastic range of shops from fashion boutiques to antiques has sprung up in areas such as Mount Street.
Mayfair's location makes it a great base for London life. Piccadilly to the south has the Royal Academy, BAFTA and the Royal Institution with its famous programme of lectures on scientific subjects. To the north and east are two of the world's greatest shopping streets, Oxford Street and Regent Street. And Hyde Park to the west offers rest, relaxation and a place to go running.
Today, Mayfair and Park Lane still deserve their places as the most expensive and prestigious squares on the Monopoly board.