Connoisseur’s Guide to Mayfair – London

Written by Aksel Ritenis
{jcomments off}mayfairMayfair, set roughly between Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane, is at the very heart of London.

This area was owned by the Grosvenor family since 1677 and takes its name from the 15-day May Fair, once held here every year. The May Fair moved from Haymarket to the site of today’s Curzon Street and Shepherd Market in 1686 but a century later it was suppressed by the local nobility for lowering the tone of the neighbourhood…. but Mayfair’s expansive and handsome architecture has al­ways attracted the very wealthy.

For nearly 300 years the most influen­tial people in the land have enjoyed its elegant squares, broad Georgian thor­ough fares and beautiful parks. Mayfair also boasts the capital’s most exclusive shops, hotels, restaurants and clubs.

Mayfair is dominated in the north by three large squares: Grosvenor, Hano­ver and Berkeley.

The vast Grosvenor Square, which houses the US Embassy, has a statue of Franklin D Roosevelt at its centre. Mayfair’s commercial district lies to the east. Lots of other embassies are around this area.

This area includes Savile Row, world-famous for its tailoring, and New and Old Bond Streets, renowned for their jewellery, antiques and clothing.

New Bond Street is also known for its auction houses; the most famous be­ing Phillips and Sotheby’s. Take tea in the Dorchester after strolling up Park Lane, one of the most car-busy roads in London! McLaren have a McLaren F1 car on display in Park Lane, one of the most expensive cars you can buy at around £500,000.

Try the Hilton after dark, the cock­tail bar on the top has one of the best views in London.

mayfair2Visit Shepherds Market, between Pic­cadilly and Curzon Street, named after Edward Shepherd, who built it in the mid-18th century. Today, it is a pedes­trianized enclave of small shops, pubs, restaurants and out-door cafés, and held the reputation as allegedly the haunt of high-class prostitutes.

Green Park once formed part of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds. In the 17th century Charles II had it converted (like St James’s Park) into a Royal Park. The park was the site of a number of early balloon ascents and firework ex­travaganzas. Handel’s ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’ (celebrating the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748) was written for the most famous of these pyrotech­nical displays.During the 18th century Green Park was also a favourite site for duels. In 1771 the poet Alfieri was wounded in a duel by his mistress’s husband, Vis­count Ligonier. However, Alfieri’sin­juries did not prevent him dashing back to the Haymarket Theatre intime to watch the last act of a play!

Green Parkis so-called because of the absence of flowers. However, the natural undulating landscape of grass and trees has a spectacular display of daffodils int he spring. Its mature trees and grass ­land offer a tranquil retreat from the congested centre of London and its leafy paths a popular venue for early-morning joggers from the Mayfair hotels.

Burlington Arcade runs down the side of Burlington House, now home of the Royal Academy of Arts. It is the most celebrated of three 19th century arcades situated along Piccadilly (the other two are the Princes and Piccadilly Arcades on the south side of the street). Thesei ndoor arcades represent a pleasant ha­ven away from the constant traffic of Piccadilly and are noted for their mar­vellous selection of expensive, luxury, goods. Burlington Arcade was built in 1819 by Lord George Cavendish, to prevent passersby throwing rubbish into his garden.

Uniformed beadles were employed to patrol the arcade, to discourage unruly behaviour and ensure a refined atmos­phere was maintained. Beadles are still employed today and have the authority to eject anyone who runs, carries large packages, opens an umbrella, whistles, hums or sings.

However, these powers are rarely in­voked nowadays as the dictates of com­merce take precedence over Regency decorum.

Mayfair has long been familiar to Mo­nopoly players as the most expensive property on the board and in real life, this area of central London still retains its wealth and exclusivity. Named after the old May Fair that was once held here annually, the district is surrounded by the great attractions of Hyde Park, Ox­ford Street, Piccadilly, Green Park and Regent Street. Although today’s May­fair is a thriving centre for commercial and corporate activity, it remains lived in, and residents and visitors alike en­joy its imposing architecture and grand spaces.such as Berkeley and Hanover Squares. Grosvenor Square is home to the US Embassy.

Contemporary Applied Arts Fleming Collection home of famous depart­ment store Selfridges and teenage shop­ping heaven TopShop, its main shop­ping concentration stretches southward along Regent Street and the Quadrant to Piccadilly Circus and then turns right (west) along Piccadilly; northward branches extend along Sackville Street and Savile Row, where eminent tailors make some of the world’s finestmen’sclothing. Just alongside Burlington House is one of London’s most luxuri­ous shopping areas, the Burlington Ar­cade, which has housed shops under its glass-roofed promenade since 1819.

Parallel and a little farther west, Bond Street, with its long-established art auc­tioneers and exclusive boutiques and designer flagship stores, is a magnet for lavish spenders from around the world. Archaeological excavations at Mayfair have shown that the area was a junction of Roman roads, which has led some re­searchers to postulate that Romans set­tled the area before establishing Lond­inium (now London). Mayfair was developed from the mid-17th century and its proximity to St. James’s Palace made it a fashionable neighbourhood.

Outstanding among Mayfair’s museums and galleries are the Museum of Man­kind, which is administratively part of the British Museum, and the 18th- and 19th-century Burlington House, which is the home of the Royal Academy of Arts (1768), the Royal Astronomical Society (1820), the British Astronomi­cal Association (1890), the Society of ­Antiquaries of London (1707), the Linnean Society of London (1788), the Geological Society (1807), and other learned societies.

Visit Savile Row, the major centre of traditional bespoke tailoring, primarily for men.

Savile Row has been creating unique bespoke suits for exceptional men for over 200 years, with today’s custom­ers ranging from princes William and Harry to Mick Jagger.

In January 2007 at the Pitti Uomo show in Florence Italy (Italy’s annual show­case for menswear) for the first time in its 70 year history, the show featured clothing by Savile Row tailors, together with an exhibition entitled The London Cut: Savile Row Bespoke Tailoring.

Savile Row’s Bespoke Tailoring reputa­tion is even stornger this year!

As the Times says “Savile Row gets Italy hot under the collar. The normally dis­creet world of men’s tailoring has been shaken by a dispute over who has the best tailors: Britain or Italy?”

Bond Street is a major shopping street in the West End of London. It is more upmarket than nearby Regent Street and Oxford Street and has been a fashionable shopping street since the 18th century.

At one time Bond Street was best known for top end art dealers and antique shops, clustered around the London of­fice of Sotheby’s auction house, which has been in Bond Street for over a hun­dred years. A few of these remain, but most of the shops are now occupied by fashion boutiques, including branches of most of the leading premium priced designer brands in the world. Thereare also a few miscellaneous upmarket shops such as jewellers.

Bond Street is also a square on the Brit­ish Monopoly board, the same colour as Regent and Oxford Streets.

Grosvenor Square is the centrepiece of the Mayfair property of the Dukes of Westminster, and takes its name from their surname, “Grosvenor”. Duke Street forms the east side of the square.

Grosvenor Square was one of the three or four most fashionable residential ad­dresses in London from its construction until the Second World War, with nu­merous leading members of the aristoc­racy in residence.

Many of the houses were rebuilt later in the 18th century or during the 19th cen­tury, generally acquiring an extra storey when this happened. Number 26 was rebuilt in 1773-74 for the 11th Earl of Derby by Robert Adam, and is regarded as one of the architect’s finest works and as a seminal example of how grandeur of effect and sophisticated planning might be achieved on a confined site. It was de­molished and rebuilt again in the 1860s.

The central garden, which was original­ly reserved for the use of the occupants of the houses as was standard in a London square, is now a public park. Nearly all of the houses were demolished during the 20th century and replaced with blocks of flats in a neo-Georgian style, hotels and embassies. Access to the western side of the square is severely restricted by the very obvious security measures around the U.S. Embassy.

Visit Shepherds Market, between Pic­cadilly and Curzon Street, was named after Edward Shepherd, who built it in the mid-18th century. Today, Shepherd Market is a pedestrianized enclave of small shops, pubs, restaurants and out-door cafés. Shepherd Market has long held the reputation as the haunt of high-class prostitutes. Whether the World’s oldest profession still flourishes here is a matter of dispute!

Mayfair is notable for its abundance of first-class restaurants, hotels and clubs, with shops selling luxury goods, jewellery, antiques and expensive clothing in Bond Street, Savile Row, the chic village of Shepherd Market and the 19th Century

Burlington Arcade, adjacent to the Royal Academy of Arts.The Handel House Museum, the former home of the compos­er, is in Brook Street, near the world-famous Claridge’s Hotel. Queen Elizabeth II, born in Bruton Street, heads a list of lead­ing Mayfair residents that includes British prime ministers and statesmen, American presidents, poets, writers -and rock guitar pioneer Jimi Hendrix.

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Aksel Ritenis

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