Elegant architecture, glamorous boutiques, the finest restaurants, world-class art galleries: Mayfair is easily London’s most exclusive enclave, with The Chesterfield Mayfair at its heart. However, a dive into the illustrious area’s past sheds light on its humble beginnings in rural countryside. Here we chart Mayfair’s compelling history, rising from a 17th century country fayre to the prestigious retail haven it is today.
Bordered by Oxford Street in the north and Hyde Park to the south, Mayfair is a sophisticated location in the centre of the British metropolis. But it started life as rural lands surrounding the manor of Eia. So popular was the green stretch, it became the site of the annual May Fair between 1686 and 1764. Famed for its peddlars, jugglers and colourful characters, the fair drew a diverse and disreputable crowd. In the 18th century, the esteemed Grosvenor family acquired the land and began to develop the area, seeking to shake off its shady reputation.
Under the direction of Thomas Barlow, Mayfair as we know it began to take shape in the 1700s. The iconic Hanover, Berkeley and Grosvenor Squares were constructed, surrounded by prestigious housing for London’s well-heeled residents. Bankers, politicos, playboys and princes all relocated to this alluring district.
A luxurious retail and culture hotspot
As the British aristocracy declined throughout the 20th century, Mayfair homes were gradually converted into shops, hotels and embassies. Of course, Mayfair retained its upscale ambience (it is the most expensive location on the British Monopoly board, after all) and its many shopping streets and arcades have grown to achieve legendary status worldwide.
Home of British tailoring since the 19th century, Savile Row is the go-to destination for exquisitely handcrafted suits. Tailors of distinction, Richard James, William Hunt and Ozwald Boateng have their ateliers here.
Built in 1819 by Lord George Cavendish – rather amusingly to prevent passers by throwing rubbish into his garden – Burlington Arcade is a beautiful, historic covered shopping enclave where you can shop quintessentially English brands such as Church’s for fine leather footwear and perfumer to the Queen, Penhaligon’s.
Perhaps nowhere in Mayfair is more illustrious than Bond Street. Built by a syndicate of developers headed by Sir Thomas Bond, a savvy property speculator and close friend of King Charles II, this elegant boulevard runs from Oxford Street to Piccadilly. Today its rows of designer boutiques from coveted international fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada sit shoulder to shoulder with art emporiums like Halcyon Gallery and Richard Green.
Running parallel to Bond Street, Dover Street and Albemarle Street are superlative retail avenues lined with equally refined brands but with more of a English persuasion. British designers Paul Smith, Amanda Wakeley, Victoria Beckham all have boutiques here. Furthermore, fine jeweller by royal appointment, House of Garrard has its flagship and workshop on Albemarle Street.
Discover Mayfair’s incredible history alongside its contemporary boutiques from the sumptuous Chesterfield Mayfair hotel.
Image credits: All images courtesy of Grosvenor.