All That Glitters
“He walked, as was his custom, through the shaded streets and pleasant squares of Mayfair,” writes Michael Arlen in A Young Man Comes to London, 1932. “This corner of town was our hero’s delight. He loved its quiet, its elegance, its evocation of the past. Of Mayfair he wrote those stories which no editor would publish. In those stories he dwelt on the spacious lives of the rich and on the careless gaieties of the privileged.”
Mayfair has long been celebrated in literature, most famously in the 1890s in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband and Lady Windermere’s Fan. This compact area, north of Piccadilly and west of Hyde Park, a patchwork of streets linking the generous squares of Grosvenor, Hanover and Berkeley, has been developed by several landlords over the last few centuries, most notably the Grosvenor family. There are four “golden streets” of the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair and neighbouring Belgravia: Mount Street, Elizabeth Street, Motcomb Street and Pimlico Road.
Mount Street shines the brightest. East to west, it starts opposite Alfred Dunhill off Berkeley Square and ends at Grosvenor House Apartments, Park Lane. The hotel is on the site of the Grosvenor family’s original townhouse or rather town mansion. Edwin Beresford Chancellor records in 1908, “Park Lane is synonymous with worldly riches and fashionable life. Down its entire extent, from where it joins Oxford Street to the point at which it reaches Hamilton Place, great houses jostle each other in bewildering profusion on the eastern side while on the west lies the park with its mass of verdure and, during the season, its kaleidoscopic ever-shifting glow of brilliant colour.” Park Lane is London’s Park Avenue (Manhattan not Bronx).
Between the classical Protestant Grosvenor Chapel on South Audley Street and the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, known to all and sundry as “Farm Street” after its address, lie Mount Street Gardens. First laid out in 1890 on the site of a former burial ground, the gardens are now a sanctuary for locals, travellers and wildlife. Native London Plane trees grow between a more exotic Canary Island Palm and Australian Mimosa in this sheltered oasis.
Close to where Mount Street meets South Audley Street is the Mayfair Gallery. A treasure trove of furniture, lighting, paintings, sculpture and objets d’art, it was founded by Iranian born Mati Sinai who has dealt in antiques since the 70s. “Mayfair was and still is the premier location in London from which to exhibit and sell some of the pieces we have acquired over the years,” he says. “There is a peaceful serenity to the area.” His two sons Jamie and Daniel have joined the family business. “Once upon a time,” Mati says, “90 percent of our sales went to Japan and the US. Whilst we do still get customers from those regions, the growth of Russia, the Middle East and now China has radically changed our business.” A pair of vast vases commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I stand proudly in the shop front. The streets may not literally be paved with gold, but even on the outside of the red brick buildings are blue and white ceramic vases set in terracotta niches.
Mayfair has always attracted the rich and famous. Chesterfield Street alone boasts three blue plaques marking the homes of former Prime Minister Anthony Eden, playwright William Somerset Maugham and dandy Beau Brummell. The Queen was born in Mayfair, 17 Bruton Street to be precise. A Michelin starred Cantonese restaurant called Hakkasan is now at that address. Sketch on nearby Conduit Street is such a fusion of art, music and food that it is an installation itself. Art curator Clea Irving says, “Mayfair has a high concentration of artistically minded people – architects, artists, fashion designers, gallerists.” The fine dining restaurant at Sketch has two Michelin Stars.
A property budget of £1 million will at best stretch to a studio flat in this “golden postcode”. Established over 30 years ago, Peter Wetherell’s eponymous estate agency is on Mount Street. “Wetherell recognises that people from around the world seek Mayfair’s finest properties,” he says. A few doors down, 78 Mount Street has just been sold by Wetherell for £32 million. This corner mansion, originally built for Lord Windsor in 1896, has five reception rooms, nine bedrooms and nine bathrooms spread over six floors. An international influence is evident in its architecture, from French neoclassicism to Italian Renaissance and English Arts and Crafts. Two of Osbert Lancaster’s architectural idioms originate in Mayfair: “Curzon Street Baroque” and “Park Lane Residential”. Another two could easily be “International Eclecticism” and “Grosvenor Grandeur”.