Mayfair is one of London’s most affluent areas, bordered by Park Lane, Piccadilly, Regent Street and Oxford Street. It takes its name from a fair which was held near Hyde Park Corner in the late 17th-century (now Shepherd Market). It’s rowdy nature led to its eventual banning in 1730, and the area took an upswing in class.
Being close to the Royal Court at St. James, the area soon started to attract London’s wealthy families. The Grosvenors and the Berkeleys, for example, both have squares named after them. Many of the road names honour those who built them – Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Curzon Street, for example, and Lord Burlington of Burlington Gardens.
While most of these houses have now been turned into hotels and embassies, the businesses that congregated still remain – jewellers dominate Bond Street, Cork Street sells expensive art, and Savile Row is famous for its tailors.
The two grandest squares in Mayfair are Berkeley Square and Grosvenor Square. Berkeley was built by William Kent in 1737 – a protégé of Lord Burlington. It has some of the finest houses in Mayfair. Queen Elizabeth II was actually born in one of them – 17 Burton Street, on the east side.
Grosvenor Square is famous for another reason – this is where the USA has its embassy. It has been known as ‘Little America’ ever since the US Ambassador, and future US president, John Adams, moved to Upper Brook Street in 1785.
Savile Row is famous for its suit shops and Apple. This is where the Beatles played their gig upon the roof. The building has now passed into other hands, but you can still camp out on the steps like an old-time Apple Scruff.
Brook Street runs north towards Hanover Square. The French composer Frederick Handel lived at number 25 for the last thirty years of his life.
Burlington Arcade lies just off Piccadilly, near the Royal Academy of Arts. It is one of the most famous shopping arcades in London – run by ‘Beadles’ in top-hat and tails. But beware of their draconian rules – no singing or whistling is allowed!
Shepherd Market sits on the original site of the 16th-century May Fair.
It was built by the architect Edward Shepherd in 1735, but quickly earned a reputation for unsavoury characters. Prostitutes moved in and brought the tone of the road down, but these days its cobbled lanes are full of cafés, small shops and restaurants.