The Oliver Messel Suite terrace on sunny day
Live like a local

London’s Mayfair, past and present

August 11, 2022

The upmarket neighbourhood of Mayfair in central London has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a cattle trading fair in the 1680s. Today it is known for its tailors, antique shops, galleries and stunning period properties.

A rich history

Designer boutiques and leafy squares flanked by ambassadors’ residences are a staple of Mayfair, a square mile of London’s most well-known thoroughfares, from Hyde Park to Regents Street, Oxford Street to Piccadilly. Once simply strawberry fields, the neighbourhood began to take shape around May 1686, when King James II granted permission for a fortnight of festivities. The festival ran for another 78 years and the name – May Fair – stuck. By the 1720s, Grosvenor Square began hosting another spring fair, and word spread. Christie’s auction house was established shortly after in 1766, followed by Burlington Arcade’s speciality shops.

Mayfair Grosvenor Square Roosevelt Memorial
Antique tiara
Image courtesy of Haydock Antiques

Grays’ antiques market

Glass cabinets gleaming with medals, porcelain and jade from across the world line Grays, an antiques emporium near Bond Street. Inspired by his parents’ love of antiques, founder Bennie Gray established Alfies Antique Market in 1976 in nearby Marylebone. Traders at Grays include Georgian jewellers Rowan and Rowan, Regal Time London and Diane Harby, who sells lace. Specialist and vintage gems and antiquities are available to peruse for discerning buyers. 

58 Davies Street, W1K 5LP

The faces of Mayfair

Mayfair’s coffee houses and gentlemen’s clubs charmed composer George Handel, who lived at 25 Brook Street in the 1700s, and two centuries later, guitarist Jimi Hendrix moved in next door. These residences now comprise Handel & Hendrix in London. The area also attracted Charles X, King of France, to 72 South Audley Street, stamped with an English Heritage blue plaque. Another plaque at 19 Curzon Street denotes Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s home, while a bronze of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill on New Bond Street celebrates another former resident.

Blue plaques in Mayfair
Image courtesy of English Heritage
Exterior façade of D&G store in New Bond Street, London

Festivals of modern Mayfair

Musicians, a carousel and a Ferris wheel recreate the May Fair of the past at the annual Regent Street Festival, which transforms the area in early September. From 17th to 25th September artists take over galleries and public spaces during London Design Festival, while peacock-inspired lights illuminate New Bond Street at Christmas. The area’s lively events calendar continues with Mayfair Art Weekend in June 2023, which celebrates galleries such as Clarendon Fine Art with talks, workshops and the Mayfair Sculpture Trail.

Mayfair’s street food scene

Chancing upon Mercato Mayfair inside the Grade I-listed St Mark’s Church feels serendipitous, its spiritual beauty cocooning a modern-day market of street food, cocktails and craft beer. Flanked by columns, the nave features the original pulpit and altar crowned with stained glass windows, which loom over the bars Jim & Tonic and Germankraft. Communal tables have replaced the pews, around which stalls serve ramen, pasta and wood-fired pizza, with more vendors lining the mezzanine. A wine bar and microbrewery hide downstairs in the crypt, while on sunny evenings, a seat on the rooftop terrace is a delight. 

North Audley Street, W1K 6ZA

Mercato Mayfair in church setting
Image courtesy of Mercato Mayfair

We are happy to assist you with more discoveries about Mayfair and events in London such as upcoming art exhibitions.

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