Mayfair and Perimeter-Park Lane, Oxford Street, Regent Street
Mayfair itself has no official definition in terms of being a postal district or a borough. It is of course postally and positively part of w.i, the most aristocratic part of aristocratic w.i, in fashion at least if no longer so conclusively so in pintage of blue blood. Mayfair is glamour, its name synonymous all over the world with high life, and much of it is still residential though the residences are mostly flats or hotels now, and the individual mansions shrink to the fabulously priced minute mews houses. Mayfair is still certainly expensive, the most smart in London. The source of its name, however, is not so; the May Fair was an annual event which took place in an open space between Berkeley Street and Park Lane until iu goings on became intolerable and it was suppressed in George Ill’s time as a public nuisance. Shepherd Market (to whicb we shall come in due course) marks the spot more or less, but it is discreeter now than when Ned Ward described it about 1700″I never in my life saw such a number of lazy look’d rascals, and so hateful a throng of beggarly, sluttish strumpets, who were a scandal to the Creation, mere antidotes against lechery, and enemies to cleanliness. But that was before the aristocracy moved in on West Mayfair. The plan that settled on the fields of Mayfair between 1700 and 1750 is still there. Old Bond Street had started north from Piccadilly, to be continued about 1721 by New Bond Street up to Oxford Street, the axis of asymmetrical Mayfair.
About it were plotted the focal points between 1715 and 1750, Hanover Square grew up in the north cast, Berkeley Square to the west with Grosvcnor north of it; in the extreme west the busy little hive of shops at Shepherd Market. Amongst them, in their gardens, the great free standing houses of the great aristocrau Devonshire House between Piccadilly and south Berkeley Square,with Lansdowne House; Chesterfield House away over to the wot; on the fringe of Hyde Park the pompous and ornate nineteenth century giants, often in the elaborate Italian style, like Grosvenor House with its colonnade, containing the Duke of Westminster and a great art collection, or Dorchester House that housed the world famous Holford collection. But by 1800, the character of Mayfair had settled for a greater density, terraced like frontages of four story houses with neat roof lines lining streets and squares echoing with horses’ hoofs; often narrow but grand houses, the town abodes of aristocracy and high gentry. Order was well established, footpads and highwaymen on the way out, though not so long before Dr Johnson, venturing farther west than his usual beat and in one of his brusque moods, grappled with a sturdy thief who had stolen his handkerchief in Grosvenor Square,’ seized him by the collar, shook him violently, then letting him loose, gave him such a smack in the facc and sent him reeling off the pavement.’ Since then, though constantly building and rebuilding on itself, Mayfair has not looked back.
Now Mayfair is like a chocolate stuffing of the most various, rare, and expensive ingredients, and if not officially defined, in fact it is clearly contained by the more commonly grained, the sometimes positively gross, casing of Piccadilly (south), Park Lane (west), Oxford Street (north) and Regent Street (east).
But these great thoroughfares offer an excellent foil in contrast to the delicacies which they wap about in Mayfair itself, and I propose to examine them first (except Piccadilly, for which see Chap. 2), while the appetite is still robust. If you are content with simply looking, both outer and inner parts of the area can be covered comfortably in a morning or afternoon, but should you succumb to the lure of shops and start diving in, it will take very much longer and you will be much poorer. For the delicate, the first part may be omitted, and the interior broached from p. 75 onwards.
Start up Park Lane from iu Hyde Park Corner (south) end. For the comer iuelf, and Apsley House, see p. 32; Park Lane itself is no lane, and the park has been pushed back from it like a receding tide by the recent Hyde Park Comer/Marble Arch traffic “improvement, which has turned the lane itself and the outer road of the Park’s edge into a hurtling double carriage way. The south end of the lane is preoccupied with the contortions of this double road and is dominated by the new (finished 1963) 328 feet high, V storied and 5’2 guest roomed London Hilton hotel not large by American standards but very American by London standards, and yet to be assimilated into the townscape, as if a lone rather fancy trial tooth awaiting the insertion of the rest ot the denture. But it is the logical development of what has been happening in Park Lane.