London’s most exclusive district secretes wealth and splendour but its grand façades conceal the picturesque domesticity of a historic working village
Mayfair essentially began life as an early 18th century aristocratic housing estate that has gone on to become a cultural byword for residential luxury and cosmopolitan exclusivity. As well as its retail quarter around Bond Street containing some of the world’s most expensive real estate, Mayfair’s architecture offers a distinctive brand of domestic splendour that remains as coveted today as when it was built three centuries ago. Mayfair’s roots lie in cultivated urban experimentation as its gentry owners sought to expand London westwards by creating a new, speculatively planned neighbourhood of palatial terraces arranged around three magnificent squares. That much of Mayfair is still owned by the young duke who descends from its original creators indicates how much of London was and still is privately developed and sets the complex context in which public and private space in the city must coexist. But like much of London Mayfair is about contrast. Chip away behind the grandiose facades and you find an alternate service-village of cobbled courtyards, gas-lit lanes and former servants’ cottages. Imaginatively converted for a mixture of uses this hidden quarter survives in thriving form today and still offers one of the complete and beguiling depictions of Old London the capital has to offer.
WALK START LOCATION: Marble Arch tube station (Exit 3) / Map
WALK ENDS: Near Piccadilly Circus