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Love Thy Neighbourhood

Posted 30.07.19  - Heritage

The unofficially delineated Mayfair quadrilateral - from Park Lane to Regent St., and Oxford St. to Piccadilly - has homed royalty, and scores of political, social, literary, artistic and commercial influencers. Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Robert Walpole, Sir Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse and Nathan Rothschild all lived here.

It is in Mayfair - bastion of beauty, intelligence, wit and wealth - that Turnbull & Asser elected to establish its third London shop precisely four years ago. To help mark our youngest shop’s fourth birthday, we’ll take a closer look now at its neighbourhood, which like so much, is best appreciated through its history.

The Mayfair portion of John Rocque’s 1746 map of London. Great Swallow St. (later to become Regent St.) marks Mayfair’s easterly boundary, and Davies St. mistakenly appears as ‘David St.’.

Situated at the south-easterly edge of the Grosvenor estate in Mayfair, Turnbull & Asser’s third London shop lies at the north-westerly tip of Berkeley Square, aside the Palladian Bourdon House, one of the first houses built on the Grosvenor estate, and the last London home of Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster. When built in the 1720s, Bourdon House had a view that extended over fields and market gardens to the 18th and 19th century London home of the Dukes of Devonshire, whose gates on Green Park’s Piccadilly frontier roughly mark the site of the demolished ducal home. Until the reign of James II, London extended westerly just beyond Piccadilly Circus. Oxford St. - or the Tyburn Rd. as it was then known after the river that still flows beneath this thoroughfare - was the road to Reading. The land at Marble Arch bore the scaffold, and Mayfair consisted of undulating fields and farmsteads - a topography recalled by names such as Hay Hill, Mill St., Brook St. and Farm St. Unlike Knightsbridge, Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham, Mayfair was never a village. Villages are built about a church, and Mayfair’s heart is Shepherd Market - a name that has nothing to do with sheep, and everything to do with Edward Shepherd, a Georgian architect and builder who developed land hitherto granted by James II for a two-week fair at the start of May - the May Fair.

Turnbull & Asser’s third London shop at No. 4 Davies St., with a view to the eastern aspect of Bourdon House.

What began as a fourteen-day cattle fair soon broadened its appeal, and eventually earned itself ‘a reputation’. Queen Anne resolutely disapproved from her palace half a mile away in St. James’, and in 1708, the Grand Jury of Westminster put an end to a fair where it was said ‘many loose, idle and disorderly persons do rendezvous and draw and allure young persons and servants to meet to game and commit lewd and disorderly practices’. In April 1709, The Tatler announced that the fair was ‘utterly abolished’, and advised its readership that Mr. Penkethman, a well-known entertainer at the fair, had a tame elephant ‘to dispose of at a reasonable price’, that a tiger might now be bought for a little more than the price of an ox, and that a cat with three legs could now be had ‘for very near the value of one with four.’ However, the grant of the May Fair by James II stipulated that it was ‘for ever’, and the May Fair that had been suppressed under Queen Anne returned under her more liberal Hanoverian successor.

Frontispiece and title page of The Tatler. Volume the Second. London, 1709.

The eponymously named street on which Turnbull & Asser’s Mayfair shop sits remembers Mary Davies, the great-grand-niece of a perspicacious moneylender who died childless and ‘infinitely rich’ in 1662. Hugh Audley, after whom North and South Audley Streets and Audley Square are named, devolved extensive farmland north of Piccadilly to Mary, and this land passed by marriage to Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677, after the breakdown of the engagement of eight-year-old Mary to the Honourable Charles Berkeley, aged ten. Had the Berkeley-Davies marriage taken place, the amalgamation of the two neighbouring estates would have seen almost the whole of Mayfair in the hands of one family - but it did not, and Mary Davies’ portrait hangs in the estate office of the Grosvenors on the street named after them. To the great credit of Mary Davies’ builder-son, Sir Richard Grosvenor, the grid of right angles laid-out by him in 1725 has barely changed. Sadly, his design to make Grosvenor St. a showcase vista from Park Lane toward St. George’s church, Hanover Square, failed through a lack of cooperation from his neighbours. The buildings that stand at the far easterly end of Grosvenor St. still blot-out what should have been one of the finest views in London.

Lady Mary Grosvenor (née Davies), 1665-1730.

Mayfair’s parish church, St. George’s, has been the marriage venue of the famous and fashionable for centuries. The Duke of Wellington witnessed his eldest son’s marriage at St. George’s in 1839, and twice-serving British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, began his long Mayfair residence at the threshold of St. George’s with his wife, Mary Anne, on his arm. Mrs. Disraeli was evidently a practical woman, as the following entry into her account book attests: ‘Gloves 2/6d. In hand £300. Married 28.8.1839. Dear Dizzy became my husband.’ In 1886, Theodore Roosevelt married Edith Carow at St. George’s, the fledgeling politician entering his ‘Rank or Profession’ as ‘Ranchman’. The wedding was a quiet affair, as Roosevelt had no friends in England - except his best man, Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, whom Roosevelt had met crossing the Atlantic. Several years previous, on the 6th May 1880, the great pseudonymous Victorian novelist, George Eliot, married the American banker, John Walter Cross, at St. George’s. Aged 61, Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) was one of the more senior brides to have wed at London’s most stylish church.

A view of St. George’s, Hanover Square, c. 1812.

No 18th/19th century Mayfair wedding would have been complete without a wedding breakfast and cake supplied by Gunter’s of Berkeley Square. Mayfair’s first shop, Gunter’s occupied a location on the eastern side of Berkeley Square (before this was rebuilt), and supplied not only wedding breakfasts and cakes, but also ball suppers and all manner of confectionery and ices. One such ice - unheard of today - is described by Mrs. Gore, the ‘high priestess’ of the Victorian ‘Silver Fork School’ of Mayfair society novelists, as a ‘white currant ice.’ This would have been consumed, as was the custom, ‘under the trees of Berkeley Square’. Used as we are now to refrigeration, it is hard to believe just how rare a luxury ices were, as the following Times announcement of 5th July, 1827 shows: ‘Messrs Gunter respectfully beg to inform the nobility and gentry who honour them with their custom that, this day having received one of their cargoes of ice by the Platoff from the Greenland Seas, they are enabled to supply their cream fruit ices at their former prices.’ The same Mayfair families dealt with Gunter’s for generations, and almost unlimited credit was given. Between 1824 and 1828, Charles Manners Sutton, Speaker of the House of Commons, ran-up a debt equivalent to £31,316 before settling his bill. Nathan Rothschild ran-up bills too, but these were paid more promptly. Living at 108 Piccadilly, being Austrian Consul-General and head of the Rothschild bank, Nathan Rothschild entertained lavishly. On the 28th March, 1828, Rothschild settled a bill for - among other items - thirty-three pounds of grapes, ‘24 champagne’ (their cost suggests they were magnum bottles), ‘2 fine pineapples’, a ‘man cook’ and eight attendants, one of them the father of William Claridge, who bought, ran and gave his name to the ‘royal hostelry par excellence’ at the corner of Brook St. and Davies St.

A handwritten Gunter & Co. estimate for a ball supper, 1906. Reproduced with the kind permission of Westminster City Archives.

When the Prince of Orange came to London to court the Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, he stayed with his tailor on Clifford St. With the exception of dingy St. James’ Palace, there was nowhere for visiting royalty to stay. Things were little better several years later when the diarist Charles Greville chronicled that King William IV, having driven all over town with the Queen and the King of Württemberg, dropped the latter at Grillion’s Hotel on Albermarle St., adding emotionally: ‘The King of England dropping another King at a tavern.’ Grillion’s was no tavern, it was luxurious and brilliantly run. Mayfair’s first hotel keepers were ex-butlers and French chefs whose service with the great houses had given them ample experience of the requirements of the rich. These proprietors typically started modestly by buying and converting one house, and then adding adjacent houses. This was how - like the one surviving Albermarle St. hotel, founded by James Brown, a butler in the service of Lord Byron - Turnbull & Asser Davies St.’s hotel near-neighbours (the world-renowned Connaught and Claridges) began. The Connaught as the Coburg Hotel on what was called Charles St., and Claridges as Mivart’s Hotel, named after the French chef who sold his establishment of two repurposed houses on Brook St. to William Claridge, son of the John Claridge hired out to Nathan Rothschild by Gunter’s in 1827.

Established in 1812 as Mivart’s Hotel, Claridge’s occupies the corner of Brook St. and Davies St.

After WW1, Mayfair changed. Among the millions of English dead were the sons of Mayfair families - heirs to titles and fortunes. Hot on the heels of the post-WWI slump came WWII, and in its wake, ever-increasing taxation and death duties. Under this cumulative weight, the old Mayfair households disappeared, relinquishing homes that were understaffed and too expensive to run. Devonshire House on Piccadilly and Grosvenor House on Park Lane were pulled-down in the 1920s, the eastern side of Berkeley Square in the 1930s, and Bourdon House - Turnbull & Asser’s older Davies St. neighbour - passing into commercial use in the 1950s. Many fine Georgian Mayfair buildings and streets remain, alongside their squares, but the district is now no more known for its households than - but in name only - for its fair. Presently honoured for its celebrated nightclubs, luxury hotels and elegant shops, Mayfair has adapted and survived - because like its Turnbull & Asser tenant at the southerly end of Davies St., Mayfair welcomes the new without betraying its past.

A nightclub legend. Annabel’s new home at 46 Berkeley Square.

Come and share our birthday celebration at No.4 Davies St. on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd August. Champagne will be served from midday (over 18s only) and a 20% discount applied to all ready-to-wear purchases.

Alain Rowe - Turnbull & Asser Store Team

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