|Will you go along with me to Shepherd
Market?It's there they hold the prettiest Fair in May.
Will you go along with me to Shepherd Market
In a pair of red-heeled slippers very gay?
I'll pick a bunch of cowslips for your bodice,
And I'll tie a yellow ribbon in your hair,
If you'll go along with me to Shepherd Market,
And dance me around the Maypole at May-Fair.
Eleanor Farjeon, c 1916
Mayfair has always been a lively and popular part of London and takes it's name from the 17th-century fair that was transferred from the over-crowded Haymarket, Piccadilly to the area now covered by Curzon Street and Shepherd Market. The fair was held from May 1st, for 15 days, until 1708, when it was suppressed due to local residents' complaints about the 'drunkeness, fornication, gaming and lewdness' it always provoked. Fire-eating, prize-fights, juggling and cheap prostitutes could also be enjoyed, in whichever order one deemed appropriate.
The fair was revived in 1738, by a Mr Edward Shepherd who built a cattle market (and a lot of the market houses) on the spot. The butchers' shops had theatres and large screens showing Sky TV on the second storeys, so that the dwarves and drolls and vagabonds might in fair-time amuse the crowds. In 1750 so many regrettable things happened here (Arsenal won the cup?) that the fair was suppressed as a public scandal for a second time.
However, [some of] the spirit of the Mayfair lives on today - not just in name, but also in the May Day celebrations which take place at the Shepherd Market every year on the first Sunday in May.
The rest of the Mayfair area began being developed in the 1660s and by the mid-18th century almost the entire modern area had been covered by houses, mostly on six great estates; the Grosvenor estate being the only survivor today. The expansion of the area shifted the centre of aristocratic London westward from the previously fashionable Covent Garden and Soho areas.
Mayfair remains fashionable today, which is why we are visiting. After the first World War, London had lost its overseas investments to the US and was no longer the world's chief capital market. The mansions in Mayfair were turned into offices and flats and today the dominant accent in the areas pubs is American.
Before we start, a few words of
warning from The Temperance Association chronicle c1900:
Dare to say 'No' when you're tempted to drink,
Pause for a moment, my brave boy, and think--
Think of the Wrecks upon life's ocean tossed
For answering 'Yes' without counting the cost.
Nowadays, of course, this also applies
There are several pubs in the Shepherd market area and we begin at:
Ye Grapes (Freehouse)
Built in 1882, this pub is a must for the stuffed animal and hunting enthusiast, with the walls of it's dimly lit interior covered in artefacts. The pub is always busy and is plush in a Victorian hunting kind of way (whatever that means). Pool is available in an upstairs bar for those who need it. In its early years, one of it's bars (it had five) was named the cow shed due to its use by the local 'Riding-hoods'. Boddingtons, Pedigree, IPA and Bass beers were 'on' when I visited.
OK, we're on our way, now, across Shepherd Market, passing as we do so 'L'Autre' restuarant which specialises in 'Polish-Mexican cuisine'. Adios amigo Tomaczechski.
The road on which the next pub stands, Hertford Street, leads to Down Street where the remains of the original Piccadilly line Hyde Park Corner tube station survive. The station closed in 1932 although Winston Churchill and his war cabinet are said to have had meetings on the bomb-proof platforms until the purpose-built War Cabinet Rooms were completed in Whitehall.
This is named after the aforementioned Edward Shepherd, who built it in 1737 (the top hat on the inn sign is said to denote him). There were once several bars in this small area but these have all been merged into one. Beers, well, Courage Best and Directors and Theakston's Best.
Right, up Hertford Street, across Curzon Street and into Chesterfield Street, the best preserved Georgian Street in the area. The houses on your left once backed onto the now demolished Chesterfield House. Somerset Maugham lived at No. 6. Turn left and the next tavern reveals itself:
Red Lion (Scottish & Newcastle)
A warm, cosy pub with a low ceiling, lattice windows, wooden walls and floors and an open fire around which the privileged gather and talk in American accents. Alan Reeve-Jones, in his book 'London Pubs' (1962) said about the pub that "in winter a constant warmth unselfishly circulates about the trouser". The pub used to stand by the boundary of Chesterfield House and drew its customers from its stables (many of the smaller roads in the area were once the sites of stables and servant dwellings for the servants). A small wooden chair on the left as you enter may defeat all but the slimmest. Courage Best & Directors (yawn), Greene King IPA & Theakston's Best. When I visited, a tourist was served with a pint of Guinness that had a half pint head - definitely less than 119.5 seconds in the pouring and definitely not the perfect pint. The swimmer wouldn't have stood a chance and would have retired with the mocking jeers of the crowd ringing in his ears. (Refer to the latest Guinness advert if you haven't got a clue what this is about).
Out of the pub into Waverton St (which is at the edge of the Berkeley Estate) and left up Hill St (into the Grosvenor Estate), built in 1745 and then right into South Audley St. This street is named after Hugh Audley, from whose heirs the estate was acquired by the marriage of Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677. Edward Shepherd was again involved in building some of the houses around here. Two notable buildings that we walk past are Thomas Goode's china and glass shop (1875-91), which today display the famous Thomas Goode elephants
|(these seven foot high ceramic elephants were designed by Thomas Goode for the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1889 and were created by Minton) and the Grosvenor chapel, built in 1730 for the new estate.||
On the corner with Mount St (which takes its name from a small earthwork, which was part of London's fortifications during the Civil War) we find:
By now, we should be feeling pretty 'grand' ourselves as we head back down South Audley St and left into South Street, which runs to Park Lane and which has been home to such luminaries as the original 'angel' Florence Nightingale herself.
pub with a 'hidden door' to the saloon bar, (the small public bar is entered
directly from Farm Street).
This pub has a different sort of atmosphere to the others in the area (on one visit I overheard an artist say to his journalist friend "it's a funny pub this" as they watched a crowd of locals attempt to staple gun a Christmas tree to the ceiling), being more of a 'local'. Regulars sit around the bar watching the latest episode of 'Emmerdale'. The beer is Courage...need I say more?
OK, a little bit of a walk now, down Farm Street,which takes its name from Hay Hill Farm (17th century) and contains houses which were chiefly former-coach houses and stables and one which also houses the headquarters of the English Jesuits (who formed in the reign of Elizabeth I as they could not accept the separation from Rome). We see the 'Coach and Horses' which is also a good place to visit but time is against us.
Across Berkeley Square (which takes its name from the Royalist commander in the Civil War) and into Bruton Place, which also provided stables and coachhouses, for the great houses in Berkeley Square and Bruton Street (hoists, for sacks of grain, can still be seen on some of the houses) for the final watering hole.
That's it and the demons have been laid to rest for another short while (well, next weekend).
Let us hear from the Temperance Association again:
Think of the demon that lurks in the bowl,
Driving to ruin both body & soul;
Think of all this as life's journey you go,
And when you're assailed by the tempter SAY 'NO!'
Too late, we have already been assailed by the tempter and as we start the last year of the Twentieth Century in a fitting manner one more helpful tip from 'Viz' will enable us to continue the good work throughout the year:
|Avoid the morning-after hangover...simply stay drunk past noon|
Back into Berkeley Square, left, down Berkeley Street then right into Piccadilly, is probably the most straightforward route back to Green Park tube.
Aidan Laverty. January 1999