From swamp to swank: The evolution of the Mayfair property market

By Steve Taggart

Mayfair has long been the playground of the rich, the royal and the renowned. So, it’s no wonder that it is the most expensive square on the Monopoly board.

But, Mayfair hasn’t always been the capital’s most desirable place to live. In fact, had Monopoly been around three centuries earlier than its introduction to the world in the 20th century, the priciest piece of the board would definitely not have been Mayfair.

The May Fair

The area started life as a piece of swampy ground next to the River Tyburn. But, in 1686, it found its name, and a purpose in life, when King James II decided a fair should take place there in the first two weeks of May.

But May Fair, as it was, was not then a byword for the refined upper class. Quite the opposite, the fair became known for the disorderly behaviour of its patrons.

That seedy reputation didn’t last for long, however. Soon, the fair was banished from the area and wealthy families like the Grosvenors started to build upmarket squares and swanky streets.


Grosvenor Square attracted titled gentry and a property star was born. The wealthy continued to flood into Mayfair with nouveau riche business magnates snapping up a piece of the action.

But, another sea change was coming as World War I took a toll on both aristocracy and new money, with many finding they could no longer afford to run their huge mansions with their army of staff. Homes were torn down to be replaced by hotels, apartments and offices.

The Second World War cemented the end of Mayfair’s starring residential role. More and more residential property was converted for business use, with families moving to nearby Belgravia, Chelsea and Pimlico.

By the 1970s, only a third of Mayfair’s property was residential. While Gulf Arabs made rich by the oil boom of that decade could have chosen to buy in Mayfair, most opted for Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Holland Park and Regent’s Park. Mayfair had lost its crown.

Boom time again

But Mayfair’s residential doldrums weren’t to last. As temporary permissions for office use began to expire, Mayfair’s property slowly but surely began to be returned to residential use with developers and potential residents attracted by its upmarket way of life, fine-dining restaurants and designer boutiques.

With the most recent recession taking its toll on commercial property values, buildings were snapped up for conversion back to residential use.

The future of Mayfair’s property market is now most definitely residential. This exclusive enclave is experiencing an unprecedented boom that means Mayfair is now rivalling Monaco as the most expensive neighbourhood in the world. Just at Monaco’s Fontvieille area is snapping at the heels of Monte-Carlo when it comes to the highest residential prices achieved, Mayfair is now challenging Knightsbridge.

An entry level studio apartment in Mayfair recently went on the market for £1m and there are currently more than 400 new homes, collectively worth nearly £850m, due to be built in Mayfair. Already values are standing at more than £5,000 per square ft with experts suggesting they will reach a whopping £10,000 per square ft in the next 10 years.

As embassies move out of Mayfair, they are freeing up space for more high-end homes. Mayfair is once again the byword for the highest-specification properties in London, which are attracting super rich residents who expect nothing but the very best. Mayfair is set for a return to its residential glory days.

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