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The Story of Mayfair: 1851 to 1914 – From aristocrats to plutocrats

As the Victorian era progressed the aristocrats and foreign European Royals who had until now ruled Mayfair, were to gain new neighbours who generated their money not from land or statehood, but from business. Whilst the ancient gentry had been happy to live in relatively plain understated Georgian properties, the Empire’s business kings were not.

Its probably safe to say that well over £2 billion (in modern currency) of “new money” wealth poured into Mayfair. Old houses were pulled down to be replaced by lavish mansions and townhouses not grand enough were combined with neighbours. Interiors were lavish, gold leaf, silver décor and super-flash gilt furniture became all the rage.

The aristocrats were initially horrified by their new neighbours, who were flashy multiple property owners with large yachts, motorcars and private railroad carriages. They became even more jealous when they realised that their sheep farming and forestry could simply not generate the vast amounts of cash that banking, mining and railroads were generating for the newcomers, enabling the “social climbers” to outspend them at every level regarding housing, lavish lifestyles, number of servants, gambling, social events and the races.

By the Edwardian era, the housing surveys showed that there were more plutocrats and newly titled living in Mayfair and Belgravia than the old landed gentry and aristocracy. Mayfair had firmly become a “new money” address.

Despite this, the super-rich newcomers craved social acceptance from the Royals and the old guard, so arose the age and fashion of vast social and cultural philanthropy which continues to this day amongst the super-rich, with the new money investing in the Prince Consort’s ambitious artistic, cultural and social projects in order to gain social acceptance and nobility-titles.

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