Mansions Lost and found in Mayfair

Mayfair estate agent Wetherell and the landed estate Grosvenor have jointly sponsored The Lost Mansions of Mayfair by architectural historian Oliver Bradbury. The book was launched at a Wetherell-sponsored reception in Purdey’s building on South Audley Street, Mayfair W1.

Bradbury’s incredibly well-researched book looks at the majestic buildings that have been lost. There are many of them. The inhabitants of Mayfair have been wealthy from the earliest days, and the wealthy have often had a taste for distinctive architectural expression – call it the “edifice complex”, if you like. As a result, the lost buildings range from the magnificent to the profoundly eccentric.

Many of these character “lost” buildings would not now get planning permission from any London council and this should be compared against the Planning authorities for approving some of the ugliest buildings built over the last 50 years that you can see in any city. Something has gone wrong.

The involvement of Grosvenor and Wetherell in the sponsorship of The Lost Mansions of Mayfair is appropriate. Grosvenor has owned much of Mayfair since 1677 when Sir Thomas Grosvenor married the heiress Mary Davies. Wetherell has bought, sold and leased property in the area for 35 years – and has run his own eponymous business in Mayfair for a quarter of a century.

“I’m very proud to co-sponsor this book with Grosvenor,” he told guests at the launch. “Both Grosvenor and I have a passion for Mayfair – although they have a little bit more passion because they own it.”

Wetherell’s passion for Mayfair is evident in his involvement in local affairs: a founder of the Mayfair Village Association, and an active member of the former Residents Association of Mayfair, he once paid for the clock in Grosvenor Chapel to be repaired after it lost its chime.

And as a businessman, Wetherell has been bringing residential property back to Mayfair

During World War II, many of Mayfair’s mansions were requisitioned and turned into offices. It was a pragmatic move and the planning authority granted temporary consent for the change of use from residential to offices.

Since 1990, those temporary consents have been expiring – and buildings used as offices for 45 years have begun to revert to residential.

Wetherell has been actively involved in returning around 250 homes to residential use as houses, flats and maisonettes. And in the past 18 years, the business has sold 90 houses.

“In Mayfair this year,” he said, “there have been seven houses sold for a total of £175 million – an average of £25 million each. We are selling two quietly for £45 million each. These are lost mansion that have been found again. We’re returning the grandeur to Mayfair.”

Q1 & Q2 “Super Prime” time

In the “Super Prime” market, the first half of the year saw a flight out of cash into tangible assets with central London property being a prime target.

The number of 2008 sales over £10M is to date similar to WHOLE of 2007 but the total value is substantially higher due to increase in market value and quality of sales.

2007 – £112.45M (7 sales)
2008 – £186.8M (8 sales)

Note: This figure includes “off market” transactions which do not appear on any databases or websites. Wetherell involved in nearly 75% (2007: 28.5%) with sale prices between £1,500 – £3,400 p.s.f.

Lost Mansions of Mayfair by Oliver Bradbury. Published by Historical Publications Ltd in hardback at £24.95. The book also lists some notable mansions that have survived.

Introduction for Mayfair’s Lost Mansions by Peter Wetherell

When Oliver came to my office in Mount Street seeking historical assistance on a book he was researching on the lost mansions of Mayfair, I mistakenly told him it had already been written!

However a search through my collection of books on Mayfair proved me wrong and it was only then that I remembered that it had been a series of articles on the same subject that I had commissioned, as Publisher of The Mayfair Times, which appeared in the early 1990’s

Mayfair is currently enjoying a revival as a residential area as period buildings which have been used commercially since the Second World War revert back to their original residential use. As the estate agent who has specialised in the area for over 30 years, my company has since 1990 sold nearly 90 buildings reverting back to residential use. Indeed their temporary use as offices has probably saved some of them from appearing in this book today!

One now sees more suitcases than briefcases on the streets of Mayfair as individuals and families appreciate the character and feel of the period architecture. Mix this with the vibrant commercial activities of the area which boasts the finest five star hotels, luxury retail shops, gourmet restaurants, international headquarters and entrepreneurial service industries from banking to property and you can see why Mayfair is once again London’s No.1 area.

“Nothing is more boring than yesterday’s newspaper, but nothing more interesting than reading one that is 100 years old” is a phrase I have quoted many times which so applies to the character of Mayfair. Those who are presently astounded by prices of £10 – £50 million being paid to purchase period Mayfair buildings for conversion back to residential homes need merely dip into this book to see that it is by no means a new phenomenon. If the original grand period houses of Grosvenor Square were available today with their gardens and mews accommodation they would probably be worth between £30-40 million each.

When I started working in Mayfair during the early 1970’s, the boom times ended whilst oil prices doubled and doubled again creating an economic downturn. This “new money” was then invested in Mayfair and central London as the newly enriched Middle Eastern purchasers bought up from the “Brits” who moved to south and south west London. This period and the 1980’s office boom gave Mayfair a more commercial feel and were probably the autumn and winter seasons for the area. The 1990’s saw the spring buds of residential return again and the new millennium has brought the full glow of summer back to residential Mayfair.

This well researched book collects together the wonderful buildings which Mayfair has lost but by offering a glimpse into the greatness of it’s past it also gives one a pointer to the potential for Mayfair in the future.