Creating the British Eccentric

CREATING THE BRITISH ECCENTRIC

….Mount St, Scandals and Secrets

By ©Tyne O’Connell

I have spent most my life in a 4th floor walk up on Mount St, Mayfair, where I brought up two Husbands, three Children and penned thirteen books – the Mayfair Times declaring my boarding school series, “A Right Royal Read”.

I know Mayfair’s secrets past and present and looking back I see how they have formed me.

Our present queen was born at 17 Bruton St and took her first steps outside as she tottered with her nanny to Berkeley Square.

Mayfair

The Queen had moved to the palace by the time I arrived but I remember the Queen Mother dining in Scott’s. It was the same year an explosive missile was hurled by the IRA through the windows, killing diners and staff. We received a scathing sermon at the Church of The Immaculate Conception Farm St that weekend, leaving all of us of Irish heritage feeling somehow responsible for this destructive attack on the sacred pleasure of native oysters the half shell.

Scotts has always been popular with the Jesuit priests from the their presbytery on 114 Mount St. In the seventies, like most of London, Berkeley Square was piled with rubbish and sandbags and chicken wire encased many shop windows and clubs to deter passing Molotov Cocktail hurlers, yet for all its glamour and brutality, Mayfair remains a true London Village and Mount St its High Street. Everyone knows everyone’s secrets, quite an achievement for a street International spies have called home since the 17th Century.

Sometimes sitting in my Dormer window seat, I hear the whispering as I look out on Mount Street Gardens where amongst the exotic fronds and shady dappled light, my father and other spies received their secret orders in World War II.

Mount St like most of Mayfair has had many incarnations. Mayfair, then Tyburn, was listed in the Domesday Book as a spiritual site for pilgrims seeking the sacred waters of the springs that now run under Bond Street tube.

To understand Britain’s relationship with Eccentrics and individuality we must go back to 17th Century, for it was in the crucible of the violent skirmishes and civil unrest in England after the arrival of Queen Henrietta Marie de Medici, the wife of Charles I, that eccentrics and eccentricity became a quality synonymous with the ethics of the arts, beauty and pleasure, and the central argument of 17th Century England as to whether these three qualities expressed the grace of God, or the temptations of Satan.

Normally, history is told by and about men, the women appearing only in the footnotes and shadows as the help-meets, sisters and wives, but in exploring the history of eccentrics, it is the women who hold most of the starring roles. All eccentric women and men at some time seem to have lived in or frequented the clubs and salons of Mayfair and St James’s.

Daniel Lismore and Tyne O'Connell Opera

Only in Mayfair would one find, Lord Byron, Fanny Burney, Angelica Kauffman, Madame De Stael and Ignatius Sancho sipping cups of tea and saucers of champagne at a breakfast salon at the foot of Elizabeth Montagu’s bed. Such a scene with similar players has been arranging itself in Mayfair rooms since it became the fashionable place to live in the Restoration of the 1660’s and 1670’s.

The creation of Mayfair and the evolution of the British Eccentric came about through a confluence of events in the 17th Century culminating in the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne and five important women of history who played a huge part in developing eccentricity as a quintessential quality of the British Eccentric.

One of the great Restoration Eccentrics, Queen Catherine of Braganza: King CharlesII’s eccentric, cross-dressing wife, who brought Britain a dowry of Tangiers and Bombay and new trade routes and introduced tea to India as a new crop and to England as the fashionable drink. By the 1700, London had grown from a small Medieval City of fear and brutality to the richest, largest and most cosmopolitan and modern City in Europe. Eccentrics from other parts of Europe made their way to England seeking the tolerance afforded true individuals.

Eccentrics recognise the power of clothes to transform & subvert yet eccentrics by their nature are unaware of their uniqueness. They’re uniqueness is not cultivated but rather intrinsic to their character, like gender, yet they are aware, in cutting a line of their own, they put themselves at risk of the sneers and jibes of the judgmental and self-righteous.

Whether penning a poem, painting their face or a wall, choosing a natty cravat or tiara, today’s eccentrics are at the front line of art and culture. They are following in the footsteps of the Cavaliers of 17th Century England, who rode into battle in richly coloured silk-velvet jackets frothing with lace, during the war of attrition waged against them by Roundhead Protestants who wanted to eradicate what they saw as the Papist weapons of sedition; namely the arts, beauty and pleasure.

Today art, beauty and pleasure are seen as the forefront of civilization and progress. It was during the subsequent Restoration of the Stuart King, Charles II in 1660 and the five eccentric women to whom he gave central roles, that created the British Eccentric as a literary and cultural meme and eccentricity a distinct aspect of Britishness.

It was Eccentrics and creators of, and lovers of art, beauty and pleasure that arose as the phoenix from the ashes and misery of the Civil War and Cromwell’s brutal tyranny and oppression on personal freedom and epic pogrom on the arts and pleasure.

champagne mayfair life

Eccentrics are often depicted as whimsical or peculiar, yet historically when men go to war, whatever their “principle” it is always the eccentrics, the poets and sartorial and literary subversives who are the first to be hung drawn and quartered at Tyburn, lined up against the executioners wall, or pushed from chairs from high-buildings in Syria. Clearly eccentrics pose a far greater threat than those who lampoon them as fools and fops, care to admit.

It is the bravery of eccentrics who hold the line on individual ideas and expression and maintains Britain as a place where lovers of and creators of ideas art and beauty are celebrated.

The marriage of the eccentric, Catholic Henrietta Marie to Charles I in 1625 had seemed attractive at first, due to the legendary vastness of the De Medici dowry which included priceless jewellery, including famous rubies, diamonds and pearls and numerous priceless artworks which included the the largest of Van Dyck and Artemisia Gentileschi collections in the world.

However, Henrietta Marie arrived in England not only with her dowry but a colourful, crazy court of artists, opera singers, architects, composers, philosophers and a merry assortment of creators of and lovers of, art and beauty.

The Protestant parliament was not happy.

Initially, the Protestant King Charles I wasn’t too pleased either, but by the time he held his first son, Charles II in his arms on 29th May 1630, he was besotted with his Catholic wife, and devout in his Anglo Catholicism.

Parliament decided it was time to take off the gloves, beginning decades of bloody skirmishes, plots and intrigues which culminated in The Civil War of 1642-1651.

Like many wars, The Civil War was justified by religion, and fuelled by politics, but ultimately it was a battle of the ethical virtue or harm in the morality of Art, Beauty and Pleasure. These three factors became the battleground and graveyard for men and women across Britain who believed that art, beauty and pleasure were either a celebration of life or a gateway to sin.

Eccentrics

Clothing was a major sartorial propaganda weapon in this war. The word “turncoat” was one of the many new words to find its way into the language. The battle lines were clear – Protestant Parliamentarian Roundheads, versus Royalist Cavaliers – but most men and women were uncertain where their allegiance lay from one day to the next. Only their costumes defined them, and costumes could easily be changed.

The Roundhead’s utilitarian uniform represented the ethics of the Protestant parliamentarian’s stance that decoration or makeup of any kind, was a Papist gateway to sin and depravity.

A Cavalier could ride into battle in his feather plumed hat worn on a jaunty angle, teemed with a richly coloured silk-velvet trimmed jacket (often with a secret pocket sewn inside, concealing a poem or portrait) trimmed with lashings of hand made lace. But this jacket could easily be turned inside out to reveal the black, rough, hewn woollen lining, and voila, the Cavalier was a Roundhead.

In the 1630’s and 40’s, before the Civil War officially started, there was already a massive propaganda war raging. In 1642, Roundhead’s published cartoons lampooning the Royalists, taunting the Cavalier as a “Dandy” and his female counterpart as a Dandizette.

Rather than taking umbrage as the cartoons, the Cavaliers, who were proud of their finery, appropriated the term “Dandy” as a compliment. If anything, these taunts only encouraged the Cavaliers of both genders to more eccentric flourishes in their costumes.

After the murder of King Charles I in 1649, Britain endured a dark decade of rule under Cromwell’s Commonwealth, who effectively mounted a pogrom on individuality in an attempt to wipe out Papist pursuits once and for all.

Queen Henrietta’s great art collection was sold to Holland and the fabled De Medici jewellery collection along with the Historic Crown Jewels were all melted down to fund Cromwell’s New Model Army.

Cromwell closed theatres, alehouses and schools of art, music and architecture. He outlawed all that he considered Papist, which greatly damaged London’s ancient Guilds, as tailors, cordwainers, glove-makers, cabinet-makers and milliners were prevented from practicing their art. Fine food and alcohol were outlawed, leaving grocers struggling to make a living. Maypoles across every village and town in England were chopped down as dancing and singing were a moral no-no. Perhaps the greatest losers in Cromwell’s Commonwealth were women and eccentrics.

Women were forbidden to wear makeup or jewels, and there was no decorative clothing for either gender. The entire population was limited to a rough hewn woollen shapeless garment and uncomfortable ugly wooden clogs. Gentlemen’s wigs were banned as were luxurious textiles and women’s hair was shaved if they were caught with it uncovered, even in their own home.

Cromwell’s New Model Army was a powerful and ruthless spy network with carte blanche to meet out brutal punishments, including floggings and scrubbing the faces of women suspected of wearing makeup, until they bled. They also had the power to burn and destroy items of beauty. England was lit up with bonfires on which beautiful clothing, drapery, artworks, ancient manuscripts and decorative furniture burned.

The Queens famed collection of Van Dykes and Artemisia Gentileschi ‘s which was the largest in the world, were sold to Holland, but for the most part artworks and ancient manuscripts were burned or destroyed along with beautiful clothing, children’s toys, exotic drapery and other decorative items. Enormous bonfires burned across the country as a mass destruction of anything which was considered beautiful or papist or seditious.

Charles II and his brother James were sent into exile on the continent with other prominent loyalists.

Mayfair was turned into a slaughterhouse for any who dared flout the new laws. Every day eccentrics, suspected of flouting the strict clothing laws or artists or Catholics were tortured and slain in a public theatre of bloodletting meant to terrify people into submission.

The area which had once been a pre-Christian pilgrimage site for the sacred springs which under Bond Street were covered over and the soggy field described by Pepys was turned into a theatre of torture and death.

The ghoulish sight of murder went on all day, the bodies of the martyrs hung drawn and quartered were then tossed into the crowd while the head and heart were flung into the two enormous burning pits which burned night and day between Brook St and Mount St casting an eerie, medieval light across the area. At night, emissaries from European Embassies sent men to wander across the still burning embers to gather the hearts and heads from the burning pits in order to provide a Catholic burial. Relic hunters also roamed the blood sodden burning fields, searching for relics to sell at the markets. It was a decade of ruled doubt, fear and superstition and the ethics of beauty and fun.

Over the next decade, while Cromwell dragged Britain back to the dark ages and bankrupted the coffers. Charles II’s cousin, The Sun King was celebrating Art and Beauty in his lavish court of Versailles.

When Cromwell died in 1658 his son attempted to carry on his rule but it wasn’t long before the people and Parliament begged Charles to return. By this, point most of the population were of a mind that laughter and larks were more precious than the ethical battles of art and pleasure and most were keen a knees up and sing-song.

Upon Charles II Restoration to the throne 29th May 1660, Pepys writes that London’s fountains ran with champagne for a full fortnight and there was dancing and singing in the streets as Londoners changed into their erstwhile forbidden finery, celebrating their joy at the return of their Stuart monarch. People stood on rooftops to get a better look at the resplendent sight of the Royal Court and the magnificence and beauty of the eccentric parade of characters including the remarkable eccentric philosopher, Margaret Cavendish and her husband the greatest Cavalier of all, William, Duke of Newcastle.

The crowd cheered their delight as Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham another comely eccentric and the world’s first woman architect rode by. After over a decade of Cromwell’s dark rule which forbade coloured clothing, jewellery or makeup, it is easy to imagine the thrill of ordinary Londoners at the sight of the Merry Monarch and his extraordinarily colourful Court, returned to them, riding resplendent through the streets in a whirl of colour, music and laughter. The bells peeled and the fountains flowed with champagne for a full fortnight. No one could bear to sleep or miss a moment of celebrating the return of joy to the kingdom.

From the moment The Stuart’s returned to St James’s Palace. gaiety and wit took over from piety and oppression. Women were afforded new freedoms in all areas of society. Not only were the maypoles returned to the centre of village life and alehouses and theatres reopened, but women were permitted to act on stage for the first time in History. One of the first notable Mayfair Eccentrics to avail herself of this opportunity, was Nell Gynn.

Perhaps due to his tutelage under the care of eccentric Margaret Cavendish and his own mother, the extraordinary Queen Henrietta, King Charles II valued women for their minds as well as their bodies and employed women not only as spies and advisers but most significantly for Mayfair, he turned to a woman architect, Lady Elizabeth Wilbrahem who had trained over seven years on the continent, during the Commonwealth. She had spent five years in the Palladian Schools of Architecture in Italy and two years under the eminent architect of the day, Pieter Post in Holland.

Elizabeth’s street plans, great churches and mansions of Mayfair, at the time attributed to her inexperienced pupil the engineer, Christopher Wren due to her place in the aristocracy was funded by the Kings wife Catherine of Branganza on land owned by a woman, the Mayfair Eccentric, Dame Mary “May” Grosvenor nee Davies.

King Charles II’s determination in building a residential area of garden-squares and a retail paradise with glass-fronted arcades on the site of the Old Killing Fields of London was a deliberate attempt to wipe all traces of religious intolerance that had gripped London and the rest of the kingdom since Henry VIII first began his Catholic Pogrom. Perhaps he felt he was cocking a snook at his father’s murderers in transforming the Killing Fields into a celebration of all Cromwell’s Protestant New Model Army most despised; eccentric creators of and lovers of the arts and pleasure.

By 1664 The Killing Fields of Catholics was already a half-built building site. Builders were living in basic cottages in the north around Cromwell’s Mount as mansions on Piccadilly and the northern streets off Piccadilly arose. By the time the Great Fire of London burned through the Roman walled City of London in 1666, the building program was sufficient to provide premises in St James’s and Mayfair to the displaced London Trade Guild members, such as tailors, milliners and bookmakers who had seen their shops burned to the ground.

There were also many great churches and many more great mansions finished by 1666, including Burlington House – now The Royal Academy, hosting balls and salons all presided over by women, serving the new drink of tea, introduced by his wife, the Catholic Queen Catherine of Braganza.

It is only now, three hundred years later that the world’s first woman architect, Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham is receiving the credit for her enormous contribution to London’s famine skyline of domes and spires. RIBA are now celebrating her for the extraordinary work she is responsible for.

Charles II’s marriage to the eccentric, cross-dressing, Catherine of Braganza owner of the port cities of Bombay and Tangiers was celebrated with even more extravagance than his Restoration. All the fountains flowed with champagne on 29th May 1662 for another fortnight of 17th Century revelry. The eccentric cross-dressing Queen Catherine, despite her Catholicism, was much loved by the people.

Women sympathised with her for her husbands cavorting with other women and all appreciated the financial boost her trade routes afforded the British economy. It was Charles II’s marriage Catherine of Braganza, funded Charles II to create the luxurious area of glass-fronted shopping arcades and majestic mansions around verdant garden squares, celebrating creators and lovers of Art Beauty and Pleasure.

The insignia of the C’s for Charles and Catherine on the lampposts of Westminster today is a reminder of their great contribution to the building of Mayfair and London as a Modern City celebrating the arts.

By introducing tea as the new fashionable drink, Catherine put society into the hands of women. Coffee had only been sold at coffee houses which banned women, but tea was available at grocers, putting it in the hands of women who were able to host intellectual tea salons and parties in their own homes.

Tea drinking, combined with the influx of exotic goods from her Port Cities turned shopping into a British leisure activity. The first glass-fronted shopping arcades, displayers rich textiles and never before seen items of apparel brought about the trend for window shopping.

For the first time in history, the general population were able to individualise their look and transform themselves through clothing. The more extraordinary and exotic the more fashionable and desirable. There was a new malleability in the class system and eccentricity was a powerful key to unlock doors hitherto closed.

The British Eccentric was born and Eccentrics from other parts of Europe and Britain began making their way to London and the court of The Merry Monarch and the new area of Mayfair, named not for The St James’s Fayre, hosted annually in July to raise money for lepers cared for by monks and nuns dedicated to St James The Lessor – but for the eccentric landowner Dame Mary “May” Grosvenor nee Davies.

Even Dame Grosvenor who owned the land on which Mayfair is built was a woman of her time. From six months of age in 1665, the young heiress was paraded around London in a bizarre, white-glass carriage pulled by six white horses adorned with white-feather plumage. The infant, wearing full bridal gown was transported through London streets daily, advertised as a tempting prospect for any gentleman of the aristocracy wishing to obtain her 300 acres of land, including the desirable 100 acres which formed the area King Charles II was keen to develop as unrivalled luxurious retail and residential village. May, married the Cheshire barronet, Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677 and her dowry is still largely in tact to this day.

Her own story is worthy of a film. A devout Catholic, she defied convention following the death of her husband when she was forty-years old and eloping to Paris with the brother of her priest, Edward Fenwick. May was brought back and the marriage was disputed in Chancery for several years before being declared invalid. after which poor May was incarcerated for the rest of her life in a mental asylum – despite no sign of insanity – in order to restrain further flights of independence.

To this day, when people think of British style or London Fashion Week it is for its singular eccentricity. It is hard not to think of Margaret Cavendish 1623-1673 when thinking of British Style for she was the first woman in British history to use clothes to transform both ideas and atmosphere. She began subverting her silhouette during the violent skirmishes in England from the 1630’s, using textiles and shapes to express ideas, to alter her appearance and lend her shy-self, gravitas.

Margaret Cavendish truly defined the age as the quintessential Restoration woman; bold, bright and a great wit, she blazed across the 17th Century, an age that encompassed more change perhaps than any other.

In England she survived the Civil War, which pitted the medieval against the modern. Mad Madge – the Duchess of Newcastle was a sensation in an age of sensation, an eccentric in an age of eccentrics, and ultimately the person who truly defined the Restoration. By defying the boundaries set for her as a woman, she went on to defy all boundaries and gave birth to ideas that continue to excite women, science and fashion to this day. Yet despite her enormous contribution to science, philosophy, literature and her introduction of the intellectual salon to London in the 1660’s, more ink was spilled by her male peers, such as the diarists Pepys and Evelyn describing her “antic” form of dress than was spent writing about her controversial feminism, campaigning for women’s education or anti-vivisection.

Eccentricity’ was becoming more than an adjective but rather a definable and desirable quality like art or beauty or pleasure. In the court of the restored Stuart King CharlesII Eccentricity was not only desired but celebrated.

During the 1660’s as the Restoration gained momentum it was Aphra Behn/Agent160/Astrea, (1640-1687) spy and court wit and playwright encapsulated the spirit of the Restoration. The swashbuckling Aphra was born a commoner and like most of the population was of no definitive religious or political persuasion. Like many, it was her fear of Mob Rule and the brutality of Protestant Roundhead’s fanatical fervour that made her side with the Royalist cause. She had been a spy for Charles I in the Civil War in both Antwerp and Dutch Surinam where she led a slave rebellion. During the Restoration she later wrote about her experiences, Oroonoko The Royal Slave a True Story by Aphra Behn.”

Oroonoko is considered the first novel and Aphra Behn was the first professional writer in history to make her living solely through writing. After a few years as court wit, Aphra decided to become a famous writer and by the time she died she’d had more plays produced than Dryden. Her tomb in Westminster bears the inscription ‘Here lies proof that wit is no defence against mortality”. Aphra or Agent 160 – or Astrea as she was self styled – became the figurehead of independence and freedom to women in the Restoration.

During the Mayfair salons held in her lifetime, and in the Regency and beyond her name was synonymous with the flame of independence that burned in the heart of all women. Virginia Woof said “all women together out to let flowers fall upon on the tomb of Aphra Behn for t’was she it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”

The Restoration in Britain was an age in which women made their mark, partly because in London alone, women outnumbered men by three to one, due to the decimation of the male population during the Civil War and Cromwell’s pogrom. But part of their strength was due to King Charles II who had been much affected by the strength of his mother Queen Henrietta Marie and Margaret Cavendish, who with her husband The Duke of Newcastle, had been responsible for his education after the death of his father.

Together they had instilled in Charles and James that women were to valued as much for their minds and wit as their beauty.

It was a magnificent time to be a woman.

Everyone knows that during the Great Fire of London King Charles II and his brother the future James II rather than fleeing to safety, rolled up their sleeves and worked tirelessly through nights without sleep to save the City of London and minimise loss of life. After the

fire was extinguished the rumours and seditious whispering started…it was started by

Catholics, it was started by foreign enemies.

London was lurching back to the medieval superstitious dark ages of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. For me the inspirational story of that tragedy was King Charles II’s decision to stroll about the charred ruins of London in an eccentric, brightly coloured long waistcoat from Persia, such as had never been seen in England. The waistcoat was a genius act of sartorial propaganda, firstly because it was gaily coloured and eccentric and secondly it was neither French or Catholic made. The splendid, longer style waistcoat in richly woven exotic hues, represented all the Restoration hopes and dreams the Stuart King had for a Modern London, west of the medieval ruins in which plague had been rife only the year before.

Charles II had been restored to the throne in a fountain of champagne and jubilation. After decades of bloodshed during the Civil War and the dark decade of oppression under Cromwell, his people celebrated his return. delighted to have a Merry Monarch who gave them the freedom to eat drink and be merry with him. His building scheme north of St James’s Palace and west of his father’s development of Covent Garden opened up jobs for builders and retail opportunities for the Guilds, and sellers of the new exotic goods pouring into London from his wife Queen Catherine’s port cities of Tangiers and Bombay

which put gold into everyone’s pocket.

His people were enjoying the new prosperity and opportunities and therefore able to over look Catherine’s devout Catholicism. She was making them rich. However, after the great plague of London, followed by the Great Fire rumours, sedition and murmurings of Papist plots, made Charles vulnerable. He needed his people to believe in his dream of the new Modern London, majestic in its celebration of eccentricity. Fortunately his waistcoat ploy was a hit. London’s gentlemen embraced his gaily coloured longer waistcoats and the mutinous plots and intrigues were forgotten in the new fad for eccentric fashions.

Eccentrics recognise the power of clothes to transform & subvert. Eccentrics are by their nature unaware of their uniqueness, it is intrinsic to their character like gender. Yet they the battle for cutting a line of one’s own, is the safeguard of Civilisation, for they make the ordinary, extraordinary, the banal, beautiful & the dull brilliant.

By 1707 when Fortnum and Masons opened its doors, Mayfair was no longer considered the Killing Fields of London or Tyburn but Mayfair, named for the owner of the land the eccentric Catholic Dame Mary May Grosvenor nee Davies London and specifically Mayfair had become the centre for eccentrics of all genders, races and creeds. After Lady Wilbraham and Aphra Behn and Mad Madge the Duchess Of New-

castle, other eccentrics followed.

The composer Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780), the famous dandy and eccentric, who born on a slave ship went on to compose the musical backdrop to Regency England. Due to the patronage of Lady Mary Montague he was able made his home in Mayfair in 1750’s till his death in 1780, leaving his grocery shop on Charles Street to his son who was also a composer. During his life he was painted by Gainsborough and amongst his friends were numerous famous artists and salonniers such as Elizabeth Wentworth, Lady Home, Laurence Stern and Princess Charlotte.

Mayfair became home to many aristocratic Catholic Eccentrics, including the Catholic author, Fanny Burney who lived on Mount Street and Angelica Kauffman who lived in various addresses in Mayfair. Margaret Cavendish, Lord Byron who lived in a boarding house on Bond Street, Beau Brummell Charles St and Thackeray (both W.M. and Lady Richie nee Thackeray) all lived at Mayfair addresses.

When the Jesuits bought the graveyard of St Georges Church and transformed it into Mount St Gardens and the Church of THe Immaculate Conception, Oscar Wilde dined with the priests at the presbytery regularly on his road to conversion and attended the mass  which is now the Gay Lesbian Bi Transgender service, I attend with my family.

The church is still referred to as Farm St due to the tradition of referring to Catholic

Churches by their street names which harks back to the years of persecution which is per-

haps why Catholicism in Britain holds such attraction for eccentrics.

Catholicism represents rebellion and conversion meant a bohemian snub to the system.

Nineteenth Century Farm St quickly became the place for Catholic society weddings, bap-

tisms and conversions

Evelyn Waugh, Edith Sitwell, Alex Guinness and other artists took the long road to con-

verted at Farm St. Nancy Mitford and many of The Bright Young Things of the 20th Centu-

ry regularly attended the 11.00 full sung Latin mass as an act of rebellion. The blue plaques dedicated to eccentrics abound in Mayfair and St James’s; Ada Lovelance (Lord Byron’s daughter) who invented the first computer, Nancy Astor, Churchill and Nancy Mitford all who have played a part in celebrating the British Eccentric.

Around this same time in 1860, The Grosvenor Estate underwent a comprehensive re-building program, wiping out all traces of the buildings and shops erected in the 1660’s – 1860’s. Mount St and the rest of Mayfair was completely rebuilt in a more orderly fashion, whilst maintaining its theme as a haven for Eccentrics and “lovers of and creators of, Art and Beauty”. Despite his attempts to preserve the two work houses on Mount St in the re-building in 1880 the 1st Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor was forced to move the two work houses of Mount St to make way for Carlos Place.

During World War II, Mayfair was hit hard in the Blitz, my father recalls parties in the Connaught where Charles De Gaul resided along with many senior American serviceman. My father wasn’t the only spy who received his missions in the Mount St gardens at dawn and the area continues to attract spies and act as the setting for ‘hand-overs”, mysterious murders and unexplained deaths during the Cold War and to this day.

Manning the Tombola Stall at our local residents association’s Annual Fete over the years, I’ve sold tickets to Dukes and Dandies, for what defines a Mount St lover and brings us together, continues to be our shared love of Art and Beauty just as it was in the 1660’s.

A regard for Art and Beauty, tolerance, cups of tea and saucers of champagne along with attention to detail; be it in a button hole or a perfectly crafted Martini are the hallmarks of The British Eccentric as laid down in the 1660’s – 1680’s when King Charles and his eccentric cross-dressing Queen Catherine were on the throne.

The entwined C’s on the lampposts of Mayfair represent this time in British history when Mayfair, which was named for the eccentric Catholic landowner of the area, Dame Mary “May” Grosvenor née Davies. Reading of the early mansions designed around garden squares and the glass-fronted shopping arcades of Mayfair in the 1670’s built to display and sell the plethora of exotic goods pouring into England from Queen Catherine’s port cities of Bombay and Tangiers, it is easy to connect this period with the present though three centuries apart.

The Westmacotts a family of sculptors lived here next door to Whitby a notable cabinet maker of the time. The other side of Mount St hosted the model work house accommodation for 200 with schools for both sexes and a plaque boasting the workhouse was “a Model worthy of the Imitation of other Places”. The British Archives note that “its plan and elevation were engraved and printed with a note that ‘such a building … may be built in any Part of the Kingdom with Wood, Stone or Brick”,

The violent Mount St Riots of 1792 were focused on the work house watch tower and linked to other riots across Britain linked to the principles of the rights of man as the Revolutions in France.

Since its inception as a retail and residential area in the late 17th Century Mount St has been linked to artists and eccentrics from Martin Butchel who lived on Mount Street in the mid 1700’s and was a famous Mayfair eccentric. When his wife died he kept her embalmed in the parlour and set upon his true life’s work of growing his beard, which was known as The Mount St Beard.

So famous was the Mount St Beards that people travelled from the contingent to purchase a hair of his beard at Guinea each to ladies who wanted to become mothers of fine children.

He rode up and down Mount Street on a pony which he had carefully painted with spots.

No wonder the comings and goings of spies on Mount Street went without note. It’s that sort of street.

When I was immersed in writing a book or poorly and couldn’t face the exhausting 4 flights of stairs, I’d ring up Allen’s the butchers (closed 2015) and drop a bucket down. The butcher would dash across and pop the required pheasant or grouse inside and I’d haul up my dinner. I had the same arrangement with Scotts Restaurant at number 20 Mount St and the chemist opposite.

If guests popped in, I’d call up Scotts for Champagne and oysters on the half shell or a cigar from Sautters. Any occasion would inevitably result in a lowering of the bucket from our Dormer window. On those occasions when I was forced to downstairs mid-book or sniffling (and the bucket wouldn’t do) like most Mount Street residents too rushed for “full-fig”, I’d throw on a full length sable, a slash of red lipstick, slip on my bespoke crocodile shoes and an 18th Century Tiara to run errands or meet a friend at the Audley (est 1730) or have my hair done at Nicky Clarks (next to The Connought ) or my confession heard at The Church of The Immaculate Conception by Mount St Gardens.

My mother assured me, “as long as you’re in sable, red lipstick, smothered in Creed Perfume (99 Mount St) Large sunglasses and wearing an 18th C Tiara or Hermes Scarf on your untidy hair, no one will suspect you’re still in your flannelette nightie!”

I have seen changes on Mount St in the past 50 years, but the essence of Mount St as the Eccentric’s High St remains unaltered. When my Children were home from boarding school they used to dangle Battenberg Cake from the dormer window to lure up sweet old ladies to tell them stories of Mount St in days of yore. Only on Mount St would such a mission succeed. A number of Grand Mount St Dames and several eccentric Bishops and Priests were lured by dangling Battenberg and Romeo Y Julietas.

Mount St has been home to luminaries and Great British Eccentrics from Winston Churchill who lived next door to an artist’s colony, Fanny Burney an inky scribe like myself and Laurence Sterne who wrote Tristram Shandy. Sitting in the fronds of Mount St Gardens looking for inspiration it is easy to lose oneself in history and though it is no longer the Mayfair street where one could buy a chop, pick up a medical prescription and post a letter, you can still buy a pair of Purdey’s on the corner of Mount and South Audley and dine on caviar at The Connaught, imbibe Stout on tap at the Audley or buy an impeccable blouse at Celine or Perilous heels at Louboutin. For while our “local” The Audley has chandeliers and wood panelled walls and hums with secrets, spies and foreign tongues, no one will notice if you pop in for a black velvet or Martini in your flannelette nightie…as long as your wearing your 18th Century Tiara!