Croquet in Mayfair – another first
Perhaps because the first pub, the Coach and Horses on Hill Street, wasn’t built until 1740, people imagine that Mayfair didn’t exist before early Georgian times, when even the most cursory glance of the diaries of Pepys and Evelyn show that the area was already the place to go to gawp at the ways of the gentry by 1660.
In fact plays in the West End such as Aphra Behn’s, The Rover of 1679 describe the sumptuous drawing rooms of the grand houses of Mayfair and St James’s Streets.
It was natural for the gentry to wish to be close to the Royals of St James’s Palace which the Stuarts in particular preferred as it separated them somewhat from the politics of Whitehall.
Both Pepys and Evelyn refer to the luxurious glass fronted arcades of Mayfair and St James’s in the 1770’s. Mayfair and St James’s were a hotbed of Catholic Spies, artists, artisans and philosophers who were keen to find benefactors among the patrons on the fringes of Restoration Court Life.
Many believe Mayfair derived its name from a fortnightly fair of showmen held every May since the 13th Century on the site North of Piccadilly on what is now known as Shepherd Market. The fair was licensed by Edward I as a means of raising money for the Saint James’s Leper colony for maiden lepers which was replaced by St James’s Palace by Henry VIII. It was eventually stopped by Queen Anne due to the noise and irritation to the residential gentry of the area in 1709.
From Pepys and Evelyn we know King Charles II could be seen wandering the Streets near Piccadilly followed by his spaniels and ducks and that he enjoyed playing the precursor to croquet – Pell Mell – on the area we now call Pall Mall after the game.