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London - Around Town : Mayfair and St James's (part 1)

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This is where royalty shop and the rest of us go to gaze. Many of the wonderful small shops around here were established to serve the royal court at St James’s Palace. Piccadilly – named after the fancy collars called “picadils” sold at a shop in the street in the 18th century – divides St James’s to the south from Mayfair to the north, where top shops continue up Bond Street, Cork Street and Savile Row to Oxford Street. Home to the Royal Academy of Arts since 1868, Mayfair has long been one of the best addresses in town. Today most of London’s top-flight art galleries are here.

Americans in Mayfair

America’s connection with Mayfair dates from World War II when General Eisenhower stayed in a house on Grosvenor Square. In 1960 the Embassy building opened on land leased from the Grosvenor Estate, who refused to sell the freehold unless 12,000 acres of their estate in Florida, confiscated after the War of Independence, was returned.


Royal Opera Arcade


Sights
  1. Buckingham Palace

    Buckingham Palace

    Victoria Memorial, Buckingham Palace
  2. St James’s Park

    This is undoubtedly London’s most elegant park, with dazzling flower beds, exotic wildfowl on the lake, an excellent restaurant/café next to the lake (Inn the Park, 020 7451 9999to book) and music on the bandstand in summer. The bridge over the lake has a good view to the west of Buckingham Palace and, to the east, of the former Colonial Office where just 125 civil servants once governed the British Empire that covered one fifth of the world.

    • SW1

    • Open 5am–midnight daily

    St James’s Park
  3. Royal Academy of Arts

    Major visiting art exhibitions are staged at Burlington House, home of Britain’s most prestigious fine arts institution. The building is one of Piccadilly’s few surviving 17th-century mansions – you can see the former garden front on the way up to the Sackler Galleries. Near the entrance is Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child (1505) – part of the Royal Academy’s permanent collection and one of only four Michelangelo sculptures outside Italy. In the Academy’s popular, annual summer exhibition, new works by both established and unknown artists are displayed .

    • Burlington House, Piccadilly W1

    • Open 10am–6pm daily (10pm Fri)

    • Free (admission charge for temporary exhibitions)

  4. St James’s Palace

    Built by Henry VIII, on the site of the former hospital of St James, the palace is the official residence of Prince Charles. The red brick Tudor gatehouse is a familiar landmark.

    • The Mall SW1

    • Closed to public

    Gatehouse, St James’s Palace
  5. Bond Street

    London’s most exclusive shopping street, Bond Street (known as New Bond Street to the north and Old Bond Street to the south) has long been the place for high society to promenade: many of its establishments have been here for over 100 years. The street is home to top fashion houses, elegant galleries such as Agnews and the Fine Art Society, Sotheby’s auction rooms and jewellers such as Tiffany and Asprey. Where Old and New Bond Street meet, there is a delightful sculpture of wartime leaders Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill – well worth a photograph.

  6. Shepherd Market

    The market was named after Edward Shepherd who built a two-storey house here in around 1735. Today, this pedestrianized area in the heart of Mayfair is a good place to visit on a summer evening for a drink or meal. Ye Grapes, dating from 1882, is the principal pub, while local restaurants include L ‘Artiste Musclé, Le Boudin Blanc and The Village Bistro. During the 17th century, an annual May Fair was held here, giving the area its name.

    Shepherd Market
  7. Apsley House

    The home of the Duke of Wellington, Apsley House is still partly occupied by the family. Designed by Robert Adam in the 1770s, the mansion is given over to paintings, and memorabilia of the great military leader. Paintings include several fine works by Diego Velázquez, including The Waterseller of Seville. Antonio Canova’s nude statue of Napoleon has special poignancy.

    • Hyde Park Corner W1

    • Open Apr–Oct: 11am–5pm Wed–Sun (to 4pm Nov–Mar)

    • Admission charge

    Apsley House
  8. Berkeley Square

    This pocket of green in the middle of Mayfair was planted in 1789 and its 30 huge plane trees may be the oldest in London. In 1774 Clive of India, hero of the British Empire in India, committed suicide at No. 45. Memorial benches in the square bear moving inscriptions, many from Americans who were billeted here during World War II. A Bentley and Rolls-Royce dealer’s showroom is on the east side of the square.

    Berkeley Square
  9. Burlington Arcade

    This arcade of bijou shops was built in 1819 for Lord George Cavendish of Burlington House (see Royal Academy of Arts) to prevent people from throwing rubbish into his garden. The arcade is patrolled by uniformed beadles who control unseemly behaviour.

    • Piccadilly W1

    Burlington Arcade
  10. Royal Institution

    Michael Faraday (1791–1867), a pioneer of electro-technology, experimented in the laboratories of the Royal Institution, where he was Professor of Chemistry from 1833–67. These Neo-classical buildings house high-spec laboratories and fascinating exhibitions including the Faraday Exhibition.

    • The Royal Institution, 21 Albemarle Street W1

    • Open 9am–5:30pm Mon–Fri

    • Admission charge

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