The social history of mews is very different to that of the big houses surrounding them. In the nineteenth century people didn’t want to see shops and pubs on the high street so, like the smelly horses and the drunk grooms who inhabited them, they were relegated to the back streets.
Mews have always been deeply private places where, in the past, ‘gentlemen’ could disappear to get their kicks betting on cockfighting or chasing bawds. Indeed a Regency mansion in Belgrave Square has a secret passage leading to Belgrave Mews West built so the owner could discreetly get to the ladies working out of The Star Tavern. The same Star Tavern would later became the headquarters of organised criminals over a hundred years later when Bruce Reynolds, Ronald “Buster” Edwards and Ronnie Biggs planned the 1963 Great Train Robbery in the upstairs bar.
Celebrities and Criminals
It is the privacy that mews offer which has attracted both criminals and celebrities alike. The ‘Jelly Gang’ safe crackers used St Luke’s Mews, Sid Vicious lived in Pindock Mews, Slum Landlord Peter Rachman owned too many to list. Gary Glitter: Farnell Mews, Tony Blair: Archery Close and heroes like WW2 Fighter Ace Sir Douglas Bader (Petersham Mews) and Dr Miriam Stoppard who has helped generations of families from her mews in Mayfair.
Agatha Christie found inspiration in Cresswell Place, as did Germaine Greer in Ruston Mews, William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies in Hanover Terrace Mews and when Sean Connery won the 007 role he was living in Wavel Mews and Bond villain, Sean Bean, has only recently sold his house in Daleham Mews.
The list of mewsophile movie stars seems endless, Noel Coward (Burton mews), Jonnie Depp (Portobello area), Peter Cook (Ruston Mews), George Hamilton & George Peppard shared a mews house in Chesham Mews, John Cleese owns one in Notting Hill, Barbara Windsor lives in a Marylebone mews, Terrence Stamp bought in Knightsbridge and surprisingly Terry Thomas, Madonna and Guy Ritchie all lived in Queens Gate Mews which was used in the film Layer Cake and The Bank Job with Jason Statham.
It appears that musicians love them too as almost every Rolling Stone and Beatle lived in or owned one at some time or another as did, Jason Donavan (Pembridge Mews), Shane McGowan of the Pogues (Lancaster Gate) and Suggs of Madness (Camden Mews). In fact one mews in W2 has leaped in value since it has attracted a ridiculous number of celebrities including actor David McCallum, Ellie Goulding, Nigella Lawson and Paul Simonon of the Clash.
Mews of the world
Queen’s Gate Mews was not only David Putnam’s headquarters but has also been a classic car mecca for decades with Gregor Fiskin, selling the world’s finest cars while garagista, Alain De Cadenet has campaigned 11 Le Mans from the mews. In the early twentieth century mews were where most car companies started and grew from. Aston Martin cars were first built in Henniker Mew, later Vantage Place, and Morgans are sold today from Astwood Mews
Racing Drivers like, James Hunt (Normand Mews), Eddie Irvine (Holland Park Mews) Stirling Moss (Shepherd St) Jenson Button (Powis Mews) have all wrapped a mews house around their favourite cars and I am sure there are many more.
Celebrity chefs also have an appetite for mews as Antoine Mosimann, Claudio Pulze and Pru Leith have all owned them over the years.
Artist Francis Bacon kept notoriously messy studios in both Reece Mews and Queensberry Mews West while Sir Jacob Epstein created his incredible modern sculptures in Queens Gate Mews.
Prima Ballerina Assoluta, Margot Fontayne, pirouetted in both Astwood and Rutland Mews and Wayne Sleep still has his dance studios in Queen’s Gate Mews West while Judy Garland ended her days in Cadogan Lane.
There are politically interesting mews like Wimpole Mews where slum landlord Peter Rachman housed and dated society good-time-girls, Mandy Rice Davies and Christine Keeler, whose trysts, with Lord Astor, Cabinet minister Profumo and Russian naval attaché Yevgeni Ivanov, created a scandal that brought down the Conservative government in 1963.
While the list is virtually endless I can’t finish without mentioning a few famously fictitious ones like the Avenger’s Steed who lived in the amusingly named Stable Mews and The Saint’s Simon Templar lived in the imaginary Upper Berkeley Mews. James Bond was regularly summoned by his controller ‘M’ to his offices, in the very real Hannover Terrace Mews, where Miss Moneypenny flirted with him outrageously. But if you follow 007’s directions you won’t find it, you see for fun Fleming located it in the wrong place to see whether his readers would spot the error.
Multiple mews owner, Michael Caine, thrust mews firmly into the zeitgeist of the swinging 1960’s when he made the heist film The Italian Job. His character, Croker, was collected from prison by his beautiful blonde girlfriend and driven to Denbigh Close in a stolen ambassadorial car for a very generous welcome home celebration, very naughty and very 60’s.
The cool mews
Some of these illustrious people found fame while living in a mews and some bought them once they found success but the constant is that interesting people, doing interesting things, are attracted to mews and for all these reasons, and many more, the quintessential London Mews House will always be arctic cool places to live.
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