Are you familiar with London Mews houses?
These hidden gems are tucked away from the bustle of city life and their singular charm and history will take you back in time and you’ll marvel at these pretty streets.
I personally heard about the Mews a few months after moving to London while walking around Holland Park and felt immediately out of the city, particularly far away from the noisy and speedy modern world. If you love exploring London and discovering interesting facts about its architecture, history and the lifestyle, you certainly won’t be disappointed by this post.
Today, DOYOUSPEAKLONDON unveils the origin, use, and evolution of the Mews houses in London!
What are these “mews”?
Let’s start with a definition, shall we?
A “mews” in London is a row or street of unique houses of character. Usually, they are tucked away from the main roads, just behind beautiful mansions in some of London’s most exclusive areas.
As you can understand, mews offers a safe, quiet, and traffic-free environment, which is a rare privilege in London…
Where does the word “Mews” come from?
The British term mews appeared in the 17th century and was originally referring to the Royal Mews, a gigantic stables (now on Trafalgar Square), which housed the king’s falcons. Falcons “moult or mew”, and over time their place was consequently called a mews (I know it’s weird: this word looks plural but can be used as a singular!!).
When London expanded to the west in the 18th century, big townhouses were usually built in upmarket residential areas such as Mayfair, Kensington, and Marylebone. These areas are the best to explore the several remaining Mews, especially in Spring or Summer when the trees and flowers are in full bloom.
The prosperous residents needed space for their horses, coaches, and stable-servants, and the solution was to construct a road at the back of the mansions where stables could be built, with accommodations above for servants.
Mews: usages and customs
Let’s dive into the pragmatic use of the mews…
Most of them had stables and a coach house on the ground floor, the first floor having a hayloft and a couple of rooms where the coach driver could rest.
As social classes were clearly separated, usually, there was a tunnel under the garden connecting with the basement of the house, so servants could move around without disturbing the residents. It is said that almost any mews house had no windows at the back, so servants could not spy on the residents enjoying a stroll in the garden…!
Mews: what now?
We’ve seen that London’s iconic mews have humble origins as the service roads behind the mansions of the Georgian and Victorian elites. Actually, in the early 20th century they were even made unnecessary for many owners because of the arrival of the automobile and the servant shortage.
Most mews houses were then sold off to businesses such as taxi firms, garages, and print shops. Mews became a synonym for scruffy back-streets.
Today they are in most cases tastefully and colorfully restored and mews houses are among the most sought-after houses in the capital!
The designation Mews has been transferred to “any stable buildings in any space, lane, alley or back street onto which these buildings open, with motor vehicles taking the place of horses and carriages”.
Actually, the mews are seen now as very convenient, having huge charm and they are -obviously due to their history- well located in the very best areas. Stay tuned to get a few guided walks in the prettiest mews of the UK capital soon!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and found inspiration here. If you are planning to explore some of London’s mews soon, please share your experience and opinion on DOYOUSPEAKLONDON’s blog!
To go further:
Check out “Notting Hill Mews: self-guided walk” and explore this area in West London in an original way!