the Road with
the Kitchen with
the Farm with
At the Movies with
Seeking Health with
Olde World Shoppe
Register for my
The Mews of
London © Mother Linda's
June 2007 Update
alleys and culs-de-sac, the former stables of London now house trendy homes,
pubs, and restaurants and preserve some of the city's last vestiges of community
was a chance discovery. In 1995, on my way to a restaurant from my
accommodations in London's Lancaster Gate area, I quickly walked past the
entrance to an eye-catching alley. Unable to resist further inspection, I
backtracked to explore this cozy retreat. Thirty or so terraced, two-story
houses were decorated with window boxes crowded with bright red geraniums. This
cobblestoned cul-de-sac presented an oasis of peace in contrast to the hubbub of
the busy London. Over the years, I have cherished this impressionable first
encounter with the mews of London, and returned to visit twice.
In September 1998, I returned to London for a visit dedicated to researching
mews. The funeral of Princess Diana had just taken place and flowers were
everywhere. Time being limited, I contacted a professional agency that would
help me navigate London and see as many mews as possible. So on a crisp autumn
morning, Keith Stables and Monica Barrington of Uptown Reservations met me at
Holland Park metro, set in the heart of London. Just a few blocks away was
Hippodrome Mews, the site of Kiln House, formerly a working kiln but now
operating as a quaint bed-and-breakfast establishment.
Parking in this narrow mews was almost impossible, but we finally double-parked
just long enough for a quick look inside the building. The most dramatic feature
of the neatly appointed house was the dining room, which the new owner had
tucked into the space occupied by the former kiln.
It became clear, as the day went by, that each mews and indeed almost every
house within each mews has its own unique character, history, and story to tell.
I chuckled at the irony of the historical marker for Kiln House, which noted
that the original nineteenth-century kiln had been built "amid some of the
poorest housing conditions in London." Today the mews, while not the most
expensive, was anything but poor.
We spent the rest of the morning touring several mews properties that offered
overnight accommodations for the traveler. Most were in areas where it's still
safe to walk at night and, compared to London hotels, were very economical.
Though I was staying with a friend on this trip, I wouldn't hesitate to book a
mews B&B. All of the hostesses were friendly and professed to be experts on
shopping, theater, and transportation around town.
The last two stops of the morning were Queen's Gate Mews and Elvaston Mews, both
in trendy Kensington. Queen's Gate Mews is home to Coy's of Kensington,
specialists in fine historic automobiles. Ironically, it seemed a perfect fit.
Here, housed in a property initially built for horses and their carriages, is a
showroom packed with horseless carriages--vintage Aston Martins, Bentleys,
Jaguars, and Rolls-Royces.
Across the street from Coy's is the first gas station in London to pump
gasoline, and kitty-corner is the Queens Arms, a mews pub with a traditional
horseshoe bar. Many Royal Albert Hall concertgoers make this quaint pub their
meeting point, especially for the world-famous promenade season, which climaxes
with the last night at the Proms in mid-September.
In Elvaston Mews, we stopped at Capital Carriages, which rents horse-drawn
carriages for private weddings and tours of London. Philip York, head coachman
and stable manager, happily pulled out a carriage for us to view, and Barrington
hopped in for a mock ride. During our visit, York explained that their carriages
and dapple grays are often enlisted for period film and television work such as
the 1996 refilming of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, in which he served as a
coachman driving the Gardener and Bennet families.
Lunch with Lurot
Next, I lunched with Antoine Lurot, a specialist in selling London mews
properties. His sales brochure, illustrated with photos and wonderful mews oil
paintings by his mother, Doris Betjeman, first cousin of the late poet laureate
Sir John Betjeman, showcases the best of the best. In 1998, Lurot's listings
started at £195,000 for small, modern-style mews properties to over £1 million
for the luxuriously refurbished mews properties in London's best areas, like
Belgravia. (On my second trip in June 2007, those prices had skyrocketed
Lurot was a wealth of insider information on London mews but couldn't show me
his more upscale properties, since I was not a serious buyer and most of his
clients do not seek publicity, preferring to remain anonymous. So after lunch he
escorted me through some of the nearby mews streets for a good look at some
exteriors and renovations in progress.
Just a five-minute walk away was Bathurst Mews, with a street wide enough to do
a three-point turn. Colorful window boxes replaced front gardens, and, as if to
illustrate Lurot's contention that mews are the only place in London where
everybody knows his neighbors, some of the natives had pulled chairs out into
the afternoon sun to chat and watch passersby. Now I understand why some
maintain that the mews preserve the last vestiges of community spirit in central
At the end of the mews was Hyde Park Riding Stables, which gives riding lessons
and rides through nearby Hyde Park. It is London's oldest original riding
stables and the only one open year round for riding in the park. Unfortunately I
hadn't made time for a ride and had to leave for an appointment at the Royal
Mews near Victoria Station.
Although I was just two minutes late, Dickie Arbiter, the director of media
affairs for the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, and Windsor Castle, was decidedly
not amused. I had a feeling that he had made a special trip and didn't really
want to be stuck in London on this fine day. However, he graciously, though with
customary English reserve, led me on a tour of the mews that are grouped around
a quadrangle entered from Buckingham Palace Road through a Doric archway.
Several impressive coaches were lined up on the east side of the court. A close
inspection revealed the detailed artistry of their handmade construction. Among
them were those used for coronations, the queen's birthday parade, the Royal
Ascot, as well as the opening of Parliament and state visits to Britain. The
queen's gold state coach, reserved for very special occasions like the Silver
Jubilee, was on display in a nearby exhibition hall, where it could be fully
protected from the elements.
After a quick tour of the stables, I was left on my own to view the various
exhibitions dedicated to British royalty and their horses. Among my favorites
were photos of Queen Elizabeth riding with various visiting dignitaries,
including Ronald Reagan, and candid shots of the royal family at play with their
The rest of the afternoon I spent meandering the streets of London with a hired
driver trying to find specific mews I had read about. This turned out to be no
small feat. Trapped more than once on roundabouts and one-way streets, even this
experienced driver never found Ebury Mews, which is supposedly somewhere in
Belgravia and home to a pottery shop, one of the few bona fide mews businesses.
But we did locate Hesper, Henniker, and Spear Mews. All three had received
awards for excellence in gardening from the Chelsea Gardeners' Guild. Each year
the guild honors the best street, square, mews, and individual garden, down to
the best window box in a three-mile radius from Old Chelsea Town Hall. Hesper
and Henniker received a joint award in 1996, Spear Mews in 1997. (In addition to
beauty, Spear Mews' dwellers also have the convenience of a car-repair shop in
A Mews Pub Birthday
The next day was my birthday, so Stables and Barrington invited me to lunch at
the Ennismore Arms, a mews pub in, you guessed it, Ennismore Mews. (Sadly, I
discovered in June 2007 that the pub was bought and turned into a home.) Riding
the train into town that morning, I studied some historical writings about mews.
At the end of the Industrial Revolution, industrialists reveling in Victorian
prosperity funneled their money into building luxurious London homes. This was
before the advent of the motorcar, so all came equipped with adjoining stables
well-hidden in the rear, where the horses were kept and the grooms lived.
After the advent of the automobile, the mews quickly became obsolete. Some were
turned into garages, but many were abandoned and had a stigma attached to them
for having once housed the less fortunate in society. The gentrification and
glorification of the mews started in the 1950s and '60s, when many were acquired
and remodeled by struggling actors and models, or by musicians like the
not-so-struggling George Harrison. Now peaceful refuges from busy city life,
they are no longer the lodging for the down-and-out or the up-and-coming. You
need to have already arrived and have some disposable cash for a hefty down
payment in order to be a mews dweller.
This day I exited the subway at Knightsbridge near Harrods. Even though I'm not
a Princess Diana groupie, I couldn't help but get caught up in the activities in
front of London's premier department store. Since it was just days after Diana's
funeral, literally thousands of flowers and tributes lined Harrods exterior
walls. Hundreds of people were milling about, taking photos and signing the
thick commemorative books for Diana and Dodi. I lingered to sign one of the
books myself and then left to find the mews for lunch.
Although Ennismore Mews is only a few blocks from Harrods, the directions
Stables gave me, which included "look for a hole in the wall, which is a
shortcut," got me horribly lost. After thirty minutes of wandering, all was well
when a friendly resident of trendy Cheval Place led me to a gate in the
wall--the desired shortcut. Another minute walk, and I was there.
So close to Knightsbridge, Ennismore Mews is one of the more expensive mews but
still very typical. Here in the very heart of London is a sanctuary of charming
two-and three-story row homes. Lacking front gardens, an infusion of color comes
from window boxes on both stories, large flowerpots, and the occasional brightly
colored door. Many garages have been converted into living space. At the closed
end of the mews, the back of a large, four-story townhouse towers above the
homes below, one of which is an upscale B&B listed with Uptown. At the other end
of the mews sits the pub.
Stables and Barrington had already secured the table by the fireplace and handed
me a birthday card as I sat down. The pub had a paneled-wood interior and served
good beer and excellent food. It was populated with professionals rather than
the working class I expected. I eavesdropped on a television crew while friends
of Stables and Barrington, an American expatriate couple who live in London, sat
with us for a minute. Other mews pubs in London, like Belgravia's Grouse and
Claret and the Star, are also gathering places and watering holes for
professionals and residents.
No one would claim to know the exact number of mews in the city, but Lurot lists
720 in Victorian central London. The number of actual mews houses is also a
guess, but 20,000 is a conservative estimate. One thing is for sure--one trip
will never exhaust a fascination with them. Any good London map lists them, and
some good guidebooks discuss a few.
My initial idea had been to see if it was possible to spend the whole of one's
vacation immersed in a mews experience. I discovered it was not. While mews
accommodations and eating establishments in London and the close environs
abound, one must really turn to Harrods, the museums, and other venues for
shopping to have a rounded experience.
So I haven't finished my inspection. Someday I will return to London to look for
some of the more interestingly named mews, like Adam and Eve Mews and Old Stable
Mews. But I'll have an impossible time finding the fictional
Whichhaveweforgotten Mews, one that Lurot devilishly inserted at the end of a
published list of London mews as a joke. Those that are not imaginary, however,
must have their own stories to tell. So when I return, I'll be on the lookout
for their tales and for the unexpected mews that will fill me with awe and envy.
Monica Barrington/Keith Stables
London W8 5QD
44 (0)20 7937 2001
(0)20 7937 6660
Buckingham Palace Rd.
First posted here July 7,
2007, but based on a trips to London in 1998 and 2007.