In the Middle Ages the cage where a hawk might be put in during its moulting season was sometimes called a ‘mew’. Henry VIII kept his hawks in Charing Cross, roughly where the National Portrait Gallery stands today, and although he replaced the mews with stables for his horses, it kept its name of ‘The Mews’. From that time on ‘mews’ a plural word mostly used in the singular, became the name for any small street or yard in Georgian or Victorian London designed for stabling horses and carriages. Mews is sometimes applied to rows or groups of garages or, more broadly, to a narrow passage or confined place. Tucked away behind grand squares and elegant terraces, they evoke a bygone era of horse-drawn carriages trundling across cobbled streets. However, today, most mews stables have been converted into dwellings, some greatly modernized and considered highly desirable residences.
The transition from horse and cab to cars and trains made the mews house redundant and so many were converted into garages, studios, and storage areas. The first wave of enthusiasm for them as residences came during the early 1900’s when many of them were turned into cottages, often with a mock Tudor or Arts-and-Crafts style. The first residential conversion is believed to have been in 1908 in Street Mews Mayfair, described in 1915 as ‘the best bijou house in London’. Thereafter, a trend was born. Although interest waned after the Second World War, it was in the 1960’s that people again began to see the attraction of the small mews house.
Because their original purpose was to serve as stabling and staff quarters for the grand town houses, mews houses tend to be located in the very best parts of London. These properties are mainly concentrated in the areas surrounding Hyde Park, Regents Park and Holland Park, although there are wonderful mews streets to be found all over London. Mainly dating from the mid 19th century, they have, in the past forty years or so, become rather more expensive and highly sought after. One of the attractions of a mews house is that it is likely to have garage space, which, given the difficulties and expense of parking in central London is a major advantage. Security, a strong sense of community and peace and quiet are also major contenders for their popularity.
A typical mews is approximately 1,000-1500 square feet in size and located mainly in the boroughs of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea. The majority are in Mayfair, Marylebone, Pimlico, Bayswater, Notting Hill, Holland Park, Knightsbridge, Kensington, Bloomsbury and Belgravia. There are only 62 mews properties that are listed buildings, however, many are in conservation areas or in London’s ancient estates such as the Grosvenor Estate in Belgravia. Famous mews residents have included Michael Caine, Agatha Christie, James Hunt, Peter Cook, Mandy Rice Davis, Jacob Epstein, Noel Gallagher and Guy Ritchie. Prices for a mews house starts at around £500,000 but can run into several million, depending on size and location.