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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Reviving the Mayfair May Fair
It's the most costly square on the Monopoly board, but Mayfair has not always been about boutiques and Bentleys. This year Mayday protesters are planning to turn back the clock on this opulent patch of central London.

Buying a flat in Mayfair today could easily set you back 1m and then some. One estate agent is asking 1,700,000 for a three-bedroom apartment.

Police officer at the 2001 Mayday protests
The new face of Mayday?
Property prices in this exclusive quarter of the capital are among the most expensive on Earth.

Adoring couples who fancy waking up to the chirp of a nightingale singing in Berkeley Square, had better start saving now.

The apartment blocks and houses of Mayfair rub shoulders with a clutch of exclusive hotels and restaurants, haughty fashion boutiques and car dealerships, and several foreign embassies.

Get your Barnet cut

The area's reputation as a centre of conspicuous consumption is almost unrivalled in the capital. For instance, a simple cut and blow dry at the Mayfair salon of celebrity hairdresser Nicky Clarke could leave you with no change from 200.

But it was not always thus. When anti-globalisation protesters descend on Mayfair on Wednesday, as they have planned, it will be to resurrect the spirit of old.

As the name suggests, Mayfair was once the venue of a rowdy 15-day-long spring fair sited on what was called in the 1600s Brookfield Market.

Jim Davidson consults Nicky Clarke
A Nicky Clarke Mayfair cut could cost 200
The fair, which was established there in the 1680s, ran from 1 May to the middle of the month and was intended to be a simple cattle market. But by all accounts, the "celebrations" which accompanied the livestock sales could get pretty wild.

Ned Ward, a 17th century writer, visited the fair and noticed prostitutes doing good business and various booths staging comedies.

"Beyond these were a parcel of scandalous boozing dens, where soldiers and their trulls were skipping and dancing to most lamentable music, performed upon a cracked fiddle by a blind fiddler."

Country pursuits

Brookfield Market was still comparatively rural - certainly when compared to the crowded and fetid streets of London proper. The fair became a popular day out for Londoners and a welcome chance to escape the city.

Disorderly persons do rendez-vous and draw and allure young persons and servants to meet to game and commit lewd and disorderly practices

Grand Jury of Westminster's 1708 verdict on the May Fair
But it was not only the poor who were drawn. London's rich could also be seen slumming it at Brookfield, enjoying the antics of acrobats, bull-baiters and dancers.

Henry Fielding, later the author of the bawdy classic Tom Jones, is said to have landed himself a job there as a showman.

As the number of revellers increased - matched by an influx of stallholders, jugglers and gamblers - the authorities recoiled in horror at such excess.

Fun of the fair

Attempts to police the event and prevent the "loose, idle and disorderly" from entering the fairground resulted in a near riot and saw one constable run through with a sword.

Queen Anne tried to put a stop to such festivities, but she did not silence it entirely.

George II as played by an actor in The Aristocrats
The Hanoverians were more laid back
Her successor, the Hanoverian George I was said to have had a more "continental" attitude to merry-making and the May Fair enjoyed a revival.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn't royal disapproval which dealt the final fatal blow to the fair, but gentrification.

As the area became more fashionable, the taverns which lubricated the annual jollification were replaced with grand houses.

The new occupants, such as the Earl of Coventry, took out the 18th Century equivalent of a noise abatement order and as of 1764 the May Fair ended and swanky Mayfair was born.

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