Wednesday, 4 November 2009
One of my favorite things about being in London are these funny little side streets and alleys that are called mews. I always feel like I am in Victorian London and on purpose walk through the mews,imagining myself some damsel (in corset and big petticoat) that has hidden with her secret beau to steal a kiss among the cobble stone mews and a full moon night. One evening I was taking a black cab and the cabbies, most of the time are quite friendly. He explained to me that the Mews were once the stables where the wealthy kept their horses. Now, no longer used as stables they are often prime property, very expensive and for the very posh.
I delved further into my research and this is what I found:
Mews is a chiefly British term formerly describing a row of stables, usually with carriage houses below and living quarters above, built around a paved yard or court, or along a street, behind large London houses of the 17th and 18th centuries. The word may also refer to the lane, alley or back street onto which such stables open. It is sometimes applied to rows or groups of garages or, more broadly, to a narrow passage or a confined place. Today most mews stables have been converted into dwellings, some greatly modernized and considered highly desirable residences.
The term "mews" is not used for large individual non-royal British stable blocks, a feature of country houses. For example the grand stable block at Chatsworth House is referred to as the stables, not the mews. Instead the word was applied to service streets and the stables in them in cities, primarily London. In the 18th and 19th centuries London housing for wealthy people generally consisted of streets of large terraced houses with stables at the back, which opened onto a small service street. The mews had horse stalls and a carriage house on the ground floor, and stable servants' living accommodation above. Generally this was mirrored by another row of stables on the opposite side of the service street, backing onto another row of terraced houses facing outward into the next street. Sometimes there were variations such as small courtyards. Most mews are named after one of the principal streets which they back onto. Most but not all have the word "mews" in their name. This arrangement was different from most of Continental Europe, where the stables in wealthy urban residences were usually off a front or central courtyard. The advantage of the British system was that it hid the sounds and smells of the stables away from the family when they were not using the horses.
Mews lost their equestrian function in the early 20th century when motor cars were introduced. At the same time, after World War I and especially after World War II, the number of people who could afford to live in the type of houses which had a mews attached fell sharply. Some mews were demolished or put to commercial use, but the majority were converted into homes. These "mews houses", nearly always located in the wealthiest districts, are themselves now fashionable residences.
Winston Churchill is said to have been a heavy drinker. He drank a bottle of champagne for lunch, a bottle of champagne for dinner and then he drank whiskey sours in between. On top of that, he smoked ten cigars through out the day. Furthermore, he lived to be to a ripe old age of 91. Mind You? I was so impressed with Churchill's bad habits that I thought I'd dedicated one whole blog to him alone.