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What is a Mews? – BLOG 3

by Martyn Brown on December 4, 2014
What is a Mews? – BLOG 3

To understand any subject adequately it is necessary, first of all, to know what it covers. So to answer the question ‘What is a Mews?’ we need to define the term Mews.

Confusingly, it is a term that can be used as both singular and plural. It can apply to one Mews property and also to a collection of Mews properties. For clarification we will use the term Mews in the collective sense throughout this article (and also on the EVERCHANGINGMEWS website) and, when referring to a Mews in the singular, will describe it as a Mews property. Whilst this may not be grammatically necessary it does help to avoid confusion.

Although many and various descriptions have been used for Mews in the past, including ‘Alleys, streets or houses in affluent city areas containing horse accommodation’, ‘Stables with accommodation for grooms or stable hands’, ‘Buildings with an equine past’, ‘Live/work units’, ‘Houses built to look like stables’, ‘Stables with carriage houses below and living quarters above’, ‘Accommodation for horses and staff built around a paved yard or streets’, ‘Horse yards built behind large city houses such as those of the 17th and 18th centuries’ the key feature of them all is the link to horses.This resulted from the Georgian town planning requirement for horses, carriages and the like to be located separately from the main houses that were then being constructed in squares and in main thoroughfares and crescents.

By summarising key points from these descriptions we can derive an initial definition for Mews as ‘stables with living accommodation above’. Over time, of course, their usage has changed and a variety of commercial and trade activities have replaced the stables. Many of the mews properties have simply been converted into dwellings and have generally become most desirable residences but their versatility is such that they have not all been fully converted and a very few have even retained equine usage. Many more of them, however, now incorporate garages along their Lanes or Alleys.

For modern usage the definition needs to be comprehensive enough to encompass the Mews enclave, its historical context and its relationship with other nearby properties. However, this is complicated by the need to embrace Mews that vary in their authenticity, since some retain original characteristics whereas some occupy authentic Mews locations but have no other original Mews features remaining. There are also others that are similar in style to an Authentic Mews are purely modern and have neither equine history nor are they located on original Mews footprints.

Hence we have derived differing Mews categories as follows:

a) Original/ surviving Mews (authentic Mews)

b) Redeveloped Mews (authentic Mews)

c) Mews Style (inauthentic Mews).

These categories are used throughout the Everchangingmews website.

We consider there to be a total of 562 authentic Mews in existence of which 407 are original/surviving and 155 are redeveloped.

To better understand the categories we have identified the following examples:

Original/surviving Mews

Elvaston Mews

Elvaston Mews

A good example of an original/surviving Mews is Elvaston Mews which is considered by many to be one of the most attractive Mews in London and is rated by us on our Everchangingmews website as one of the top Mews in London. We have used the following criteria:-

  • Authenticity of appearance
  • Retention of original features
  • Balance of the layout
  • Degree of maintenance of the buildings and vegetation
  • Accessibility to the public
  • The relationship with the main houses
  • Freedom from too many obvious and inappropriate modern additions.
  • Consistency of flat front elevations
  • The existence of traditional streetscapes having cobbles or setts

The existence of a defined entrance in the form of an Arch or an entrance off a secondary street.

Our assessment therefore favours an original and surviving Mews that is located off a secondary Road, has a defined entrance and a cobbled streetscape and also possesses evidence of original features with no modern additions. It also is accessible to the public and well maintained.

The mews properties in Elvaston Mews are strikingly authentic in appearance and are almost complete in terms of original features. Although a number of alterations have inevitably been carried out, given the mews location in one of the more affluent London suburbs, retaining its appearance is now assured as a result of its conservation area status.

As with any authentic Mews there is a clear relationship between the Mews and the main properties in front of it. Here the line of the Mews properties retains a differential position below and away from the activities of the main houses in Elvaston Terrace.

The streetscape has an attractive, undulating cobbled finish with open gutters either side of a cambered centre section of road. The elevations are generally flat and consistent as in the majority of authentic Mews.

Redeveloped Mews

Glynde Mews is a good example of a redeveloped Mews. When we first visited in 2008 it consisted of a number of modest traditional Mews properties lining a cul-de-sac but although the Mews appeared authentic it was not attractive.

Following planning permission being granted in 2010 there was wholescale redevelopment of the mews around a large basement excavation. This resulted in a modern Mews structure with an inauthentic barrel shaped roof, rendered elevations, cobbled roadway and with basement vehicle storage via a car lift.

The properties have a very distinctive look and have clearly been redeveloped but the mews is left with little in the way of authentic or original features.

Due, however, to the planning requirements the development still retains the scale, proportion and the configuration of a traditional Mews, and also the same footprint as the original dwellings, so can be categorised as redeveloped

Mews style

College Mews

College Mews

College Mews is a good example of a Mews in name only. It consists of a number of low-level properties that were constructed around 1985 on a site that was previously mixed warehouse and residential use. The properties are built around a gated courtyard which is paved with brick rather than the original granite or limestone setts. Whilst they are distinguishable as a Mews in scale, size and configuration their appearance shows their modern heritage. The clearly lack historical authenticity and have no equine connection anything other than their name.

In conclusion, and in consideration of these three categories and their defining characteristics, we can now settle on two definitions of authentic Mews as follows:

AUTHENTIC MEWSa lane, alley, court, narrow passage, cul de sac or back street originally built behind houses in the 17th, 18th and 19thCenturies to provide access for stables or coach house accommodation (often with associated living accommodation) that now contains original and modernised mainly residential dwellings, some with commercial premises. In an authentic Mews at least one of the properties still has recognizable features from the original Mews but others may have been re-developed and no longer do so.

We can also define an authentic Mews property as:

AUTHENTIC MEWS PROPERTYA property in a Mews – a lane, alley, court, narrow passage, cul de sac or back street originally built behind houses in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries to provide access for stables or coach house accommodation (often with associated living accommodation) – that is now most likely to be a modernised residential dwelling, possibly with commercial premises. An Authentic Mews property will still retain the approximate appearance, form and footprint of the original Mews but it may have been re-developed to a degree and no longer retains all original Mews features.

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