London's iconic mews have humble origins as the service roads behind the grand houses of the Georgian and Victorian elites.

When London expanded to the west in the 18th century, grand terraces of town houses where built on the fields in areas such as Mayfair, Kensington and Marylebone. They needed spaces for horses, coaches and servants, and the solution was to build a road round the back where stables could be built.

They became known as 'mews' after the Royal Mews, a gigantic stables on what is now Trafalgar Square. This curious word (technically, it is 'plural in form but singular in construction') derived from the original use of the stables building which was to house the king's falcons. Falcons moult or mew (from the French verb 'muer') , and the place where they did it was referred to as a mews.

Most mews houses have stables and a coach house on the ground floor, the first floor having a hayloft and a couple of rooms where the coach driver and the ostlers could doss down (accommodation for servants in those days was basic to say the least).

There was usually a tunnel under the garden connecting with the basement of the house, so servants could slip out to the stable without disturbing the residents. A curious feature of almost any mews house is that it has no windows at the back, so servants could not spy on their betters enjoying a stroll in the garden.

Most mews were utilitarian places, with hard-wearing cobbles and a drain down the middle to take away the waste from the horses.

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In the early 20th century, the motor car and the servant shortage made mews houses unnecessary for many home owners. Most were sold off and businesses such as taxi firms, garages and print shops moved in. Mews became a byword as scruffy back-streets, often used as locations for gritty gangland dramas on black-and-white TV. Then, in the swinging 1960s, racing drivers such as John Surtees and James Hunt discovered they could buy a mews house for not much money and live above their cars. One of them was rally driver Antoine Lurot, founder of Lurot Brand, who realised that mews houses were becoming very fashionable.

People began to realise that mews houses are very practical and have huge charm. And because they were built to serve the aristocracy, many are located in the very best areas. Today, mews houses are among the most sought-after houses in the capital and Lurot Brand is acknowledged as the authority on the market.

Part of the charm of a mews house is that it is tucked away from the bustle of city life. There are many other such 'hidden gems', such as the colonies of artists studios in Kensington and Chelsea.

These picturesque houses have double height studios with enormous 'north light' windows. They make memorable living spaces.

Lurot Brand has also made a name as a successful agent for the sale of such hidden gems.

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