Doughty Mews is a surprising urban refuge, which provides a quiet pause from the restlessness of London. First seen through a narrow gap on Guilford Street opposite Coram’s Field, it attracts the curiosity of many wandering tourists as they explore the remnants of Georgian Bloomsbury.
The once crisp brickwork of the walls has acquired the patina of centuries of industry. Now, climbing ivy, wisteria and trees not native to this country adorn the resolutely functional brick facades with a complete disregard for party wall boundaries. At No. 23 an olive tree directs our attention towards the roof tops and the densely planted private terraces of the new occupants above.
When the grand town houses of the adjacent Doughty Street and Millman Street were home to the affluent Georgians, the two storey buildings of this mews were home to their stable-boys and horses. With the relentless growth of the City the town houses, which the Mews once served, are now occupied by prestigious law firms who can afford the rents demanded by central London office space. Consequently the Mews is now occupied by a new generation of urban dwellers with (perhaps) a more ‘European’ attitude towards inner city living.
Through conservation and adaptation the mews is now a rich palimpsest of the past. Although the original stabling function of the buildings is evident in many of the door openings, the majority of the buildings have been comprehensively converted. Through large glass openings, modern urbane interiors can be glimpsed. Indeed, this reworking of the mews building stock is a reflection of contemporary London; the ‘modern’ and the ‘traditional’ cooperating to produce an environment that compliments the overall grain of the City.
The mews is a cul-de-sac. It is approximately six metres in width with the doors and windows of the various buildings all fronting onto the street. Privacy is preserved by this closeness and the curious only dare sneak a quick peak on their journey, almost too embarrassed to linger for fear of intruding. This is a model of urban living where privacy is maintained through an unwritten social contract based on respect.
Doughty Mews provides respite to the hectic pace of the city. It is a peaceful moment defined by the buildings, the character of the street and an understanding between the occupants and the passer-by. Without the tacit agreement of the various players spaces such as the Mews become gated communities.