The Mayfair of a few hundred years ago was almost unrecognisable from the Mayfair of today. It was mostly farm land, and the River Tyburn - now concealed below London's streets and directed through sewers - ran though it.
Its open fields were home to an annual May Fair that lasted for a fortnight from May 1st. It was centered around what is now Shepherd Market, and whilst it was initially for the sale of live stock, this fair soon expanded to include booths dedicated to mirth and merriment including theatres, jugglers, boxers, gambling tables, puppeteers and sausage stalls. It was also frequented by Tiddy-Doll, the famous French ginger bread maker who became a well known character in London
In James Peller Malcolm's Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London, during the Eighteenth Century (vol ii), he recorded an advertisement for the May Fair:
The frivolities attracted ruffians from across London to revel in the activities. This loud, noisy gathering didn't go down too with the nearby Royals and the authorities - not helped by the murder of a police constable one year when a riot broke out - and a clamp down came in 1709.
A notice titled "Reasons for Suppressing the Yearly Fair in Brookfield, Westminster; commonly called May-Fair" was published in 1709. The notice - a copy of which is stored at the British Library - explains:
The May Fair had a later revival following the death of Queen Anne but by that time many of the spaces had been developed. The end of the May Fair was eventually brought around not by Royal diktat but the development and gentrification of the area. The Fair itself died out, but the streets that had sprung up on the fields retained the name.