From their lowly stable origins, mews homes have long been the hideaway of choice for the city's wealthier inhabitants. But what makes them so attractive?
A mews is a small street or yard, often cobbled, built behind a city's grandest squares and terraces.
The buildings within a mews were not originally intended as houses. Instead, they were built as stabling for the gentry's horses and for storing their carriages, with the tack rooms and quarters for the stable boys positioned above.
The word ‘mews' originally signified a cage where a hawk would be kept during its moulting season. But when Henry VIII moved his hawks' mews from Charing Cross and built stabling in its place, anybody who was somebody followed suit, giving their stabling area the up-market moniker as well.
It wasn't until 1908, when land in the preferred London locations had become scarce, that the potential for conversion to residential use was spotted.
The first stable to receive the makeover was in Street Mews in Mayfair, and the resulting home was described as ‘the best bijou house in London'.
From then on, the humble homes of horses and stable-hands gradually underwent drastic transformations.
Keeping up with the fashion of day, the first mews were converted into rows of terraced cottages facing each other along a cul-de-sac, and were often given an Arts and Crafts look.
Today, mews homes are more likely to be high-spec conversions with underfloor heating where there was once straw, and a gym or a media room in the hayloft.
Tucked away from the bustle of city life, mews often do the seemingly impossible by offering the tranquillity of a bygone era within the very best of today's central city locations.
In London they are to be found in, among other areas, Westminster, Kensington, Chelsea, Mayfair, Marylebone, Pimlico, Bayswater, Notting Hill, Holland Park, Knightsbridge, Kensington, Bloomsbury and Belgravia.
In other cities they are usually fairly easy to find too – just take a walk around the back of what would have been the city's top locations about 150 years ago, and you are likely to stumble across a mews.
Peggy Lurot from London mews specialists Lurot Brand says that there are several important attractions:
Period properties are expensive to maintain, so simply keeping the building in good order will be costly.
Mews houses are not only concentrated in the very nicest parts of the city, but the nature of the cul de sac means that they are quiet, safe, and often have parking.
They are very flexible spaces. Even within the same row, the design of the homes is often completely different.
Some retain the garages that originally housed coaches, while many have incorporated the garage space into the home.
A new trend, according to Peggy, is to have the best of both worlds. People keep the external garage doors, but lay flooring and decorate the garage space, and use it as a room.
Peggy says that as long as you have fireproof doors leading to the main house you should be able to avoid planning permission, while keeping the option of using the garage for parking.
Unlike city centre flats, the residents of a mews avoid the problems and expense of leases. This means no service charge and no restrictive clauses.
4. Community spirit
A village-like sense of community is often seen as one of the best reasons for living in a mews.
Bathurst Mews, situated close to Hyde Park, is known as one of the friendliest mews in London. Peggy says, "They have about 20 tables outside where people get together for coffee and drinks in the evenings."
1. No gardens
The lack of private outdoor space puts off many buyers. However, there are a few examples of mews that do have gardens, such as Leinster Mews in W1.
Lovers of lateral space will probably not be impressed, but you can't please everyone.
According to Peggy, some people worry that mews will be dark with low ceilings, although this is, apparently, now rarely an issue.
They're hardly a cheap option, although when you add up the location and benefits such as parking, community and security, those who can afford it believe mews homes to be well worth the cost.
Peggy Lurot says that there's no one type of buyer.
"We tend to say that families don't buy, but it's not always true. Some families with a lot of children love them.
"They like living in central London and they like the fact that they can walk their children to school.
"The problem for families is that not many have gardens. However, the fact that your children can play outside is appealing, and there's no problem with children disturbing the upstairs or downstairs neighbours.
"But we often sell to older couples who want a pied-á-terre. And to city boys."
Mews also seem to have more than their fair share of celebrity fans.
Michael Caine, Agatha Christie, Noel Gallagher, Guy Ritchie, and, much to the dismay of her Camden neighbours, Amy Winehouse, have all lived in mews homes.
And it's not just the British glitterati who fall for the former stables. Nicole Kidman nearly bought a two-bed mews in Belgravia, but changed her plans when she became pregnant.
A typical mews is around 1,000-1500 square feet in size, and prices for a London home start at around £500,000. But prices rise rapidly from there.
According to Lurot Brand, the highest price paid was in 2007 when the entire St John's Mews in Notting Hill, converted into one home covering over 9,000 square feet, was sold for a breath-taking £12.5 million.
Of course, the market has suffered over the last year or so, but, compared with neighbouring apartments, Peggy Lurot believes that mews homes have held their prices well.
Which would seem to suggest that, in central London at least, a mews house could be seen as a very stable investment.