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Melanie Backe-Hansen

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The history of Marylebone: Royal hunting grounds, pleasure gardens and Georgian terraces

04/02/2012

Marylebone holds a special place in the hearts of many Londoners, whether it is the lovely boutique shops, the renowned restaurants, pubs and cafés, or simply that inevitable question – where on earth does the name ‘Marylebone’ come from?

Bryanston Square Garden

Above: Bryanston Square Garden

Medieval Marylebone
Marylebone was originally associated with the village of Tyburn, named after the River Tyburn that formerly ran from Hampstead down to Oxford Street and is now underground. In the 15th century the villagers relocated from the area now known as Oxford Street, to further north, which created the track that evolved into Marylebone High Street. At this time a new church and parish of St Mary’s was created and the small community renamed themselves St Mary’s by the river Tyburn, which over time evolved into St Mary-by-the-Tyburn and finally St Mary-le-bone.

Royal hunting grounds
The former Manor House became Henry VIII’s hunting lodge in the 16th century and today’s Regent’s Park is what remains of the former hunting grounds. The Manor House was later used by Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, but by the time of the Civil War, Charles I had mortgaged the lands to pay for the war and by 1791 the manor house had been demolished. The site was later used for stables, which were converted and became the popular Conran shop and French restaurant Orrery.

Marylebone_Gardens.jpg
Pleasure gardens
During the 17th century, Marylebone was still an isolated village on the outskirts of London, but in 1650 it gained a name as the location for the popular Marylebone Gardens, on the site of today’s Devonshire and Beaumont Streets. Marylebone Gardens became notorious for entertainments, including cock-fighting, bear and bull baiting, and boxing matches.

By the 18th century it had become a rather dangerous venue populated by thieves, so ladies and gentlemen were provided with an escort to get to and from the City Road safely. It later regained a good name and became known for its cakes and tarts, as well as concerts and balls. In the 1770s Thomas Arne, composer of Rule Britannia, even conducted an orchestra in the gardens.

Georgian Marylebone
The western part of Marylebone was acquired by Sir William Portman - Lord Chief Justice to Henry VIII - in the 1530s, which forms the foundation of today’s Portman Estate. The eastern part of Marylebone was bought by the Duke of Newcastle in the 18th century, which became the Portland Estate and forms what we know today as the de Walden Estate. These two estates were responsible for much of the building of Georgian Marylebone, including Cavendish Square in 1718; Harley Street in the 1730s; Portman Square in 1764; Baker Street in 1755 and Manchester Square in the 1770s.

Marylebone scandal
Marylebone has also had its fair share of scandal and was the location for a couple of particularly noteworthy events of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1820 a group of revolutionaries, led by Arthur Thistlewood, met in a mews house in Cato Street, giving it the name of the ‘Cato Street Conspiracy’. The group planned to storm the home of Lord Harrowby in Grosvenor Square and kill all the members of the Cabinet, but the plan was thwarted and many conspirators were caught.

In the 1960s Marylebone was the location for another scandal, this time in Wimpole Mews, the home of Stephen Ward, where Christine Keeler was staying. It was the beginning of what later became known as the ‘Profumo Affair’ involving Keeler and Secretary of State for War, John Profumo. Their liaison became a national scandal because Keeler was also involved with Yevgeny Ivanov, attaché at the Soviet Embassy, which at the height of the Cold War became a serious cause of concern for national security.

Famous names
Marylebone has long been a popular place to live, and before Harley Street became known for the medical profession it was home to a number of notable residents, including artist J.M.W. Turner and Prime Minister William Gladstone. Baker Street was not only the address of fictional character Sherlock Holmes, but was also the home of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. Montagu Square has been the home of author Anthony Trollope, and in the 1960s was where Ringo Starr rented a flat, and had many visitors, including Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix, and in 1968 Lennon and Yoko Ono moved in while they were recording The White Album.

Marylebone has much to offer the visitor and resident, whether you’re having dinner or shopping along the High Street, visiting the Wallace Collection, having tea at the Landmark Hotel, or looking for an idyllic flat in town.


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I am a specialist in researching the histories of houses across London and the United Kingdom and was formerly the house historian for Chesterton Humberts. In this blog, I will be sharing stories of my adventures and discoveries and hopefully inspiring you to look twice at the history behind your own front door or your area of this great city.

Turner and Prime Minister William Gladstone. Baker Street was not only the address of fictional character Sherlock Holmes, but was also the home of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. Montagu Square has been the home of author Anthony Trollope, and in the 1960s was where Ringo Starr rented a flat, and had many visitors, including Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix, and in 1968 Lennon and Yoko Ono moved in while they were recording The White Album

The name Northcote is believed to originate from politician Stafford Northcote, first Earl of Iddesleigh, who began his career as private secretary to William Gladstone, and later rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1874.

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