Take a walk through history

The village of Marylebone took its name from the Tyburn – the brook that ran through it towards the Thames and continues to flow beneath it streets – and local church of St Mary. St Mary’s on the Bourne became St Marylebone.

18th Century 19th Century 20th Century

18th Century

The first real insight into the village of Marylebone is found on a map of 1708 made for John Austen, lord of the manor of Marylebone. The church of St Mary had been built in 1400, a little further down the main street than it is today (its site is marked out in the Old Church Garden) and too small for the growing parish. At the start of the 18th century, the manor house (located where The Conran Shop is today) was being used as a French school, serving the Huguenots who fled persecution and settled in London. It might have had only one church, but Marylebone boasted two inns – The Rose and The Kings Arms, each with its own bowling green. The fields around contained clay pits and brick kilns, confirming the picture of Marylebone as an outskirt of London rather than a rural village.

In 1711, John Austen sold his estate to the Duke of Newcastle for the knockdown price of £17,000. Within 10 years, plans had been drawn up for the development of the whole area, starting with Cavendish Square and moving north. Most of the new streets took their names from the extended families of the estate’s owners – Cavendish, Bentinck, Harley, Portland. The estate passed through a series of female heirs, and the name by which it was known changed with them, from Newcastle to Oxford-Harley to Portland to Howard de Walden.

Marylebone became a fashionable place to live but also to visit. Before the redevelopment began, the bowling greens had been turned into pleasure gardens to rival those found in Vauxhall. The gardens drew people from all over London to see concerts and firework displays. Musicians and composers lived and worked here. They closed in the 1770s, by which time the gardens were hemmed in by other buildings whose inhabitants objected to the noise and perceived risks. Nearby, in 1738, a grotto made from shells was created by John Castles and opened as a tourist attraction, attracting even royalty. Today it is remembered in the street name Grotto Passage.

18th Century 1
The manor house which the king developed into a hunting lodge was later a school, shown here in 1790 shortly before demolition

19th Century

During the late-18th century, the main street became the Marylebone High Street we might recognise today, lined with shops and houses. The Portland Estate leased pieces of land out on 99-year leases, on which builders of all types built according to plans approved by the Estate. This led to a great variety of buildings in terms of style, size and occupancy. Tradesmen included an apothecary, baker, goldbeater, hairdresser, shoemaker and watchmaker. Alongside buildings developed by private speculators were others built for the public good, like the workhouse and schools and a police station that was opened in 1821.

As well as the rich and fashionable, the Marylebone parish had its share of poverty, homelessness and associated problems. Following its demise, the Marylebone Gardens area degenerated into slums, home to the poorest and most helpless, attracting beggars and criminals. Victorian reformers such as Octavia Hill and Lady Howard de Walden began to redevelop the houses around Grotto Passage and the ill-named Paradise Street from the 1860s onwards with what was effectively social housing, some of which still stands today. A ragged school for poor children was built in 1846 and clubs for poor and homeless opened.

The 99-year leases of the shops in Marylebone came to an end in the mid-late-19th century and many properties were modernised or completely rebuilt. The Portland Estate was keen to amalgamate small sites into larger properties, combining good sized shops with flats above, examples of which can still be seen today. Often these reflected changing shopping trends: on Marylebone High Street a clothing department store, Gaylor and Pope, opened at 111-118 in 1857, Sainsbury’s opened at number 99 in 1916, and a specialist bookshop opened at number 83 in 1883. Other buildings were redeveloped, including the old Rose tavern, which was reborn as Marylebone Music Hall (now 33 Marylebone High Street).

19th Century 1
The bookshop opened in 1883 continues as Daunt Books on the same site

20th Century

From the mid-19th century, Harley Street developed into a centre for medical specialists, with doctors and surgeons attracted by the good travel connections, a ready clientele and the proximity of several hospitals. In the 1860s there were maybe a dozen private practices; by 2006 these numbered over 1,500. Typically, in the early years, the ground floor was used for medical practice while the physician’s family lived above. In turn, the doctors drew other health professionals like opticians, pharmacists, dentists, and therapists, which opened in the surrounding streets.

The bombing of London during World War II took its toll on Marylebone. The east side of the high street was badly hit, as were parts of Harley Street. Demolition and rebuilding followed, despite delays in obtaining building licenses and the threat of a new ring road which would have cut across the high street. Priority was given to housing and surviving retail premises in need of refurbishment were put on hold. Bulldozed sites became car parks, and the site off Moxon Street, originally earmarked for a new school, remained unbuilt for decades. New buildings reflecting the post-war modernist styles emerged from the 1950s.

Despite repeated efforts to revitalise the high street in the post-war period, by the mid-1990s many shops were unoccupied or running as charity shops. Then, following a new direction set by The Howard de Walden Estate, two fashionable but functional shops were drawn to the area in the form of The Conran Shop at the top of the high street and Waitrose towards the bottom. In their wake, a concentrated effort was put into encouraging the arrival of distinctive independent stores and restaurants to breathe new life into the shopping streets. Marylebone Village was reborn.

20th Century 1
Elevation plan of Boots the chemist, 1931