History of Weymouth Street

The history of Weymouth Street, home of the ‘bijou house’

As with almost everything in Britain, Marylebone’s streets have long been defined by a rigid class system: the posh streets surround the garden squares, or else run north to south; the bourgeois streets run east to west.

Weymouth Street is a solidly middle-class citizen. Like Devonshire Street one block to the north, it was brought into being in the 1770s and early eighties, after the completion of the grander sweeps of Harley Street and Portland Place brought a need for cross streets to join them together. Its Georgian houses, few of which remain, were modest compared to the area’s more impressive townhouses. Uniform in style and generally of three or four storeys, they were flat-fronted in stock brick, with very little dressing: respectable but unremarkable.

Weymouth Street’s residents were mainly professionals or—slightly more glamorously—artistic types, including portraitist Mary Grace, engraver William Say, playwright and journalist Edward Topham and his lover, the actress Mary Wells.

Controversial infirmary
In the 19th century, as Harley Street and Wimpole Street began to emerge as centres of medicine, some of that character spilled over onto Weymouth Street, with private physicians and surgeons setting up practices. The controversial Mesmeric Infirmary transferred from Fitzroy Square to 36 Weymouth Street in 1854, promoting hypnotism as an alternative to anaesthetics, but it didn’t last for long.

The old Georgian housing stock started to disappear from around 1880, as the original leases expired and the Howard de Walden Estate pursued a programme of piecemeal redevelopment. The resulting streetscape is a mix of homes, medical properties and commercial buildings in a variety of neoclassical styles, anchored close to the high street by some vast domestic blocks.

One significant change came with the development of ‘bijou’ houses at some of the junctions with perpendicular streets. Previously, these joins had been marked by the blank return walls of the houses and stables on the north-south streets and mews. In 1886, the architect Barrow Emanuel won permission from the Estate to replace the old stable block on the corner of Harley Street with a small house facing Weymouth Street. This sparked a rash of similar developments, including remarkable examples of bijou houses commissioned by Bovis Ltd in the 1930s from some of the country’s top architects, including George Grey Wornum (39 Weymouth Street) and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (22 Weymouth Street). Bourgeois, yes—but beautiful.

None. Perhaps the most notable presence here was the great scientist, Michael Faraday, who as a young man in the early 1800s lived with his parents at number 18.

A rare domestic design by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, best known as the creator of Battersea Power Station and the red telephone box, 22 Weymouth Street was far more low-key and compact than most of his architectural work, but no less distinctive. With its modernism off-set by a classic, symmetrical simplicity, it proved less divisive than some other 20th century interventions, and is widely regarded as one of the area’s jewels.


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