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In Old Marylebone

November 26, 2018
by the gentle author

I took the Metropolitan Line from Liverpool St Station over to Baker St and spent a pleasant afternoon exploring the wonders of Marylebone. Peeling off from the teeming crowds heading for Madame Tussauds and the Planetarium, I crossed Euston Rd to the parish church of St Mary, that once stood upon the banks of the bourne which gives the place its name and flowed south from here towards Oxford St where it became the Tyburn. Thomas Hardwick’s cool classicism of 1813 promised a welcome respite from the clamour of the traffic racing past outside, an effect only marginally undermined by the array of gruesome Lentern sculptures of the Crucifixion including a skeleton carrying a cross.

From here, I took the shortcut through the cobbled churchyard, beside St Marylebone School founded as the Day School of Industry in 1791, and turned right past the obelisk commemorating Charles & Sarah Wesley that commands a tiny yard, offered now as a garden of ease and reflection for exhausted shoppers struggling up from Oxford St. Lest I should get distracted by the fancy shops in the High St myself, I turned right again into Paddington St to peer into James Taylor & Sons, Shoemakers since 1857, when the founder walked from Norwich to start the business.

Crossing the road, I entered the narrow Grotto Passage which offers a portal to another Marylebone than the affluence which prevails elsewhere. Through the passage, you discover the Grotto Ragged & Industrial School beside a huge Laundry House at the centre of Ossington Buildings, a nineteenth-century complex of social housing dating from 1888. These narrow streets lead you through to the seclusion of Paddington St Gardens, a former burial ground, bordered by iron bollards with St Mary Le Bone 1828 in relief. Here in the gardens, school children at play and mothers with their tots attest to the domestic life of Marylebone, while in Chiltern St I discovered Webster’s Ironmongers in business since 1870,  a rare survivor of the traditional businesses that once lined these streets before the chain stores of Oxford St ventured northwards. The current owner has been behind the counter for thirty years, cherishing Websters as a temple to the glories of hardware and household goods.

Turning another corner into Manchester St, with its magnificent early nineteenth century terraces, delivered my return to the London of wealth, ascending in architectural grandeur as I strolled down towards Manchester Sq, commanded by The Wallace yet fascinating to me for the elaborate drinking fountain given by the Citizens of Shoreditch and the wrought iron curlicules of the decorative lamps upon the stucco villas. Turning east across Thayer St and into Marylebone Lane, the Golden Hind Fish Bar has long been a personal landmark with its immaculate fascia of 1914, perfect save the loss of the letter ‘D,’ spelling “Golden Hin…”

A different urban landscape opens up beyond the charismatic meander of Marylebone Lane, it is that of wide boulevards and tall mansions comprising Wimpole St and Harley St, interwoven by cobbled mews in which you can wander, as if behind the scenes at the theatre, observing the scenery from the reverse – where the mish-mash of accreted structures concealed by those impermeable facades are revealed. Leaving these exposed thoroughfares where the traffic hurtles through and the pavement grants no shelter to the lone pedestrian, I set out to walk west as the shadows lengthened, crossing Marylebone High St again and following Paddington St as it became Crawford St where the neighbourhood declines towards Edgeware Rd.

My destination was Robert Smirke’s St Mary’s Bryanston Sq of 1823, defining a favourite corner of Marylebone where, bordered by the Euston Rd, Edgeware Rd and Oxford St, a quiet enclave of old London persists.

Marylebone Parish Church by Thomas Hardwick 1813

Inside Marylebone Parish Church

Staircase by Thomas Hardwick

Memorial to Charles & Sarah Wesley in Marylebone High St

James Taylor & Sons Ltd, shoes made since 1857

The late Lord Butler’s lasts

Industrial dwellings in Grotto Passage

The Grotto Ragged & Industrial School, Established 1846

Looking through Grotto Passage towards Paddington St Gardens

Old mausoleum in Paddington St Gardens

Websters of Chiltern St since 1870

In Manchester St

Drinking fountain from Shoreditch now in the grounds of The Wallace

Decorative lamps in Manchester Sq

The Golden Hind Fish Bar of 1914 in Marylebone Lane

44 Wimpole St

“cobbled mews in which you can wander, as if behind the scenes at the theatre”

90 Harley St, London’s oldest dental practice established 1924

“the mish-mash of accreted structures concealed by those impermeable facades”

Daunt Books, Marylebone High St

Meacher, Higgins & Thomas, chemist since 1814 – Purveyors of photographic chemicals

St Mary’s, Bryanston Sq, by Robert Smirke

At Baker St, the return to Whitechapel

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16 Responses leave one →
  1. Shayne Husbands permalink
    November 26, 2018

    Lovely photos of the echoes of Regency London.

    T.F. Dibdin, the vicar of St. Mary’s from 1823, was also the chronicler of the bibliomania and founder of the Roxburghe Club in 1812. I think he may have spent considerably more time at book auctions than leading his flock.

  2. November 26, 2018

    Great walk, thanks for sharing. Valerie

  3. November 26, 2018

    The back streets of Marylebone are full of hidden gens. Also on Marylebone Lane is delicatessan Paul Rothe, in business since 1900. Always stop off for something tasty!

  4. Rachel Lucas permalink
    November 26, 2018

    Beautiful piece on an area which means so much to me…we almost mirrored this walk on Saturday. One note is that, sadly, The Golden Hind has ‘gussied up’ its fascia since your photo was taken. Now the ubiquitous ‘chic grey’ which seems to permeate everywhere. I like it in many places, but not here…

  5. Julia harrison permalink
    November 26, 2018

    Thank you for reminding me of a different side to our neighbourhood as we enter our busy season at Daunt Books. I’m honoured to see our shop here, My favourite place to escape to is Paul Rothe’s cafe on Marylebone Lane. A family business for over a century now and a haven of old fashioned charm where you can eat home made soup surrounded by row upon row of jams and chutneys.

  6. November 26, 2018

    Is this an old post being recycled? Planetarium closed up shop many years ago….

  7. November 26, 2018

    This is a pleasant start to the morning. Forty years ago I used to live in Marylebone – there were two nurses’ residences there – and I had the good fortune to live just behind Marylebone High Street. It was a lovely place to come home to after a hard day on my feet and I am delighted that it is still so charming. There was a wonderful turn-of-the-century cafe/tea rooms called Sagne which is now sadly gone but I have never eaten better croissants, before or since. I liked and still do the slightly raffish air of this part of London.

  8. Julia harrison permalink
    November 26, 2018

    There is an old lamppost opposite our shop marking the entrance to the 17th and 18th century pleasure gardens – now luxury flats have taken over the old BBC office building but the ghosts of past lives, eating, drinking, bowling, singing and generally making merry are never far away.

  9. Sarah permalink
    November 26, 2018

    Thank you, GA, for this interesting piece which has reminded us that when we next walk
    over to Marylebone we will explore the neighbourhood west of Marylebone High Street.

  10. Helen Breen permalink
    November 26, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for the charming stroll through Marylebone, one of my favorite parts of London. On one of my earlier trips I just had to meander along Baker Street after reading so many Sherlock Holmes stories. The Museum was tacky, but I enjoyed the area. And the Wallace is a treasure with an interesting backstory. If I recall, didn’t Elizabeth Barrett, the wife of Robert Browning live on Wimpole Street? Nice neighborhood.

  11. Clare Stevens permalink
    November 26, 2018

    What a lovely post! I thought I knew Marylebone well, but I’ve never discovered Grotto Passage nor the industrial schools down there. I was surprised to read that the fountain in front of the Wallace Collection was a present from Shoreditch – does it say it was manufactured there? I thought it had been manufactured in Paris along with the many identical fountains there.

  12. November 26, 2018

    A great area for a wander. I remember visiting one of the churches in the area and being impressed by a window created from broken class from the blitz. I think it may have been St Mary’s.

  13. November 26, 2018

    Thank you for taking me along on your stroll. Still in my pajamas in the Hudson River Valley, and yet I have already “seen the sights” in your stellar town.

    Long live London.

  14. Dave R permalink
    November 26, 2018

    Excellent set. You probably know this, but I think that the ornate lantern on the corner by Meacher, Higgins & Thomas on Crawford Street is the same lantern that features on the cover of the 1962 Penguin paperback Of ‘The London Nobody Knows’ by Geoffrey Fletcher (qv).

  15. Adele permalink
    November 27, 2018

    Remembering that my cousin, in her youth, lived in Manchester Street, upon fleeing Brighton to gain fame and fortune in London, I forwarded your wonderful piece to her in Ft. Lauderdale, USA. Back came the following response ‘not only did I live in Manchester St., but none other than #36!

    Love that area, especially The Wallace Collection. Thanks for the memories.

  16. December 21, 2020

    Was born and brought up in Crawford Street and went to school at St Marys Primary School in York Street followed by Marylebone Central Secondary School in Marylebone High Street. On leaving school went to work for a commercial photographers just off Dorset Square. Sadly I was removed ‘up north’ by my parents job relocation and had to leave my beloved St Marylebone. Happy days, miss the area very much but way beyond my reach to live there these days.

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