What’s in a name? Discovering Marylebone

Join Mr Londoner on a stroll through Marylebone, one of the capital’s most appealing but perhaps lesser-known neighbourhoods.

People in-the-know love Marylebone. This chic district nestles between Mayfair to the south and Regent’s Park and Camden to the north.

Londoners argue about the correct pronunciation of Marylebone. Should it be Mari-le-bun or Marley-bone? The name’s origins derive from the Church of St Mary, on the banks of a stream (or bourne) running into the River Tyburn. This once significant water-course is one of the long-lost tributaries of the Thames. Today it runs rather unromantically through water pipes beneath the city streets.

The glorious interior of St Marylebone Church. @meetmrlondoner

Village-like
Marylebone is a locale with a village-like feel. But it’s one that’s perhaps not as well known as neighbouring Mayfair. Like Mayfair, the streets of Marylebone are home to both elegant Georgian villas and solid Victorian structures, some with their original 19th century ironwork still intact. This prestigious central London neighbourhood is hardly a cheap place to live – or indeed to run a business. But the watchword here is that of discretion rather than more extreme displays of consumption.

The Swing, by Fragonard, 1767. Wallace Collection @meetmrlondoner

Wealthy patients attend their private doctors and dentists in Harley and Wimpole Streets, toward the east of the neighbourhood. But there are plenty of happier reasons to visit. The Wallace Collection, in Manchester Square, houses the world’s most important collection of Rococo art. There are great masters by the likes of Frans Hals and Titian. And there’s sculpture, arms and armour and an exquisite collection of French Sèvres porcelain. Visitors are surprised to learn that the Sèvres factory – the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres, to give it its proper name, is still going strong, in Hauts-de-Seine. Pride of place at the Wallace Collection currently goes to the recently-restored oil painting ‘The Swing’, from 1767, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. This was a racy image in its day and remains so in our own times. All of this breathtaking and surprising content can be viewed for free.

History abounds here. Baker Street is famous for Sherlock Holmes – the man who never lived and never died. The fictional detective is commemorated in a statue, complete with tweed cape and deerstalker hat. Interestingly, these two key items of the Sherlock brand are entirely down to the early Holmes movies: author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made no mention of them in his books. The impressive bronze, by sculptor John Doubleday, stands at nearly ten-feet tall yet remains partially hidden by a high wall outside Baker Street Station.

Dickens Relief by Estcourt K Clack, 1960 @meetmrlondoner

Nearby is a bas-relief of Charles Dickens and friends. London’s biographer lived at Devonshire Terrace. It was here he penned Barnaby Rudge, The Old Curiosity Shop and A Christmas Carol. The property was bulldozed in the 1950s and replaced with Ferguson House, an unremarkable office block. However, its famous occupant was remembered here in 1960 in the frieze by the wonderfully-named sculptor, Escot J Clack (known to his friends as Jim). It was one of Clack’s final works. The carving features Dickens alongside some of his most famous characters, including Scrooge, Marley’s ghost and Mr Pickwick.

The Marylebone Cricket Club (The MCC) is the home of English cricket. It is, in fact, a little further to the north, in St John’s Wood. The Anglo-Dutch and German political powerhouse that was the Bentinck family, has its family vault in St Marylebone Church. William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland lies here. He was Prime Minister in 1783 and then again between 1807 and 1809. The 26-year gap between his two terms is the longest of any PM in UK history.

In 1964, in the opening credits of A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles were mobbed by adoring fans at Marylebone Station. This remains a place that made music history. Elton John trained at the Royal Academy of Music, one of the UK’s oldest music schools.

St Andrew’s Mansions – former home to land-spead record breaker Sir Henry Segrave @meetmrlondoner

Ladybird
Sir Henry Segrave lived on Chiltern Street, at St Andrew’s Mansions. He’s remembered by a blue plaque. The Baltimore-born Irish-American served with distinction in the British Army and Royal Flying Corps as a young officer during the First World War. The dashing Segrave pursued his tastes for speed and adventure. In 1926, he broke the world’s first land-speed record in Ladybird, his four-litre Sunbeam Tiger, on Lancashire’s Ainsdale Beach. Segrave married his glamorous bride Doris Stocker in Marylebone in 1917. She was a popular star of Edwardian musical theatre – and something of a well-connected London celebrity.

Ribbon development. VV Rouleaux on Marylebone Lane. @meetmrlondoner

Beautiful books
Marylebone Lane is home to independent retailers and artisan brands, like V V Rouleaux. This wonderfully old-fashioned shop sells ladies hats, trimmings, ribbons and supplies for dressmakers and crafters. It’s very popular with aspiring ballerinas I hear. At the opposite end of the spectrum, British designer Margaret Howell sells minimalist men’s and womenswear with a cool and utilitarian vibe. Marylebone’s most beautiful store is, however, Daunt Books. With its wooden balustrades and double galleries, this is one of the London’s best-loved independent book stores. And it’s still going strong in the face of stiff opposition – both online and off.

London’s most beautiful bookstore. @meetmrlondoner

There’s also, beloved of celebs and fashionistas, the achingly-cool Chiltern Street. This attractive thoroughfare is home to the Chiltern Firehouse hotel and restaurant. The work of up-coming artists can be bought at the Gallery of Everything. Next door are fashion ateliers Trunk Clothiers and the iconic John Simons, which nails the Ivy League and preppy look, with its quality menswear. Brycelands and Co, a few doors up, sells vintage-inspired and eminently wearable menswear classics. It offers a made-to-measure service too on its exquisite and unusual Hong Kong-made tailoring. Just around the corner, in Dorset Street, is Dashing Tweeds. Here that hardy Scottish perennial, Harris Tweed – beloved of game-keepers and country sports enthusiasts – has been wittily re-invented for the needs of a creative and experimental urban clientele.

Green city. The gardens of St Marylebone church. @meetmrlondoner

Mr Boyd
What draws people to Marylebone are the many independent local businesses that dot its quirky streets and byways. John Boyd Hats is an independent milliner in New Quebec Street. The company was started post-war by D-Day veteran, John Boyd MBE. On his death, in 2018, the business passed to his apprentice and colleague Sarah Marshall. Today Sarah runs the milliner with wit, creativity and passion. She still makes ladies’ hats in the traditional way. Mr Boyd, as he will be forever known, would be proud.

It’s not all fashion, hats and books though. La Fromagerie sells unusual and impeccably kept cheeses, as well as fetching antique tableware. Five minutes from Marylebone Station, just off Lisson Grove, is Alfies Antiques Market. There are over 60 stalls, run by independent and specialist dealers in glassware, ceramics, jewellery and more besides.

Brycelands and Co. @meetmrlondoner

Marylebone is the place for those who love to head off-the-beaten-track. We live in an era when the high street is struggling to survive in the face of rising rents, declining footfall and online competition. Yet Marylebone still flies the flag for independent stores and makers. These are often small businesses run by people who care. And they make shopping something truly experiential and enjoyable, elevating the retail experience to new heights. It would be a tragedy to lose this independent spirit and old-fashioned ethos of service. For this alone, Marylebone deserves our patronage.

 

About the Author

Mr Londoner is writer, broadcaster and former museum director Antony Robbins.
He runs bespoke Secret City tours of Marylebone. Get in touch at meetmrlondoner (instagram) www.mrlondoner.co.uk. or you can see his profile and contact him here