Above: Looking north in Cavendish Square which was named after the wealthy owner of the surrounding land in the 18th century.
It is not unusual to find a street name in London – or anywhere else for that matter – that reminds us of the past. Streets are sometimes named after famous residents or named after famous events. They are sometimes named after buildings that once stood nearby (like Mill Street). Apart from a very few streets, of which Marylebone High Street is one, most of the land was originally just open farm land. There were hardly any streets or lanes crossing it. Nearly all the land that was in the old parish of St Marylebone was laid out from the 1700s onwards with new streets and houses by landowners in order to make money – a vast amount of money.
The street names around Marylebone High Street, sandwiched between Marylebone Road and Oxford Street are almost all related to the up-market landowners who were responsible for employing architects and builders to lay out new streets and squares. It would require a thick book to explain all the meanings of all the streets in this part of London but, just to give you a few ideas, we will look at a few examples.
Running north from Oxford Street, on the east side of the John Lewis Store, is the rather uninteresting Holles Street. Although the street looks boring, its name is, in a way, the key to much of Marylebone. It was John Holles, Duke of Newcastle, who bought much of the land. In 1711 that land passed to his daughter Henrietta Cavendish Holles who later married Edward Harley, second Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer. This meant that Henrietta Harley held the titles of Countess of Oxford and Countess Mortimer. As a family they were hardly ‘shrinking violets’ because, if you look at the surrounding land, the name of every family member is perpetrated by the streets and squares nearby. Oxford Street, which in the 16th century was just known as ‘The Way to Uxbridge’ was named after the Earl. Cavendish Square is the focal point for many of the streets and takes its name from his wife. Harley Street – the family name – is now world-famous as the centre for medical excellence and private medicine.
After a slow start at development, the scheme accelerated under the direction of Lord and Lady Oxford’s daughter, Margaret Cavendish Harley, who married the second Duke of Portland. Portland, which is in the county of Dorset, has given way to a collection of streets named after places in that county. Margaret Street runs east from Cavendish Square. Great Portland Street runs parallel to and on the east side of Regent Street.
What became known as the ‘Portland Estate’ flourished for five generations until 1879 when the death of the childless fifth Duke saw the land pass to his sister, Lucy Joan Bentinck, widow of the sixth Baron Howard de Walden. The Portland Estate then became called the ‘Howard de Walden Estate’ and it is still under the same management now. A walk around the streets near Marylebone High Street – including Harley Street – will reveal many small signs on the doors and railings of the properties proclaiming that the houses are part of the Howard de Walden Estate. That estate also manages the shops in Marylebone High Street, giving the area a cohesiveness that you seldom find in London.
A small piece of real estate located just south of Marylebone High Street is named after Jacob Hinde. The land was bounded on the east by Marylebone Lane and on the west by Spanish Place. Hinde Street retains his name today.
Another small estate was begun by William Berners in 1738. Berners Street, a short distance east of Oxford Street, was originally developed for residential purposes about 1750.
If nothing else, it is hoped that this article will make you think about the street names that you pass as you walk around Oxford Street and its many side turnings on its northern side. In conclusion, it is worth pointing out, that it is no coincidence that the large stores lining Oxford Street today – like John Lewis, Debenham’s and Selfridge’s – are all on the north side. They were built on land which was part of the estates just described because they were serving the needs of the well-to-do who lived in ‘the better part of town’ to the north of Oxford Street.