Above: Looking west in York Street at the attractive shop-fronts.
Some towns and cities around England have a great sense of cohesion – like the City of Bath, in Somerset – because of the local stone or sometimes due to the local brick. That means that most of the buildings tend to look the same. Other places have suffered a devastating fire and so the whole area often dates from a rebuilding after the event. London is so huge that there is no ‘regular’ style to it and so those who enjoy its varied architecture are left to discover ‘hidden gems’ as we travel around.
The Georgian period was a time when the grand squares and adjoining streets were laid out in many places, including London. It was towards the end of the Georgian period that bow-fronted shops began appearing in many high streets – including the shopping streets in London. Such shops became a style that was so common that people of the day hardly noticed them. Due to the ‘march of time’ such charming shops are hardly ever seen in Central London today. Our streetscape now is sadly littered with McDonald’s, Costa and Starbucks shops and ‘charm’ is not a word that first comes to mind when describing what you see.
Of the bow-fronted shops that remain in Central London, it is good to report that there is a terrace to be seen, still used as shops, quite close to the border of Paddington and St Marylebone. Running west from Baker Street, just south of and parallel to Marylebone Road, is York Street. The terrace stands towards the western end, on the north side. Where the shops are situated is really between the main shopping areas of Praed Street (in Paddington) and Marylebone High Street. There is the sense that these little shops are part of a mini-shopping area all of their own – with nearby pubs, a parish church and even a Swedish Church.
York Street was built about 1801. It is probably named after the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’. Mary Anne Clarke, his mistress, was not far away, at No 62 Gloucester Place. She lived in some style with innumerable carriages, ten horses, 20 servants, three cooks and piles of gold plate. In 1809 the Duke deserted her after a parliamentary enquiry found that she had been taking money from army officers hoping for promotion
One of the grand things about London is that, if you wander down a side street, you never know what you are going to find. Sometimes the street proves to be a boring one with nothing of real interest. In this case, however, the area gives up its secret location in the form of one of only a handful of remaining bow-fronted shops to be preserved in Central London.