In 1719, John Prince drew up the first plan for the Estate. Progress was slow to begin with, after the South Sea Bubble disaster of 1720 being a particular setback. John Rocque’s map of London of 1746 shows that building had only reached as far north as Wigmore Street and Mortimer Street. However, in the 1760's after the end of the Seven Years’ War the pace grew quicker and by the time of Richard Horwood’s map of 1792-99 the whole area from Oxford Street to the New Road (Marylebone Road) was covered with houses.
From the start Cavendish Square set the tone, succeeding in attracting the wealthy and fashionable. During the second phase of the development, London’s leading architects, the Adam brothers, were employed by the Marylebone Estate, to be responsible for Chandos House, Mansfield Street and the overall layout and design of Portland Place, which John Nash later called ‘the most magnificent street in London’.
An 18th century Georgian estate which included its own church and market – in the case of the Portland Estate the Oxford Chapel, now St Peter’s, Vere Street, and the Oxford Market near Great Portland Street, but now only a memory, both designed by James Gibbs. However, as well as the large and stylish houses of, for example, Harley Street and Wimpole Street there were inevitably pockets of poverty and even vice. In the mid-nineteenth century the area around Bolsover Street and Clipstone Street, part of the estate until 1925, was notorious for prostitution. These houses were largely rebuilt in around 1900 as blocks of mansion flats. Ossington Buildings, off Moxon Street, date from 1889, model buildings for the working classes, replacing a collection of slum houses previously on this site. Behind them in Grotto Passage was a Ragged School founded in 1846 - this building has been preserved – and nearby a blue plaque marks the site of Paradise Place, where Octavia Hill began her career as a housing reformer in the 1860s.
This was also a period when doctors began moving into Harley Street, a trend given additional impetus when the Medical Society of London moved to Chandos Street in 1872 and the Royal Society of Medicine to Wimpole Street in 1912. Since then the numbers of doctors, hospitals and medical organisations in and around Harley Street has spiralled – from a total of about 20 in 1860 the number of doctors grew to 80 by 1900 and to almost 200 by 1914. By the time the National Health Service was established in 1948 there were around 1500 and contrary to expectation this figure has never fallen, in recent years actually increasing if dentists are also included.
In 1750 a Charity School was opened in the High Street. Since then schools and educational institutions have become another particular feature of the Estate. The Royal Polytechnic Institution, now part of the university of Westminster, was founded in Regent Street in 1839, Queen’s College, Harley Street, was founded as the first college in the country for the higher education of women in 1848 and the Royal Academy of Music moved to its present Marylebone Road site in 1912. More recently two schools have opened in Portland Place, the headquarters of institutions of all kinds since the 1920s.
Today, the Estate continues to adapt successfully to London’s ever changing needs.
The heart of Marylebone