Writers, musicians, statesmen, soldiers, doctors, scientists, artists and architects – these are all among the galaxy of great names who have in the past, lived in Marylebone with ghosts that perhaps still haunt the streets of the Estate.
If one includes the areas south and east of the present Estate which was sold for tax reasons in 1925, the list almost doubles in length. Many of these famous names are recorded by commemorative plaques – the Estate probably contains the greatest concentration of such plaques anywhere in London – but many others are not visibly recorded in this way.
In 1867 London’s very first commemorative plaque was erected by the Royal Society of Arts at 24 Holles Street to mark the birth of Lord Byron there in 1788. This was then still part of the Estate but together with the house itself this plaque has now gone. Byron was baptised at the old parish church in the High Street, which had connections with a remarkable range of well-known people. The baptisms include in 1803 Horatia, the daughter of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton – Nelson himself lived briefly at several addresses on the Estate – and among those married here were the dramatist, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, in 1773 and, at the earliest church on this site, Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor and philosopher, in 1606. Humphrey Wanley, who looked after Lord Harley’s famous library, was buried here in 1726, James Figg, who ran the Boarded House, a boxing establishment near Wells Street marked on the 1708 map of the Estate, in 1734, and Charles Wesley, the great hymn writer, in 1796.
Other writers not recorded by plaques include the novelists Anthony Trollope at 34 Welbeck Street and John Buchan at 76 Portland Place. Across the road, 63 Portland Place, the home of another writer, Frances Hodgson Burnett, was also where Jacqueline du Pre, aged 14, fell in love with the cello, her father building a special room at the top of the house for her to practise in.
Many artists lived here in the 18th century including the portrait painters, Sir William Beechey, and Allan Ramsay, at 13 and 45 Harley Street respectively and JMW Turner, first at 35 Harley Street and later at 46, the present 23 Queen Anne Street, site of the Howard de Walden Estate’s office, where he built a gallery.
Queen Anne Street was also home to the statesman Edmund Burke. He lived in a house on the site of no.36 for about five years during the 1760s. The Estate has a longstanding link with politicians and statesmen, Cavendish Square having originally been planned as a Tory enclave. Further back still Queen Elizabeth I is known to have entertained Russian ambassadors from the court of Boris Godunov at the manor house in 1601 and, continuing the tradition, when Count Simon Woronzow came to London as the Russian ambassador in 1789 he lived at 74 Harley Street. The Russian embassy was then at 35 Welbeck Street. Inside 32 Welbeck Street a slightly later version of the embassy chapel has survived.
Which famous names are living here now? They can’t be listed here – yet - but if you cross the Estate today you may well see a face you recognise...
The heart of Marylebone