Whatever Happened To The Village Of Marylebone?


I was about to wrap up my potato peelings in a copy of the Financial Times when I caught sight of an article about the former London village of Marylebone. Reading it made me feel genuinely revolted. Marylebone is an ancient area that gets its name from a church dedicated to St Mary, built on the bank of a small stream or bourne called the Tybourne, which became Tyburn. Its received pronunciation is ‘MARRY-le-bn’ but most Londoners say ‘MAR—le-bone’.

The neighbourhoods around stations are always a little run-down and transient. (Throughout Europe, for some peculiar reason there was always a dodgy bar called the ‘Why Not?’ near a station.) Marylebone is near Paddington Station, not too far from Euston, and many of Oxford Street’s shop assistants used to rent there because properties above shops were always cheap and were considered a bit common. The redbrick Georgian terraces are intact, having missed bombings and development. They’re pretty but their rooms are disappointingly small and dark. I had a few rakish friends from around there and Fitzrovia who ate in the Indian YMCA and drank in the scruffy little corner pubs where locals still sang around upright pianos.

At some point in the 1980s something strange happened. The area started to fill with ‘lifestyle’ celebrities. The local fire station became the kind of ridiculous restaurant that becomes important to B-list TV stars, and Tyler Brulé, the Canadian journalist and adman, a man now entirely defined by his spectacles, set up his Monocle empire there. Monocle is technically a magazine in that it has pages fastened together on one side and runs shiny adverts for things nobody owns, like tiaras and watches. It soon became a desirable benchmark for little Marylebone, the personification of a bijou lifestyle. But as the Scottish political comic Frankie Boyle points out, a lifestyle is something to aim for, not achieve, because it’s a chimera that dissolves upon arrival.

It certainly didn’t stop people from desiring the Marylebone lifestyle. Those cute little terraced flats started changing hands for hundreds of thousands, then millions, then multiples of millions. By this time they were being bought not by B movie stars but by Chinese corporations and Russians rinsing their dirty cash via accommodating British property developers. The FT article bemoans the fact that the fickle and jejune Chinese prefer neon-lit underground bunkers and penthouses with 25 metre pools lit by glitter balls, and have caused a small sales downturn in the overheated terraces of Marylebone.

To the outward eye Marylebone continues much as before – except for the shops, listless high-end clothing stores, currently shuttered. The lockdown may add to the change in Marylebone’s fortunes as we start to see that fashionistas and overpriced knick-knack shops offer not a lifestyle but a way of hollowing out a once thriving and charming neighbourhood, the perfect place for Gwyneth Paltrow to flog her pricey woo-woo.

Does the loss of Chinese interest herald a return to a traditional neighbourhood? Of course not. Everything will reset to how it was before. We can dream and hope it doesn’t, though, and perhaps stop it from happening everywhere if we think a little more about what we really need and want.

11 comments on “Whatever Happened To The Village Of Marylebone?”

  1. Anne Billson says:

    I now associate Marylebone with an incident when I was flat-hunting in London in the mid-1990s. I turned up to look at a flat there and waited on the doorstep for the estate agent. And waited. And waited. (This was either before I had a mobile phone, or I had one but didn’t have the agency’s number on me.) Eventually, around 25 minutes late, he rolled up in a fancy red covertible, leapt out, came bounding up the steps and prepared to unlock the door.

    I said, ‘Hey I’ve been waiting here for nearly half an hour. An apology would be nice.’

    He replied, ‘Oh well, if you’re not SERIOUS about looking at the flat…’

    At which point I turned my back on him and walked away.

  2. David Ronaldson says:

    Marylebone is pretty much the only place within the boundary of the Circle Line I’d like to live. The wonderful Daunt Books is a selling-point, of course and there’s still at least one pub with a well-used piano where I could give my Hobson’s an airing. It’s shame the old fishmonger’s bit the dust when the Congestion Charge was introduced. But I witter, sorry.

  3. Brian Evans says:

    I used to go to Marylebone quite often as there used to be a very good model railway shop in the area, but it went bust years ago, sometime in the early 1990s.It always had a very pleasant village feel about it. The area, not the shop! I thengyeow.

    I also had a great-aunt an uncle who were given a council flat there after his retirement from being the caretaker of a gentleman’s club in Pall Mall.

    The very camp actor Alan Wheatley, AKA The Sherriff of Nottingham, lived there and was once seen walking his poodle by a friend of mine.

    Marylebone station is my favourite London terminus, and Sir John Betjemen once said of it that it was the only London terminus where one could hear birdsong. You can buy the station for a mere snip of £200 on the Monopoly board.

  4. Jeffrey Prior says:

    Is the area north of Marylebone Road (where Marylebone station is) still Marylebone? The area to the west of Lisson Grove through to Edgware Road (around Bell Street) always feels like a hidden enclave, hiding secrets…

  5. Suzanne says:

    Would love to hear more about old Marylebone.

  6. Martin Tolley says:

    My great great grandfather worked variously as ostler, horsekeeper and drayman, operating in and out of Marylebone for about 20 years before and after the station was opened in 1899.

  7. Lyn Jackson says:

    I have been reading all the Bryant and May books and love all the obscure references to places around London.
    If I lived there I would check them out, but what I do is check each reference on Google earth.
    Hope everyone is adapting well to our enforced isolation.

  8. Ian Luck says:

    Chris – I received my copy of ‘The Lonely Hour’ at 12:40 this afternoon. I’ve just finished it. Utterly superb. I admit to being more saddened by Crippen than any of the other deaths, but I not really a people person. Great convoluted plot, though. Literally could not put the book down. Brilliant murder weapon, too – I first encountered one of those in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, where the shepherd, Gabriel Oak, has to use one to save his sheep after they gorge themselves on clover, which causes their stomachs to fill with gas, which can kill them, so he uses a ‘Trochar’ to vent them.

  9. Jan says:

    Lyn and Suzanne. I know a little bit of Marylebones history or 2 put it a bit more clearly I know a little bit of the history of a little bit of Marylebone….

    Years and Years back when I was living and working up in town I had to drop some legal papers off for my boss at some premises not far from Marlebone High street. Up in the northern section of the high street before it sort of turns slightly to the East and then runs up toward the Marybone Road there’s an open space I think this place is called the memorial gardens. Now I am pretty certain that’s what they call them. Well this space which has a real tendency to flood and become very waterlogged and it is in fact the site where in the 14C a church already in existence elsewhere within Marylebone was relocated to this place and built right by the bank of the Tyburn or Tybourne as it was sometimes called. There was something I particularly wanted to see at this location but I am buggered if I can remember what it was now. Probably won’t remember it.

    Now when this church was relocated from one part of Marylebone to another MARYLEBONE wasn’t even named as such at the time – see this district is named AFTER the church! Are you with me or have I drifted off? Follow me bit longer I’ll try and explain.

    Originally I think in the 8C a church dedicated to John the Baptist was built in what is now Oxford Street in fact just where Debenhams Department store is now. After a few centuries of wear and tear the decision is taken to move the church up further North right next to the Manor of Tyburn.
    So they settled on this spot close to the Tyburn now I am not quite sure why but once it’s shifted the church is re dedicated and becomes a Mary church. Dunno why but obviously to pick it out from the numerous other churches dedicated to Mary the mother of God this church becomes Mary’s-by the Bourne. Cos the posh language spoken by London’s elite (Norman Descendants ) is French they say St Mary’s LaBourne in time this is corrupted in various ways and turns into Marylebone. Another variation being Marrowbone would you believe.

    Any road this 14C church and churchyard occupied the land that is now the memorial gardens.
    That’s what I might have been looking for ancient gravestone remnants. The reason the gardens flood is because the now culverted Tyburn still runs there and still floods.

    Now I know that’s not much of a tale all a bit obvious really but it makes you think on a bit.
    The area that becomes Marylebone was pre the Norman conquest part of the Saxon Hundred of Ossultone later within Middlesex. Not strictly London at all back then – the City is London everything surrounding it well that’s part of the Saxon heptarchy. The manor of Tyburn and the Manor of Liilestone (Lisson Grove to you and me!) existed though. Quite a wealthy bit of country really. That’s me lot.

  10. Lyn says:

    Thankyou Jan . It certainly wasn’t obvious to me ,but very interesting. In contrast to London’s endless history, Perth’s oldest building was built in 1831. It is of course a jail.There is a building near me called Pensioners cottage ,built in 1856 and open every Sunday for tourists!

  11. Lyn Jackson says:

    Thanks for interesting info. Jan. It is all a real contrast to history inPerth. One of our oldest buildings near me is the Pensioners cottage of 1856. It is open on weekends for tourists!

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