Treasure Hunt Towers has moved. On 11 August we closed the door on the Marylebone Council House and two weeks later we opened up our new premises on 54 Beaumont Street to the public.
One of the pleasures of any move is getting to know a new area and its history, and in our new location we are positively surrounded by the stuff. Just walking from the nearest bus stop at the corner of Harley Street and Marylebone Road, you see three plaques on the way to the library and there are many others within a five minute walk. So let’s have a look at some of the great and the good who have lived in the area…
Directly opposite the library entrance on a suspiciously modern looking house (the original was demolished in 1924) is a plaque to John Richard Green, 1837-1883, historian, who lived there from 1869-1876. Little known now, Green was one of the most important and influential nineteenth century historians, notable for his library views and his stress on social and economic issues rather than ‘kings and queens’. Incidentally, while living in Marylebone, he was the librarian of Lambeth Palace.
Turning left we come to Arthur Wing Pinero’s house at 115a Harley Street. From humble beginnings, he attended elocution classes at Birkbeck and after some experience acting on tour with Sir Henry Irving, he discovered his true vocation was writing. Perhaps the leading British playwright at the turn of the century, he has had a bit of a revival recently – if you missed the recent London productions of The Second Mrs Tanqueray, Trelawny of the Wells and The Magistrate, don’t worry – the film version of Dandy Dick (with Will Hay) has just been released on DVD.
Pinero’s near neighbour at 146 Harley Street, Lionel Logue (1880-1953) has also attracted a lot of interest in the last few years. The speech therapist who treated King George VI and became his friend for 20 years, didn’t have quite the humble background seen in The King’s Speech (his 25 room house in Sydenham Hill was probably bigger than the Piccadilly residence of George VI when he was Duke of York) but, as described in the book of the same name, while he charged high fees to his wealthy patients, he treated many others for free and was a pioneer of speech therapy for shell-shocked soldiers.
Another Harley Street neighbour, at no 73, was Prime Minister William Gladstone, who lived there from 1876-1882 while in opposition. It was here he wrote the pamphlet The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, which called upon the government to withdraw its support for Turkey. On Sunday 24 February 1878, a pro-government mob smashed the windows of the house (“This is not very Sabbatical” wrote Gladstone in his diary).
Just round the corner at 50 Wimpole Street, the poet Elizabeth Barrett lived from 1838-1846. It was here in 1845 that she first met Robert Browning and eloped with him to marry at St Marylebone Church a few blocks away and from there, travelled to Italy. This period of her life is portrayed, with a certain amount of dramatic licence in The Barretts of Wimpole Street.
Elizabeth Barrett wasn’t the only notable author to have lived here. On 1 April 1891, Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) set up a doctor’s surgery at 2 Upper Wimpole Street. Though he only spent a few months here, his time was certainly productive. By Friday 3 April 1891, his diary records: “sent ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ to A. P. Watt”. This was the first of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, and Watt, his literary agent, immediately sent it on to the Strand Magazine. In all, the first five of the Holmes short stories were written at this address.
Nearby at in the grounds of St Marylebone Church is another plaque, not this time to where an eminent person lived but to where one was educated. The conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) attended St Marylebone School, as the plaque put up by the Leopold Stokowski society attests. Stokowski regularly claimed to have been born in Poland but actually, like his parents he was born in London and grew up in Nottingham Street, where his precocious talent was soon recognised – he entered the Royal Academy of Music, then in Hanover Square, at the age of 13. Anyone who has seen his performance in One Hundred Men and a Girl, with the late Deanna Durbin, will wonder where exactly his Mittel European accent came from, but that’s showbusiness for you…
The churchyard itself is the burial place of Charles Wesley (1707-1788), one of the founders of Methodism and lyricist for hymns still popular today, notably Hark the Herald Angels Sing and and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. A London County Council plaque in Wheatley Street marks the site where he lived for many years.
Finally, opposite St Marylebone churchyard, on Marylebone High Street, a plaque put up by the Howard De Walden estate, commemorating the most distinquished of all Marylebone residents, though temporarory ones. From the thirteenth century, this was the site of Tyburn Manor House, which both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I used as a hunting lodge. This was demolished in 1791 and Harley Street and the surrounding roads were built on the land.
For more information about any of the people mentioned here, have a look at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which you can access from anywhere with your Westminster Libraries membership card.