Remembering an old friend in London’s Marylebone

MY FRIEND MICHAEL Jacobs (1952-2014) studied history of art at A Level (university entrance examinations) and then later at university. Later, he became a prolific author. When we were in our late teens, we used to visit Hampstead’s second-hand bookshops together. A few days ago (early September 2022), I was walking along Marylebone’s New Cavendish Street when I spotted something that reminded me of one of our bookshop visits in the late 1960s.

There is a building on the northeast corner of New Cavendish Street and Wimpole Street, which caught my eye. As I passed it, I spotted a small plaque giving the architect’s details. It reads: “BANISTER FLETCHER & SONS ARCHITECTS AD 1912” Sir Banister Flight Fletcher (1866-1953) trained at London’s Kings College, University College, the Royal College of Art, the Architectural Association, and Paris’s École des Beaux-Arts. In 1889, he became a partner in the architectural firm founded by his father: Banister Fletcher & Sons. In addition to designing buildings, Banister Fletcher (and his father) wrote a book of great importance.

The book, “A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method”, which was first published in 1896, was republished several times during the 20th century. It was the standard reference work in English on the history of architecture.

Seeing the name Banister Fletcher on the building in Marylebone reminded me of an afternoon in Hampstead during the late 1960s. We were rummaging around the somewhat disorderly collection of books in Francis Norman’s bookshop in Perrins Lane when Michael discovered a copy of Banister Fletcher’s history of architecture, a book that was well-suited for the bookshelf of a student of the history of art. Michael bought it at an extremely reasonable price.

Until I spotted the building on New Cavendish, I had always associated the name Banister Fletcher with that afternoon with Michael in Hampstead. The building I saw is the first example of a structure that I have been able to associate with the author of the history purchased by my late friend.

A church near Madame Tussauds

I HAVE PASSED IT OFTEN while travelling along London’s busy Marylebone Road and admired its elegant neoclassical portico supported by six columns with Corinthian capitals, but never entered it until today (the 7th of September 2022). I am referring to the Church of St Marylebone, consecrated in 1817. One of its predecessors, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary was erected nearby in about 1400. It stood near the River Tyburn. The name Marylebone seems to be derived from a conjunction of the words Mary and ‘burn’ (from Tyburn, which began to have a bad reputation because of the much-used gallows close to its banks). This early church was replaced by another, constructed in 1740. It survived until it was demolished in 1949.  Nearby, the present larger church, which we see today, was constructed in 1817 on what was then the New Road, a by-pass on the northern edge London, and is now Marylebone Road. Its grand portico faces north, and the high altar and the colourfully decorated apse are in the south end of the building. The church, a typical example of a Regency interior with first-floor galleries, is tall and spacious.

Charles Dicken’s son was baptised in the church. The poet Robert Browning (1812-1889) married a fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861) in the church in 1846. And the composer John Stainer (1840-1901) composed his oratorio “The Crucifixion” specially for this church in 1887 when he was already a fellow of the Royal Academy of Music, which is across the main road facing the church.

The Methodist Charles Wesley (1707-1788), who lived nearby, asked to be buried in what was the churchyard of the older (1740) church. Where this edifice stood is now a peaceful open space, the Garden of Rest, next to Marylebone Lane (a few feet south of Marylebone Gardens). In this small space, there is a stone obelisk mounted on a pedestal. This commemorates the life of Charles Wesley and several members of his family.

Close to Madame Tussauds and the Royal Academy of Music and neighbouring one of London’s more enjoyable shopping areas – Marylebone High Street, stands the lovely church of St Marylebone, which as I discovered today, merits a visit.

Beyond London’s West End: the story of west London

BEFORE THE YEAR 1800, the West End was truly the western end of London. West of Mayfair and Marylebone, there was countryside: woods, fields, private parks, farms, stately homes, villages, and highwaymen. After the beginning of the 19th century, the countryside began to disappear as villages grew and coalesced and the city of London expanded relentlessly westward. What had been rural Middlesex gradually became the west London we know today.  My new book, illustrated with photographs and maps, explores the past, present, and future of many places, which became absorbed into what is now west London: that is London west of Park Lane and the section of Edgware Road south of Kilburn. Some of the places described will be familiar to many people (e.g., Paddington, Kensington, Fulham, and Chelsea). Other locations will be less known by most people (e.g., Acton, Walham Green, Crane Park, Harmondsworth, and Hayes). Many people have seen the places included in my book when they have looked out of the windows of aircraft descending towards the runways at Heathrow, and many of them will have passed some of these places as they travel from Heathrow to their homes or hotels. My book invites people to begin exploring west London – a part of the metropolis less often on tourists’ itineraries than other areas. “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London” is aimed at both the keen walker (or cyclist) and the armchair traveller.  

Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London is available as a paperback from Amazon here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/BEYOND-MARYLEBONE-MAYFAIR-EXPLORING-LONDON/dp/B0B7CR679W/: