Getting off the tube at Bond Street requires precision and guile in order to prepare you for the sheer number of people on Oxford Street. You do not have to spend long among the madding crowds as you can nip up a rather perfectly placed alleyway called St Christopher’s Place. This has been the secret weapon of many a Londoner when they are venturing into Marylebone. There is an immediate sense of calm as you walk (sometimes sideways due to its width) away from the busiest shopping street in the world and a feeling as if you have stumbled on a secret even if you have done it a dozen times before.
You are now in Marylebone, famous for being unpronounceable and for the many different ways you can name a thoroughfare – we have Marylebone Road, Marylebone Lane, Marylebone High Street, Marylebone Mews, Marylebone Street and Old Marylebone Road - phew! Marylebone (allegedly pronounced Mar-lebone) gets its name from the medieval church of St. Mary’s now known as St Marylebone parish church situated on the Marylebone Road. Did you know that there is another St Mary’s in this parish (just to confuse things!)? This is found between Bryanston Square and York Street on Wyndham Place. It is a beauty of a church built between 1823 and 1824. It is elegant and poised at the top end of Bryanston Square to create a wonderful vista when viewed from the south. When you stumble on this church, there is a distinct feeling that you have seen this before, maybe in Bath or in a film made from a Jane Austen novel. Maybe you have!
Marylebone is also famous for the medical profession setting up here and for Harley Street. This gives us our next association with the area - Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock was created by Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle, who allegedly wrote during quiet periods at his surgery. He wasn’t considered the best doctor but medicine’s loss is the nation’s gain. We are still obsessed with this character, his cryptic style of sleuthing and his foil of a sidekick, Dr. Watson. We all know his address - 221B Baker Street. You can find this today just north of Baker Street station in the form of a museum dedicated to the detective. The Conan Doyle family was not amused at this homage to an imaginary man but it is still visited and enjoyed by many a visitor to London. Did you know that the original 221B would have been further down Baker Street towards Oxford Street? It is by the Everyman cinema and if you walk behind it, you will be on Sherlock Mews!
Cavendish Square became another famous address when it was included in Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic horror novel “The strange case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”. The square is home to long-term friend of the doctor who is the first person to discover Hyde’s true identity. I won’t ruin it but he later dies of shock, quite unsurprisingly. By now you are thinking that Marylebone’s history was quite dark and you wouldn’t be wrong. Marylebone is also the site of The Tyburn Tree located at the junction of Edgware Road and Bayswater Road. A small memorial marks the spot, an engraved stone in the middle of a traffic island. The stone remembers the place where some of London’s past criminals, political victims, and religious martyrs were executed between 1196 to 1783.
This would not have been a place where you would have wished to hang out – excuse the pun. The real legacy of the Tyburn happens on a Sunday when the scuffed and rubbed out part of Hyde Park gives up its secret. Watching the people standing on their ‘soap box’ at Speaker’s Corner and talking with political, social or religious zeal you wonder if they realize the famous people who have also spoken here before them – Vladimir Ilych Lenin, George Orwell, Karl Marx or even Tony Benn and Vanessa Redgrave. But why do they do this?
It comes from when men and women would have been brought in from Newgate prison to be executed here by the river Tyburn. They were allowed to say a few words before they died. Before reaching the execution site, they would have had their final drink, something strong which was also known as ‘one for the road’ as in the road to execution. The drink was to give them some Dutch courage and also to get them to repent or tell their story before they were hanged. Those who told the best stories were loved by the crowd and those who didn’t literally died on stage – just don't tell any stand up comedians you know!