Boris Johnson won the race for Mayor of London against the votes of all good orthographers, who were appalled when he brought out campaign leaflets with the name of this West London ‘village’ as ‘Marlebone’.
Okay. That is how it’s pronounced but the wrong spelling. You’d expect better from an Oxford graduate even if it’s Boris!
You may think that’s a small point to make, but the spelling actually tells us quite a lot about the history of the area. It’s St Mary le Bourne, ‘the stream’ – the same ‘burn’ as in ‘Tyburn’ in fact. Marylebone Lane preserves the curve of the stream in its winding layout.
Even though Marylebone is right in the middle of London, it’s still got a bit of a village feel to it. The church is a nice surprise – a fine Georgian façade, made to fit the Nash terraces opposite; it’s urbane and imposing, though the chancel was added in the Victorian age with a rather different aesthetic. The poet Byron was baptised here (it didn’t take him long to find that the devil had all the best tunes or at least a better lifestyle), the playwright Sheridan married here, the architect James Gibbs was buried here and Nelson was a parishioner for a time, when not at sea.
The little churchyard is now a garden and contains memorials to French refugees who had escaped the purge of Protestants in France – Claudius de Crespigny, buried here in 1695 and Maria de Vierville in 1708. There are also memorials to the artists Rysbrack and Stubs, and “James Figg, pugilist,” who ran an academy of boxing and was also expert at swordplay and fighting with cudgels.
Although multiple retailers have reached Marylebone High Street, they’re still outnumbered by boutiques. There’s Daunt Books, with its galleried interior, Edwardian oak bookcases and huge skylight – now the HQ of a small chain of bookshops. It’s a great place to shop, specialising in travel books, though modern and classic fiction is also represented.
The Button Queen in Marylebone Lane is one of the most amusingly specialised shops I know. Antique and modern buttons, jewelled or plain, made of wood or mother-of-pearl or bone or plastic, bright or brown – they have it all. There’s no cheaper way to update a tired old jacket than to just change the buttons on it. Unfortunately, what you save on the jacket you may spend on other buttons, as there’s nothing as expensive as the magpie instinct that comes out when you see those little boxes of buttons!
Then there are a number of art galleries scattered around Marylebone, as well as some very good (and inexpensive, despite the chi-chi location) charity shops. Oxfam Bookshop tries its best to compete with Daunt Books – and nearly manages – and the Cancer Research shop often has designer clothes and handbags, though you’ll need to rummage.
Marylebone even has two cookery schools – La Cucina Caldesi, teaching Italian style cuisine and Divertimenti Cookery School, attached to the cookshop. Like any good village, Marylebone has a market or two – ‘Cabbages and Frocks’ every Saturday specialises in fashion and food, so you buy a cupcake the right colour to go with those secondhand Manolos you picked up a bit earlier. Then on Sunday there’s a farmer’s market and yet again, though you can buy veg, meat, fresh fruit or farm pressed juice, some of us will be heading for the cakes and feeling guilty afterwards.
With Regent’s Park to the north and Mayfair to the south, Marylebone doesn’t have any great tourist attractions of its own. But that’s all to the good – the tour buses and the grockles leave it alone and it’s a great place to spend a few hours browsing the shops before heading to one of the area’s many cafes for a quick pick-me-up.
What about hotels in this very underrated district of central London? We have a couple of suggestions:
- The Landmark London for a rather grandiose stay with recently refurblished suites and an inspiring railway hotel vibe.
- Dorset Square Hotel for a boutique experience underwritten by Kit Kemp’s unique sense of style.
Neither of the above are particularly cheap and so if you’re on a budget we’d recommend taking the tube or bus a couple of stops east of Marylebone and staying at Tune Kings Cross, one of the newest budget hotels in Kings Cross which was recently featured on this blog.