Like so much in history, things tend to start further back than is first imagined. Marylebone, which forms the basis of the Portman Estate, can trace its beginnings as far back as the Norman Conquest. The fascinating aspect of the history of the Portman Estate is the way in which its evolution over the centuries has influenced the style of building and social fabric of modern Britain. The age of empire, trade cycles, wars, and the movements of people have all left their indelible mark on the Estate’s development.
Originally covering an area of 270 acres stretching from Oxford Street to Regents Canal, the land was acquired by Sir William Portman of Somerset, Lord Chief Justice to Henry VIII, in 1532. The land remained relatively undeveloped to 1755 when the main occupation in the area was pig farming, and the depositing of ‘night soil,’ but by 1820 the road system existed as it is today, and the original building development was largely completed. The driving force behind.
With the introduction of death duties in 1893, the great aristocratic Estates had begun to be broken up. Mayfair’s great mansions nearly all fell victim after the First World War. In 1919 the Marquess of Salisbury sold his Arlington Street home; Rochester House and Grosvenor House (the Duke of Westminster’s town house) in Park Lane were pulled down in the 1920s, to be replaced by hotels of the same name. Nash’s Regent Street shop fronts were also demolished. Chesterfield House in South Audley Street gave way in the 1930s to flats. Protests arose...
After a year’s so-called ‘phoney war’, the Blitz began on 7th September 1940 (‘Black Saturday’). Bombs first fell on Woolwich Arsenal, then on the Victoria and Albert, East India and Surrey Commercial Docks, setting them ablaze, along with whole dockland communities. Over 1,400 incendiary canisters fell on dockland in the second week of September, and almost a thousand tons of high explosive. On 8th December the Luftwaffe dropped over 3,000 incendiary bombs - eight times more than in the first day of the Blitz.
The seventh Viscount Portman died in 1948 leaving an Estate valued at £10 million and subject to Estate duty of £7.6 million. Originally the Portman family had owned everything from Baker Street to Edgware Road, and from Oxford Street north almost to Lord’s. To pay the duty the family had to sell thousands of acres of land in Dorset and Buckinghamshire. This was not enough...
Not just tourists, but many Londoners, Marylebone is unknown territory. Yet, the part of Marylebone, which is bordered by Edgware Road, Oxford Street, Marylebone Road and Baker Street is an exciting and cosmopolitan mix of the old and new, residential and commercial. The area has its own distinctive style, both as a commercial centre and as an elegant quarter with its private gardens and resplendent architecture. In the 19th century the area was favoured by prosperous middle class residents who wanted to be close to the capital’s bustling centre.
In spite of successive governments, rent acts, Estate duties and capital transfer taxes, leasehold enfranchisement and town and country planning acts, the geography of central London west of the City, is still recognisably the same as it has been for a number of centuries. One reason why the Great London Estates have survived is that they have learned to manage their London property in a more commercial, pro-active manner. Instead of being observers of their fate they have become participants in their future.