Marylebone (pronounced something like Mar-le-bon) is an area of London I tend to walk through to get to other places whilst trying to avoid being run over by the sports cars of the people who can actually afford to live there.The other day I decided to go for an actual walk around its environs to see what I could find. I present to you my findings (and already found things)…
St James’s, Spanish Place, Nordic Bakery and Wallace Collection
This neo-Gothic church seems to have confusedly got lost and wandered into some Georgian streets. The presence of the church itself is linked to the earlier existence of the Spanish embassy nearby and is where the Spanish royal family reputedly attend when in London.
Other recommendations? – the Nordic bakery for a Sunday breakfast treat and the Wallace Collection. The Nordic bakery on New Cavendish Street is one of the few places I consider the coffee worth the money for London and the cinnamon buns are so bizarrely delicious I’ve never thought of ordering anything else there (though I probably should).
The Wallace Collection is one of London’s smaller museums and mainly contains a mass of 16th-19th century paintings in sumptuously decorated damask wallpapered rooms alongside intricately decorated curiosities such as tobacco graters and pocket watches. But the highlight for me is the armour – ranging from bejewelled oriental swords to 14th and 15th century European suits where even their shoes (sabatons in the fancy language of armour) reflect contemporary fashions. Also you can avoid the weekend crowds here as it’s relatively unknown in comparison to the major galleries on the tourist trail.
Grotto Passage, Memorial Garden of Rest and St Marylebone Church
Whilst Marylebone is now mainly home to the wealthy elite and embassies, in certain areas this was not always the case with the Georgian townhouses once backing onto slums and in Grotto Passage, round the corner from Marylebone High Street is a building that was once “the Grotto Ragged and Industrial School” with the signs for the separate entrances for boys and girls, only metres apart, still remaining.
Another reminder of Marylebone’s lost past is the Memorial Garden of Rest which was once the graveyard of the old incarnation of St Mary-by-the-Tyburn or St Marylebone church. These graves fixed to a wall and a monument to Wesley’s sister-in-law are now all that remains of the church where Byron was baptised.
The “new” church however looms large off the Marylebone road and is not your typical Anglican church. It turns out the church is currently hosting an art installation for Lent with works “inspired” by the Passion of Christ, soon to be auctioned to raise money for the Missing Tom Fund looking for missing ex-theology student Tom Moore. However, looking at many of the works of art, I felt that the presence of a crucifix was the only connecting factor these works have with the Passion of Christ. How does a work depicting Babyshambles singer Pete Doherty “crucified” because of his treatment in the media or a Star Wars stormtrooper on the cross actually relate to and properly reflect on the Passion? Perhaps I’ve missed something but I feel these are more attempts to create controversy for controversy’s sake using religion. Despite this criticism there were however some pieces that showed artistic talent and actually embodied the apparent aim of an installation for a good cause.
50 Wimpole Street, RIBA, BBC Broadcasting House and All Souls, Langham Place
Walking down nearby Wimpole Street I bumped into one of London’s eponymous blue (or in this case brown) plaques. These small snapshots into the history of the city are one of the most enjoyable aspects of roaming the capital’s streets. The one at No. 50 states “Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Poetess afterwards wife of Robert Browning lived here 1836-46” This is the house the invalid Barrett Browning eloped from before leaving for Florence and despite the phrasing of the plaque was still a poetess after her marriage.
Nearby on Portland Place lies the rather chunky and square Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) which has a free exhibition on Charles Rennie Mackintosh and interesting bookshop. Outside is an ongoing protest by the Chinese spiritual Falun Gong movement, effectively outlawed by the Communist party since 1999, mainly highlighting the government’s use of live organ donors. Why here? RIBA lies opposite the Chinese embassy which instead of the massive flag usually marking out an embassy instead has a strong police presence and small depiction of the national emblem above the door.
Around the corner lie two more interesting buildings – BBC Broadcasting House – a striking Art Deco building and modern extension which now is mainly home to BBC news, and the circular All Souls church which I sadly didn’t get to look inside. Anyway hopefully Marylebone is now more than a place with an unpronounceable name and station featuring on the Monopoly board. I leave you with this sneaky architectural detail which decorates the Langham hotel…