diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 28, 2010

THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON
The River Tyburn
2) Regent's Park → Oxford Street


The River Tyburn exited Regent's Park further north than you might expect. The former stream never reached the final curl of the boating lake beyond the footbridge. Instead it slipped out of the park nearer Sussex Place, where the London Business School stands today, and fairly close to the northern end of Baker Street. This is the magnetic point that draws in tourists attempting to find 221B - a purely fictitious address, not that this stops the Sherlock Holmes Museum pretending to be based there. Inquisitive visitors ought to be suspicious that the entrance is located immediately between 237 Baker Street and 241 Baker Street, but most fail to spot the fiddle. [photo]

The Abbey National used to be based where Holmes' home should have been, but its HQ has recently been redeveloped into luxury apartments. At least they kept the tower. Here the Tyburn veered to the west of Baker Street, traversing the busy Marylebone Road across a very obvious dip in the land. It clipped Gloucester Place, somewhere in the vicinity of Algeria, Lithuania and Honduras (or at least their respective embassies). Then back to Baker Street through the middle of another former blue chip HQ - Michael House. Marks and Spencer was run from here for years, but bosses moved out in 2004 in favour of less austere offices on Paddington Basin. In its place is a vast new mixed use development, name of 55 Baker Street [photo], clad with a faceted glass lattice (best viewed from inside rather than out [photo]).

Next up, Marylebone proper. The Tyburn followed what's now Blandford Street, past the former bookseller where a young Michael Faraday spent eight years as an apprentice. Today it's an estate agents, obviously, but they've had the good grace to name themselves Faradays, and there's a proper non-blue plaque above the door [photo]. No, the Tudor Rose pub isn't Tudor, it's a 1930s pastiche. Blandford Street reaches Marylebone High Street at a pedestrian-friendly triple zebra crossing [photo]. Up the other end of the high street is St Mary's church, originally named after the river as "St Mary the Virgin, by the bourne". Bit long, that, so it was shortened to "St Mary le burn", and later to "St Marylebone". The Tyburn lives on, at least as a corrupted suffix.

On any modern map of the area, the one road which looks out of place is Marylebone Lane. Everything else is straight and griddy, and yet this backstreet meanders in errant curves. That's because it was once the country lane round here, and the Tyburn ran alongside. Today's it's a boutique-y street which Time Out likes feature all-too regularly in its "quirky shopping" features. Of note is the delicatessen/cafe owned by Paul Rothe & Son [photo], stacked with repetitive jars and still with a late Victorian sensibility. A pub halfway down used to have the very-relevant name of "The Conduit of Tybourne" [photo], but under new ownership has recently reverted to the more-original "Coach Makers". Then there's the unique Button Queen [photo], located at the precise point where the Tyburn veered right to leave the lane. This fragile blue store used to be a wildly out-of-time stockist of all things buttony, but has recently been demolished to make way for new development. The business survives across the road, you'll be glad to hear, but with regrettably less charm.

The line of the river crosses Wigmore Street to pass into St Christopher's Place - a favourite midweek haunt for shopaholic ladies who lunch. This narrows to a tiny alleyway [photo] before emerging somewhere you'll definitely recognise - the heart of Oxford Street [photo]. More specifically, the gentle dip in the road located close to Bond Street station, slightly downhill from the Disney Store on one side of the valley and Selfridges on the other. Shoppers on London's most famous retail thoroughfare probably don't realise that Oxford Street was called Tyburn Road up until the early 18th century, at which point it was renamed after the university town 50 miles straight on past Marble Arch.

The City of London is a couple of miles away from here, but medieval residents obtained their drinking water from this particular stretch of the Tyburn. Lead pipes were laid from here to Cheapside during the reign of Henry III, and these eventually developed into a series of nine conduits that survived several centuries. Conduit Street, between New Bond Street and Regent Street, is still named after what's probably London first public utility supply system. Nowadays the only alleged appearance of sparkling Tyburn water hereabouts is in the basement of Grays Antiques [photo]. 200 dealers have stalls in this collectibles complex (which is located just around the back of Bond Street station), and those in the Mews building share floorspace with a most unusual water feature [photo]. A shallow channel, filled with golden fish, runs from one end of the basement to the other and is crossed by a small arched bridge in the centre [photo]. The owners assure visitors that this is the actual Tyburn, and absolutely not an ornamental culvert fed by water from the mains. It could, I suppose, be fed by groundwater seeping from the surrounding clay, but I fear it's nothing more than a damned good bit of marketing.

Following the Tyburn: Outer Circle, Sussex Place, Baker Street, Glentworth Street, Marylebone Road, Gloucester Place, Blandford Street, Marylebone Lane, Jason Court, St Christopher's Place, Gees Court, Oxford Street.


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