The Streets Of London – Part Seventy Three

Marylebone Road, NW1

Traffic congestion is nothing new to Londoners. What is now known as Marylebone Road, running in a westerly direction from Euston Road at the south-eastern corner of Regent’s park to the A40 Westway at Paddington, can be fairly described as London’s first bypass.

For centuries the only approach into London from the north was via St Giles, High Holborn and Newgate. The growth of wheeled traffic in the 18th century which mixed with pedestrians and droves of animals en route to be sold and slaughtered at Smithfield meant that travel times deteriorated dramatically. A coach journey from Grosvenor Square to the Bank of England could take upwards of two hours to complete. Something had to be done.

It is salutary to remember that at the time, 1755, St Marylebone, Paddington and Islington were each separate villages, yet to be absorbed into the great wen that the metropolis was to become. Worthies from the three villages petitioned Parliament for the construction of a turnpike road for the use of drovers and their animals, the route designed to steer them from the crowded thoroughfares of central London and offering a more direct route to the Smithfield market.

Despite opposition from the Duke of Bedford, the bill received Royal assent in May 1756. Responsibility for the upkeep and the collection of tolls was split between two existing turnpike trusts, St Marylebone for the stretch running from Edgware Road to Tottenham Court and the Islington trust for the road between Tottenham Court and the Angel. Construction requirements were specified – the road had to be a minimum of 40 feet wide, although when it was built it was 60 feet wide and no building was allowed to encroach within 50 feet of the road. After all, you wouldn’t want cows nuzzling against your front door.

The New Road, as it was known, proved an instant success, raising £400 in tolls for the Marylebone Trust in 1757, an amount which rose to £700 in 1764. In 1769 the road was extended south-eastwards to Old Street and terminated near Moorgate. The Trusts employed watchmen to guard travellers against the predations of highwaymen who lurked in the neighbouring countryside.

Inevitably the road became the new northern boundary for the City and soon properties were built north of Oxford Street and High Holborn to create what we know today as Marylebone and Bloomsbury. The prohibition of building within 50 feet of the road was studiously upheld. But the growth of population and the demand for accommodation was such that in the 1780s Somers Town and Pentonville were built beyond the boundaries of the New Road. The urbanisation of rural London was underway.

The road, which originally was little more than a gravelled track, was eventually metalled and by the time George Shilibeer launched London’s first horse omnibus service from the road, it was bordered by fashionable houses. From that time onwards it became one of the main arterial routes for London’s traffic and the optimistic thoughts that it would relieve traffic were thwarted. It is ever ths with by-passes.

In 1857 the New Road was renamed and split into three, becoming Marylebone Road, Euston Road and Pentonville Road. Its route was followed by London’s first underground line, built in 1863, the Metropolitan Railway which linked up Paddington and Kings Cross stations.

The road was at the forefront of London’s growth.


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