Hidden London

Great Portland Street

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Westminster

Not as grand-looking as it sounds, this commercial thoroughfare runs between Oxford Street and the eastern end of Marylebone Road, where Great Portland Street station is located. Like so many streets in the vicinity, its name was a product of the marriage of estate owner Margaret Cavendish Harley to the second Duke of Portland. The car showrooms for which the street was once renowned have been driven away by fashion wholesalers and office furnishers, although it remains home to the Retail Motor Industry Federation. And there’s still a Ryman’s, just as there was in 1893 when Henry J Ryman opened his very first stationery store. To the west, Portland Place runs parallel with Great Portland Street, joining Regent Street via a dog-leg at Langham Place, the site of Broadcasting House. The elliptical building was constructed in 1932 of ferro-concrete, aptly faced with Portland stone. For the interior, Eric Gill produced carvings and a free-standing relief of Prospero and Ariel.

Felix Mendelssohn stayed in Great Portland Street on his visits to London in the 1820s and 30s, at the home of a German iron merchant. Among the writers who lived here were James Boswell and Leigh Hunt. HG Wells was well acquainted with the area: it is the setting for events in both The Invisible Man and his lesser-known story The Crystal Egg. The Invisible Man boarded in “a large unfurnished room in a big ill-managed lodging-house in a slum near Great Portland Street.”

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The front elevation of Broadcasting House

Postal district: W1
Station: Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan Lines (Zone 1)

Brewer's London Phrase & Fable

 
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