Hidden London

Wimpole Street

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A “long unlovely street,” according to Tennyson, running north-south through central Marylebone and now best known for dentistry. Wimpole Hall is a palatial house in Cambridgeshire that belonged to the Harley family, developers of the Cavendish estate. Begun around 1724 Wimpole Street had just seven houses by the end of the decade. The statesman and political theorist Edmund Burke was living here in 1759, at a time when the street was beginning to fill with substantial, if uninspiring, terraces. Upper Wimpole Street was created after the closure of Marylebone Gardens in 1778. Like Harley Street and the rest of the neighbouring area, Wimpole Street soon attracted the cream of London’s fashionable society, before being colonised by doctors, mainly from the 1820s. Later still, the street gained popularity with opticians and dentists. Arthur Conan Doyle opened his ophthalmic practice in Upper Wimpole Street in 1891. The Royal Society of Medicine came to 1 Wimpole Street in 1912. The British Dental Association and the General Dental Council are both based in the street and private dental consultants still abound here.

A different kind of suffering has guaranteed the street’s place in history. Elizabeth Barrett was kept a virtual prisoner at 50 Wimpole Street by her tyrannical father before eloping to Italy with fellow poet Robert Browning in 1846. The story of The Barretts of Wimpole Street became the subject of a play and a 1934 film, remade in 1957 with John Gielgud as the patriarch. In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814), Mr Rushworth takes a house in Wimpole Street after his marriage. Professor Henry Higgins lives at 27a Wimpole Street in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Paul McCartney stayed at 57 Wimpole Street, the home of his girlfriend’s parents, from 1963 to 1966. He wrote I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Yesterday here.

click for area map (opens in a new window)
Wimpole Street, at the junction with New Cavendish Street

Postal district: W1

BDA website for dentists

Brewer's London Phrase & Fable

 
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