Lisson Grove

Lisson Grove, Westminster

A cosmopolitan locality situated south of St John’s Wood – and a street running parallel with Edgware Road

Lisson Grove Sea Shell, seen in November 2015

The local­i­ty was known as Lis­son Green until it became urbanised. One Lon­don street atlas still shows both place names, with Lis­son Green lying to the east of Lis­son Grove, but most author­i­ties now treat the whole area as Lis­son Grove.

This was once part of the medieval manor of Lile­stone, which stretched north to Hamp­stead. Lis­son Green was a ‘lit­tle manor’ that broke away as ear­ly as 1236, with its own manor house and one carue (c.100 acres) of land.

The hamlet’s first attrac­tion was the York­shire Stin­go pub­lic house – which was prob­a­bly vis­it­ed by Samuel Pepys in 1666, on a flir­ta­tious out­ing with a mer­ry wid­ow.

In the mid-18th cen­tu­ry the arrival of London’s orig­i­nal bypass, the New Road, improved the area’s acces­si­bil­i­ty and Lis­son Green began to expand. The vil­lage faced Edg­ware Road, with the green itself behind – the two Edg­ware Road tube sta­tions are at oppo­site ends of the settlement’s ear­ly extent.

The Aus­tri­an com­pos­er Joseph Haydn sought the seclu­sion of a Lis­son Green farm­house for the sum­mer of 1791, dur­ing his three-year stay in Eng­land.

By the time of the con­struc­tion of the Regent’s Canal in 1810, the present street plan had been laid out and Lis­son Grove was lined with stuc­coed hous­es towards its south­ern end, while a white lead man­u­fac­to­ry oper­at­ed fur­ther north. Among those mov­ing here for the coun­try air were sev­er­al artists and writ­ers, most of whom lat­er decamped to St John’s Wood.

Sir Edward Bak­er (who gave his name to Bak­er Street) acquired the south­ern part of Lis­son Green in 1821 and built large blocks of flats as an exten­sion of Maryle­bone, but fur­ther north the area began to decline as unscrupu­lous land­lords put up shod­dy hous­es and over­filled them with poor ten­ants, espe­cial­ly Irish labour­ers. The local­i­ty became filthy, dis­ease-rid­den and, in parts, crim­i­nal.

The jour­nal­ist George Augus­tus Sala remem­bered his child­hood here in the 1830s, when “the prin­ci­pal pub­lic build­ings were pawn­bro­kers and ‘leav­ing shops’, low pub­lic hous­es and beer­shops, and cheap under­tak­ers.” In 1885 the case of 13-year-old Eliza Arm­strong, who was sold to a broth­el keep­er for £5, caused such an out­cry that the law was changed – and so was the name of the street where she lived (from Charles Street to Ranston Street), such was the dis­hon­ourable rep­u­ta­tion it had gained.

Phil­an­thropists turned their atten­tion to Lis­son Grove in the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tu­ry and built arti­sans’ cot­tages and airy ten­e­ments in place of the squalid slums, though the local­i­ty remained poor. On the cor­ner of Broadley Ter­race the Arti­sans’, Labour­ers’ and Gen­er­al Dwellings Com­pa­ny erect­ed Port­man Build­ings in 1887; these have now been replaced by the lux­u­ry apart­ments of Port­man Gate.

In the late 1890s, the con­struc­tion of the rail­way line into Maryle­bone sta­tion sep­a­rat­ed Lis­son Grove from Regent’s Park, bring­ing decline to its traders. The Port­man mar­ket on Church Street closed in 1906 but trad­ing con­tin­ued at the road­side.

After the First World War din­ing rooms at 35 Lis­son Grove became a fish bar, which was called the Sea Shell from 1964. Now relo­cat­ed to the cor­ner of Shro­ton Street and shown in the pho­to­graph at the top of the page, the restau­rant is one of London’s best-known pur­vey­ors of fish and chips.

The Lisson Green estate, c.2004

Munic­i­pal author­i­ties took over from the phil­an­thropists in the 20th cen­tu­ry, build­ing the Lile­stone estate before and after the Sec­ond World War and com­plet­ing the Lis­son Green estate (shown in the pho­to above) in 1974. The lat­ter has since been exten­sive­ly revamped, cor­rect­ing seri­ous flaws in the orig­i­nal plan and its exe­cu­tion.

Present­ly locat­ed at 27 and 52 Bell Street, the Lis­son Gallery has rep­re­sent­ed some of the world’s best-known con­tem­po­rary artists dur­ing its 50-year exis­tence.

The historical painter Benjamin Haydon described a Lisson Grove dinner party with William Wordsworth, John Keats and Charles Lamb at which Lamb got drunk and berated the ‘rascally Lake poet’ for calling Voltaire a dull fellow.

In Shaw’s play Pygmalion Eliza Doolittle comes from Lisson Grove. She left because it wasn’t fit for a pig to live in, and she had to pay four-and-six a week.

Postal district: NW1
Further reading: E McDonald and D J Smith, Pineapples and Pantomimes: A History of Church Street and Lisson Green, Westminster Libraries, 1992