Wimpole Street, Westminster
A ‘long unlovely street’, according to Tennyson, running north–south through central Marylebone and now best known for dentistry
The street is named after Wimpole Hall, a palatial house in Cambridgeshire that belonged to the Harley family, developers of the Cavendish estate – which takes in much of this part of Marylebone. Begun around 1724, Wimpole Street had just seven houses by the end of the decade.
The Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke was living here in 1759, at a time when the street was beginning to fill with substantial, if uninspiring, terraced houses. Upper Wimpole Street was created after the closure of Marylebone Gardens in 1778.
Like Harley Street and the rest of the immediate area, Wimpole Street at first attracted the cream of London’s fashionable society. Then, from the 1820s onwards, doctors began to open consulting rooms here.
Former nurse Ethel Manson moved into 20 Upper Wimpole Street when she married Dr Bedford Fenwick in 1887. After years of campaigning for better training for nurses and for a system of state registration, Ethel Gordon Fenwick became ‘Nurse No.1’ when the register eventually opened.
In addition to its colony of doctors, Wimpole Street later gained popularity with dentists and opticians. Arthur Conan Doyle opened his ophthalmic practice in Upper Wimpole Street in 1891. He began writing short stories when, “five or six months later, … not one single patient had ever crossed the threshold” [a colourful exaggeration that he later contradicted]. The photo below shows a medical history tour in Upper Wimpole Street outside the building in which Conan Doyle practised.
Wimpole Street’s most distinctive structure, Wimpole House, was built in 1892–3 at the junction with New Cavendish Street. The creator of this Victorian Gothic Renaissance extravagance in pink terracotta was Charles H Worley.
The Royal Society of Medicine came to No.1 Wimpole Street in 1912. The society’s library possesses more than half a million volumes from the last six centuries and also has a collection of portraits, photographs and manuscripts. With proof of identity and on payment of a small fee, anyone can become a temporary member and use the library for reference purposes.
The British Dental Association and the General Dental Council are both based in the street. Open on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, the BDA Museum at 64 Wimpole Street tells the story of how dentistry has developed from a marketplace spectacle to the complex procedures and treatment of today. Admission is free.
Wimpole Street is also home to the London Cataract Centre.
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 play 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.
Postal district: W1