Wimpole Street

Wimpole Street, Westminster

A ‘long unlovely street’, according to Tennyson, running north–south through central Marylebone and now best known for dentistry

View up Wimpole Street - geograph-2929433-by-Robert-Lamb

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.

Hidden London: Medical history tour in Upper Wimpole Street, by ceridwen

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 martket­place spec­ta­cle to the com­plex pro­ce­dures and treat­ment of today. Admis­sion is free.

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


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* The view up Wimpole Street from Wigmore Street at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Robert Lamb, and the picture of a medical history tour in Upper Wimpole Street is adapted from an original photograph, copyright ceridwen, both at Geograph Britain and Ireland and made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse of either image is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.