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Iconic streets: Wimpole Street

Tue 03 Mar 2015

Flanked by Harley Street and Marylebone High Street, Wimpole Street combines the tradition and prestige of

being in the heart of London's historical medical district with the desirability of an address in a new addition to

prime central London: the unstoppably popular Marylebone Village.

At first glance

This long, straight street of five or six-storey terraced properties has a genteel elegance about it. The faades

along Wimpole Street are mainly Edwardian or Georgian, with the odd 1950s or 1960s luxury apartment block in

between - though as you head southwards towards its busier end approaching Oxford Street, the architecture

becomes increasingly diverse.

Given the number of dentists, doctors and other private healthcare experts who seek the prestige of this address

as their London headquarters, it's easy to forget that this is also a residential street - and one that, while never out

of fashion, is now becoming more desirable. That's due largely to Howard De Walden Estate's model

regeneration of Marylebone, which breathed new life into the high street and made it a place the wealthy wanted

to live again. Yet there is still relative value for money in Wimpole Street. While Mayfair's house prices routinely

exceed 3,000 per sq ft, Wimpole Street's still average around 2,000 per sq ft.

You can still find the odd property for under 1m. Marsh & Parsons currently has a one-bed garden flat on the

market for 850,000. A house - when they ever come on the market - will cost around 20m. In between, Knight

Frank is offering a four-bedroom maisonette with a roof terrace and lift for 10.95m or there's a two-bedroom flat

with a roof terrace for sale with Sandfords for 2.495m.

"As beautiful and impressive as these houses may be, the lack of internal lifts and planning inflexibility hampers

their desirability but makes for good value," says Jazmin Atkins of buying agency Prime Purchase. "A fair amount

of land is owned by the Crown and De Walden Estates, which means freeholds are few and far between. But this

makes for continuity. The unchanging nature of doorways, staircases and rooflines is still in evidence.

"Those rare freehold units that do come up for sale can be found on the quieter northern end nearer Regent's

Park," Atkins adds. The rest, if not medical premises, are divided into apartments - but they lose little of their

grand dimensions.

"The buildings are really good examples of Georgian architecture at its best, many with wonderful staircases,

beautifully proportioned rooms and exquisite ornate ceilings," comments Rachel Thompson, partner at The

Buying Solution, Knight Frank's dedicated property buying service.

So who buys in Wimpole Street? "Old money from all over Europe and the UK - and parents with aspirations for

their children to build a successful medical career," comments Stephen Lovelady, sales manager at Foxtons

Marylebone. "Modern families," says Thompson, are increasingly making it their home. "The properties are often

three windows wide, so they have a greater width than many London townhouses."

Why iconic?

Lord Tennyson may have called it a "long unlovely street" in his poem Dark House, but many others over the last

200 years have found Wimpole Street to be a rich source of inspiration for literature, plays, music and film.

The Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett lived unhappily with her family at number 50 before she eloped to Italy with

Robert Browning in 1846. The street became famous from the play The Barretts of Wimpole Street, based on

their relationship, and a film starring Sir John Gielgud followed.

Virginia Woolf described it as, "the most august of London streets, the most impersonal. Indeed, when the world

seems tumbling to ruin, and civilisation rocks on its foundations, one has only to go to Wimpole Street".

And Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle turned to writing as a sideline after business was reportedly

slow at the ophthalmic practice he opened on Upper Wimpole Street in 1891.

British music may have been without some of its anthems had it not been for Wimpole Street. Paul McCartney

moved into number 57 with Jane Asher in 1964-66, writing I Want to Hold Your Hand in the basement with John

Lennon and Yesterday from the attic.

Among the fictitious characters to inhabit the street are Mr Rushworth in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and

Professor Henry Higgins, who lives at 27a in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.

It's an illustrious list, worthy of the street's name, which was taken from Wimpole Hall, a palatial house in

Cambridgeshire that belonged to the Harley family, developers of land that now forms the De Walden estate. But

when the street was built, around 1724, it had rather less wow factor. By the end of the decade, there were still

only seven houses and an early resident was the Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke.

The area began to attract London's fashionable set, then from the 1820s, the doctors moved in, followed by

dentists and opticians. Some of the street's most distinct buildings followed, including Wimpole House, an

elaborate Victorian Gothic Renaissance creation built in 1892, and the Edwardian baroque No 1, built in 1912 as

home to the Royal Society of Medicine. It's still there and, for a small fee, anyone can browse the reference

library's half a million volumes. Wimpole Street's other medical residents include the cosmetic treatments guru Dr

Jean-Louis Sebagh's clinic and dentists Dawood & Tanner.

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