Thomas Hardwick and St Marylebone Parish Church

I took this photo from the gates on the south side of Regents Park. It is a royal park which is why there is a crown at the top of the gate post. The building is St Marylebone parish church. I love the gilded caryatids at the top but my camera doesn’t do justice to them I’m afraid.

The name Marylebone has to be broken down to be understood.  A church dedicated to St Mary was built near a bourne (or young river) called the Tyburn. It was called St Mary by the Bourne, a bit of a mouthful and the name evolved into St Marylebone. The Tyburn river rises in Hampstead. Today it is underground and flows through pipelines. Its route takes it under Regents Park, then it follows the course of Marylebone Lane to Oxford Street which it crosses at the present Stratford Place, then it travels down to St James Park. Water supplied by the Tyburn was used to create an artificial lake in St James’ Park. The Tyburn was once mostly above ground and around the St James Park area it split into two streams. One entered the Thames near Westminster Abbey while the other went toward the area of the present-day Vauxhall Bridge.   

This is the 4th church for the parish. The first was built in 1200 and was dedicated to St John. The parish was a small village near the Tyburn River at what is now the bottom of Marylebone Lane near Oxford Street.

In 1400 a new parish church was built near the Tyburn river here at the top end of Marylebone Lane. This church was dedicated to St Mary. The polymath, Francis Bacon was married in that church in 1606.

1740’s it was demolished and rebuilt. In 1778 Byron was christened in the third church and in 1803 Horatia Nelson was also christened there. Charles Wesley lived nearby at the end of his life and was buried in the church graveyard when he died in 1788. That church existed until WWII when it was damaged by bombing and later demolished. The site is now a garden. After 1817 it was no longer the parish church because a new one, the current St Marylebone was built next door.

In 1811 John Nash, the favourite architect of the Prince Regent was planning Regents Park and he wanted a new church as a focal point just outside. This church faces one of the park entrances for that reason. The architect was Thomas Hardwick (1752-1829) and it was finished in 1817. The poetess Elizabeth Barrett lived nearby in Wimpole Street. She eloped with Robert Browning and they were married here in 1846. I take people on walking tours of Marylebone and we stop at the church but you might like to click on this link to an in-house virtual tour which visits places we cannot normally see, like the roof of the building and the crypt, Tour (stmarylebone.org) Originally the crypt was used for burials but in 1987 the coffins were reburied in Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking and the crypt is now used as a Healing & Counselling Centre and chapel.

In 1814 Thomas Hardwick designed a chapel of ease for a new burial ground north of Regents Park. It later became the parish church for St John’s Wood. The graveyard behind is now a park and nature reserve. He also designed another church in Marylebone, Christ Church. He was helped by his son, Philip who was also an architect. It was completed in 1820. 

Incidentally, Thomas Hardwick was the architect of St Mary the Virgin church near my home in the north eastern London suburb of Wanstead. I have put together a virtual tour of Wanstead Park, a historical and lovely open space that where I often walk. There was a manor house here which once belonged to Robert Dudley and where he entertained Queen Elizabeth I. You can see from the photo below that the style is similar to the others but it was one of Hardwick’s early works, finished in 1790.

About the author: Gail Jones