This is a short alley in Marylebone that used to be a lot longer and lead to lots of terraced housing that no longer exists.

The alley and much of the surrounding area owes its existence to the property development of farmland owned by the Portman family who had owned the land since the 16th century. The area was fields in 1799, but within 30 years, it was densely packed housing.

What is today Seymour Place was at the time called Bowling Green Place, after the nearby former bowling green that had been built upon. However, there’s no absolute evidence that Virgil Place existed at the time, and is likely to have been added during later rebuilding.

Virgil Place did however certainly exist by the 1860s, as it shows up clearly in an OS map of the time, as a longer passageway at the southern end of a development of terraces housing. The name is classical, and there are a number of local streets with classically inspired names, such as Cato Street and Homer Street.

The area was mostly undamaged during the war.

Although Virgil Place sits within the Portman Estate Conservation Area, the Portman Estate itself no longer owns the land after a large swathe was sold in 1948 to settle death duties of 76% of the value of the inheritance. Now that it was owned by different landlords, most of the housing in the block was cleared in the early 1960s for a school to be built, the St Mary’s Bryanston Square C of E School. The school had been founded in 1824 in nearby York Street, but was damaged during WW2, and moved to the current site in 1969.

It’s at that point that the eastern three quarters of Virgil Place ceased to exist, having been swallowed up by the school.

Westminster Council’s Portman Estate Conservation Area report describes the school as a negative feature of the area.

The alley today leads off Seymour Place and is bounded by two Victorian corner shops, and although owned by different companies, both maintain a similar decorative colour scheme, giving a relatively pleasing continuity to the area.

There are residential flats above the two shops, with their entrances down the alley.

The alley though is remarkably short now, being almost a stump of a lane considering its former long length, and quickly ends at Walmer Place with the school that ate the alley just about visible over the end wall.

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  1. Brian Butterworth says:

    Ian… when you have a moment, could you perhaps organize these wonderful places to visit on a day out into some “walking tours”?

    London is full of so many of these odd places, as you describe, but if they were made into tours they would be more .. practicable.

    • JP says:

      It’s probably a closed shop ~ the most ancient and peculiar order of secret passage guides of Olde Londonium. Or something.
      I’d pay good money though for a stroll through the streets and your knowledge Ian.

  2. Ray Cutler says:

    I was among the first pupils at that school in 1969 which was my final year. It was a world apart from the old building which had a wealth of features, charm and friendly ghosts (it seemed!) The lunchtime meals didn’t improve any over the old school and so I still went home for lunch.

    It was a very enjoyable period of my life which was brought crashing down to Planet Reality when I started at Rutherford Comprehensive. 😳

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