The History of Harley Street

When I first made steps to follow my dream of becoming a hypnotherapist, I always imagined myself working out of premises on London’s famous Harley Street. The rich history of this famous street and its recognition as the epicentre of therapeutic treatment in the UK drew me in, and I am proud to say that I have been practising hypnotherapy from my Harley Street surgery for the past 16 years.

Today, over 5000 specialists carry out their practices from premises on Harley Street, including doctors and therapists with specialisms ranging from cosmetic surgery to urology; from psychotherapy to spinal surgery. In fact, name just about any medical or therapeutic need, and you can be sure that you will find a highly qualified practitioner to meet this need on London’s famous Harley street!

 How did it all begin?

Harley Street has served as a hub of health expertise ever since the late 1800s.  

Prior to this, in 1713, an English politician named Edward Harley married the daughter of the Duke of Newcastle, who was heiress to 92 acres of land in what is now London’s Marylebone. Edward Harley began to develop this land with the help of architect John Prince, who designed and built a grid of townhouses here. Many of the streets of the Marylebone area were named after members of Harley’s extended family (for example Cavendish Street and Cavendish Square, named for Harley’s wife’s family). Harley Street was, of course, named after Edward Harley himself.  

At first, Marylebone was home to many professionals and members of smart society, who later began to move out to the more lavish areas of Mayfair and Belgravia. It was then, in the later 19th century, that doctors and other such medical professionals began to move into Marylebone. Many health professionals were drawn to live in Harley Street, including Florence Nightingale, who famously occupied Number One Harley Street from 1853. The houses were spacious and had plenty of rooms that could be used as consulting rooms, so it made sense for the specialists residing on the street to set up their practices in their homes.  

The ownership of the Marylebone area was passed down to Margaret Cavendish Harley, who married the second Duke of Portland. The area therefore became known as the Portland Estate, before being passed down to Lucy Joan Bentinck, widow of the 6th Baron Howard de Walden. Harley Street and the  the Harley Street Medical Area is now owned and managed by the Howard de Walden Estate, who work to preserve its rich history as well as promoting the excellence of the many clinics and surgeries which fill the area.

How did Harley Street grow and develop?

By 1873, there were 38 health professionals living and working from premises in London’s Harley Street and the surrounding area. The numbers steadily increased, and several of London’s important hospitals, including the London Clinic, opened in the vicinity.  

Eventually, and as transport links improved, the doctors and health specialists who had resided on Harley Street moved out into London’s suburbs, continuing to use their Harley Street townhouses for treating patients. This meant that there was more space available to be used as treatment rooms, and over the years that followed many thriving practices were expanded, with multiple specialists working together or renting premises next to one another.  Ever since, Harley Street and the surrounding Harley Street medical area have been known as London’s most prestigious hub of doctors and health clinics. 

Which famous practitioners have worked from premises in Harley Street?

Harley Street has been home to many of the world’s most notable medical experts, clinics and surgeries over the years. Some of these notable figures who lived on Harley Street and set up surgery there include Lionel Logue, who was a speech therapist hailing from Australia. Memorialised in the 2010 film ‘The King’s Speech’, Logue helped King George VI to overcome a debilitating stammer. Sir Morell Mackenzie treated the German Crown Prince Frederick III (son-in-law to Queen Victoria) for laryngeal disease from premises on Harley Street. Sir Harold Ridley, who was a pioneer in the world of ophthalmology, also lived on Harley Street, as did Charles Wilson, who was personal physician to Sir Winston Churchill.  

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog post and that it has taught you some more about the origins of London’s Harley Street. With all its vibrant history, it is easy to understand why practitioners such as myself gravitate towards the area even today. It is exciting to feel that we are treading in the footsteps of some medical and therapeutic giants, and I for one am proud to be part of such an important and thriving history of medical treatment.  

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