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HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT

The development of the 102 hectares of Lord Portman's Marylebone Estate started in the middle of the 18th century. Henry William Portman succeeded to the estate in 1761 and started to develop the estate after the Peace of 1763. The layout of the squares and associated streets was not to a grand plan but rather, the existing framework of streets determined the general shape and size of the squares.

In about 1764 work started on Portman Square, the largest square in the development, named after the family estate of Orchard Portman in Somerset. The building of the houses was done speculatively, with the south side first, followed by the west and east sides, all by Abraham and Samuel Adams. The north side was started in 1774 and was the most ambitious of the sides. It included James Stuart's Montagu House of 1777-1782, Home House (no 20) by Robert Adam, built as a uniform block with no 21 (by James Adam for William Locke, now the RIBA Drawings Collection and Heinz Gallery), and further houses by James Wyatt. The central garden was formed in 1780 when an Act of Parliament was passed, by which trustees were appointed for its regulation and upkeep. A watercolour by Gingal (1794) shows the north side of the square with the garden enclosed by iron railings and the level site planted with mature shrubs and young trees. Horwood's map of 1799 shows the square complete with the enclosed garden. The site was laid out with a central shrub bed flanked to the north and south by a triangular bed. A perimeter path encircled the garden with secondary paths bordering the flanking beds and encircling the central bed. Although Stanford's map of 1887 and Bacon's map of 1888 indicate some alterations to the garden, the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey (OS), 1894-1896, shows the design similar to that depicted on the 1st edition OS (1867) with the addition of a fenced in area in the shrubbery to the north of the southern entrance.

The design of Portman Square had not altered from its 18th layout when the 1919 edition of the OS was published and in 1927 a report to the Royal Commission on London Squares described it as an oblong area surrounded by a low privet hedge and a thick shrubbery. The main part of the garden was attractively laid out with well kept lawns and shrubberies. Buildings on the south and east sides of the square were rebuilt in the 1920s and 1930s, and the square suffered further losses during World War II including the destruction of Montagu House by bombing, and the removal of the railings. The garden was reinstated by 1953 but the paths were laid out to an altered design.

Site timeline

1764: Work started on Portman Square.

1939 to 1945: The square suffered further losses during World War II including the destruction of Montagu House by bombing, and the removal of the railings.

1945 to 1953: The garden was reinstated but the paths were laid out to an altered design.