By Jim Clayson
Historians are uncertain about the foundation of Oxford Market (on the corner of Great Titchfield Street and Market Place). They are also foggy about its demise. Walford’s London Old and New claims: “It was erected in 1721, as shown by the date in the brass vane which surrounds its centre.”
Harold Phillips’ book Mid-Georgian London points out that: “It first appears on a plan of Marylebone by John Prince in 1719.” He notes, however, that it “does not appear in the rate books until 1724, when it had only six stalls”.
The authoritative London Encyclopedia describes it simply as “a small arcaded building east of Great Portland Street…built in 1721.” Patent letters for its formal establishment were not issued until 1731, objections having been raised by the owners of Carnaby Market, just south of Oxford Street. More recent chroniclers are also unclear.
Richard Thames in his London We Have Lost follows the Encyclopedia claiming that it was built in 1721. Brandon and Brooke Marylebone and Tyburn Past give the 1731 date.
Yet it was clearly there some years before, for the Daily Post reported in July 1728 that:
“On Thursday Night Mr Hetherington of Knightsbridge, formerly a Tallyman…….tumbled into an unguarded Area near the New Market by Oxford Square, and was unfortunately kill’d by the fall.”
Two years later the London Journal informed its readers: “We hear that Dr.Backnall, who has done great Services to Mankind in Cases of Lowness of Spirits; Melancholy and Lunacy, is removed from Davis-Street…to Castle-Street by Oxford Market, near Oxford Road, Mary-le bone Fields.”
And it was clearly well established in 1733 when the Trustees of the newly formed Company for “Establishing a Colony in Georgia” selected “William Forshaw and Family of John-street near Oxford Market” to go there. [John Street was the name until 1794 of that part of Great Portland Street between Margaret Street and Oxford Street]. It is not quite clear how enthusiastic they were about the venture.
Working from the rate books, Phillips suggests “the market expanded rapidly. In 1727 the stall-holders increased to 18…Towards 1750 it became necessary to construct outbuildings….” The original hexagonal structure of wood was demolished in 1816 and the market rebuilt as shops. Accommodation was provided above these premises, presumably intended for the shopkeepers.
This brought about increased returns for the Estate, profits from the market had been roughly £300 a year in 1815 and 1816. In 1818 they were £500. One regular customer at the new premises was Arthur Thistlewood, soon to be executed for his part in the 1820 Risings. A Constable was deputed to watch out for his presence. In common with many public spaces in London, the Market had become a centre of radical activity. Tracts were sold there, along with street ballads.
The fabric of the Marketplace degenerated in the nineteenth century. Walford remarks: “It is called by the painter [James] Barry ‘the most classic of London Markets’ but it is …difficult to see in what its ‘classic’ nature consists”. Barry had lived very close to it. But the market that he knew had long since disappeared by the time Walford wrote. Underinvestment by private owners, the blight of public services, had wrought its toll.
Phillips tells us “it was pulled down ..in 1880,” while the Encyclopedia states, presumably following Walford: “It was closed and demolished in 1876.” Tames, suggests it was closed and demolished in 1876. Brandon and Brooke agree that it was closed in that year, but “was demolished in 1880.”
The Estate Records show trading there was virtually unchanged in the period 1875-1880, with many tenants retaining their their holdings right to the end. By September 1881 a J Osborn was receiving an allowance as “late Attendant at Oxford Market.”
Internal memos of the London County Council, complete the story of the site to 1949: “Oxford Mansions which replaced it were built about 1900. Kent House which now occupies the site was put up in 1938-9. Plans, based on Ordnance Survey maps show it to be on the South West corners of Great Titchfield and Castle Street (now Eastcastle Street). These also contain a sketch of the Market building dated about 1850.
A single structure, that could have known the original Market buildings, remains.
Thanks to the archivists at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, London Metropolitan Archives and Westminster City Archives for their time and (great) trouble given in assistance with this piece