Building the New Road in 1757

Until the late 1750s Oxford Street and Piccadilly were the only two roads into London from the west. They had to take all the traffic to the City of London including the unruly herds of cattle and sheep being driven to Smithfield for slaughter. Every day there were quarrels between shopkeepers and drovers as cattle blundered into shops. The congestion became unbearable. What was needed was a completely new road through the fields north of Oxford Street. Incidentally, this would open up the whole of Marylebone for estates of good houses, but this was not its original purpose. Indeed., the Bill giving permission for the New Road was strongly opposed by the Duke of Bedford, who owned the large estate which included Bedford Square and who would eventually profit enormously by the development. Horace Walpole wrote:-

'A new road has been proposed through Paddington to avoid the "stones", (the paved streets of London which were so congested). The Duke of Bedford, who is never in town in summer, objects to the dust it will make in front of Bedford House and some of the houses proposed, though, if he were in town, he is too short sighted to see the prospect.'

Although the Duke's amendment opposing the Bill was rejected, a clause was added prohibiting the erection of buildings within fifty feet of the road. As a result, the houses were built with very long front gardens, making the road 'one of the finest avenues in the metropolis'.

The New Road ran from Edgware Road, through King's Cross and The Angel, Islington, to the City. Today it is called Marylebone Road, Euston Road, Pentonville Road and City Road. The long front gardens made possible the unusual widths of these roads and, when the time came to build the Metropolitan Underground Railway under the centre of the road by 'cut and cover', there was plenty of room between the houses. Gradually road widening has taken away the front gardens until today none remain.

More on the New Road in the ‘The Angel Centre’ in the group of articles on Islington.

We think of road building as a complicated civil engineering enterprise, but the New Road was a simple affair. The ground was gravel, so it drained well and offered good going for coaches and drays. A few ditches were filled in and streams culvetted, fences built on either side, toll. houses built at frequent intervals and the road was completed within a few months, to open in 1757.

pic23
View of the New Road looking north from Devonshire Street
towards Hampstead and Highgate.

After a drawing by Hieronymus Grim in Westminster City Archive.

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Updated October 18, 2011