There’s Something about Mary(lebone)

No-one is in agreement with how the place Marylebone is pronounced – Marleybun, Marrylebun, Marylebone, Marrybone – and this indecision is echoed in the early newspaper reference to the first pupils. Mary Ann Fiske, it tells us, lived in ‘St. Mary-le-bone’ at the corner of ‘Marybone-lane’. In the space of six words, it is spelled in two different ways!

Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, Jan 1789

Marylebone Lane, one of the original streets of the Marylebone district, runs from Oxford Street in the south to Marylebone High Street in the north. Its sinuous shape contrasts strongly with other streets laid out in a grid pattern, a legacy of their being developed together. The lane originally followed the course of the River Tyburn.

‘While most of Marylebone dresses rather formally, with grand streets laid out in a stiff grid, Marylebone Lane is the stubborn old man who turns up in grubby chords [sic] and comfortable shoes, far too hoary and set in his ways to care. While its neighbours are all about straight lines and right angles, this most ancient of highways is defined instead by its distinctive lazy wiggle.’—marylebone-lane

The modern street map shows the contrast particularly well and gives it today a charm missing from its neighbours.

Marylebone gets its name from a church dedicated to St Mary built on the bank of a small stream or bourne, called the Tybourne or Tyburn. The church then became known as St Mary at the bourn – or Marylebone. The Ty- prefix is derived from Anglo-Saxon teo a word meaning boundary. Watercourses were often used as boundaries between districts, just as gallows were often erected beside them. The name Tyburn is probably most often recalled as a place of execution near to where Marble Arch now stands. The village of Tyburn is recorded in the Domesday Book and stood at the end of what is now Oxford Street, formerly called Tyburn Road. What is now Park Lane was once Tyburn Lane. That should cause a lot of confusion in a Monopoly game.

The earliest written mention of the Tyburn dates back to around 785 AD. The brook that is the Tyburn is not be confused with Tyburn Brook which is a tributary of the Westbourne and not connected to the Tyburn River! ( It’s hardly surprising non-English people find the British way of life confusing. The R. Tyburn today mostly flows underground and is connected into Bazalgette’s great sewerage system. It runs along a pipe in Baker St station and through an open rill near Grey’s antiques (complete with goldfish!). It also flows underneath Buckingham Palace before it finally emerges in an outfall at the Thames.

Like the ancient village of Tyburn, Marylebone originally ‘was a small village, nearly a mile distant from any part of the metropolis.’ Daniel Lysons, ‘Marylebone’, in The Environs of London: Volume 3, County of Middlesex (London, 1795), pp. 242-279. British History Online [accessed 5 March 2019].

The earliest development was in the early to mid 1720s at the south end, along the east branch into Oxford Street, on the future Marshall & Snelgrove site. (

There is something rather deliciously cyclical that ‘the future Marshall & Snelgrove’ later became Debenhams after Marshall & Snelgrove ran into financial difficulty in 1819 and now, one hundred years later, Debenhams itself is in financial difficulty!

Image from Mary Evans picture library

Where exactly on Marylebone Lane Mary Ann Fiske lived is an unknown. We are told it is ‘Stationer, corner of Marylebone Lane’. In a roadway that curves and winds its way south, precisely which corner of many is unclear. There is a later reference to a stationer, Henry Somerfield, who had Nos 15-17 Marylebone Lane built for him. However, these buildings, demolished in 2010, were built in 1890-1 so long, long after the Fiskes were there.

One of four daughters of Jonathan and Prudence Fiske, Mary Ann – usually referred to as Ann – was born on 16th October 1782 and baptised on Dec 1st of that year.

London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P89/MRY1/008


This first reference to her is the only one before her admission to the School. However in 1781, her father appeared at the Old Bailey in 1781, indicted for forgery

Session Papers of the Old Bailey OB/SP/1781 London Metropolitan Archives

He was found not guilty in May 1781. In July of the same year, he published an account of the trial in which he not only made clear his opinion of his accuser but cast aspersions about him which would have lawyers licking their lips today – and maybe then too.

Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, London, England, 7 July 1781

Of course, the cunningly disguised name of the prosecutor and his alleged mistress might just have saved his bacon …

What is interesting is that this was printed for J Fiske but also for four other booksellers which implies that they were a mutually supportive group. Fiske’s address is given as Edward St, Portman Square at this time but by the time he was applying for Mary Ann to attend the School, the family was in Marylebone Lane. Had they moved because of indigence? In 1828, Prudence Fiske, Jonathan’s widow, is listed as a bookseller in Wigmore St (next to which Portman Square can be found), so it is unclear whether they kept moving or had several premises. Between 1784 and 1811 Jonathan paid rent in Marylebone Lane and if this were one of several ‘outlets’, one has to assume a lack of indigence, but the fact remains that during this period he applied for his daughter’s attendance at the School and was successful in that application. By 1799, Jonathan had again achieved respectability – if he had ever lost it – when he was appointed foreman of the jury, his name being cited in a coroner’s inquest of that year.

London Lives, Culture & Society 1680-1817 MJ/SP/C/W London Metropolitan Archives

Mary Ann had eight siblings although the last two of these were born after she was attending the School in Somers Place East, so perhaps it was the large size of the family that made her eligible. Unfortunately the Rough Minute Book, which lists details of ten of the candidates for the first admission, does not include any reference to Mary Ann Fiske so we are not party to the thinking behind her inclusion.

Unlike the last Mary Ann this blog focused on – who had a rather unladylike turn of phrase it would appear – Mary Ann Fiske seems to have passed her time at the School blamelessly. She did leave ‘before her time was due to expire’ however. In 1794, we are told that ‘In consideration of the peculiar circumstances of this child’ she was returned home with the sum of £10 and no further claims on the Charity. Her father was asked to collect her. This was a considerable sum of money for the time and is an indication that she was not leaving in any disgrace, for which she would have been dismissed summarily with no payment. A month later, her mother wrote to the Committee expressing gratitude and in this communication lies a hint of the reason the child left. Her mother wrote that ‘Ann’s health seemed very precarious for since she had been at home she had had frequent relapses of the disorder with which she was afflicted’.

We will never know what affliction she was suffering from in 1792. However, lest one might imagine that a burial record would be the next document found, it might come as a surprise to discover that Mary Ann Fiske actually died in 1862, some 70 years after she left with an affliction! In fact many of the family lived to ripe old ages. Prudence (the mother) was 96 when she died, Mary Ann 82 and Thomas Hammond Fiske, the brother whose home she shared at least between 1841 and 1861, was 83.

Jonathan (the father) died in 1823 in Marylebone and was buried on the 4th February (the ditto, ditto in the record).

London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P89/mry1/326

Although, of course, we cannot be certain this is ‘our man’, it should be noted that the 1841 census does not find him with the rest of his family. Furthermore, Prudence is listed as a bookseller at Wigmore St in the 1828 Pigot’s directory which implies that it was a family business that Prudence took responsibility for after her husband’s death. The 1841 census did not record marital status so we do not know if Prudence was widowed but it seems likely. She is recorded, as are two of her daughters, as ‘Ind’. It might, however, explain why the Fiskes upped sticks and moved to Portsmouth if the head of the family had died. Mary Ann is sharing the household of her brother Thomas Hammond Fiske and it is in Portsmouth on 4th June 1862 that she dies and is buried, her address being given as the High St.

So from Marylebone Lane to High Street, Portsmouth, her life is mapped out albeit with tantalising gaps that one longs to fill!