Barbon Close, WC1N

Place Name

Dr Nicholas Barbon (about 1640 – 1698), the physician turned property developer who became one of London’s most prominent (not to mention unscrupulous) speculative builders of his time. His projects in this area include Red Lion Square and parts of nearby Bedford Row. As a result of developments along the The Strand, Bloomsbury, St Giles and Holborn, he was also responsible for joining the City to the seat of government at Westminster for the first time. The eldest son of preacher Praise-God Barebone (or Barbon), he, as was sometimes the case with dissident families during the 17thCentury, was reputedly given the baptismal name “If-Jesus-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned”. After qualifying as a doctor from Utrecht in the Netherlands in 1661 he turned to property development. In the wake of the Great Fire of London of 1666 he helped to pioneer the first Fire Insurance scheme, offering cover for up to 5,000 households. At the same time he started to buy or lease all the available building land near the ever-expanding City that he could lay his hands on. Gillian Bebbington in London Street Names, says “Landowners who listened to his glib persuasions often lived to regret it: under him mass-produced terraced houses, another innovation, soon sprang up – and sometimes fell down again as quickly. When he started to build Red Lion Square, the lawyers of Gray’s Inn were so angry that they marched in a body and assaulted the workmen. However, Barbon’s houses there and in Great Ormond Street near the entrance to Barbon Close are still standing.” In a rather varied career, Barbon was also active in politics in the 1690s, becoming MP of Sussex in 1690 and 1695, though this was largely to escape prosecution by his creditors, for he was by now heavily in debt after a banking initiative offering mortgages fell through. Another project involved trying to pump drinking water from the River Thames, to be piped to his new building developments. He patented a design in 1694, and tried to sell pumping rights alongside fire insurance contracts. Barbon acquired the permission to start developing this land, which had from the mid-16thCentury belonged to Rugby School, in around 1684, having already negotiated with the neighbouring Bedford estate to start developing there. Its development continued after his death through the early 18thCentury. On John Rocque’s 1746 map it was called Ormond Mewse. By 1869 it had been renamed Ormond Yard which was demolished and Barbon Close built in the 19thCentury.




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