Dombey Street, WC1N

Place Name

Originally East Street it was changed in 1936 in relation to the nearby New North Street but later named after Charles Dickens’s characters. Gillian Bebbington in London Street Names writes: “One wonders why; the plot of Dombey and Son has no connection with this area.” The most likely explanation is that they sought inspiration from the author’s first marital home not too far away at 48 Doughty Street. The book follows the fortunes of a shipping firm owner, Paul Dombey, who is frustrated at the lack of a son to follow him in his footsteps; he initially rejects his daughter’s love before eventually becoming reconciled with her before his death. The street was built in the 17thCentury by the unscrupulous Dr Nicholas Barbon, the physician turned property developer who became one of London’s most prominent speculative builders of his time, buying up land and building houses without necessarily obtaining the permission of the legal owner first. Events came to a head in 1684 in a pitched battle in nearby Red Lion Square between Barbon’s workmen and the lawyers of nearby Gray’s Inn who were set to lose their rural surroundings by Barbon’s proposed 17-acre housing project. This was on the boundary of the Bedford Charity estate and the Rugby school estate, witnessed by the plaques at No. 22 and the neighbouring 2 Orde Hall Street. The UCL Bloomsbury Projects says that it was well-established by the mid-18thCentury, when several physicians associated with St Bartholomew’s Hospital lived there having purposely chosen it as a poor neighbourhood to help with their understanding of social issues, such as the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act.


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