Dombey Street, WC1N

Place Name

Named in 1936 after local resident Charles Dickens’s book Dombey and Son. While the book seemingly has no local connections, its author’s first marital home in 1837 was at nearby 48 Doughty Street, now the Charles Dickens Museum. The novel tells the story of Paul Dombey, a wealthy owner of a shipping company who is frustrated at the lack of a son to follow him in his footsteps. A popular novel when it was first published in 1846 and 1848, it dealt with a number of socially significant themes such as arranged marriage, industrialisation and child cruelty. The street itself is actually much earlier, appearing on John Rocque’s 1746 map as East Street, in relation to the nearby New North Street. It 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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