One of London’s oldest roads, once used by Anglo-Saxon armies marching westwards, it was renamed in about 1720 after 18thCentury landowner, Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer (June 2, 1689 – June 16, 1741), who owned the land to its north. Harley was a politician, bibliophile, collector and patron of the arts who inherited a considerable amount of land in the West End through his marriage to Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles in 1713. The street was developed during his lifetime, from about 1720, along the course of an ancient route to the West described in an Anglo-Saxon charter dating to AD959 as ‘the wide military road or highway’. In the 13thCentury, it was referred to as ‘via regia qui duct de London versus Tyrone’, meaning King’s road leading from London towards Tyborne as it crossed the river Tyburn, once located beside the present day Stratford Place. On John Rocque’s map of London published in 1746, the section west from Marylebone Lane was called Tiburn Road, and it led to the Tyburn gallows which stood on the site of the medieval hamlet of Tyburn, with the section east to Tottenham Court Road already known as Oxford Street. Several other famous West End streets took their name from Harley connections – primarily Harley Street and Oxford Street, while others like Wigmore Street and Wimpole Street are named after his properties. The eastern continuation of the street, New Oxford Street, wasn’t built until 1847.
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