Two long narrow enclosures laid out as a private communal garden form the common frontage to Cumberland Terrace, the grand terrace designed by John Nash and James Thomson as part of Nash's plan of 1811 to develop the Crown Estate lands as a fashionable residential area, with the backing of the Prince Regent, later George IV. Authorisation had been given in 1794 for developing the land, once part of Henry VIII's hunting park but by then leased mainly as farmland, which was due to revert to the Crown in 1811. Cumberland Terrace, named after George III's son Ernest, King of Hanover and Duke of Cumberland, resembles a palace overlooking the landscape of Regent's Park and would have faced the King's pleasure palace in the park if it had been built.
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Cumberland Terrace Garden, July 2002. Photo: S Williams
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Two long narrow enclosures laid out as an ornamental garden provide a common frontage to Cumberland Terrace facing the Outer Circle and Regent's Park. Previously known as Marylebone Park it formed part of the royal hunting chase appropriated by Henry VIII in 1538 and remained so until 1646, and later used as farmland. At the end of the Civil War it had been sold by Cromwell to John Spencer but reverted to the Crown at the Restoration and was subsequently leased to various noblemen, finally the Duke of Portland, whose lease was due to revert to the Crown in 1811. John Fordyce, appointed Surveyor General of His Majesty's Land Revenue in 1794 was authorised to produce a plan for the area of Marylebone Park and various architects competed for the tender. On Fordyce's death the offices of Land Revenue were combined with those of Woods and Forests and the architects of the two departments were asked to produce plans. John Nash (1752-1835), who was official architect to the Commission of Woods and Forest and a friend of the Prince Regent, designed the layout of the park as it is today as part of his grand plan for London that was approved by the Treasury in October 1811. His plan had an avenue stretching from Marylebone via Portland Place and Regent Street to Carlton House Terrace and Gardens (q.v.), and included the 400-acre park was to be surrounded by palatial terraces and villas.
Cumberland Terrace was named after George III's son Ernest, King of Hanover and Duke of Cumberland. The 245m long stucco terrace was designed by Nash and James Thomson as executant architect in c.1826/7. Resembling a palace overlooking the parkland, it consisted of 59 houses in 3 main blocks linked by triumphal arches leading into 2 courtyards with pairs of houses and drives leading to former mews. The centrepiece of the terrace was designed as a grand statement to honour Britannia and the Empire, adorned with various representations of the arts, sciences and trades. The reason for this grand display was that, had it been built, the King's 'guinguette' or pleasure palace would have stood almost opposite Cumberland Terrace. Along the terrace skyline were placed a large number of terracotta statues by George Bubb, who built the terrace, which were originally located on Chester Terrace (q.v.). The triumphal arches were built by W M Nurse, who also built the forecourt wall and balustraded stone parapet to the ornamental garden that was provided for the use of residents.
A number of former occupants were well known in the arts, and include novelist Elizabeth Gaskell who stayed at No. 17 in c.1859, actresses Dame Marie Tempest who lived at No. 4 in 1910 and Gladys Cooper who lived at No. 18 in 1916, and actor Sir Ralph Richardson. No. 18 was also the home of actor manager Sir Henry Irving's eldest son and his actress wife Dorothea Baird. Gerald du Maurier, son of playwright George du Maurier and himself an actor manager, lived at No. 24 from 1907-16 and his daughter the novelist Daphne du Maurier was born here in 1907. Behind the façade, the original houses were entirely reconstructed in the 1960s and now are predominantly flats.
Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares, 1928; Peter Woodford (ed.) 'From Primrose Hill to Euston Road' (Camden History Society, 1995 ed); Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England London 3: North West' (Penguin, 1999 ed)