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The three ships of Great Marlborough Street

Great Marlborough Street runs roughly parallel to Oxford Street emerging into Regent Street. One of it’s most famous confluences is Carnaby Street, the once vibrant centre of 1960s fashionable London.

At the Regent street end the street definitely has the retail vibe of the surrounding area, but as you travel eastwards it becomes more non descript and a bit scruffy. To walk along it’s length between Regent Street and Poland Street and back again would take you in the region of about ten minutes. If you were to take this journey in search of the these ships of the title, it would, unless you were in the know be a waste of your time, because you probably wouldn’t see them, even though they’re in plain sight.

The answer can be found at the Regent Street end and is actually one of the most iconic buildings in the area, Liberty’s department store.

Arthur Liberty

Not particularly nautical I’m sure you’ll agree, but the clue is in the cladding on the front of the building. Liberty’s main store was situated in nearby Regent Street, but in 1924 the Great Marlborough store was opened to facilitate refurbishment of the Regent Street branch. The founder Arthur Lasenby Liberty had died seven years previously but the mock Tudor building was his vision of Liberty’s flagship store in the capital. The company engaged the architect Edwin T. Hall, who along with his son, also called Edwin designed the building. It was built over two years by builders Messrs Higgs & Hill at a cost of £198,000 (a rather staggering £14 million at todays prices). The builders acquired 24,000 cubic feet of ships timbers for the frontage and also salvaged decking for the stores floors. This came from two ancient “three-masted” battle ships HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan.

HMS Impregnable

HMS Hindustan

HMS Impregnable was a 98-gun ship of the Royal Navy, launched on 1st August 1810 at Chatham which served during the Napoleonic wars. HMS Hindostan was an 80-gun ship launched on 2nd August 1841 which became a training ship based at Dartmouth. In a rather nice piece of symmetry the Liberty store frontage and height is exactly the same dimensions as HMS Hindustan. The timbers that adorn the front of the store were felled in the New Forest and date from around 1740.

“Hang on that’s only two ships”, I hear you shout at your screen, “”Where’s the third?” Well the third is more obvious, but to my shame I’ve never noticed it before, it’s the weathervane depicting the Mayflower that took the Pilgrim Fathers to America in 1620. It’s four foot high an mounted on the top of the store.

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