Balcombe Street, Dorset Square and Gloucester Place all date from 1815-1820. Balcombe Street was at first known as Milton Street.
The streets formed part of the Portman Estate. Their layout shows a social hierarchy of square, thoroughfares and side streets mirrored by a hierarchy in the design of houses, from the grand four storey buildings in Dorset Square to the rather less grand terraces and smaller houses in Balcombe Street and Gloucester Place and the significantly smaller scale of the three and two storey ‘third rate’ houses in the side streets and mews.
There are some 180 grade II buildings including the whole of Dorset Square, most of Balcombe Street and Gloucester Place. The predominant materials are brick and stucco.
The London part of the Portman Estate in Marylebone covers 110 acres and covers 68 streets, 650 buildings and four garden squares. In 1948 the Estate, then valued at £10 million, was subject to death duties of £7.6 million resulting in the sale of the northern part of the London Estate in 1951.
Some 25 years later, residential Balcombe Street became famous within the UK for matters other than architecture and aristocratic land use.
The Balcombe Street siege was an incident in December 1975. The four members of what became known as the Balcombe Street gang: Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, were part of an IRA Active Service Unit.
The Balcombe Street siege started after a chase through London, as the police pursued Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair.
The four IRA men ran into a block of flats in Balcombe Street. The four men went to 22b Balcombe Street, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declared that they were members of the IRA and demanded a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refused, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police.
The men surrendered after several days of intense negotiations. The events were televised and watched by millions.