Strolling along London's Strand can be an evocative experience, as many of today’s sights reflect, either in substance or merely in their names, the rich history associated with this lively thoroughfare.
'Pepper pot' towers at corner of Adelaide Street and the Strand
"Come, Fortescue, sincere, experienced friend,
Thy briefs, thy deeds, and e’en thy fees suspend;
Come, let us leave the Temple’s silent walls;
My business to my distant lodging calls;
Through the long Strand together let us stray,
With thee conversing, I forget the way.”
The Strand runs from Trafalgar Square to Temple Bar. The street’s name derives from the Old English word meaning ‘seashore’ or ‘beach’. During Roman times, the Strand was part of a road leading to Silchester. Later, it became the main route between the City of London and the palace at Westminster. It acquired its present name in the 11th century. A map published in 1578 shows the Strand as a street bordered on each side by houses. Those on the south side had gardens running down to the bank of the River Thames. Those on the northern side backed onto open countryside: fields and gardens (e.g. Covent Garden). From the 12th century onwards, many wealthy people built palaces mainly along the south side of the Strand. During the 17th century, many of these opulent homes were demolished when their owners moved to the up and coming areas in the West End. In their place, theatres, shops, offices, banks, inns, and hotels, were built. This situation remains unchanged.
Mon Plaisir Monmouth Str
Oldest part of Mon Plaisir Monmouth Str
This exploration begins north of the Strand in Monmouth Street. This leads south to the Seven Dials (see below). From the 17th century onwards, it was home to wealthy merchants and lawyers, but by the end of the 18th, it had become a slum. In recent decades, its affluence has improved. The Mon Plaisir in Monmouth Street is a French eatery that was opened in during the 1940s (see: https://www.monplaisir.co.uk/about-us/history/). My parents often ate there in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Now occupying two shopfronts, it used to be confined to one of them when I first went there as a child. The décor of the original part has been faithfully preserved. I wonder whether the artist’s palette with the words ‘pipi room’ still exists.
Mercer Str near The 7 Dials
Monmouth Street leads to the Seven Dials, from which seven streets radiate like spokes of a wheel (as in many parts of Paris). The street layout was created in the 1690s by a property developer Thomas Neale (1641-1699), an MP who formed the first postal service in the North American colonies in 1691. Mercer Street, one of the seven ‘spokes’ has some fine old shopfronts (numbers 23, 25, and 27). One of these (possibly number 25) might have been the ‘St Lukes Head’ pub, which is mentioned in “The Truthteller”, by W.E. Andrews (publ. 1826).
Inside Ching Court
Two Brewers pub on south part of Monmouth Str
Continuing along Monmouth Street, we reach Ching Court. Named after an architectural ironmonger company ‘Comyn Ching’ (which was not a Chinese name), which stood here for over 200 years, this peaceful courtyard with a tree is surrounded by many 18th century buildings. It was restored in the 1980s. Almost opposite the entrance to the courtyard, is the Two Brewers pub, which moved from its original address near St Giles Church to is present one in the 1940s. Its grandiose white stone and brick façade contrasts with its much older and simpler brick built neighbours.
St Giles in the Fields parish marker and Equity at southern end of Monmouth Str
West Street marks the point where Monmouth Street becomes Upper St Martins Lane. The actor’s (and other professional performers’) trade union Equity occupies a building on the eastern corner of this street. This edifice bears a small plaque (overlooking West Street) with the letters “SFG” and the date “1691”. This is a boundary marker for the parish of St Giles in the Fields, whose boundaries have been subject to many alterations over the years (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol5/pt2/pp1-2).
Former County Court St Martins Lane 1908
The Salisbury pub, St Martins Lane
Further south on St Martins Lane, stands the former Westminster County Court, an elegant building faced with white stone. It was designed by HN Hawks of the Office of Works and decorated with carvings by Gilbert Seale (1881-1930), who also worked on sculptures in the Old Bailey. The court was built in 1908 on the site of an earlier court building, which appears on an 1876 map. Now, the building is occupied by Browns, a ‘brasserie’ and bar, but the façade is well-preserved.
St Martins Lane End of Goodwins Ct
The Salisbury, a little further south, is a riotously decorated, fine example of late Victorian pub decoration. Almost opposite it across the road, there is a narrow gap between the buildings. This is the western entrance of Goodwin’s Court, a truly unsuspected delight, which was pointed out to me by my friend the author Roy Moxham. An unexceptional narrow covered passage leads to a slightly wider alley lined on its south side by several shopfronts with bow windows. All of them date back to the late 18th century. The east end of the court is on Bedfordbury, which leads south to Chandos Place.
Former Charing Cross Hospital
The southern side of Chandos Place is occupied by a large building, which is now the Charing Cross Police Station. The oldest part of this building, which began life as the former Charing Cross Hospital and was built 1831-34, was designed by Decimus Burton (1800-81), who also designed, amongst many other buildings, the Athenaeum and the Palm House at Kew Gardens. The building was much altered by James Thompson in 1877, and then by A Saxon Snell (1831-1904) in 1903. In the late 1950s, the hospital moved to its present site in Fulham, and now (2017) faces possible closure.
Chandos Place leads southwest into Adelaide Street, whose eastern side is occupied by a building built in 1830 and planned by John Nash (1752-1835), the principal architect of Regency London. The corner of the building (facing Charing Cross Station) has two ‘pepper-pot’ shaped towers. Near these, there is a monument to Oscar Wilde sculpted in 1998 by Maggi Hambling, who once offered to paint a portrait of my father while he was a Trustee of the National Gallery.
Oscar Wilde by Maggi Hambling Adelaide Str
In the forecourt of Charing Cross Station (opened 1864) on the Strand, there is a Victorian replica of an Eleanor Cross, one of several ornamental crosses (all originally constructed in the late 13th century) to mark where the corpse of Queen Eleanor rested on its trip from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey in 1290. The original location of the Charing Cross was a few yards further west (see below). The replica was made in 1883; the original was destroyed in 1647.
1977 storm plaques at Chring Cross Stn
Just east of the cross at the north-western corner of Villiers Street, there are two plaques relating to the great storm of October 1987, which destroyed about 250,000 trees in south-east England, the area to which trains from Charing Cross travel. I was living in Kent when the storm hit, and remember that it was so strong that I could feel my brick house literally rocking in the buffeting winds. Walk down Villiers Street, and then turn left to enter the Victoria Embankment Gardens.
There, stands the decorative neo-classical York Watergate. Designed by Inigo Jones (1573-1652), this was constructed (with stairs leading down into the river) in 1626. It was the riverside entrance of York House (built in 1620 for George Villiers [1592-1628], the first Duke of Buckingham), one of several grand palaces along the south side of the Strand. The gate’s position, now well inland from the river, marks the position of the bank of the Thames as it was until 1870, when the Gardens were built on reclaimed land.
Near the old Watergate, there is a plaque recording that the diarist Samuel Pepys, the statesman Robert Harley, and the painters William Etty and Clarkson Stanfield, lived in a house that used to stand where the memorial is located. Follow Buckingham Street, with its surviving 18th century houses, uphill to reach John Adam Street (marked as ‘Duke Street on a 1682 map). At this point, the street, named after the architect John Adam (1721-92), is several feet lower than the Strand, demonstrating the steepness of the river bank leading down to the Watergate.
Steps up to The Strand from Buckingham Str
John Adams Street runs steeply uphill in a north-easterly direction. The caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) lived in a house near the present Durham House. The latter was built on the site of Durham House, which existed in various forms from about 1345 until the mid-18th century when the Adam brothers, John and Robert (1728-92), constructed the Adelphi (see below). Further up the hill, occupying a corner plot, is the elegant brick and stone neo-classical (neo-Palladian) Royal Society of Arts (‘RSA’). Built in 1772-74, this was designed by the Adams brothers as part of their Adelphi development.
Royal Society of Arts John Adam Str
John Adams Str
The Adelphi housing development, designed by the Adams brothers, began to be built in 1772 on the grounds of the former Durham House. Had the Adelphi survived intact, it would have rivalled some of the finest rows of houses still standing in Paris. But, it did not. From the 1870s onwards, chunks of this masterpiece of urban architecture were demolished to make way for newer buildings such as the art-deco Adelphi building, designed by Collcutt and Hamp, and built in the late 1930s. Even though this building has some lovely features such as the bas-relief friezes around its entrance on John Adams Street, it is a poor substitute for what must have been some of the finest neo-Palladian buildings in London.
Art-deco detail on Adelphi Building John Adams Str
Adam House Adam Str
Sir Richard Arkwright lived here
Luckily for us, some of the Adelphi remains, for example: Adam House in Adam Street and its neighbour, where the inventor and industrialist Sir Richard Arkwright (1732-92) lived. Other 18th century buildings still stand in Robert Street, Adelphi Terrace (the lower storey of number 11, which is a survivor of the original Adelphi, gives a good idea of what has been lost), and York Buildings.
Adelphi Theatre Strand
Vaudeville Theatre Strand
Adam Street leads to the Strand opposite the aptly named Adelphi Theatre, which was founded in 1806. It was redesigned and rebuilt in its present art-deco style in 1930 by Ernest Schaufelberg (1892–1970), who also designed the Fortune Theatre near Covent Garden. A few yards east of this theatre, is another: The Vaudeville. Its white stone façade (built 1889) has neo-classical features. First opened in 1870, the theatre has undergone many internal modifications.
Former Bun Shop pub, 417 the Strand
Just west of the Adelphi Theatre, there is a narrow building (number 417 Strand) with half-timbering just below its steeply angled roof. Now home to The Port House tapas bar, this was once a pub called ‘The Bun House’ (opened about 1890), and then later ‘the Tram Shed’, and then ‘Yates Brothers Wine Lodge, which closed in 1981 (see: https://pubshistory.com/LondonPubs/StMartins/BunShop.shtml).
Epstein sculptures on Zimbabwe House
Walking west from the Port House, you reach Zimbabwe House. Designed by Charles Holden (1875-1960), who was the architect of many Underground stations, this building, faced with stone, on a corner plot was originally the ‘home’ of the British Medical Association. A series of weather-beaten, mutilated sculptures separate the windows on the second floor. They were carved by the American-born sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) in 1908, a year after the building was erected. The nudity displayed in the figures shocked many folk (see: http://www.artandarchitecture.org.uk/insight/brockington_epstein/brockington_epstein02.html). The mutilation of Epstein’s work resulted from the deliberate neglect by the Rhodesian High Commission of the crumbling sculptures, which had been damaged by London’s polluted air, when they took over the building in the 1930s (see: https://lookup.london/jacob-epstein-scandal-strand/).
Former Cecil Hotel
Cecil Chambers Strand
Crossing to the south side of the Strand and proceeding eastwards, we reach the grand façade of number 80, behind which lurks Shell Mex House (built 1930-31), which is visible from across the Thames. The façade, a glorious Victorian neo-classical structure, is all that remains of the former Cecil Hotel, which was opened in 1889, and used to cover where Shell Mex House now stands. When it opened with over 800 rooms, it became one of the largest hotels in Europe. A plaque in its centrally placed Strand entrance records that it was in the hotel that the Royal Air Force (‘RAF’) was founded in 1918. The site occupied by the hotel and then Shell Mex House was originally where the former (aristocratic) Salisbury (aka Cecil) House stood during the 17th century, its gardens reaching the Thames. The Salisbury estate was sold in 1880 (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol18/pt2/pp120-123). The office building at number 86 is called Cecil Chambers.
Coal Hole Strand
The Coal Hole pub (built 1903-04, architect: TE Colcutt [1840-1924]) with is flamboyant façade, and the Savoy Taylors Guild, separate the former Cecil Hotel from the still extant Savoy Hotel. The pub, which is built into an extension of the Savoy occupies the position of the former coal cellar of the hotel.
Savoy Tailors Guild
Several months before I took my final examinations in dentistry, I bought a bespoke double-breasted suit from the Savoy Taylors Guild for my viva-voce examinations. Just before the examination date, our home was burgled. Although the burglar had rummaged through our possessions, he did not take much except a few silver spoons and my new suit. I felt gratified that it was my new suit that the thief had thought worth having, rather than my father’s far more fancy suits in his wardrobe.
Savoy Hotel driveway
It was at the Savoy Hotel that I tasted my first ever Dry Martini. I was a teenager, and had no idea what I had ordered. I thought that I was going to get a glass of dry Martini, rather than mostly gin. The hotel, founded in 1889 by Richard D’ Oyly Carte (1844-1901) with profits from his Gilbert and Sullivan operetta productions, is still one of the world’s most glamorous luxury hotels. It was designed by CJ Phipps and TE Colcutt. The short road leading up to its main entrance is unique in the UK because cars are required to drive on the right side of the road instead of the normal left. This feature enabled Hackney Cab drivers to open the passenger’s door without having to leave his seat. The hotel has had many famous guests. Among the less well-known was one of my father’s students at the London School of Economics (‘LSE’) from overseas, the son of a multi-millionaire, who told him that he lived in a suite in the Savoy because: “…it is so convenient for the LSE.”
Strand Palace Hotel
The Savoy is across the road from the Strand Palace Hotel, which is (according to Nikolaus Pevsner) faced with artificial stone. Built by 1930, the hotel used to have a fabulous jazzy art-deco entrance and lobby. This was replaced by a more mundane design in the late 1960s. Incidentally, it was in this hotel that my parents spent the first night after their wedding in 1948.
Simpsons in the Strand is just east of the Savoy Hotel, and is part of Savoy Buildings. This establishment was founded in 1828 as a ‘smoking room’, but quickly became one of London’s leading restaurants, famous for its traditional English fare. In 1898, D’Oyly Carte acquired the restaurant. Its colourful entrance has tiles depicting part of a chess board with chess pieces above the revolving door. This motif alludes to the restaurant’s importance in British chess in the 19th century. Brass plates wrapped around pillars by the entrance bear the words “Simpson’s Divan Tavern”. This recalls the existence on this spot of ‘Samuel Reiss’s Grand Cigar Divan’, which opened in 1828 on the site of the former 18th century ‘Fountain Tavern’. This old inn, where the political opponents of Sir Robert Walpole (in office between 1727 and 1740) met, is commemorated by a plaque on the west side of the main entrance to Savoy Buildings.
Savoy Street leads down towards the river from the Strand, and runs alongside the grounds of the small gothic Savoy Chapel, a royal chapel, which is surrounded on two sides by the backs of the much taller Savoy Hotel and Buildings. It was first built between 1510 and ’15 as part of the Hospital of St John, founded by Henry VII for the homeless, which the king hoped would rival the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence (see: “Winter King”, by T Penn, publ. 2012). The hospital used to stand on the land where the Savoy Palace of the king’s ancestor John of Gaunt (1340-1399) once stood.
Savoy Chapel from Savoy Steps
During the reign (1820-30) of George IV, and at his expense, the chapel was repaired and improved. This work included the construction of the bell turret designed by Robert Smirke (1780-1867). The beautiful interior has a magnificent colourful ceiling and dates from the time when improvements were made in the 1860s. The hall to the east of the chapel contains a small exhibition of the history of the place.
India Restaurant and St Mary le Strand
After crossing Lancaster Place, which is the northern approach to Waterloo Bridge, we reach the narrow number 143, home of the Hotel Strand Continental. Its unprepossessing, shabby staircase leads up to the second floor, which has been home to The India Club Restaurant since 1946, a year before India became independent.
India Club Restaurant Strand
The management have retained the restaurant’s original décor to such an extent that if one its earliest customers, say, the Indian nationalist and politician Krishna Menon (1896-1974) who studied at the nearby LSE, were to step in today, he would recognise it instantly. I love the place not so much for its food but for its dowdy evocative ambience. On the first floor, there is a small bar, which would not look out of place in one of India’s many surviving ex-colonial clubs. Until a few years ago, alcoholic drinks were only available to fully paid-up members of the India Club. However, the annual membership fee of this was only fifty pence. Worryingly, this historic establishment is (2017) under threat of demolition by developers.
St Mary le Strand and St Clement Danes
Just before the Strand is split into two lanes by the island on which stands the Church of St Mary-le-Strand (established since before the 12th century, the present building was designed by James Gibbs [1682-1754] in the early 18th century), we reach the impressive neo-classical Somerset House. Designed by the Swedish born William Chambers (1723-96), it was built in 1776 to house government departments and learned societies. The land where it stands was formerly occupied by a palatial earlier Somerset House with a terrace overlooking the Thames, which was at times home to royalty. Gradually, the older building (refurbished by Sir Christopher Wren in 1685) fell into disrepair, and was demolished in 1775. Today, the building houses, amongst other organisations, the Courtauld Institute of Art – a centre of excellence for the study of history of art, and the Courtauld Gallery with its fine collection of Impressionist (and earlier) paintings. In summer, a terrace overlooking the Thames is used as an outdoor café, and in winter the huge courtyard becomes a public skating rink.
Rear of Bush House facing Strand
To the north of St Mary-le-Strand and facing it, there is a pediment containing a bas-relief of a boat with wind-filled sails superimposed on a map of part of the world. This is affixed to the rear of Bush House (see below). Somerset House’s immediate neighbour is an unexciting modern building (erected 1966-71), which serves as part of King’s College (founded in 1829) along with adjoining parts of Somerset House. Recently, archaeological evidence has demonstrated that Somerset House stands on land that was part of Saxon Lundenwic (see below).
Roof of Australia House
The college faces Australia House, which has a green roof with several circular and rectangular mansard windows. Created by the architect Alexander Marshall Mackenzie (1848-1933), this building, which has a steel framework, was opened in 1918. The quadriga high above the eastern entrance was sculpted by H Parker. The house stands on the site of an ancient well that drew water from the River Fleet (see: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-10/holy-well-lies-underneath-australia-house-in-london/7061722).
Strand Station Strand entrance
A few yards east of King’s College, there is a plaque on an otherwise blank wall. It records that the influential Master Astrologer William Lilly (1602-81) lived on this site. The wall is the western side of an entrance, now blocked-up, to Strand (aka Aldwych) Underground Station, which opened in 1907 and closed in 1994. It was the terminus of a spur of the Piccadilly Line, which branched off at Holborn Station.
Strand Station Surrey Street side
Strand Station ticket hall
There is a larger terracotta-coloured tiled façade of this station on Surrey Street. When I visited the area, the heavy folding door guarding the old station entrance was slightly open. Through it, I could see into the perfectly preserved old-fashioned, ticket hall with its tiling that reaches from the floor to about six feet above it. The station is usually locked up, but occasionally the public can book to be taken on guided tours of this ‘ghost’ station.
Former Norfolk Hotel Surrey Str
Former Norfolk Hotel Surrey Str
There is another ‘ghost’ establishment downhill from the former station. Now a part of King’s College, this building, with its fussy neo-renaissance stone decorations in bas-relief and its cast-iron porticos, still retains a stone notice proclaiming its former incarnation as the ‘Norfolk Hotel’. During WW2, the hotel was patronised by French agents of the Special Operations Executive, and, earlier, the writer Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) stayed there (see: https://openhouselondon.open-city.org.uk/listings/4899 and “Conrad To A Friend: 150 Selected Letters From Joseph Conrad To Richard Curle”, ed. by R Curle, publ. 1928). Attached to the hotel, there is a sign giving directions to a Roman bath. In the 19th century, this was believed to be a bath built by the Romans, but recent research has revealed that it was built as a feeder cistern for a grotto fountain in the gardens of the Somerset House that existed before Chambers constructed the present building.
St Clement Danes
Returning to the Strand, and heading east, there is another church on an ‘island’. This is St Clement Danes, a place of worship which has been in existence since the period of the Danish occupation of Britain (11th century). The present building is the result of Christopher Wren’s rebuilding of an earlier one in the early 1680s. Nikolaus Pevsner remarks that: “… it is unique amongst Wren’s churches in that the aisles were carried around the E end as an ambulatory and that an apse was added, perhaps on the pattern of the first St Clement Danes.” Badly damaged in 1941 during WW2, and carefully restored after it, the church is now the ‘RAF church’ in London.
Royal Courts of Justice
A little to the east of the church on the north side of the Strand, there is a masterpiece of Victorian gothic building: The Royal Courts of Justice (‘RCJ’). Built during the 1870s, and designed by the mainly ecclesiastical architect George Street (1824-81), this opened for judicial business in 1882. Entering the main hall (the Great Hall) of the building, which is open to public visitors, is like stepping into a huge gothic cathedral. It is an uplifting experience. The courts in this remarkable edifice are dedicated to hearing civil, rather than criminal, cases.
Almost opposite the main entrance to the courts, there is a narrow shop, whose entrance is flanked by two pillars with capitals decorated with leaves like the plant motifs on ancient Egyptian pillars. These support a triangular pediment, in which there are two seated coloured sculptures depicting Chinese men.
This is the entrance to Twinings shop, which sells packets of teas and coffees, although it is most famous for teas. The present shop is on the site of the company’s original store, which was established in 1706. At the far end of the long narrow shop there is (2017), a bar where knowledgeable staff inform customers about different kinds of teas, as well as prepare samples for tasting.
Temple Bar Memorial
A winged dragon, mounted on a decorated stone plinth, stands in the middle of the Strand near the easternmost point of the RCJ. This, the Temple Bar Memorial (designed by Horace Jones), was erected in 1880. It marks both the eastern end of the Strand as well as the position of the former Temple Bar. This was a gateway that served as the main ceremonial entrance to the City of London on the route taken by royalty between the Palace of Westminster and the Tower of London. The name ‘Temple’ derives from its proximity to the Temple Church and the Inns of Court (Middle and Inner). The ‘Bar’ or barrier was first mentioned in 12th century documents. In about 1672, a wonderful sculpted, stone gateway with three arches, possibly designed by Christopher Wren, was built to serve as the Temple Bar.
Original Temple Bar, now in Paternoster Sq
This attractive encumbrance to the smooth flow of traffic remained in position until it was carefully dismantled in 1878 (to relieve congestion), and was reassembled to stand in Theobalds Park in Middlesex. There it remained until 2003. By 2005, it had been reassembled in its new location, Paternoster Square near St Pauls Cathedral, where it can be seen in all its glory.
Returning west along the north side of the Strand, we reach the eastern end of the Aldwych. This crescent stands about a mile west of Roman Londinium, and was the site of a 7th century Anglo-Saxon village named Lundenwic (see: “Archaeology in British Towns: From the Emperor Claudius to the Black Death”, by P Ottaway, publ. 1972). The name of the area changed to ‘Aldewich’, which was first recorded in 1211. The present street layout, lined with many buildings in the ‘Imperial Palladian’ style has existed since the start of the 20th century.
Bush House Aldwych
Close to Australia House, which has a side facing the Aldwych, is Bush House. Designed between 1925 and ’35 by the American architects Helmle and Corbett, this was for many years a home of the British Broadcasting Company (‘BBC’) World Service. The portico of its entrance facing Kingsway, with its half dome supported by two tall white pillars and a ring of sturdy square pilasters, is designed to impress. The BBC left the building in 2008, and now parts of it are used by King’s College.
London School of Economics and Wright's bar, Houghton Str
Houghton Street, which leads north off the eastern wing of the Aldwych is mainly occupied by the LSE. Founded in 1895 by members of the socialist Fabian Society, this has become a world-famous centre of excellence in many fields including: economics, sociology, and law. My father was a Professor of Economics there for several decades. As university campuses go, I have always found it unappealing. Wright’s Bar next to the main entrance has been in existence ever since I can remember (the late 1950s).
India House: an Indian provincial emblem
Since marrying a lady born in India, I have had many opportunities to visit India House on the western arm of the Aldwych. Built 1928-30 and designed by Herbert Baker (1862-1946) with AT Scott, this stone building is profusely decorated with Ashoka lions and many circular, coloured emblems, which were those of the pre-Independence (and pre-Partition) colonial provinces (e.g. ‘Baluchistan’, ‘United Provinces’, ‘Burma’, ‘Madras’ and ‘North West Frontier’).
India House: British Imperial crests
Looking upwards, there are two elaborate crests each topped with heraldic lions and including the mottos: “Honi soit qui mal y pense” and “Dieu et mon droit”. These are ‘souvenirs’ of the era when India was a British colony. Just as in post-Independence India there are still some statues of Queen Victoria standing– there is a fine example in Bangalore, these reminders of British imperialism remain attached to the building.
India House: Nehru
One side of India House faces India Place, which contains a bust of the Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), who became a barrister at the nearby Inner Temple. Close to a side entrance of India House, there is a monument to an off-duty policeman Jim Morrison, who was stabbed in December 1991 whilst chasing a handbag thief, who has never been caught. A ‘Friendship Tree’ was planted nearby in 1994 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi.
Site of former Gaiety Theatre
Opposite the Indian building, is the Aldwych Theatre, which was designed by the theatre architect W Sprague (1863-1933), and opened in 1905. For two decades during the 20th century after WW2, this was the London stage of Stratford on Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Company. In my childhood, my parents took me to see many plays there. Where the western branch of the Aldwych meets the Strand, there is a plaque on a characterless new building (the ME Building, a hotel), which marks the site of the former Gaiety Theatre, a music hall that was demolished in 1956.
Returning to the north pavement of the Strand, the grand portico of the Lyceum Theatre on Wellington Street, which is supported on six fluted columns with Corinthian capitals, is difficult to miss from the Strand. The façade bears the date 1834, is the date when this incarnation of the establishment opened. It was built to replace an earlier version that was built in the 18th century. For many years from 1871, the great actor Henry Irving (1838-1905) appeared on its stage.
Lyceum Tavern Strand
Lyceum Tavern courtyard
The façade of the Lyceum Tavern as a barrel mounted with a clock mounted at its second-floor level. This pub stands on the site of the original Lyceum Theatre (before it was destroyed by fire in 1830; see: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/LyceumTheatre.htm). The pub, which was first established in the 1830s, has a small courtyard surrounded by high walls, where customers can sit and drink.
Joe Allen, an American restaurant (a ‘sister’ to that established in New York City in 1965) that first opened in London in 1977, has its entrance close to the Strand on Burleigh Street (having moved there from its old premises in Exeter Street). Situated on the edge of ‘Theatre Land’, it is a place where you might, if you are lucky, be dining next to some famous star of screen or stage.
Lumley Court and stairs of Vaudeville Theatre
Bull Inn Court and the Nell Gwynne
Bull Inn Court and the Nell Gwynne
Bull Inn Court
Lumley Court is one of several narrow alleys leading north from the Strand. This one, which existed in the 16th century, leads along the east side of the Vaudeville Theatre (see above). Further west, there is Bull Inn Court, named after a pub that used to exist there. This leads past some colourful wall tiles marking the gallery entrance of the Adelphi Theatre. Just beyond the theatre entrance, stands the Nell Gwynne Tavern, a pub named after the famous mistress of King Charles II. Nell Gwynne (1650-1687) might have been born close to the pub, but this is uncertain. The present pub was built in the 17th or 18th century, and has a 19th century façade.
Just west of Bull Inn Court, Gatti House, with its pink granite pillars, stands on the Strand next to the Adelphi Theatre. A plaque records that this was the site of the Adelphi Theatre Restaurant, which was run by the Swiss-Italian Gatti family, who were restaurateurs and suppliers of electrical and other requirements needed in theatres and music halls. One of the family, Sir John, was Lord Mayor of Westminster (1911-12). West of this, is the narrow Heathcock Court lined with semi-circular pilasters, and often closed to the public. Its name, which is that of a type of bird, related to a pub that existed in the 18th century but has long since disappeared. The alley is recorded by John Stow (c.1525-1605) in his detailed survey of London published in 1598.
The Strand seen from Exchange Court
The covered tiled narrow passage at the Strand end of Exchange Court, which is Named after the ‘New Exchange’ that used to exist on the south side of the Strand (see: https://knowyourlondon.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/exchange-court-strand/), leads to a slightly wider uncovered lane. On the west side of this lane, there is a house whose entrance is flanked by a pair of pillars topped with Ionic capitals. It has a bow window and a small front yard, which is overlooked by a small clock. This building used to be the premises of the Corps of Commissionaires. Founded in 1859 by Captain Edward Walter (1823-1904; see: https://www.corpssecurity.co.uk/), this was one of the world’s first security firms, supplying doormen to banks and so on. Now, the building is residential.
South Africa Hse
South Africa Hse
Moving west along the Strand past streets leading north into the Covent Garden area and Zimbabwe House, we reach South Africa House that occupies a corner plot overlooking Trafalgar Square (its development began in the late 1820s) at the western end of the Strand. This building, festooned with sculptures of animals liable to be found roaming about in South Africa, bears heraldic crests that hark back to before the beginning of apartheid proudly sports the Afrikaans words “Suid Afrika”.
South Africa Hse
South Africa Hse
Some wood-framed windows with shutters overlook Trafalgar Square. Their style is that of the older Dutch buildings found especially in the Cape. The building was designed by Herbert Baker (see above) and completed in 1935. A golden springbok appears to be leaping from its south-western corner.
South Africa Hse
For many years during the era of apartheid, protestors against this system of racial oppression used to gather outside South Africa House. One of my father’s relatives, David Kitson (1919-2010), a Communist in South Africa, was a bomb instructor for the banned African National Congress. During the twenty-odd years he spent in a South African jail, his wife Norma (1933-2002), who died a hero in Zimbabwe, often stood protesting outside South Africa House as part of a London-based anti-apartheid group she founded.
Grand Buildings stands on the corner of the Strand and Northumberland Avenue (which runs through land that was once occupied by a palace that was built for the Earl of Northampton in the early 17th century, and demolished in 1874). Years ago, I recall that there was a marker on the front of this building from which all distances from London were measured, but it is no longer there (see below). Built in 1879, designed by F & H Francis (1818-96, and 1821-94, respectively), this large edifice with an almost oval facade used to be the ‘Grand Hotel’. It has been extensively modernised, but is no longer a hotel.
Charles I monument
The last item in this exploration is an equestrian statue a few yards west of the Strand at the north end of Whitehall. Standing beneath the gaze of Nelson on his column, this depicts King Charles I (1600-49). Sculpted by Hubert Le Sueur (c. 1580-1658), the bronze statue was cast in 1633. After the Civil War, which cost the king his head, the statue was hidden for several years, and then re-erected in its original location in 1675. The carved stone plinth is by Joshua Marshall (c.1629-1678). The statue stands where it was originally placed, on land which was once part of the Royal mews (marked on a 1775 map as “The King’s Mews” in the position now occupied by Trafalgar Square) belonging to Westminster Palace. The position of the statue is almost the same as the original location of the Eleanor Cross, which was relocated to its present site at Charing Cross Station (see above). At the foot of King Charles’s monument, there is a plaque set into the pavement marking the place where mileage distances from London are officially measured.
There are many roads to be crossed around Trafalgar Square. Be careful only to cross when the green pedestrian signal is showing. At present (2017), the green signals around the square do not always show the usual ‘green man’. Instead, some of them show two children holding hands, and others, wishing to avoid gender preferences, show the symbols for male and female intertwined.
Strolling along the Strand can be an evocative experience, as many of today’s sights reflect, either in substance or merely in their names, the rich history associated with this lively thoroughfare. As the music hall song by Harry Castling & CW Murphy goes:
“Let’s all go down the Strand
Let’s all go down the Strand
I'll be leader you can march behind
Come with me and see what we can find
Let’s all go down the Strand
That's the place for fun and noise
All among the girls and boys
So let's all go down the Strand.”
Green pedestrian light Trafalgar Sq