To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Published December 6th 2011
This is a continuation of the walk along The Strand from Charing Cross to Waterloo Bridge
Once you've walked past Waterloo Bridge you will come across a huge neo classical chameleon that is called Somerset House. Without even going inside you can stand in the Fountain Court and watch the fountains dance in the summer, or the skaters dancing on the ice in the winter.
You could also attend an open air concert or film. Don't forget to stop to admire the statuary in the courtyard whatever time of year. The current eighteenth century building occupies the site of a former Tudor palace and was originally constructed to house the Enlightenment organisations of the Royal Society of Arts, the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Society. Over the years it has also been home to the Admiralty, the Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths and the Inland Revenue. It is now home to the Courtauld Gallery and the Royal Society of Literature. You can also take a guided tour of Somerset House.
To the right of, and adjoining, Somerset House is the Strand campus of King's College London. In fact you can stroll along the terraces of both buildings, and see some beautiful views of the river and south bank if you wish to deviate from the walk.
As you continue towards Fleet Street you will pass the shuttered entrance to the old Strand underground station. No trains have run along this short line of track to Holborn since 1917, but the Museum of London opens the station periodically so that the curious can gain an insight into this disused section of London's Tube, as I did recently.
If you turn to face the other side of the road, you will see what appears to be a huge traffic island that is home to two churches. The first one is St Mary le Strand, built by James Gibb between 1714 and 1723. It is the official church of the former Women's Royal Naval Service and contains the names of those Wrens who died in the Service from WW1 onwards.
Outside St Mary le Strand
Inside St Mary le Strand, showing the Baroque Ceiling
Beyond this church is St Clement Danes, the church adopted by the RAF. The earlier church was damaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666, and the current structure was built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1681. It was rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1958 following WW2 bomb damage and is home to the Books of Remembrance of all those who died on active service with the RAF. It also proudly displays the Queen's Colours and Standards.
Between the two churches you can stop to admire statues to Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, Commander in Chief of Fighter Command and Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, Marshal of the RAF.
In case your thoughts are turning to a cup of tea, you can stop off at Twinings, at 216 The Strand and buy leaves or bags from their shop, although you can't actually drink the stuff on their premises. The shop (originally Tom's Coffee House) has been in the same location for more than 300 years, since 1706, and contains a small museum at the back.
Even older than Twinings is the Wig and Pen Club (230 The Strand), which is now sadly a Thai restaurant. Its convenient location close to the law courts, Middle and Inner Temples and Fleet Street earned it a strong following among the drinkers of the legal and journalistic professions. It claims to be the only London building undamaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666, was built in 1625 and is reputedly haunted by the ghost of Oliver Cromwell.
Crossing The Strand you can't fail to miss The Royal Courts of Justice, known commonly as The Law Courts. The building appears older than it is, but was actually only opened in 1933. It houses The Court of Appeal, The Crown Court, The High Court, The Chancery Division and The Queen's Bench Division.
If you pass the Law Courts and take the turning to the left hand side (Bell Yard) and continue to the top, you will find yourself on Carey Street. You won't literally be bankrupt, but this was where the bankruptcy court was originally located. Continuing along this road, parallel to the Strand, is a statue to Sir Thomas More, set into the side of a building.
Retrace your steps back to the main thoroughfare on your approach to the City of London. You will know you've reached your destination when you see a huge statue in the middle of the street. This was once the location of The Temple Bar, but the current monument depicts Charles I, Charles II, James I and Elizabeth I. This marks the demarcation between the City of Westminster and the City of London.
Of course there are other landmarks, shops and statues, as well as both Bush House, the home of the BBC World Service, and also the Australian High Commission. I think you will probably feel more like taking the weight off your feet and popping into one of the pubs in the near vicinity for a well earned drink.