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 November 26th 2011
There's an old music hall song that goes 'Let's all go down The Strand, have a banana.' I've no idea where fruit comes into it, but why don't you come for a walk with me down The Strand and delve a little into its past? The Strand links the City of Westminster to the City of London and I'll be splitting the walk into two halves. The first one runs (or walks) from Charing Cross to Waterloo Bridge.
The Strand was originally a bridle path that ran alongside the Thames. Nowadays the river is a little further to the south, but the street's name betrays its origins, as do the names of many of the roads leading from it. Instead of hurrying along its ¾ of a mile, why not take it at a more leisurely pace and stop to investigate the route and muse on its history?
The walk starts at Charing Cross station. The funeral procession of Eleanor of Castile (the wife of Edward I) rested for the last time on this spot before the queen's body was interred in Westminster Abbey. The Eleanor Cross that can be viewed today was constructed in the Victorian era, and replaced an earlier medieval statue.
On leaving the main line station forecourt turn to your right (in the direction of the City) and walk past Villiers Street. (This was built in the 1670s on the site of York House, which used to belong to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham). Famous occupants of the street have been John Evelyn, Richard Steele and Rudyard Kipling. Take the next street on the right, which is Buckingham Arcade, follow it into Buckingham Street, go through the railings and down the stairs and you will emerge onto the Victoria Embankment. You can spend time in the Embankment Gardens, walk along the river from here, or just stop to admire the statue of Robert Burns, before retracing your steps back to the Strand.
The next turning on the right off the Strand is Adam Street (named after the Adam brothers who designed and built the Adelphi in the second half of the eighteenth century). No. 8 Adam Street was the home of Richard Arkwright, inventor of the Spinning Jenny.
Further along you can take a right turn into Robert Street (named after Robert Adam) where no.'s 1-3 are original Adam houses. The Adam brothers lived here between 1775 and 1782. The street has also been the home of several prominent writers: Thomas Hood, Sir James Barrie and John Galsworthy.
Thomas Rowlandson, the caricaturist also lived at no. 16 in the 1790s.
Back on The Strand looking across to the other side, you will see the Adelphi and Vaudeville Theatres, two playhouses that date back to the nineteenth century when The Strand (and not Shaftesbury Avenue) was the hub of London's theatre district. Cross over to the north side of the road and pop into Exchange Court (between Garfunkel's and Wrap-It). This is a narrow alleyway leading up to Maiden Lane and Covent Garden. You can also reach The Garden by walking through Exeter (built on the site of Exeter House), Bedford (built in the 1630s near Bedford House) and Wellington Streets further along. At The Strand end of Wellington Street you will find the Lyceum theatre. This replaced a 1771 concert and exhibition hall that burnt down and the current building, dating from 1834 is a little to the west. In 1871 Henry Irving took over the theatre, remaining in residence until 1902. It was then partially demolished (except for the walls and portico) and has been used as a music hall, a dance hall and is now again a theatre.
Back to Exchange Court and a little further on towards the city you will find another narrow alleyway. This is Bull Inn Court where you can see tiled plaques directing you to the Gallery Entrance of the Adelphi theatre,
Between Exeter and Wellington Streets you will find Burleigh Street. If you look up towards Covent Garden as you pass you will see (at no. 14) a building with interesting brick work. The plaque outside informs you that it is the rectory of St Michael's church. The Strand Palace hotel now stands on the site of the church, but the rectory (dating from the mid-nineteenth century) still remains.
Crossing back to the south side of The Strand you can't fail to miss The Savoy hotel, dating from 1884, three years after the creation of the Savoy theatre. Part of the original site was occupied by the Savoy Palace, which was rebuilt in the middle of the fourteenth century. It was once home to John of Gaunt.
Round the corner on Savoy Hill is the Savoy Chapel. This was where the poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, married John of Gaunt's sister. The Chapel became the Chapel of the Royal Victorian Order in 1937. It is currently closed for refurbishment and will be reopened next year in time for the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations.
Refurbishment of the Savoy Chapel by Long Established Builders
Back on the main drag again is the famous Simpsons in the Strand where you will see a plaque commemorating the Fountain Tavern and the Wolf Club. In the eighteenth century both the political opponents of Sir Robert Walpole (members of the Fountain Club) and his supporters (the Kit Kat Club) met at the Fountain Tavern. The Wolf Club was also on this site in the 1820s. One of the founders was Edmund Kean, the actor, and they used to meet at the Coal Hole Tavern.