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Strand, London


Strand at Charing Cross in 2008, looking towards Trafalgar Square and Admiralty Arch
Strand is located in Greater London
 Strand shown within Greater London
OS grid reference
London borough Westminster
Ceremonial county Greater London
Region London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district WC2
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly West Central
List of places

Strand, often called the Strand, is a major thoroughfare in the City of Westminster in central London that forms part of the A4 road. It is just over 34 mile (1,200 m) in length from its western origin at Trafalgar Square to its eastern end at Temple Bar, where it continues into Fleet Street, marking Westminster's boundary with the City of London.[1] Its historical length has, however, been longer than this. Strand forms part of the Northbank business improvement district.[2]

At the east end of the street are two historic churches: St Mary le Strand and St Clement Danes, which are both now situated on islands in the middle of the road, owing to widening of the Strand over the years. The length of road from St Mary's eastwards up to St Clement's was widened in 1900 and subsumes the former Holywell Street which forked from the Strand and ran parallel with it to the north.[3] Traffic travelling eastbound past the churches follows a short crescent called Aldwych, connected at both ends to the Strand. The Strand marks the southern boundary of the Covent Garden district.[4]

Two London Underground stations were once named Strand: a closed Piccadilly line station (which was renamed Aldwych station) and a former Northern line station which today forms part of Charing Cross station. 'Strand Bridge' was the name given to Waterloo Bridge during its construction; it was renamed for its official opening on the second anniversary of the coalition victory in the Battle of Waterloo.


  • Toponymy 1
  • History 2
  • Palaces 3
  • Decline 4
  • Travel connections 5
  • Churches 6
  • Educational institutions 7
  • Theatre 8
  • Literary connections 9
  • In popular culture 10
  • Other notable buildings 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • Further reading 14
  • External links 15


The name was first recorded in 1002 as strondway,[5][6] later in 1185 as Stronde and in 1220 as la Stranda.[7] It is formed from the Old English word 'strand', meaning shore. Initially it referred to the shallow bank of the once much wider River Thames, before the construction of the Victoria Embankment. The name was later applied to the road itself. Part of its length was known in the 13th century as 'Densemanestret' or 'street of the Danes', referring to the community of Danes in the area.[7]


This 1593 map shows "The Strande" as the principal route – parallel to the River, from the City in the east, to Whitehall in the west.
A map showing the Strand ward of Westminster Metropolitan Borough as it appeared in 1916.

The route of the Strand was used during the Roman period as part of a route to Silchester, known as "Iter VIII" on the Antonine Itinerary,[8] and which later became known by the name Akeman Street.[9][10] It was briefly part of a trading town called Lundenwic that developed around 600 AD,[11] and stretched from Trafalgar Square to Aldwych.[12] Alfred the Great gradually moved the settlement into the old Roman town of Londinium from around 886 AD onwards, leaving no mark of the old town, and the area returned to fields.[11]

In the Middle Ages it became the principal route between the separate settlements of the City of London (the civil and commercial centre) and the royal Palace of Westminster (the national political centre). In the archaeological record, there is considerable evidence of occupation to the north of Aldwych, but much along the former foreshore has been covered by rubble from the demolition of the Tudor Somerset Place, a former royal residence, to create a large platform for the building of the first Somerset House, in the 17th century.[13]

The west part of the Strand was in the parish of St Martin in the Fields and in the east it extended into the parishes of St Clement Danes and St Mary le Strand. Most of its length was in the Liberty of Westminster, although part of the eastern section in St Clement Danes was in the Ossulstone hundred of Middlesex. The precinct of the Savoy, located approximately where the approach to Waterloo Bridge is now, had the Strand as its northern boundary. All of these parishes and places became part of the Strand District in 1855, except St Martin in the Fields which was governed by a vestry. The Strand District Board of Works was based at No. 22, Tavistock Street. Strand District was abolished in 1900 and became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Westminster. The area had parliamentary representation through the Strand constituency from 1885 to 1918.


From the 12th century onwards, large mansions lined the Strand including several palaces and townhouses inhabited by bishops and royal courtiers, mainly located on the south side, with their own 'river gates' and landings directly on the Thames.[1] Those on the south side of the street were, from east to west:

A 19th-century print showing St Mary-Le-Strand and the Strand front of Somerset House.

On the north side of the Strand were:

  • Cecil House, also called Exeter House or Burghley House, built in the 16th century by Lord Burghley as an expansion of an existing Tudor house. Exeter House was demolished in 1676 and Exeter Exchange built on the site. It was most famous for the menagerie that occupied its upper floors for over 50 years, from 1773 until 1829, when Exeter Exchange was demolished. It was replaced by Exeter Hall, noted for its Evangelical meetings. This was demolished in 1907, and the site is now occupied by the Strand Palace Hotel.
  • Bedford House.
  • Wimbledon House.

Apart from the rebuilt Somerset House, all of these grand buildings are now gone, and are overlaid by later streets lined by humbler tenements. These were built by property developers on the sites of the old mansions, from the 17th century onwards. A New Exchange was built on part of the gardens of Durham House, in 1608-9, facing the Strand. This high-class shopping centre enjoyed considerable popularity but was eventually destroyed in 1737.[17]


After the demolition of most of the grand mansions and departure of their aristocratic residents for the West End, the area acquired a dissolute but lively reputation and became notable for its coffee houses, low taverns, and cheap women. The Dog and Duck tavern on Strand was famed as a venue for the conspirators involved in the Gunpowder Plot.[18] In the time of the English Civil War, the Nag's Head tavern was the venue of a meeting between Henry Ireton and some of the Levellers which resulted in the production of a document called the Remonstrance of the Army which demanded the abolition of the monarchy and the trial of King Charles I.[19] In the 19th century the Coal Hole tavern, under the management of Renton Nicholson, was notable for song-and-supper evenings, tableaux vivants of scantily clad women in poses plastiques, and a ribald "Judge and Jury" show.[20]

Travel connections

Charing Cross railway station built on the Strand in 1864 provided a boat train service to Europe, which stimulated the growth of hotels in the area to cater for travellers. These included the Charing Cross Hotel, attached to the station itself. Today, luggage outlets and tourist agents on the Strand testify to the former international connections of the area. Also symbolic of world travel are the old postage stamp dealers on the Strand, including Stanley Gibbons.[21]


A Routemaster on London Buses route 1 heading down the Strand in 1981. St Clement Danes church is in the background.

The church of St Clement Danes is believed to date from the 9th century, but the present building is a restoration of a 17th-century work by Christopher Wren that was gutted in the Blitz. Harold Harefoot (reigned 1035–40, one of England's lesser known kings) is buried here. Since 1958 it has served as the central church of the Royal Air Force.

St Mary-le-Strand was designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1717, to replace a previous church demolished by Protector Somerset for building material for his adjacent Somerset House. Essex Street Chapel, the birthplace of British Unitarianism (1774), abuts onto the Strand; the post-Blitz building serves as the denominational headquarters.

Educational institutions

King's College London, notably situated beside Strand's famous church St Mary-le-Strand, has its Strand Campus as their main campus since it was founded in 1820's. Having recently acquired Strand House, Bush House and other buildings (of the Aldwych Quarter) in early 2015,[22][23] it will effectively occupy both buildings on the opposite sides of St Mary's.

Courtauld Institute of Art together with the King's College London School of Law occupy the Somerset House.


The Strand was the hub of Victorian theatre and nightlife. However, redevelopment of the East Strand and the construction of the Aldwych and Kingsway roads in the 1890s and early years of the 20th century led to the loss of the Opera Comique, the Globe, the Royal Strand Theatre and the nearby Olympic Theatre. Other lost theatres include the Gaiety (closed 1939, demolished 1957), Terry's (converted into a cinema 1910, demolished 1923), and the Tivoli (closed 1914 and later demolished; in 1923 the Tivoli Cinema opened on the site but was closed and demolished in 1957 to make way for Peter Robinson's store).

Surviving theatres include the Adelphi, the Savoy and Vaudeville, and closely adjacent in Wellington Street the Lyceum.

Literary connections

In the 19th century much of the Strand was rebuilt and the houses to the south no longer backed onto the Thames, separated from the river by the Victoria Embankment constructed in 1865–70. This moved the river some 50 metres (160 ft) further away. The Strand became a newly fashionable address and many avant-garde writers and thinkers gathered here, among them Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer and the scientist Thomas Henry Huxley. No. 142 was the home of radical publisher and physician John Chapman,[24] who not only published many of his contemporaries from this house during the 1850s, but also edited the Westminster Review for 42 years. The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was also a house guest. A lower grade of publishing was promoted at the east end of the Strand where Holywell Street was the hub of the Victorian pornography trade, until the street was physically eliminated by widening of the Strand in 1900.[25] Virginia Woolf also writes about Strand in several of her essays, including "Street Haunting: A London Adventure," and her novel, Mrs. Dalloway. T.S. Eliot alludes to the Strand in his 1905 poem "At Graduation" and in his 1922 poem "The Waste Land" (part III, The Fire Sermon, v. 258: "and along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street"). John Masefield also refers to a "jostling in the Strand" in his well-known poem "On Growing Old".

In popular culture

The Strand is the subject of a famous music hall song "Let's All Go Down the Strand" (words and music by Harry Castling and C. W. Murphy). The song opens with a group of tourists, staying the night at Trafalgar Square about to embark for Rhineland — presumably on the boat train from nearby Charing Cross:

The Strand, Looking Eastwards from Exeter Exchange (1822). The church in the distance is St Mary le Strand with St Clement Danes behind.

One night a half 'a dozen tourists
Spent the night together in Trafalgar Square.
A fortnight's tour on the Continent was planned,
And each had his portmanteau in his hand.
Down the Rhine they meant to have a picnic
Til' Jones said, "I must decline—"
"Boys you'll be advised by me
to stay away from Germany—
What's the good a' going down the Rhine."

Let's all go down the Strand – Have a banana!
Let's all go down the Strand!

I'll be the leader, you can march behind.
Come with me and see what we can find!
Let's all go down the Strand – Have a banana!
Oh! What a happy land.
That's the place for fun and noise,
All among the girls and boys.
So let's all go down the Strand.

The song inspired a version by the group Blur.[26] The lines "Let's all go down the Strand" and "Have a banana!" are also referenced by English comedian Bill Bailey during his stage routine on Cockney music.[27]

A 1925 Dennis bus operating route 529 down the Strand, 1980.

In Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway (1925), Clarissa and Richard's daughter Elizabeth, in a rare moment of solitude while amid the crowds on the Strand, comes to a significant realisation about her purpose in life and begins to resolve the tension within herself regarding her mother and Miss Kilman.

Art rock group Roxy Music took the Strand as inspiration for their third single "Do the Strand", from the 1973 For Your Pleasure album.

Progressive rock group Jethro Tull references the Strand in the song "Requiem", from their 1975 album Minstrel in the Gallery.

John Betjeman used the title of the song for a television documentary made for Associated-Rediffusion in 1967,[28] and in the same year Margaret Williams used it for a stage comedy.[29] The Strand was also the locale where Burlington Bertie, the hero of another popular music hall song, sauntered along "like a toff".

In the 2008 film adaptation of C. S. Lewis's fourth novel in the Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian, the four Pevensie children are on the platform at Strand tube station when the call of Susan's magical horn summons them back to Narnia.

The Strand Magazine was named after the street, and began publishing in 1891. A BBC World Service arts and culture radio series was called The Strand.[30] Bush House, situated on the Strand, was home to the World Service between 1941 and 2012.

Other notable buildings

Twinings' tea shop on the Strand, which dates from the 18th century.

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ The Northbank District
  3. ^
  4. ^ Christopher Hibbert, Ben Weinreb,
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^
  9. ^ Thomas Codrington,
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b "King Alfred's London and London's King Alfred", John Clark, "London Archaeologist" Volume 9 No.2 Autumn 1999
  12. ^
  13. ^ The Strand (southern tributaries)', Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878), pp. 63–84 accessed 22 July 2008
  14. ^ Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert (1983) The London Encyclopedia: 28
  15. ^ VCH: "Hospital of the Savoy"
  16. ^ Inn of the Bishops of Carlisle (London Online) accessed 22 July 2008
  17. ^ Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert (1983) The London Encyclopedia: 539
  18. ^ Tim Moore (2002) Do Not Pass Go: From the Old Kent Road to Mayfair. London, Yellow Jersey Press: 197
  19. ^ Christopher Hibbert (1993) Cavaliers and Roundheads: The English at War 1642–1649. London, Harper Collins: 280
  20. ^ Cyril Pearl (1955) The Girl with the Swansdown Seat. London, Frederick Muller: 180-7
  21. ^ Tim Moore (2002) Do Not Pass Go: From the Old Kent Road to Mayfair. London, Yellow Jersey Press: 200
  22. ^ [1] Jack Grove (2015) Ed Byrne: 'new address is a defining moment for king's college london'. Times Higher Education accessed 10 September 2015
  23. ^ [2] Jack Grove (2015) King's College London to use former BBC World Service HQ. Times Higher Education accessed 10 September 2015
  24. ^ Rosemary Ashton, 142 Strand: A Radical Address in Victorian London, (2006)
  25. ^ H. Montgomery Hyde (1964) A History of Pornography: 167-82
  26. ^ See Sunday Sunday.
  27. ^ Cosmic Jam (1996) accessed 4 August 2010
  28. ^ "Betjeman's London: Let's All Go Down the Strand" (BFI) accessed 18 December 2008
  29. ^ Margaret Williams Let's All Go Down the Strand (Evans Plays, London 1967)
  30. ^ Arts and Culture (BBC World Service) accessed 18 December 2008

Further reading

  • (bird's eye view)
  • Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson (1968) The Lost Theatres of London. Rupert Hart-Davis.

External links

  • Strand, In Their Shoes, Strand history resource
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