The Strand was originally just a little muddy track in London that ran east along the Thames, but by the early 16th-century the well-to-do had settled in and built mansions down to the bank.
The Strand soon became one of the most important streets in London – exactly halfway between the twin seats of power in Whitehall and the City. It soon filled up with coffee shops and drinking establishments spreading news and gossip to the masses.
Building work continued till the turn of the 20th-century, when the world-famous Savoy and Simpsons opened for business – but the street’s hey-day drew to a close when the Victoria Embankment was built between the river and the street.
When the Embankment was built in the 1870s, many of the mansions lost their riverside setting. The road then filled up with shops, taverns and music-hall theatres – most of which have since moved north to Covent Garden. The only originals to remain are the Vaudeville and Adelphi.
Somerset House was built between 1776 and 1786 on the site of the Duke of Somerset’s Tudor Palace. It was originally just one of the many 18th-century mansions that lined the Strand from end to end, but with the march of concrete progress and the bombs of World War II, it found itself the last one standing.
Somerset House has had many uses during its lifetime, finding itself home to the Navy, the Exchequer, the Royal Society, and Royal Academy of Arts.
More recently, it has found itself the depository of the nation’s vast collection of birth, death and marriage certificates. When these moved away in 1997 the House was treated to a major refurbishment. The two wings were turned over to three world class art displays, and the car-park in the courtyard was installed with 55 water fountains.
Their style may be pure 13th-century, but the Royal Courts of Justice were actually designed by George Edmund Street in the 1870s.
They are where the country’s high-profile civil cases are contested – things like libel, slander and divorce. You can often see a famous face or two giving their interview outside, after they descend the steps in victory… or defeat.
St. Mary-le-Strand was built between 1714 and 1724 by the Scottish architect James Gibbs. It was his first public commission, and clearly shows the influence of Christopher Wren.
St. Clement Danes dates back to the time of William the Conqueror in the late 11th-century. It survived the Great Fire in 1666, but was demolished and remodelled by Wren in 1680.
The church was extensively remodelled again forty years later by the architect James Gibb, who raised the belfry and added a domed vestry.
Sadly, what survives of their work was largely levelled in the Second World War, leaving just the steeple standing. It was rebuilt and dedicated to the Royal Air Force in 1958.
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