Victorian London - Districts - Streets - Strand

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Strand. — The Strand is one of the historical streets of London. It was formerly the water-side road, whence its name between the cities of London anti Westminster. Between it and the river lay the palaces of the great nobles, and on the other side the green fields stretched away without a break to the north. The road was bad then, and people who could afford it took boat for the City at Westminster-stairs, in preference to picking their way along the ill-paved streets, with the chance of being pushed aside into the deep holes that abounded by the numerous lackeys and retainers. As the steamers have driven the watermen from the river, so the growth of London has swept away the palaces, and the names of the streets alone mark where they stood. The Strand is a great thoroughfare still, and the connecting link between the City and the West. Fashion seldom goes east of Charing-cross, and the great drapery shops of the West-end are consequently conspicuous by their absence; nor upon the other hand does business in the City man’s sense of the word, come west of Temple-bar. Hence the Strand is a compromise. There is somehow an air of greater lightness and gaiety than is apparent in the City. There are more women among the foot passengers, more looking into shop windows, and an absence of that hurried walk and preoccupied look which prevail in the City proper. The difference will at once strike the observer, and is the main characteristic of the street. The stranger will probably be disappointed at his first visit to the Strand, and in truth the houses which line it are for the most part unworthy of its position as a portion of the greatest thoroughfare in London. Nor, with the exception of the New Law Courts at its eastern end, the Charing-cross Hotel, and a few private shops, has much been done in the way of improvement in the Strand. When the two churches of St. Clement Danes and St. Mary-le-Strand are swept away, and Booksellers’-row disappears, the Strand may become a noble thoroughfare; but at present there is no street of equal importance in any capital of Europe so unworthy of its position. The Strand is essentially the home of theatres. The Adelphi, Lyceum, Gaiety, Vaudeville, Strand, and Opera Comique are in the street itself, while hard by are the Globe, the Olympic, and the Folly. Exeter Hall is also in the Strand.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

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George Birch, The Descriptive Album of London, c.1896

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Strand, looking West

Strand - photograph


No better idea of the Strand can be obtained than from the church of St. Mary-le-Strand, whence this view is taken. On the left is the entrance to Somerset House, used as Government offices, and erected by Sir William Chambers in 1776-86, in place of the old palace begun by the Protector Somerset. A little further west is Wellington Street, bisecting the Strand, and affording access to Waterloo Bridge. At the far end of the houses is seen the Nelson monument in Trafalgar Square. The Strand is the southern main artery from the City to the West End, and is always crowded with traffic, especially when the theatres which abound in the neighbourhood are being emptied of their patrons. The thoroughfare, which is here shown at its broadest, owes its name to the Get that the Thames formerly flowed close beside it.

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Strand, with St. Mary's Church, looking East

The Strand, with St. Mary's Church, looking East - photograph


The church of St. Mary-le-Strand was designed by Gibbs, and though it has been censured as tawdry by medievalists in architecture, it has won no small admiration from critics with a more catholic taste. The first of fifty churches built by order in the reign of Queen Anne, it dates from the year 1717. In the distance may be seen the spire of St. Clement Danes' and the tower of the Royal Palace of Justice. The narrow street beginning at the north-east corner of St. Mary's (on the left) is Holywell Street, which it is proposed to demolish in order to effect a much-needed widening of the Strand. To the right of our view is the Strand façade of Somerset House, and beyond it the entrance to King's College.

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - St. Clement Danes'

St. Clement Danes' -  photograph


St. Clement Danes' (where the Danes come in nobody knows for certain) occupies a commanding position near the eastern end of the Strand. It was built in 1682, under the superintendence of Wren, the tower, however, being added in 1719; and it was restored in 1839. The tower is 115 feet high, and consists of Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite tiers. Our view, taken from the front of the Royal Palace of Justice, shows the east end of the building. The main street of the Strand is to the left of the picture, and the road to the right leads to Holywell Street and Wych Street. It was at St. Clement Danes' that Dr. Johnson regularly attended divine service, and his pew in the gallery is distinguished by a brass plate. The organ, by Father Smith, was restored in 1893.