9 Things You Didn't Know About Strand

By Laura Reynolds Last edited 9 months ago
9 Things You Didn't Know About Strand

Strand, (it's 'Strand', not 'The Strand' — although even Dickens got that one wrong, so we'll let you off) runs for ¾ mile from Trafalgar Square to Middle Temple Lane, where it becomes Fleet Street. The name comes from the Old English 'strond' meaning 'beach', or 'river's edge'. It carries several interesting and historic buildings — Somerset House, The Savoy, several theatres, historic restaurants and more.

This was originally called Strand station, before being renamed Aldwych. Photo: Joe Skade

The fact that you thought you knew is wrong

It's a well-known piece of London trivia that the entrance to The Savoy is the only place in London, possibly the UK, where you drive on the wrong side of the road. This isn't actually true — we know of at least one other place in London where this is the case.

See more secrets of The Savoy — including the time the courtyard was flooded with a metre of water... on purpose.

Photo: David Williams

London's first numbered address

Strand was the first road in London to have a numbered address. The official residence of the Secretary of State used to be in a building on the thoroughfare and, during the reign of Charles II (between 1660 and 1685), it became known as No 1., The Strand — the first building in London to have a street number.

The building was on the Northumberland Avenue end of the street, but has since been destroyed. One Strand does still exist today as an address, close to the original site, and is home to some rather plush offices. Still, we prefer the address Number 1, London.

There used to be a Strand station

Actually, there have been two Underground stations called Strand, neither of which are still in use today:

The chess house

Simpson's-in-the-Strand has a reputation for being one of the oldest restaurants in London (the building is Grade II listed), and is known for sticking resolutely to traditional British cuisine (to this day it doesn't have a menu but a 'bill of fare'). What few people realise is that it was known as the 'home of chess' in the 19th century, when it was still predominantly a coffee house. Customers would play against each other, and against players from other nearby coffee houses.

The serving practise of wheeling food out on trolleys and under silver domes originates from Simpson's chess days — to avoid disturbing a game of chess halfway through.

Gunpowder Plot origins

It's often claimed that the Gunpowder Plot was hatched in a tavern on Strand, named the Duck and Drake. It was in this pub that Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Robert Keyes apparently swore an oath on the bible to blow up Parliament. This pub no longer exists, and no-one's really sure where it originally stood.

Part of it's now in Battersea (via South Kensington)

Art deco lamps still survive on the exterior of the Strand Palace Hotel building. Photo: Glen

The Strand Palace Hotel at 372 Strand was built in the early 20th century, and as it expanded in the 1930s, its interior became known for being one of London's most opulent.

In 1969, the foyer of the hotel was removed, and the V&A Museum acquired parts of it, considering it to be an important example of an art deco design.

Items in the V&A's collection include the building's 1920s revolving door and a room key from the hotel that was recovered from a first world war trench in Normandy. The items are usually kept at the museum's store in Battersea, but were put on display in South Kensington during a 2003 art deco exhibition.

An elephant used to live there

Exeter Exchange in around 1820.

The Exeter Exchange (or Exeter 'Change) was a menagerie which was situated on the north side of Strand from 1773 until 1829. Its name comes from Exeter House, which previously stood on the site of the menagerie. Tigers, hyenas, lions, jaguars and sloths were among the many animals who passed through the menagerie — no mean feat considering it was contained to the upper floors of the building. But the most famous animal was Chunee, an elephant who arrived in 1809, and earned his keep by performing on stage at Theatre Royal in Covent Garden.

As was common at the time, animal welfare was not a priority and Chunee developed a rotten tusk, which was left untreated, making him so irritable that he was killed by soldiers from Somerset House in 1826.

Strand Bridge

You've probably never heard of Strand bridge, but chances are you've unwittingly crossed it as some point. Waterloo Bridge was originally going to be called Strand Bridge, until it was renamed to commemorate the battle of Waterloo.

The Roman bath that's actually Tudor

Just off Strand, on Surrey Street, sits the Grade II listed Roman baths. Except they're not actually Roman, they're Tudor. Watch this video and read more here.

See also:

For more of an insight into Strand, we highly recommend one of Discovering London's Oddities of Strand walking tours.

Last Updated 13 January 2017