A Walk down the Strand and Fleet Street

This walk starts from Charing Cross, and proceeds down the Strand and Fleet Street to reach St Pauls. The walk is best done at the weekend or at a low-traffic time. The walk is in several stages, each ending with some sculpture. The reason for the walk is largely because visitors to London are likely to take some of this route to reach various museums/sites rather than because of the quantity of sculpture along the way. Even so, there is opportunity to see 16th-20th century statues, and architecture including Street's Law Courts, one of the last of the great Gothic buildings built in England. As the main connection between the cities of London and Westminster before they merged, the route has many historical associations, and a few of these are noted on the way.

West Strand improvements, 1830

The walk starts by Trafalgar Square, more or less opposite Charing Cross, and proceeds mainly on the left hand side of the Strand, walking the same direction as the traffic. Our first historical connotation, almost immediately on the left, is Coutts, the bankers, of relevance to these pages because a grand-daughter of the founder was the philanthropist Lady Burdett-Coutts - a church of hers is described on these pages. The bank takes a chunk out of the otherwise largely extant West Strand Improvements of 1830-32 by William Herbert. The picture above shows them in their unspoilt state - the accompanying article wrote of:

'a handsome centre, the first and second storeys of which are ornamented with columns with rich capitals, while the attic story is raised above that of the wings by balustrades. The ends have two columns only. The somewhat overloaded style of the circular terminations, however, compensates for this plainness; but we suspect their ornamental character will frighten the propriety of architectural critics.'

The first actual building of its sculptural interest is number 429, by Charles Holden for the British Medical Association, now the Zimbabwe High Commission. High up are early figures by Epstein, headless and much defaced, and not obvious as his work. The story is that students vandalised them soon after they were put up, apparently due to prudishness at their nakedness.

Proceeding, in passing we may note buildings on the right, best observed though from across the road on the left. Numbers 77-88, Shell-Mex House, was built as the 800-room Cecil Hotel, the largest in Europe, in 1886 by the architects Perry and Reed. Adjacent is the Savoy Taylors' Guild, with ornate wooden accoutrements on the ground floor, and a nice dome on the corner matched by the Savoy Buildings (by C. J. Phipps, 1881) on the next corner. Between is the Savoy Hotel itself, with a turn-of-the-century gilt statue of a knight by the sculptor Frank Lynn Jenkins, and other figures higher up and further back on an older block. That block is of 1884, by T. E. Collcutt, and the one on the Strand (Savoy Court) is by Richard d'Oyly Carte and dates from just past the turn of the century. The creamy matt terra-cotta is a product of Doulton's, and is called Carrara Ware.

Not of our period at all, but notable for its 1930 lamps, just past the Savoy on the left hand side is the Strand Palace Hotel.

Continuing on the left hand side, crossing over the busy road, to the left is Wellington Street and the Lyceum Theatre, a classical building with big portico and pillars dating from the 1830s. Next on the left is Aldwych, down which a brief diversion of few paces is the Strand Theatre, with lots of figures facing onto Aldwych, and more easily appreciated on a side street. Four pairs of girls and cherubs on each side in marble, with round faces in the style of the first half of the 19th Century. On the pediments above, actors, with rather woodenish composition. Adjacent is the Waldorf Hotel with more, heavier cherubs. Alas, I have not identified who did the figures on either of these buildings.

Head back to the Strand. Before proceeding to Somerset House and adjacent sculpture, a word on the street lamps, dating from 1902 (some replacements of 1928 and 1997). The original design, much overpainted, shows, according to St Martin in the Fields (for which much thanks), Saint Martin as a fourth-century Roman officer on horseback sharing his cloak with a beggar in Amiens, France. The motif attracted adverse comment at the time, for example:

'At this moment an illustration of the perverted beliefs of our lesser officials may be studied in the London Streets. The Vestry of St Martin's has been erecting in its district a number of standards for electric lighting, and it has chosen a type of lamp-post that represents the very latest embodiment of all the peculiar endowment of many generations of vestrymen. Nothing more hideous in its abject tastelessness has ever been inflicted upon long-suffering Londoners. Without proportion, character, or decorative fitness, without even a rudimentary suggestion of thought or intention in design, these standards permanently disfigure one of the busiest and most important districts of London, and bear lasting witness to the incapacity of the people who are entrusted with the management of our municipal affairs.'

Somerset House

View of Strand, Somerset House on right

Somerset House shows the sheer scale of the great palaces along the Strand of the Thames when the river was much wider (the parallel walk along the Victoria Embankment passes the Water Gate showing just how wide the river was). Other palaces were Essex House, Arundel House, York House, and so forth. All are gone, and the present Somerset House is actually an 18th Century construction on the site of Protector Somerset's house, mostly due to William Chambers, with western extension by James Pennethorne in the same style in the mid-19th. Once Government offices, it has been gradually transformed into an excellent centre for the arts - the Courtauld, the Barnes collection, an outpost of the Pushkin, and the important Witt and Conway libraries.

The sculpture on the frontage of Somerset House includes ballustrade vases of Coade stone. To left and right are rather worn, rather unexciting 18th Century figures - Kings? Knights? Better are the two angels, gracefully draped, supporting the coat of arms of Somerset House at the centre - they are Fame and Genius, date from 1778, and the sculptor was Bacon. These may be compared to the prolific mourning female figures on 18th and early 19th century monuments in many churches. In the courtyard, a bronze group, again by Bacon, but dating from a decade later, showing the River Thames and George III.

Facing Somerset House is Marconi House, a BBC building by the architect Norman Shaw - the panels high up showing arts and crafts heroines etc are by H. C. Binney. St Mary le Strand is in the centre of the road - an early 18th century effort by Gibbs, rather plain inside. It is central in the 1830s picture above, with St Clement Danes behind. Continuing, just past the church on the right is the former Strand Station, with characteristic maroon tiles.

Australia House

Carrying on, where Aldwych loops round and meets the Strand again, and Arundel Street goes off to the right, is an open space in front of St Clement Danes church. Here are various sculptural works, including on Australia House, which faces the church. Unfortunately, the space as a whole is ruined by the traffic scheme and the hideously out of place modern buildings.

A passing word on the church itself - it is one of Wren's, dating from 1680-2, though the tower, apparently, may remain from the 15th Century. It was gutted in World War II, and although restored, the interior has nothing of sculptural interest so far as these web pages are concerned.

In the space in front of the church is an important monument - the Gladstone Memorial. The sculptor of the whole edifice was Hamo Thornycroft, and the work was completed in 1905. The figure of Gladstone shows Thornycroft's skill as a portraitist, and below are four allegorical groups which are worth some study. Front left is Brotherhood - a matronly woman with two boys. To the right is Education - a woman with child, excellently posed and draped, and with characteristic features. To the rear right is Courage - a woman killing a snake with a scythe, dramatically posed and with the scythe making an excellent silhouette, but she rather too calm-looking. The child with her, though, is suitably lively and frightened. Finally, rear left is perhaps the least successful group - Inspiration, where a woman gazes heavenwards while holding a bible.

Courage, on the Gladstone Memorial

Also in the open space may be mentioned in passing the two rather stiff modern military statues, both dated 1998, by Faith Winter - Lord Douding and Arthur Harris.

Looking back towards Charing Cross, to the right in Aldwych can be seen interesting figures on the block of the London School of Economics, dating from about the same time as the Gladstone. Below the top of the portico, four bronze figures are on inner pillars, two female in flowing and clinging drapes owing something to the Greek naiads in the British Museum, and two knights with swords. All in the best taste. Left and right, minor entrances have two pairs of helmented cherubs, shields, and pots. Above centre behind the tree are two more feminine figures, with a child on the left hand side, and that on the right bearing a torch. Higher up, a bit small for the height above ground, a matched pair of reclining nudes. The whole lot, I believe, by the sculptor A. H. Hodge. (The other end of Aldwych is described as part of a walk starting from Holborn Station, Kingsway.)

Now to Australia House, which gives a chance to see Australian sculpture of the early 20th century. The architect was Marshall Mackenzie, working 1912-1918. The sculpture is excellent. To left and right of the main entrance, figural groups in stone, monumental in size, and with nice pyramidal compositions. They are called Awakening of Australia and Prosperity of Australia, confident work by the sculptor Harold Parker, and dating from 1918.

Above and central is a bronze nude male heroic figure, with cloak and crown, arm raised, and front halves of four rearing horses. He is Phoebus Driving the Horses of the Sun (1923), by Bertram Mackennal.

Both sculptors show links to both Australia and Britain - Parker was born in England but went to Brisbane as a very young child, studying there and then back in Britain, establishing himself here and winning the accolade of a statue being bought for the Chantrey collection. Mackennal came the other way, one of a line of artists born in Melbourne who went to Paris to study, then to London to sell, and then had a varied but ultimately highly successful career as an establishment figure in both England and Australia.

Proceeding past the church, behind it is the unfortunate statue of Samuel Johnson as a troll, by the artist Percy Fitzgerald, dating from 1910. Then to the left, the last of the great Victorian Gothic buildings in London, the Law Courts by G. E. Street. As they went up, The Times described the buildings as follows:

They are of Gothic design, and, viewed by non-professional eyes, might be set down as somewhat irregular examples of the Decorated or Second Pointed style. But their architect has embodied in his designs so much of modern improvements, and has so thoroughly studied the adaptation of the architecture of the Edwardian period to the requirements of our age, that we fancy he would prefer to call the structure a specimen of the 'Victorian style'... The southern, northern and western fronts will be of Portland stone, while the eastern front will present a combination of Portland stone interspersed with red bricks, as will be the case with the interior courts and quadrangles. ... Each front is to be relieved by dwarf towers, arches, and other features; and there will be two high towers... the whole edifice will be three, four, and five storeys in height in different parts, and its lofty pitched roofs will be relieved by the insertion of gables, dormers, and pinnacles, in great variety... the architect has given accommodation to no less than 18 distinct courts, each with it sown entrance and staircase, with separate approaches and doors for the judges, the jury, the witnesses, the Bar, and the public, together with rooms for clerks, secretaries, and registrars, and also waiting-rooms...'

And another account, regarding those roofs:

'Nothing is more welcome than the detail of small slates, which cover the roof like a woven texture, while each slate becomes encrusted in the rest. The effect, as can be seen in the high roofs, is most picturesque; we feel that it is the true system, and so Mr Street has adopted it for his Law Courts.'

But of the clock:

'Mr Street's new clock at the Law courts, hung out in the picturesque style of Bow Church, is surely too trivial and small. The fine massive tower behind seems to be holding out a watch instead of a clock, and is thus actually robbed of its own majesty... Most passers-by will see that something is wrong, but perhaps may not recognise the principle, that where an object is out of proportion to the function set to it, either in excess or deficiency, it will appear grosser or smaller than it is actually.'

Law Courts

The picture above (from when the Law Courts first went up - note the scaffolding in the background) seems to emphasises the smallness of the clock.

We must note that the 8-acre site involved the removal of 'no less than thirty close, foul, and filthy courts, yards, lanes, and alleys,' of which a less contemporary account has the following to say:

'It is unquestionably true that any great public good can only be achieved at the cost of much private inconvenience; and the New Law Courts cannot claim to be any exception to this general rule. No sensible man can doubt that the destruction of so many filthhy slums must ultimately prove a gain to the community at large; yet it is also undeniable that the first effect of the work of demolition was to render 4,000 persons homeless, and subsequently to drive three-fourths of them into other courts and alleys not far away, which, being previously well filled, were speedily, from the overcrowding consequent upon so enormous an influx, rendered as unhealthy as the squalid dens from which the immigrants had been routed.'

So much for the Law Courts. Opposite, we may mention the Lloyds/TSB branch, no. 219, for its fishes and balcony, and interior with Doulton's tiles painted by J. H. McLennan. Formerly a restaurant and built as the Palsgrove Hotel, this is the work of the architect G. Cuthbert, and dates from 1883.

. Old Temple Bar, and its removal

Also by the Law Courts is the point at which the Strand ends and Fleet Street begins, marked by the Temple Bar monument in the centre of the road. Formerly, Temple Bar, a construction of Christopher Wren's, stood here. It had statues of Charles 1 and Charles II to the west, in Roman costume, and on the east side, James I and Elizabeth, all four being the work of 'a vain, half-crazed sculptor named Jonn Bushnell, who died mad in 1701'. When the new Law Courts were being put up, the Temple Bar was taken down and rebuilt as an entrance to Sir H Meux's park at Cheshunt, Theobald's Park, Hertfordshire. The whole has now returned to stand just by St Pauls, on the Paternoster Square side, very cleaned-looking.

On the site of that monument then, came the extant monument, designed by the architect Horace Jones and put up in 1880. It has on top a marvellously spiky griffin rampant by the sculptor C. B. Birch. Much decried at the time, a Birch apologist writing a few years later felt that

'The real facts of the case were that the City Architect made the inexcusable blunder of treating the 'Dragon' supporters of the city arms, or rather one of them, as if it had been the portrait of some illustrious personage, placing it on the top of the pedestal without its indispensable brother dragon... Birch was in no wise responsible for that unfortunate crime against good taste.

Beneath the crime against good taste, statues on each side of the monument by J. E. Boehm depict Queen Victoria and Prince Edward.

Fleet Street

Onwards into Fleet Street. As we proceed along, there are a variety of interesting and picturesque buildings on the right hand side, as usual, best viewed from the left. No. 9 is the gateway to Middle Temple, dating to 1684 and with a carved sheep above the door (Inner, Middle and the long-gone Outer Temple were the abodes of the Knights Templar, and are now Inns of Court). No. 17 forms the earlier timbered Prince Henry Rooms, above the gate to Inner Temple. No. 21 is the photogenic and unbelievably narrow Old Cock Tavern, again somewhat of the 17th Century, and with 19th Century interest to these pages in its association with Tennyson, who composed poetry about it.

From the 19th Century, no. 29 is by some architect called Bartlet, dates from 1860, and has tiny half-figures to hold up the narrow balcony. Almost directly opposite is the third church along the route - St Dunstan in the West, put up in 1829-33 by the architect John Shaw, and completed by his son. The tower and the clock is older. In fact there is a very old sculptural connection here. Lud Gate, one of half a dozen gates to the old City of London, was a 13th Century construction, rebuilt by Queen Elizabeth in the late 16th Century, when statues of King Lud and his sons were added, and one of the Queen herself, the latter apparently by the sculptor William Kerwin. An insensitive 18th Century traffic improvement scheme saw the removal of the gate, and the Marquis of Hertford rescued the statues for his villa in Regents Park.

Old St Dunstans, with clock

Back to the church - the previous one on the site had a clock, with statues of giants to strike the hours put up in 1671, the work of one Thomas Harrys of Water Lane. When the old church was taken down, the acquisitive Lord Hertford got those statues for his villa too. Preserved, the Queen Elizabeth and sticking-out clock eventually came to the current 19th Century church, along with a set of 8 bells from the old church, and underneath in the Porch are the statues of King Lud and his sons. Also in front of the church is the 1930 Lutyens-designed Northcliffe Memorial, with strongly-modelled bust by Lady Hilton Young. Much more in the way of 17th Century work inside the church.

The preserved clock

From here onwards, bits and pieces of décor and sculpture only, all the way through to St Pauls. A few are noteworthy. On the right hand side, nos. 49-50, where the entrance of Serjeants Inn lies, a good stone group of Justice and Truth, early 20th Century work. A little further on the left, Mary Queen of Scots House at no. 145, with a stone statue of that queen and much spiky tracery to the windows and other Gothic décor. Then nos. 135-141 have a modern frieze with two athletes, and back on the right hand side is Reuters at no. 85, with an angel astride the globe, blowing a trumpet. Opposite is the old Express Building of 1931 - peer in the window to see the exciting ceiling and wall pieces. This part of the street has links to the Press as far back as the 18th century - among many famous names are the Morning Advertiser started there in 1795, the Dispatch in 1801, the Telegraph and the Standard in the 1820s, and magazines such as Punch in 1841.

Next on the right hand side is Wren's St Brides, with its wedding-cake spire and inside, two sculptured Charity Children of 1711. One of the buildings in front of St Brides is number 92, with cherubs above the door and tiny heads high up. Back on the left hand side bordering onto Farringdon Street nos. 107-111 date from 1872-3 and show a good mix of heads, cherubs etc. Crossing over Ludgate Circus, we can note a Callcutt building of around 1890 at nos 45-57, a terra cotta effort with little moulded heads lost in the decoration, and on the left hand side, another Wren church, St Martin within Ludgate. A few more steps takes us to St Pauls and the end of the walk.

End of the Walk - St Paul's from Ludgate Circus, 1880s

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