Today we celebrate the publishing of the 200th blog. Thank you for your support and encouragement.
Above: A photograph looking east along the Strand with Hotel Cecil on the right. The entry arch to the hotel remains today and the hotel name in large letters is just visible.
The history of the Strand can be divided up into ’Time Chapters’. In early Saxon times the Strand, particularly around today’s street called Aldwych, was inhabited by a Saxon settlement. Around the 12th and 13th centuries the southern side of the Strand was mainly occupied by the London houses of bishops. After the Dissolution most of the land both sides of the Strand was owned by dukes who built large houses in which to live. By the 17th and 18th centuries most of the dukes had moved elsewhere and developers built streets and houses on most of the land around the Strand. In the 1860s Charing Cross Station was built and people could travel to the Strand from southern England and from France (by boat to Dover and then by train). This was to trigger the building of many luxury hotels, restaurants and theatres in and around the Strand. Probably the most famous of all is the Savoy Hotel which is still a famous name of a London hotel. The one we want to talk about is one of the largest ever built in this area – Hotel Cecil.
In 1402 the Prior of Carlisle granted land to his bishop for a London residence on the south side of the Strand. The land was owned by the Bishops of Carlisle until 1539 when they no longed wished to have a London house and the land passed to Lord Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford. He was given many properties by Henry VIII, including this one and also land on the north side of the Strand, on which Covent Garden was subsequently built. In passing, just to illustrate how much land Russell acquired, he was also given the abbey and town of Tavistock, in Devon. In that town today – rather confusingly – is still to be seen the town’s main hotel, called the Bedford Hotel.
Continuing with the site of Carlisle Inn, on the south side of the Strand. The property passed through several owners until 1553 when Salisbury House was built on the land by Lord Burghley’s younger son Robert Cecil, created Earl of Salisbury, around the turn of the 1600s. It was divided into two parts by his heir the second Earl, of which the lesser was demolished in 1678 to make room for a new residential street – Salisbury Street. The central part of the building was converted to shops and officially renamed the Middle Exchange, though colloquially the building was of ill repute, being known as the ‘Whores’ Nest’. That part of the building was finally demolished around 1695, along with the remainder of the house, to make room for another new road – named Cecil Street.
The streets just mentioned have now vanished but the Cecil name ‘came to life’ once more in the form of the Hotel Cecil, built 1890-96 on the original site of Cecil House. The hotel was designed by Perry and Reid, opening in 1896 in grand style, lavishly decorated by the prestidgious shop called Maples. With 800 rooms, it was the largest hotel in Europe. Apart from the possible exception of two hotels in America – one in San Francisco and the other in Saratoga – it was the largest in the world.
Even giant ventures can go wrong and the proprietor went bankrupt and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. In February 1930 the hotel closed and it was demolished in a record time of 16 weeks – between September and December that year. The impressive facade, facing onto the Strand, was kept along with the arched entrance off the roadway.
Above: The unusual entry arch to the Hotel Cecil remains to be admired today. The surrounding building was once the north side of the original hotel.
Those two features remain but behind the facade Shell Mex House was built in 1936. That building also remains but it no longer bears that name because Shell moved out of the premises a few years back. It is now in use as offices for other companies.