A memory of the Strand
This story has been kindly contributed by Gerald Collins.
The Strand is the gateway to Temple Bar and the City boundary. Originally lined with palaces and mansions, the only reminder of these old estates today are the street names i.e. Essex Street, Villiers Street.
As a child in the early 1950’s my parents would take me to Lyons Corner House next to Charing Cross Station for tea. This was a great treat as there was waitress service (Nippies) and a small group of musicians played what seemed like pre-war tunes. Lyons Corner Houses, there were several, were the working class equivalent of the (posh) hotels.
I worked in the Strand in 1968 when I joined Shell Chemicals at Villiers House, then a recently built office development (I still have my account with the bank on the ground floor!). At lunch times I would stroll the Strand, sometimes from the Trafalgar Square and to the Law Courts. At the Law Courts end was Tom’s Coffee House early 18th century and later to become the first place to serve tea in London. Now it’s Twinings, and you can still visit the a teashop. Once on these lunchtime strolls I met Charlie Chaplin leaning on a stick (out of necessity) and his (last) wife.
Many of the buildings from previous centuries remain i.e. Coutts bank (the ‘Royals’ bank) and Somerset House (1790) being the oldest. The first all electric restaurant (No. 22) and theatre, the Savoy was financed by and for the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, including the Hotel. The Savoy Hotel is still the only building accessible for traffic on the right handside. It was also the home of the first BBC transmissions (radio) in 1923.
The Shell office at Villers House was damaged by fire in the 1970’s. A wood importing business with much paneling below our floor caught fire due to a frying pan being left on the cooker overnight! We therefore moved to a small office near the Embankment (Breams Buildings) which very shortly afterwards had window damage due to a nearby IRA carbomb and explosion!
I eventually transferred to Shell UK Materials at Shell-Mex House at the end of the 1970s. The front of this building is on the site of the Victorian 1,000 bed (the largest in London) Cecil Hotel, which was always much frequented by civil servants returning or in transit to the colonies. Shell were forced to keep the front of the Hotel when they demolished the old hotel in the early 1930s to put up their new modern office. This frontage became Cecil Chambers and I worked in what was previously a bedroom with original pictures of the old hotel on the walls.
Being a buyer I must have eaten at most of the restaurants in the area, including the Savoy Grill. On one occasion during the ‘Thatcher period’ I noticed at the next table Ted Heath the ex PM dining with a young man, probably a nephew. Being single, a yachtman and organ player it’s probable today the Sun would make something of it! My favourite restaurant was Simpsons in the Strand which only served traditional English fare with great empire decor to go with it. The basement bar was until quite recently off limits to women and in Victorian times the entire restaurant was a male preserve. The Charing Cross Hotel above the railway station also had a 1920’s atmosphere. A new invention at the time was the Strand Palace Hotel ‘Carvery’. Luncheon vouchers (value three shillings) were all the rage for staff and you were able to return to the Carvery for endless portions of meat and vegetables for no extra charge. Very popular. It’s as well I had took up running for the Shell Lensbury Club at this time!
My farewell to the Strand was in 1988 when I was given a lunch at the restaurant at the top of Shell-mex House, close to the clock face which is larger than Big Ben.
While still at school, circa 1959, I had a holiday. Job at thé Lyons teashop near Charing cross station. There was a take away counter, I helped cuttin g breadrolls and inserting a pat of butter. I also helped prepare salads for the self service café section.
I’m looking for a picture of it at that time. Any ideas? Thanks
Thank you so much for your comment (and I hope you’ve had a Merry Christmas).
I had a quick search for images of the Strand / Craven Street Lyons, and ended up on the Collage website (a great resource for images of London). Are any of these any good?
Thank you so much for bringing the corner house back to our attention, too, it’s about time we wrote another post about it! If you have any memories you’d like to share, please don’t hesitate to be in touch (you can email contact at strandlines.london).
Thanks for reading!
Fran – Assistant Editor
I worked at what was the Lyons Corner House on the Strand during 1965. It had been turned into a night club and I was a dancer at the show called Showboat and Dave Allen performed there. We had to walk downstairs to get ready for the show.
I worked in Somerset House from 1971 through to 1987, when part of the building was leased to Lord Chancellor’s Department.
I have fond memories of lunchtimes spent in a pub called, I think, the Rose of England, which was located in part of Shell Mex House to the right as you entered from the Strand.
The pub was closed by Shell and the premises reverted to offices some time around the mid 1970’s.
My first visit to London was in 1961. Stood in Trafalgar Square with a pigeon on my cap. My Mother and Father then taking me into Lyon’s Corner House next to Charing Cross Station. My treat being a buttered roll and a glass of hot blackcurrant in a sliver filigree holder!!
The smell and wonderment of the streets and Underground. Circle Line having arrived excited at Liverpool Street.
Many years of working in and visiting London have past.
But the first is my most treasured memory!!
I remember being taken to the Lyons Corner House on the Strand as a 1950s child too. I would be bought egg and chips and expected to sit still and behave nicely while my mother chatted to her friend (they were both office workers) for what seemed like forever!
My mum Shirley Robinson started work for Shell in approx 1952 and stayed there for seven years as a secretary. She thinks the department was OPD. She got luncheon vouchers and couldn’t remember where she used them. Possibly The Savoy? Or it sounds like more likely The Strand Palace. She also sat outside in Embankment Gardens during her lunch break and listened to music. Her great friend at work was Pauline Swaiseland. Fond memories.