A memory of the Strand

Posted in and tagged with 

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.

Coutts, 440 Strand, 1968. Via Collage, London Picture Archive, catalogue number SC_PHL_01_532_68_1705.

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!

Waterloo Bridge: looking north to Shell Mex House, 1966. Via Collage, London Picture Archive, catalogue number SC_PHL_02_0726_C10511.

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.

Hope Wolf

Hope Wolf

Dr Wolf was the Lead Researcher for Strandlines between 2011-2013 while working as a Teaching Fellow in Life Writing at King’s College London.


  1. valerie on 21 December 2019 at 11:21 pm

    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

  2. Carol Hall on 12 December 2021 at 12:38 pm

    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.

  3. ANTHONY CRAWFORD on 23 December 2021 at 11:59 pm

    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.

  4. Steve Rawlinson on 25 February 2022 at 3:06 am

    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!!

  5. Harriet on 30 May 2022 at 12:00 pm

    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!

  6. Kathleen Goldstein on 22 June 2022 at 6:29 pm

    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.

  7. c smith on 4 September 2022 at 11:32 pm

    I started work at Shell mex House. There was a gang of us YTS school leavers. Got sent to Sight & Sound “college” to learn touch typing. Got a job there. Worked in an Admin Services Unit (typing pool with WPs), lady in charge had to proof read everything. Used to type for all departments, finance, engineering, exploration, helped out in legal once, but they use Legal Secs. I was in training dept running WP courses. Got promoted to Central OPS, startup shut down back up systems basically storage on great big Bakelite heavy discs in a case with a handle, we also created templates using DOT commands so when typist called up page the address would fit in box with whatever letterhead etc, sent engineers out. Used as test site for Xerox Daybreak’s, WP with graphics. Then all were going stand alone WP floppy discs. Error 05 was an easy fix basically the rubber band belt drive had come off, like a hoover !! Bob Reid visited me with chocolates after I rescued his Secretary who didn’t back up as she went along losing a day’s work, I stayed into the early hours ,helped type it all out again for a speeches and visits to Netherlands next day. Loved the lensbury bar although Dad rescued me after a celebration went too far! I was loaded unceremoniously onto the back of a pick up truck! . Ayrton Senna was in the foyer with F1 cars in display. Used to do menus for Senior mess restaurant under big clock face, I was spotted having a sneaky fag on lunchtime ITV news who had zoomed in it from across the Thames at LWT! Used to like Strand palace hotel posh afternoon tea treat. Savoy tailors guild lovely gifts. Soho not far for best Cappuccino at Bar Italia with the lovely Poledri family, Adam ant was there once! Used to buy sandwich and sit in embankment gardens, liked feeding the pigeons. Rescued some from tangled feet. Old tramp woman always there, bought her tea. National Gallery worth visits too, by the time you’d crossed Trafalgar Sq, you’d get splatted by a pigeon! Happy Days

  8. Kate King on 3 September 2023 at 2:34 pm

    I was a one-parent only child in the 50’s, and on Sunday afternoons my mum would take us to Lyons Corner House in the Strand for poached eggs on toast and tea. It seemed a magical thing – and poached eggs are still my favourite way to eat eggs. No doubt a psychological quirk implanted in those days of innocence and wonder.

Leave a Comment