West End of London

A First Glance at the West End

The Strand—so called because it lies along the bank of the river, now hidden by houses—is a long, somewhat irregularly built street, in continuation westward from Temple Bar; the thoroughfare being incommoded by two churches—St. Clement Dane's and St. Mary's—in the middle of the road.  On the site of the latter church once stood the old Strand Maypole.  The new Palace of Justice, about whose site there have been so many Parliamentary discussions, will stand on what is at present a huge unsightly space of boarded-in waste ground, formerly occupied by a few good houses, between Temple Bar and Clement's Inn, and many wretched back-slums.  Not having the gift of prophecy as to its future, and warned by so many long delays in its case, we hazard no conjecture as to the time when it will gladden our eyes.  In the seventeenth century the Strand was a species of country road, connecting the city with Westminster; and on its southern side stood a number of noblemen's residences, with gardens towards the river.  The pleasant days are long since past when mansions and personages, political events and holiday festivities, marked the spots now denoted by Essex, Norfolk, Howard, Arundel, Surrey, Cecil, Salisbury, Buckingham, Villiers, Craven, and Northumberland Streets—a very galaxy of aristocratic names.  The most conspicuous building on the left-hand side is Somerset House, a vast range of government offices.  Adjoining this on the east (occupying the site once intended for an east wing to that structure), and entering by a passage from the Strand, is a range of rather plain, but massive brick buildings, erected about thirty years ago for the accommodation of King's College; and adjoining it on the west, abutting on the street leading to Waterloo Bridge, is a still newer range of buildings appropriated to government offices—forming a west wing to the whole mass.  The Strand contains no other public structure of architectural importance, except the spacious new Charing Cross Railway Station and Hotel on the south side.  The eastern half of the Strand, however, is thickly surrounded by theatres—Drury Lane, Covent Garden, the Olympic, the Charing Cross, the Adelphi, the Vaudeville, the Lyceum, the Gaiety (built on the site of Exeter 'Change and the late Strand Music Hall, as is the Queen's on that of St. Martin's Hall in Long Acre), the Globe, and the Strand Theatres, are all situated hereabouts.  Exeter Hall is close by, and—pardon the contrast of ideas—so is Evans's Hotel and Supper Rooms, long famous for old English glees, madrigals, chops and steaks, and as a place for friendly re-unions, without the objectionable features of many musical halls.

Northumberland House, the large mansion with the lion on the summit, overlooking Charing Cross, is the ancestral town residence of the Percies, Dukes of Northumberland.  Over the way is St. Martin's Church, where lie the bones of many famous London watermen—the churchyard used to be called “The Waterman's Churchyard”—and those of that too celebrated scoundrel and housebreaker, Jack Sheppard, hanged in 1724.  There also lies the once famous sculptor, Roubilac, several monuments from whose chisel you can see in Westminster Abbey.  Here, too, are interred the witty, but somewhat licentious dramatist, Farquhar, author of The Beau's Stratagem ; the illustrious Robert Boyle, a philosopher not altogether unworthy to be named in the same category with Lord Bacon and Sir Isaac Newton; and John Hunter, the distinguished anatomist.

The open space is called Charing Cross, from the old village of Charing, where stood a cross erected by Edward the First, in memory of his Queen Eleanor.  Wherever her bier rested, there her sorrowful husband erected a cross, or, as Hood whimsically said, in his usual punning vein, apropos of the cross at Tottenham,

“A Royal game of Fox and Goose
   To play for such a loss;
Wherever she put down her orts,
   There he—set up a cross !”

At the time of the Reformation you could have walked with fields all the way on the north side of you from the city to Charing Cross.  The history of the fine statue of Charles the First, by Le Sœur, is curious.  It was made in Charles the First's reign, but, on the civil war breaking out ere it could be erected, was sold by the Parliament to a brazier, who was ordered to demolish it.  He, however, buried it, and it remained underground till after the Restoration, when it was erected in 1674.  It marks a central point for the West End.

Trafalgar Square

Southward are Whitehall and the Palace of Westminster; to the west, Spring Gardens, leading into St. James's Park; north-west lie Pall Mall and Regent Street.  By-the-way, it just occurs to us that the old game Paille Maille, from which Pall Mall took its name, was a sort of antique forerunner of croquet!  The former game, much beloved by Charles the Second, was played by striking a wooden ball with a mallet through hoops of iron, one of which stood at each end of an alley.  Eastward is the Strand.  On the north, Trafalgar Square, with Nelson's statue and Landseer's four noble lions couchant—which alone are worth a visit—at its base.  There are also statues to George IV., Sir Charles James Napier, and Sir Henry Havelock.  A statue of George the Third—with, we think, in an equestrian sense, one of the best “seats” for a horseman in London—is close by.  The National Gallery bounds the northern side.  Of the two wells which supply the fountains in this square, one is no less than 400 feet deep.

Turning southward from this important western centre, the visitor will come upon the range of national and government buildings—the Admiralty, the Horse Guards, the Treasury, the Home Office, &c., &c.—in Whitehall, particulars of which will be given a few pages further on under Government Offices.  Then there are the fine Banqueting House at Whitehall, and some rather majestic mansions in and near Whitehall Gardens—especially one just erected by the Duke of Buccleuch.  Beyond these, in the same general direction, are the magnificent Houses of Parliament, Marochetti's equestrian statue of Richard Cœur de Lion, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Hall, Mr. Page's beautiful new Westminster Bridge, and a number of other objects well worthy of attention.

Returning to Charing Cross, the stranger may pursue his tour through Cockspur Street to Pall Mall, and thence proceed up Regent Street.  As he enters this new line of route, he will perceive that the buildings assume a more important aspect.  They are for the most part stucco-fronted, and being frequently re-painted, they have a light and cheerful appearance.  In the Haymarket are Her Majesty's Theatre and the Haymarket Theatre; and near at hand are many club-houses and Exhibition-rooms.  Pall Mall displays a range of stone-fronted club-houses of great magnificence.  At the foot of Regent Street is the short broad thoroughfare of Waterloo Place, lined with noble houses, and leading southwards to St. James's Park.  Here stands the column dedicated to the late Duke of York; not far from which is the Guards' Memorial, having reference to troops who fell in the Crimea.  From this point, for about a mile in a northerly direction, is the line of Waterloo Place, Regent Street, and Portland Place, forming the handsomest street in London.  At a point a short way up we cross Piccadilly, and enter a curve in the thoroughfare, called the Quadrant; at the corners of which, and also in Upper Regent Street, are some of the most splendid shops in London, several being decorated in a style of great magnificence.  Regent Street, during the busy season in May and June, and during the day from one till six o'clock, exhibits an extraordinary concourse of fashionable vehicles and foot-passengers; while groups of carriages are drawn up at the doors of the more elegant shops.  Towards its upper extremity Regent Street crosses Oxford Street.  The mass of streets west from it consist almost entirely of private residences, with the special exception of Bond Street.  In this quarter are St. James's, Hanover, Berkeley, Grosvenor, Cavendish, Bryanstone, Manchester, and Portman Squares—the last four being north of Oxford Street; and in connection with these squares are long, quiet streets, lined with houses suited for an affluent order of inhabitants.  In and north from Oxford Street, there are few public buildings deserving particular attention; but a visitor may like to know that hereabouts are the Soho, Baker Street, and London Crystal Palace Bazaars.  The once well-known Pantheon is now a wine merchant's stores.

The residences of the nobility and gentry are chiefly, as has been said, in the western part of the metropolis.  In this quarter there have been large additions of handsome streets, squares, and terraces within the last thirty years.  First may be mentioned the district around Belgrave Square, usually called Belgravia, which includes the highest class houses.  North-east from this, near Hyde Park, is the older, but still fashionable quarter, comprehending Park Lane and May Fair.  Still farther north is the modern district, sometimes called Tyburnia, being built on the ground adjacent to what once was “Tyburn,” the place of public executions.  This district, including Hyde Park Square and Westbourne Terrace, is a favourite place of residence for city merchants and other wealthy persons.  Lying north and north-east from Tyburnia are an extensive series of suburban rows of buildings and detached villas, which are ordinarily spoken of under the collective name St. John's Wood: Regent's Park forming a kind of rural centre to the group.  Standing higher and more airy than Belgravia, and being easily accessible from Oxford Street, this is one of the most agreeable of the suburban districts.

Bunyan's Tomb, Bunhill Fields

If, instead of the Strand and Piccadilly route, or the Holborn and Oxford Street route, a visitor takes the northernmost main route, he will find less to interest him.  The New Road, in its several parts of City Road, Pentonville Road, Euston Road, and Marylebone Road, forms a broad line of communication from the city to Paddington, four miles in length.  Though very important as one of the arteries of the metropolis, it is singularly deficient in public buildings.  In going from the Bank to Paddington, we pass by or near Finsbury Square and Circus, the buildings and grounds of the Artillery Company at Moorfields, the once famous old Burial-ground at Bunhill Fields, St. Luke's Lunatic Asylum, the Chapel in the City Road associated with the memory of John Wesley, the old works of the New River Company at Pentonville, the Railway stations at King's Cross (Great Northern), and St. Pancras (Midland),—the vast span of this station's roof is noteworthy,—and Euston Square (L. and N. Western), several stations of the Metropolitan Underground Railway, St. Pancras and Marylebone churches, and the entrance to the beautiful Regent's Park.  But beyond these little is presented to reward the pedestrian.

It is well for a visitor to bear in mind, however, that all the routes we have here sketched have undergone, or are undergoing, rapid changes, owing chiefly to the wonderful extension of railways.  Cannon Street, Finsbury, Blackfriars, Snow Hill, Ludgate Hill, Smithfield, Charing Cross, Pimlico, &c., have been stripped of hundreds, nay, thousands of houses.