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Edwardian Story Of London

Edwardian London VII: Aldwych and Kingsway


In 1905 the Pall Mall Magazine published a “little book [which] will appeal to all who wish to possess what is really a portfolio, in a handy form, of beautiful drawings and photographs of the marvellous New LONDON which is rising up around them day by day.” The first part of the guide was effectively a guide book for the Londoner and the visitor alike, but a guide book with a difference, as it includes architect’s drawings of the many new buildings and streets which were still at the planning stage. Our guide now takes us through the new vast space that has been created in front of St Clements Danes. Here we have the early risings of Aldwych and Kingsway with the new Gaiety Theatre and the Waldorf Opera House amongst the most prominent features.



Aldwych and KingswayBETWEEN THAT FAMOUS OLD LANDMARK, THE LYCEUM THEATRE, AND THE LAW COURTS THE VISITOR WILL FIND HIMSELF AMIDST THE OLD AND THE NEW. HE IS ADVISED BY THE GUIDE TO ENTER THE VAST SPACE WHICH HAS BEEN CLEARED AND GRADUALLY MAKE HIS WAY INTO HOLBORN, KEEPING HIS EYES WELL OPEN.The Lyceum Theatre and the corner at which Aldwych and Kingsway begin.You may say of London, as Dryden said of Buckingham, that it is not so much a single entity, but several ; that it is, in fact, “mankind’s epitome.” Fleet Street is journalistic, homogeneous ; Pall Mall is clubby, with a dash of bureaucratic militarism; Bond Street is a perpetual bazaar; and Oxford Street is a nondescript conduit for eastward and westward traffic. No, there is only one street that gives us the eagerness, the worldly complacency, the historic gravity, and the cosmopolitanism of modern London in a single sweep, and that street of all streets is the crowded Strand.The modern way is to date all change and demolition from the era of the L.C.C., but the Strand had begun to improve its appearance and environment long before the day arrived for Spring Gardens to assert itself. It is no exaggeration to say that the Strand has changed more than any of its rivals on the map of the town, since the day when Dr. Johnson passed along it to drink at the Cocoa-Tree at Charing Cross. One of the men who has had a hand in its recent evolution says of it, and its sister haunts, that they formed “an area of squalid tenements, foetid slums, boozy taverns, shabby playhouses, and vulgar shops in slatternly streets. Here and there only could be found a few dilapidated buildings of originally good design; but they had become dirty, decrepit, noisome to the verge of nuisance. All of them were insanitary, many of them occupied by criminous wastrels, whose life was as gloomy as their down-at-heel environment.”Those days have passed. Clare Market is a memory, or little more; and if we want to realise what once it was, we must grope in the gloomier chapters of Harrison Ainsworth. So with the Hungerford area on the south, and many of the slums that fringed about Bedfordbury and Covent Garden on the north; all, or nearly all, have given place to the new style of artisan’s dwelling, with its many-windowed fortress fronts, and its relegation of exercise area to the asphalt clearance like that in Catherine Street, or the park-like glimpse of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. But this transformation has been the laborious achievement of years, and it is far from complete even yet. Many subordinate schemes are in abeyance that are involved in the construction of Kingsway, the great unfinished artery of traffic from the Strand to Holborn, with its subway in the American style, and its busy service of trams connecting Holborn with the river. The estimate for this undertaking, with its noble outlet in the crescent of Aldwych, was £5,000,000 sterling, but the ultimate expenditure it entails, either private or public, makes this amount seem small by comparison; and when the balance-sheet is issued and the Kingsway is complete, the result will be an unequalled opportunity for polemical discussion between the advocates of civic progress and the adherents of reform in the expenditure of public money. But let us get back to the Strand, with its many memories of kings, statesmen, and princes, players and wits, thieves and rakes and dandies, and all the inestimable throng that fill the margins of London’s history.The New Gaiety Theatre.Opposite the Gaiety, near by where Nell Gwynn in olden days bewitched the ancient Cavaliers, close by where Nellie Farren charmed the modern gallants, the grim Puritan Cromwell’s body lay in sombre state at Somerset House. Close by Inigo Jones died, and the illustrious Froissart, the gentle Chaucer, the wise Wycliffe wrote their chronicles, corrected their sermons, or penned their missals and obeyed the Muse.Mr. John Burns has aptly said: In the church of St. Clement Danes, around which the London traffic wends and roars, rest the bones of King Harold, near by where Johnson sat at prayer. Near Aldwych Templars revelled, Wat Tyler’s men forgathered; and all around this tourney field of scholars, actors, statesmen, lawyers, artists, and beauties, there well up memories, traditions, and associations that deserve, as I hope they will receive, adequate recognition in broad road, handsome buildings, and proper arboreal amenities to surround their shrine and do reverence to their sepulchre. “It was my youthful dream as a London apprentice,” he says, “and later as- one of its aediles, to try to revert to the ideal Strand, and from Northumberland Avenue to Somerset House have a 150-feet Strand, with nothing between the north side and the Embankment; terrace gardens in their tiers dropping to the river, with Somerset House and Waterloo Bridge on the eastern side, and on its west the eastern side of Northumberland Avenue. But it was only a dream, that fifty years ago could have been realised for no greater cost than is now being expended on the Holborn-to-Strand Improvement.The new Strand, showing the beginning of the new thoroughfare into Holborn.“Failing our ideals, we had – the choice spirits of the Council, led by Frederic Harrison and Shaw Lefevre – to content ourselves with supporting the present scheme of the Improvements Committee. Successfully, because passionately, we pleaded for the retention of the two churches, steadily keeping up our faith in a central scheme that will justify the hopes within us.”St. Clement Danes The termination is graced by the really bold and fine building of Norman Shaw, the new Gaiety Theatre. The character and appearance of which new Gaiety amply warrants the action of the Council in contributing a good sum to beautify the first building.Clifford’s Inn is outside the Strand scheme, and, like the vanished Charterhouse, is in the artistic bailiwick of the City Corporation, and so suffered through lack of imagination of the City Fathers. The Inn, a foundation dating from 1310, and in whose halls Coke, Hale, and Selden studied, and which Grinling Gibbons decorated, is to disappear; but it is hoped that the portico of the old Lyceum may be retained, as a memory of the greatest actor of modern times, and the cradle of the Augustan period of English Dramatic Art.