The Strand is more than just a busy London thoroughfare. Running parallel to the Thames and connecting Westminster to the City, it has been a focus for political and financial power for centuries. Somerset House, a few minutes’ walk from the hotel, is just one of the noblemen’s residences that once lined the street.
Our part in the street’s story begins in 1907, when permission was granted for a ‘grand’ new hotel. Two years later the Strand Palace opened its doors. At that time, a single room with breakfast would have set you back five shillings and six pence – just 27p in today’s money.
The twenties saw the Strand Palace Hotel expand, taking over the neighbouring Haxell’s Hotel. But the real story was a spectacular redesign. New art deco features – including a foyer so iconic that it is now owned by the V&A museum – proved a hit with fashionable Londoners, and made the hotel a firm fixture on the capital’s social scene.
The hotel adapted quickly to the Second World War, providing accommodation for American servicemen, accepting ration vouchers in its restaurants and sheltering guests in its basement during air raids. Not everything changed, however – the hotel’s regular dances continued, offering a much-needed escape for war-weary Londoners.
With the war years behind it, the hotel began to modernise. By 1958 all rooms had private bathrooms, and increased demand for hot water spelt the end for our old coal-fired boilers, which had been salvaged from a First World War battleship. Modern oil-fired models took their place. Electronic cash registers soon followed, hinting at the communications revolution to come.
You can see vintage photographs and artefacts from the Strand Palace Hotel both here and at the V&A museum. Our own collections are held in the V&A’s archives, and include our 1920s revolving door and a room key that was recovered from a First World War trench in Normandy, France.
With Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs throughout, the Strand Palace would now be unrecognisable to guests from the Edwardian era. But links with the past still remain: a few Art Deco touches are visible inside and outside the building; guests from the war years still return to relive their memories. Outside, the Strand remains a buzzing focal point of West End life, just as it was in 1909.