A couple of years ago, my friend Jenneth and I went to the Sir John Soane museum in Lincoln’s Inn Field where we saw an exhibition about the Adelphi, the grandiose 18th century property development of the famous Adam brothers.
Adelphi is the Greek for brothers and the name the four Scottish brethren bestowed on the north west bank of the Thames between the Hungerford and Waterloo bridges.
For Christmas that year Jen gave me the fact-filled study of the area, Adelphi past and present, by David G C Allan and I promised to read it carefully and take her on a guided architectural promenade around the area.
It took us two years, but finally last Friday evening we met in John Adam Street, two tourists, Jen from Earlsfield SW18 and myself from Bayswater W2 and sat in her car leafing through my notes while the rain poured down outside. It was worthwhile revision, because when the rain finally eased we were well-briefed to enjoy the delights of this fascinating and historic part of London, which I for one, thought I knew. As a student in the early 1980s I had been familiar with Buckingham Street where I would often buy foreign language books from Grant and Cutler and I had been to Gordon’s cellar wine bar at the bottom of Villiers Street near Watergate Walk.
The list of luminaries, artists, writers and actors who had lived in the area is seemingly endless. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, had lived in Buckingham Street, David Garrick the actor had been one of the first residents and a major publicist for the Adelphi development, which was the first major neo-classical residential project in the capital. The Royal Society of Arts founded by the Adams had served as a magnet to attract scientists, politicians, the great and the good and some rather dodgy characters, too.
It’s worth reading the book, but was fascinating to learn that the Savoy theatre, to the east of the Adelphi, was the first public building in the world to be fitted with electricity. The British Broadcasting Company, then Corporation, started in a building on the corner of Savoy Hill and Savoy Place, which now houses the Institution of Electrical Engineers. The Royal Air Force was founded in the Hotel Cecil, which stood on the Strand.
We wandered back along the Strand in a westerly fashion, noting the decapitated sculptures of the Zimbabwe Embassy, I had thought that this had been done by political correction after independence, but Wikipedia has another explanation here.
We took a left down Craven Street, which is a beautiful, quiet residential street in the very heart of the capital, where Benjamin Franklin and Heinrich Heine both lived, but needless to say not together.
We ended up at Gordon’s wine bar to wet our whistles before heading over Hungerford Bridge for supper and an evening of “Spank” comedy at the Udderbelly by the London Eye. Brendon Burns was on fine form.
Altogether a fine recession-proof way of spending an interesting, cultural evening in town.
And there is a photo album of our Adelphi Amble here.