Recently, I joined London tour guide Yannick Pucci for an Art Deco tour of the Strand. You might remember reading about Yannick before as I most enjoyed his Art Deco in Bloomsbury and Macarons and Mews tours.
On this bright and sunny May day, we met up at the King George III statue at Somerset House before walking across the courtyard of Somerset House and out on to the terrace. The lovely Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi and I agreed that we simply must return for afternoon drinks on the terrace. It looked really lovely and relaxing.
We took a turn through Victoria Embankment Gardens where we could see the buildings that would form the focus of our tour. We spent some time at the memorial to Arthur Sullivan, considered especially racy when it was erected in 1903 and not entirely appropriate. The memorial depicts the Muse herself, draping herself in a pose of devastation following Sullivan’s passing.
Together with W. S. Gilbert, Sullivan formed the duo Gilbert and Sullivan and the Savoy Theatre was built from the profits of this successful partnership. Naturally, it was not the performers themselves who were getting rich but their producer Richard D'Oyly Carte and he went on to build the Savoy Hotel right next to the theatre.
Peter of Savoy stands proudly above the iconic Art Deco entrance to the Savoy Hotel, marking the Savoy as one of the most recognisable Art Deco treasures in London. Check out the geometric steps leading down from the silver signage.
In my mind, this display always reminds me of the front of a car which would make sense in an era obsessed with planes, train and automobiles, when the march towards the future was inevitable and filled with the promise of technology.
Just under the Savoy sign, the road winds clockwise around a central fountain and cars drop off their passengers. Protected from the weather and other elements, you can find an almost unspoiled display of Art Deco glass and steel design.
No visit to the Savoy is complete without paying your respects to the topiary depiction of the famous Kaspar, the Savoy Cat. What a beautiful young specimen who no doubt prevented bad luck to many a Savoy guest. You can read a little bit more about how Kaspar warded off bad luck at the hotel.
Following our visit to the Savoy we wended our way towards the Adelphi Building. On the way, we were able to appreciate the side of the Shell Mex building, with the American eagle located about half way up.
Shell Mex House or 80 Strand is the iconic building with the clock on top that you can easily spot when standing on the Southbank on the other side of the Thames. It is featured in the first and last photos of this post and is so imposing that it is difficult to truly appreciate its beauty except from a distance.
Finally, we made it to the Adelphi. This is one of my favourite Art Deco buildings in the world and one that I worked next door to for three years. Despite spending so long staring out the window at the building, I knew very little about it and enjoyed hearing about every little ornamentation, detail and statue from Yannick. The Adelphi truly is one of the modern wonders of the architectural world.
Nearly every surface on the building is filled with symbols of the Art Deco ethos, from bees and the pestle and mortar, representing the apothecary and advancements in medicine, to symbols of industry and technological advancement.
The Adelphi is in the middle of a massive refurbishment which is a pity because I have never seen the building looking so blackened. I am sure they will restore it to its white glory once the works are completed.
Once we had completed our exploration of the Art Deco buildings, we walked some distance towards Trafalgar Square before turning to look back. There it was, the other side of the iconic clock of Shell Mex House. Did you know that this clock is even bigger than the clock atop Elizabeth Tower (which you might know as Big Ben)?
Overall, I would say that Yannick’s Art Deco in the Strand walking tour is excellent and highly recommended. I worked in this area for three years and I was astonished by the amount of information I learned on the tour. As with all Yannick’s tours, the tour is really well researched and you get to learn not only about Art Deco but also about the history of the buildings before they took their present form.
Are you a fan of Art Deco? If so, which is your favourite Art Deco building?