The Strand, London
Above - A Map of The Strand and Its Tributaries - From 'London Town Past and Present' Vol 2 by W. W. Hutchings 1909. Theatres Associated with the Strand are The Adelphi , The Vaudeville, Terry's , Tivoli, Gaiety, Royal Strand, Royal Globe, Lyceum, Opera Comique, Olympic Theatre, Strand, Waldorf, Novello, Drury Lane, Duchess, Coal Hole, Patagonian Theatre, Aldwych Theatre, some of which are shown on the map.
In 'Dickens's Dictionary of London' of 1879 by Charles Dickens (Jr.) he wrote of the Strand saying:- 'The Strand is one of the historical streets of London. It was formerly the water-side road, whence its name between the cities of London and Westminster. Between it and the river lay the palaces of the great nobles, and on the other side the green fields stretched away without a break to the north...
Above - The Strand in the early 1800s
...The road was bad then, and people who could afford it took boat for the City at Westminster-stairs, in preference to picking their way along the ill-paved streets, with the chance of being pushed aside into the deep holes that abounded by the numerous lackeys and retainers. As the steamers have driven the watermen from the river, so the growth of London has swept away the palaces, and the names of the streets alone mark where they stood.
Right - For more images of The Strand and London's lost Streets see the Disappearing London page here.
The Strand is a great thoroughfare still, and the connecting link between the City and the West. Fashion seldom goes east of Charing-cross, and the great drapery shops of the West-end are consequently conspicuous by their absence; nor upon the other hand does business in the City mans sense of the word, come west of Temple-bar. Hence the Strand is a compromise. There is somehow an air of greater lightness and gaiety than is apparent in the City. There are more women among the foot passengers, more looking into shop windows, and an absence of that hurried walk and preoccupied look which prevail in the City proper. The difference will at once strike the observer, and is the main characteristic of the street. The stranger will probably be disappointed at his first visit to the Strand, and in truth the houses which line it are for the most part unworthy of its position as a portion of the greatest thoroughfare in London. Nor, with the exception of the New Law Courts at its eastern end, the Charing-cross Hotel, and a few private shops, has much been done in the way of improvement in the Strand. When the two churches of St. Clement Danes and St. Mary-le-Strand are swept away, and Booksellers-row disappears, the Strand may become a noble thoroughfare; but at present there is no street of equal importance in any capital of Europe so unworthy of its position. The Strand is essentially the home of theatres. The Adelphi, Lyceum, Gaiety, Vaudeville, Strand, and Opera Comique are in the street itself, while hard by are the Globe, the Olympic, and the Folly. Exeter Hall is also in the Strand. - Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879.
Above - The Strand, Looking West. Horatio Lloyd, Arthur Lloyd's father, was born at No. 71 Strand, which is seen to the left in the above image. Caption Reads: 'No better idea of the Strand can be obtained than from the church of St. Mary-le-Strand, whence this view is taken. On the left is the entrance to Somerset House, used as Government offices, and erected by Sir William Chambers in 1776-86, in place of the old palace begun by the Protector Somerset. A little further west is Wellington Street, bisecting the Strand, and affording access to Waterloo Bridge. At the far end of the houses is seen the Nelson monument in Trafalgar Square. The Strand is the southern main artery from the City to the West End, and is always crowded with traffic, especially when the theatres which abound in the neighbourhood are being emptied of their patrons. The thoroughfare, which is here shown at its broadest, owes its name to the Get that the Thames formerly flowed close beside it.' - From 'The Queen's London': a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Strand, looking West - The Victorian Dictionary.
From Ghosts and Greaspaint by W. Macqueen Pope 1951
MIDDLE-AGED PEOPLE who go down the Strand nowadays see far more than do the wayfarers who are possessors of youth. The young men and women observe a curious hotch-potch of styles, several periods of architecture, but with the modern style now most prevalent, and the whole street dominated by a most up-to-date building something in the manner of Ancient Babylon, with a clock so modern that it disdains figures altogether and relies entirely on position. Why it should be modern to do this is beyond a middle-aged person's understanding.
Right - For more images of The Strand and London's lost Streets see the Disappearing London page here.
But the past dies very hard in the Strand. It puts up a struggle. There still remain buildings which are as our grandfathers knew them, many of them would be gone but for the war stopping a rebuilding scheme. Others vanished in the blitz. But the man of Yesterday is not so concerned with these relics for he can share them with the young. What he calls up in his second sight are the places once so popular, now ghosts altogether. He can still see Terry's Theatre, over which a vast modern store has flowed, the old Tivoli before it surrendered to a cinema, the front of the old Adelphi with its canopy right across the street and supported by pillars the new Adelphi is modern of course. Maybe he can remember the original Gaiety and perhaps Toole's, long since swept away. The old Strand Theatre has gone, its site is a tube station, but he will remember many things there, especially The Chinese Honeymoon; there is not a sign of the old Globe, the Olympic or the Opera Comique, all of which adjoined the Strand and have passed into shadows with Newcastle Street, Holywell Street, Wych Street, almost medieval thoroughfares in appearance. Vast modern sarcophagi cover them all. The Vaudeville is still there, modernized inside, and so is the Adelphi, modernized throughout-save in some old nooks and corners where the right atmosphere of Yesterday still prevails. The middle-aged man will surely remember the Hotel Cecil, over whose site the clock before-mentioned stares over London, he may also recall Rimmel's, that famous perfume shop which called itself "The Scenter of the Strand" and was so, actually and geographically. The shell of the new Gaiety-as opposed to the old-still stands. It was opened in 1903-incredibly long ago to Youth, but new to him of Yesterday. And there still, to give him a jerk and to set memory whirling, is a name and a building which is indeed as full of ghosts as it was once full of greasepaint. Shortly it will become a ghost itself. It is bound to the Present by an underground bar, once it was the very pulse and mainspring of the Strand when the Strand was the Street of Professionals-of Theatre and Music Hall alikeand still, over a little canopy, some copper cupids dance-it is a funeral rite now, but once it was the welcome to as gay a place as any city in the world could show-a restaurant of strong character and complete distinction-that entirely delectable place known as Romano's.
Above - Romano's Restaurant
Perhaps it is well that Romano's should go-for the people who made it the place it was and also the life it reflected, really went down into destruction with the war of 1914. It survived long after that but never quite the same, never quite so free and easy, never quite the same true piece of Bohemia it had been in the days of golden currency, of which it was so much a part. It belonged to the days when wars were far distant, small and professional affairs, and when such things as coupons and points were unknown and unthought of. To Romano's flocked the Bohemians, men and women of the greasepaint, authors, journalists, artists of all kinds, soldiers, sailors (but not of " other ranks"), men of the law, of finance, of the race-course and the prize-rings-and crooks as well. The place was really an informal club of which they were all members and of which they respected the rules. If you were an outsider visiting Romano's you soon found out whether you " belonged- or not.
Yet, when it opened, it was not called Romano's. When that Italian who was something of a Genius started business for himself in the Strand-the High Street of London then-he called his modest little place the Cafe Vaudeville.
Right - Site of Romano's, 400 Strand, London, also showing the Vaudeville Theatre. M.L. 2004
It was just a little shop with a little bar into which he put the savings amassed as a headwaiter at the Cafe Royal. He had luck. He got, on credit, a few bottles of a really good champagne, which formed the nucleus of what was to become one of the finest cellars in the whole of London -which was saying a good deal then. Romano himself was a small, dark, swarthy man with a large moustache which was his pride and joy. He was a man who knew his job. He knew exactly how to handle all sections of humanity and he understood the tremendous value of the personal touch. He knew the innermost secrets of every man and woman who sat at his tables, when Romano's was at its prime, but the rack and pincers would never have extorted one word from him. Yet although he knew and understood the English people perfectly, he never mastered their language. He spoke a version of it which was all his own. He went for a country drive with Arthur Roberts, that great comedian who was a -regular- at Romano's. It was spring and "The Roman as he was called, was enchanted with all he saw."I lofa mine Italy," he cried, " but what you calla your bloominga London countryside is also verre good. When I see-a your trees, I haf to admire the folios." That was a fair sample of his English.
He was indeed " The Roman", and every day saw a triumph fur him. There were, of course, rules and regulations at Romano's. No bill, once presented, was ever altered. The customer might be right -but so was Romano. Yet he gave credit and lots of it. It was all scored up in chalk on a series of slates. And when on one occasion there was a small fire, several impecunious customers were extremely active helping to direct the firemen's hoses, especially in the direction of these slates. At times of financial stress, such as the Boer War provoked, Romano had thousands of pounds owing to him. It is very doubtful, however, if anyone ever bilked him. The Roman was a generous man but also a very good judge of character. And a biker knew that such an act closed Romano's to him for ever, a quite unthinkable thing then.
That tiny Cafe Vaudeville had been put on the map by means of a journalist and two music-hall artistes-a Sister act. The journalist was John Corlett who ran The Sporting Times, better known as The Pink 'Un-so eagerly looked forward to by Bohemian London every Friday. One of his nag told him of the little place. He went, he found it good. He went every day. He wrote about it, he spoke about it. His stag rallied round its bar, and every Friday Corlett gave his weekly staff dinner there, and for many, many years, through the great times of Romano's and The Pink 'Un, the large table to the left of the entrance was sacred to The Pink 'Un. That journal and Romano's declined together, when times changed. There was no room for either of them. The Sisters Leamar, famous on the Halls, sang a song about the place :
It was wonderful publicity. The fame of Romano's spread far and wide. It began to spread itself. The little cafe grew. It became long and narrow, with plenty of tables and red plush seats all round the walls. The customers called it the" Rifle Range". But the food, wine and service were always of the very best. It kept on growing. But the staff remained. There was old Bendi, who looked after the wine cellar. He was an expert. He knew each bottle under his care and looked after them like a family doctor. If he did not take their temperatures he saw to it that they always reclined in the right positions and in the right temperature for their various needs. The decorative scheme of Romano's was that all-embracing one, very popular in those days, called " Byzantine". And through all its developmens-and it grew quite a lot-it never changed its style nor its atmosphere until the inevitable end. Certainly never in Romano's days. There was no band until after the First World War -and then when the band came, it was going downhill. There was no dancing until that same period. The great thing at Romano's was food, drink, genial companionship and conversation. It was a coteric of friends.
Above - The Strand in the 1940s
It did not cover a lot of ground so when it had to expand to meet its ever-increasing trade, it had to go upwards. It crowned itself with a balcony, upper floors and private rooms. And that balcony, on one occasion, caused a lot of trouble. A party of young Army officers, out on what was then known as a " spree", dined at Romano's and did themselves well. Searching for mischief they found it in the form of umbrellas. The new wonder of parachute descent was the talk of the day. Here was a heaven-sent opportunity. Those highspirited young men used the umbrellas as parachutes and descended thereby on to the tables of those dining beneath. Food and wine were spread in all directions, the ladies of Romano's screamed and the gentlemen who were their escorts, scandalized at such behaviour, fought the over-merry young soldiers. They lost, however, for the soldiers held the field. It might have been different had there been a pugilist in the restaurant that night, as was so often the case.
Romano's knew what it was to serve Royalty. The Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII, was a frequent customer. His Derby winner, Diamond jubilee, was heavily backed by the clients of Romano's, and some of the choice spirits and sportsmen who had thus profited gave a dinner there to celebrate their winnings. They sent a respectful invitation to the Prince, but he could not come. However, he sent a telegram of regret which was read to the guests. His health was drunk many times over, and when the celebration was ended, in the small hours, a waiter found a crumpled piece of paper near the chairman's scat. It was the Royal telegram of regrets. It was nicely smoothed out, and it was framed. It hung in Romano's for many years.
The atmosphere of Romano's was highly charged with greasepaint You saw many- celebrities there. Arthur Roberts, "that shrewd and knavish sprite", the very embodiment of Robin Goodfellow, the master of spoof and gags, had his own table there. So had Marie Lloyd. It was in Romano's that the great Gus Harris, of Drury Lane, engaged her as Principal Girl for a "Lane" pantomime and she horrified him by saying that she had always thought the mighty theatre was a barracks. For Drury Lane had its own military guard in those days, like the Bank of England. And Arthur Collins, Gus Harris's successor and perhaps an even greater producer, was another table-holder. He loved Romano's-to him it was almost home. He would go there to lunch, when there were no rehearsals going on, and dinner-time would still find him there, talking to a circle of friends. He would not leave until the lights went out and he had held his audiences spellbound and highly amused all the time. He had good cause, too, to be faithful to Romano's. For it was in that very restaurant that Drury Lane itself was saved. It happened soon after Collins had taken charge, after Sir Augustus Harris's death. His responsibility was great and his means not large. The lease was expiring and it looked like being the end of "The Lane". There was talk of it coming down to extend Covent Garden Market. Small wonder he sat there looking glum. He had tried every available resource and was still short of the sum. required by the ducal landlord for the granting of a new lease. He wanted £1000 and, so far as he was concerned, there did not seem to be that amount of money available in the world. This usually cheery, laughter-loving man was in the depths of despondency. Another regular of Romano's had been watching him. Except that both were of Romano's they did not know each other well. But the regular saw Collins was troubled and came over to speak to him. He was mildly interested in theatrical affairs under the name of Love, but he had another name in the City, where he was an Australian merchant. He asked Collins what was the matter. Collins told him. Mr Love laughed. " Is that all?" he said.---Well, that's all right. Send down to my office in the morning and you shall have a guaranteed cheque!" Collins could hardly believe his ears. But he sent down and it was all right. So world-famous Drury Lane itself owes much to Romano's.
Above - The Strand in 1951
Sir George Dance, the Napoleon of touring companies, the power behind the throne, the richest theatrical manager of his day, always lunched at Romano's. It cannot be said that he radiated gaiety but he hatched many of his big schemes there, schemes which never failed because of the power of the brain behind them. Daily he sat and pondered there, after lunch, a creme de menthe before him. It helped his indigestion-he was no drinker and he saw to it that his staff did not drink either. Yet he purveyed liquid refreshment over the bars of many West End theatres. He is himself a ghost now-he earned his title by means of a munificent gift to the "Old Vic" which saved that institution. A curious man, but a great man who should live in memories.
But if Dance did not exude gaiety, all the stars of the Gaiety itself went to Romano's, a sight worth going miles to see. And you saw the ladies of the Gaiety chorus there too, for George Edwardes had an arrangement whereby they got special prices. It was good for the box-office to have them seen by the young men in such surroundings. It was good for Romano's too. All the stars were there, Gertie Millar, W. H. Berry-the names are innumerable.
Not only the girls of the Gaiety went there, but the girls of other theatres too. Some would have special tables kept for them, decked with lovely flowers every day by their special admirers. Some sat in veritable canopies of blooms. Some had great bells made of flowers, their names emblazoned thereon, suspended over them. Let it not be imagined for one moment that all of these young ladies were what was then called---fast". That idea is entirely wrong. Many of them were as respectable and self-respecting as any lady in the land. But they were lovely and they lived in days when men put women on a pedestal and worshipped female loveliness with adoration. There was no talk of Equality of the Sexes then, and women had not got a vote. So they ruled the men. Such a one was a very beautiful girl, with perfect face and features, figure to match, raven-haired and with a pair of entrancing green eyes, and a reputation as impeccable as her appearance. She had been a show girl and a beautiful one; she rose to play parts in all sorts of plays. She adorned Romano's as she adorned the stage. One night a young man who admired her gave her a birthday party there, to which she invited some friends. It was a wonderful party, with gay, carefree young people enjoying their lives in golden times, without scandal or impropriety but with that heartiness which then characterized this nation. The young man whispered to the green-eyed girl to know if there was anything else she would like. She gave a sigh of happiness. "If only this party could go on," she said, -when all the rest of the people have gone-and we could dance." The young man smiled. He saw the head waiter. Something passed between them. At the usual closing hour the lights flickered, went out, and then a few remained to light the customers out. The young man said to the girl, "Tell your friends to pretend to get their wraps, but not to hurry". With shining eyes she did so. The belated clients left, whilst that gay little party still stood chatting in the vestibule. The doors were shut. The lights went up again-a band appeared-and that party danced on into the small hours. That was Romano's. The birthday girl's name was then Pat Doyle. Now she is Mrs Betty Hammond, happy wife of a gallant gentleman, E. H. Hammond, who is managing director of one of the oldest and most famous wine importers in the country. lie, too, has greasepaint in his system, for an ancestor of his endeavoured to run Drury Lane-that most difficult of problems-and went down in the struggle with colours flying as became an actor and a gentleman. She who was once Pat Doyle, who shed beauty on Romano's, sheds beauty still wherever she goes. And Pat Doyle's story can be matched by many others who supped at Romano's in the Strand. The nineties and the nineteen hundreds of the golden age were not nearly so naughty as they are supposed to have been, although they were always gay.
Few people believe that enamoured young men drank champagne from the dainty shoes of the ladies they adored-but they did-and they did it at Romano's too. There are lovely ladies alive to-day and Ruby Miller is one of them-who can supply chapter, and verse. Another is Sylvia Grey....
Phil May, that genius in black and white, who drew inspired pictures of London life and who looked like a groom, was always at Romano's. One day he received a cheque which he had never expected. Such windfalls must be spent at once, of course. Or at least, that was Phil May's idea. So what more natural than to give a celebration dinner at Romano's? The best of everything was ordered and the cheque burning a hole in May's pocket was to be expended to the last penny. Romano's helped with a will. But when the bill came large as it was, there still remained a considerable balance unspent. It was very hard to spend a lot of money in those days of plenty. But they managed it at last, with magnums of what they called " The Boy" and that Napoleon brandy of which Romano's was proud.
When Romano himself died, he lay in state in a room above the restaurant he had made so famous. Crowds filed by his bier to take a last look at the friend who had served them so well, and who had been the cause of so much happiness for them. Royal blood was mingled in the throng of notabilities in every walk of life which paid this last tribute to a man who had been a waiter and had become a celebrity-and to their way of thinking, a public benefactor. He was deeply and sincerely mourned and he deserved the credit he got -for he had given much. But he did not die a poor man. A solicitor friend of his, a shrewd and able man with a big Bow Street practice, had looked after his affairs, and looked after them well. His name was Harry Wilson and nobody who entrusted anything to his capable hands ever regretted it.
Romano's went on after Romano had passed away. The great Luigi himself-a master of his art-succeeded the Noble Roman and succeeded in every way too. Nothing killed Romano's but the altered life brought about by the 1914-18 war. Now just a bar remains open-- the rest is a gathering place for ghosts and the dance the little cupids still perform is surely one of death. But no doubt that in Ghostland the shade of Rornano has found a corner where he can still give joy to the ghosts of greasepaint and the arts-and that will be a very delectable corner of Ghostland.
Romanos in the Strand by Nick kathwaroon.
Between the mid 1930s and until the bombing of Romanos during the blitz the restaurant catered to the upper middle class of the period and had a reputation for good cuisine and a selection of fine after dinner coffees.
This reputation was due in part to the "coffee chef" "Sulamon" (Sulamon Kathwaroon) (See photograph - Right}who with the selection of coffees at his disposal would prepare at your table, with the aid of his "Cona" Coffee machines (still sold today), any one of about 30 different types or flavours of coffee from Turkish or Arab with or without rosewater, to coffee freshly percolated at your table. Remember that coffee in the thirties was not as universally drunk as it is today. So having a special "coffee chef" was rather chic.
Sulamon came from South Africa at the end of the first World War and settled in London. He married and had five children. In his free time he was an active member of the Indian Freedom League. Before the war, he was often found, on Sundays, at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park trying to convince the average Britisher to give up India. This earned him the interest of MI5.
During the bombardment of London, like thousands of fellow Londoners at that time, he still went to work every evening during alerts, returning the next day not knowing if his home was still there. After the destruction of Romanos in the Blitz, he worked in a munitions factory for the duration, whilst two of his his three sons served in the Armed Forces.
When peace was declared he went to work at Veeraswamys, an Indian Restaurant in Regent Street, until his retirement in the 1960s. He died in 1963. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who remembers him during this period at Romano's or even at Veeraswamys.
Text and image courtesy Nick kathwaroon 2004, son of Sulamon Kathwaroon.
Above - The Strand in 2006.
Above - The Strand in 2003 - The new building on the right stands on the site of the Tivoli Theatre, and also on the site of 71 The Strand where Horatio Lloyd's father Robert Lloyd worked as a Hatter, and where Horatio himself was born. Horatio Lloyd was also the father of Arthur Lloyd.
Many Theatres, past and present, are associated with The Strand and they include The Adelphi , The Vaudeville, Terry's , Tivoli, Gaiety, Royal Strand, Royal Globe, Lyceum, Opera Comique, Olympic Theatre, Strand, Waldorf, Novello, Drury Lane, Duchess, the Coal Hole, and the Aldwych.