I often find myself crossing over the Hungerford Bridge, and I always hear the same question over and over again “What are those three buildings over there?”
I always want to stop and start a lecture, for they are the Three Sisters of Embankment.
They are somewhat anonymous but obvious buildings, once you’ve crossed the bridge they seem to disappear back into obscurity, and into the recesses of memory, because once on the Embankment side you can’t really see them.
So here is my lecture …
The Shell Mex
Standing in the middle we have the iconic Shell Mex House presenting the largest clock face in London a wapping 8m in diameter. This imposing building was built in the 30’s in a classic Art Deco style, as the head quarters of the Shell Group. Although iconic on the riverside as soon as you cross over and head up
to The Strand you forget it’s there, even though it has another equally impressive clock face on the Strand side. Part of the reason you forget its there is because it’s built on the site if the former Hotel Cecile.
In it’s Victorian heyday the Hotel Cecile was the place to stay, a beautiful red brick extensive building, boasting of over 800 rooms, lavish dining and dancing rooms and huge central court yard, known affectionately as “The Beach”. Today the facade of this grand hotel remains on The Strand, hiding the blockish Shell Mex house just behind it. If you’re on The Strand be sure to look out for its entrance with the court yard (minus a beach) just behind.
Just to the left of Shell Mex is sister number 2 another Art Deco building, built around the same time and it’s worth getting a close up to this one for the impressive, gigantic adonises and porticos which adorn the front.
We’re all far more familiar with the Adelphi Theatre just on The Strand but this is actually the name of the area, named after the grand original Adelphi building on this very site, built in the 1700’s by famed London town planners the Adams brothers (the streets in this area are still named after them). Back then this grand building was the most impressive riverside residence Five stories high with large arches at the base (which back then marked the river’s edge) it came complete with shops and taverns. It’s style was said to be based on the Diocletian’s palace in Croatia. This stunning building was by the 1930’s a little dilapidated and pulled down to make way for The New Adelphi, that we see today on the river bank.
However small remnants of the original survives. Visit 11 John Adam Street, just to the right of Embankment station to see the last obvious piece of this grand development. While you’re there, make your way around the corner to check out the, secret road “Lower Robert Street”. This little street originally led to the vaults of the original building, today it provides a spooky cut through, for those in the know.
The Savoy Hotel
On the right side of Shell Mex we have the most famous, and the oldest of the three sisters ( but not always apparent from the river view) the Savoy Hotel. But what is not so famous is the site it is named after. Once upon a time the great Savoy Palace stood on this site, but it was destroyed in the peasants revolt in 1300’s. Following this Henry VII built a hospital here which survived until it’s demolition in the 1800’s when the hotel was built.
One beautiful but forgotten piece of the Savoy history remains, the lovely Savoy Chapel at the back of the hotel, and accessed for a good look from Savoy Street. This little chapel, is property of the Queen and dates from the 1400’s, it was the Savoy hospital chapel.
So next time you’re crossing the Hungerford Bridge and you look up to check the time, be sure to remember to detour across and say hello to the Three Sisters of Embankment and discover all their historic secrets.