St Clement Watch House | History on Strand Lane

St Clements Watch House | History on Strand Lane

For the everyday passerby, there’s not much reason to venture into Strand Lane. It’s not a convenient cut through to the Strand however it has two quite amazing bits of history to discover!

View of Strand Lane from Temple Lane

I’ve previously covered one of them on the blog, the history of the ‘Roman’ bathhouse which you can read all about here.

View into the ‘Roman’ Bathhouse on Strand Lane

But there’s another historic oddity, a curious-looking white building that looms over the narrow street.

The Grade II listed structure looks fairly new (it was renovated and re-rendered in 2017) but the balcony have more of an early 19th century look. 

However, Historic England believe it’s far older.

The Calendar of Treasury Papers (which list detailed government accounts) from 1724 mention a ‘tenement … built across the lane’ which is inhabited by a beadle from the parish of St Clement Danes.

Although it’s not pictured on the 1799 Horwood map, I’ve circled the rough location and it would’ve been up against part of Somerset House’s grounds (which fits with the history of the bathhouse too!)

Image Credit: www.layersoflondon.org

This was a former parish watch house.

History of Watch Houses

Before the Metropolitan Police was founded in 1829, the watch was an organised system of men who kept a literal watch on London, organised by each parish. They used small buildings as a way to stay warm and as overnight lock-ups to keep any ne’er do wells caught misbehaving.

Quite a few of these watch houses and lock ups survive across London. There’s an atmospheric lock up from c.1730 set within a wall on Cannon Lane, Hampstead.

As well as the new chain of coffee shops (named WatchHouse!) which started in a former Rotherhithe watch house, established in 1821.

In the image above from 2019 you can see the former watch house on the right as well as the two statues of children wearing the blue uniforms that tell us this was charity school, this building dates from 1742.

But back to St Clement’s watch house, given it’s slap-bang in between two parishes you can find two fun parish boundary markers either side of the narrow brick alley.

Above is the St Clement Danes parish marker, the anchor being an attribute of Saint Clement. In 100 AD he was martyred by tying his neck to an anchor before being thrown in the sea. Lovely.

The other refers to the Parish of St Mary Le Strand.

On the 1890s OS map with St Clement Danes and St Mary Le Strand circled in red. Strand Lane is highlighted in blue

Image Credit: www.layersoflondon.org

Today the watch house is now part of King’s College campus and is just used as offices so the interior doesn’t hold much excitement.

The other architectural protrusion into Strand Lane is the apse of the King’s College Chapel. See in the top right below.

This was designed by George Gilbert Scott and completed in 1864. This is certainly worth visiting if you get the chance. I was lucky enough to see inside during one Open House Festival.

Discover more about the history of this area on my Fleet Street Secrets walk. Available dates are shown below.

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6 Comments

  • Tony de Boeck

    Reply

    Hi Katie,
    Really enjoying your weekly blogs! I see that under the St Mary’ Le Strand there is a inscription saying 7ft 8 1/2 inches. Do you have any idea what this may mean! I wonder if it simply refers to the height of the boundary marker above?

    Hopefully you’ll get out to sunny Carshalton some time soon to see and maybe write about Honeywood House and museum?
    Take care!

    November 2, 2022 at 6:59 am
  • emma capello

    Reply

    Good Morning Katie, thanks for starting my day with a chuckle….
    “…Saint Clement. In 100 AD he was martyred by tying his neck to an anchor before being thrown in the sea. Lovely….”

    How could you resist not making a side remark about that hideous flying staircase overhang…. what on earth passed for planning oversight in those days?!
    Have a nice day, Emma

    November 2, 2022 at 8:39 am
  • Kim

    Reply

    Dear Katie,
    Thank you so much for all the wonderful articles that you send to me on ‘ look up.London’.
    As an original london lass I really appreciate all this knowledge on things that I have never discovered myself. My days of adventures are over, being completely house bound. But because of you and your delightful articles you lift my spirits.
    Many thanks. From Kim. Isle of Wight.

    November 2, 2022 at 8:58 am
  • Jay Venn

    Reply

    Thank you as always for this fascinating post. If by chance you watch the WW2 film ‘Their Finest’ you will see Strand lane and The Watch house featured as a part of blitz time London! And its a very enjoyable film in its own right,too.

    November 2, 2022 at 9:29 am
  • Adrian Butters

    Reply

    Hi
    Thank you Katie for an always fascinating write up, and I have always been intrigued by these pre 1829 Met police watchmen, and to what extent their powers of arrest stretched to, and what they could indeed arrest you for ( possible future article ? )

    In response to Mr De Boeck interest in the height marker, these were often used by O/S (ordinance survey), often accompanied by a military looking arrow (hopefully a more knowledgeable reader would be able to add to this). If I am wrong you all may throw me overboard and martyr me 😳

    November 3, 2022 at 1:32 am
  • Adrian Butters

    Reply

    Hi
    Thank you Katie for another interesting article (s). In response to Mr De Boeck, I believe the height markers were tied in with O/S (ordinance survey) often seen with a military looking arrow also carved in (any readers with more knowledge than me expand on subject ?)

    Also, I have always been interested in how the policing was arranged prior to 1829 formation of the Met, and their powers of arrest, and indeed, what they could arrest you for (future article about this ? Perhaps covering old law enforcement architecture ?)

    November 3, 2022 at 1:54 am

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