The Strand

Strand, often called the Strand, is a major thoroughfare in Westminster running from its western origin at Trafalgar Square to its eastern end at Temple Bar, where it continues into Fleet Street, marking Westminster’s boundary with the City of London. The Old English word strand means shore, referring to the bank of the Thames before construction of the Victoria Embankment.
The name was later applied to the road itself. In Roman times the route of the Strand was part of Iter VIII on the Antonine Itinerary, the road map of Roman Britain. Part of it was known in the thirteenth century as Densemanestret (Street of Danes). Immigration has been a continuous aspect of the capital. During the Middle Ages it was the principal route between the separate settlements of the City of London (the civil and commercial centre) and the Palace of Westminster (the political centre). By then, large mansions lined the Strand, including several palaces and townhouses inhabited by bishops and royal courtiers.
Once the high and mighty had left for other parts of inner London, the character of the Strand changed fundamentally. It became synonymous with pleasure, entertainment, and artistic performance. Palaces and estates were replaced by theatres, clubs, coffee houses, taverns, and brothels. The Strand and a taste of tea are inseparable. The first tea samples reached England in the early 1650s. On 25 September 1660 Samuel Pepys enjoyed a ‘cupp of tee’ for the very first time.

John Ovington's Tea Essay, 1699
John Ovington’s Tea Essay, 1699

John Ovington published his Essay on Tea in 1699 (containing a woodcut of the plant). Tea mania swept across the nation. Having been apprenticed to an East India merchant, Thomas Twining acquired Tom’s Coffee House at no. 216 Strand, Devereux Court, in 1706. Thanks to his enterprising efforts and hospitality, tea drinking became an everyday part of London life. Still at the same address on the Strand, the firm holds the world’s oldest company logo and is longest-standing rate-payer in the metropolis. 05 Around the same time, the Strand had become a focus of music publishing and instrument making. François [Francis] Vaillant, who had fled Saumur for London on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, started his bookseller’s business at no. 82 Strand (opposite Southampton Street) in 1686. Specialised in foreign books, he was also involved in the sale of music and music books. There are a number of books in British libraries with a label stating: ‘London, sold by Francis Vaillant, French bookseller in the Strand, where you may be furnished with all sorts of musick’.
Thomas Cahusac (probably of French extraction as well) was a music publisher who, as early as 1755, ran his business at the sign of the ‘Two Flutes and Violin’ opposite St Clement’s Church in the Strand. After 1784 the firm moved to no. 196 Strand. His younger son William carried on the business as Cahusac & Co. up until 1819. The family did not make instruments themselves, but employed outworkers. Flutes, recorders and flageolets with their name stamped on them show a range of quality, from very cheap work to instruments made entirely from ivory. The violins carrying their name also appear to show a range of different hands. William [‘Old’] Foster set up the firm of musical instrument makers and publishers that from 1785 onwards traded at no. 348 Strand. Trumpet maker Richard Woodham resided at no. 12 Exeter Court, Strand, from 1774 until his death around 1797/8. Music printers John Preston & Son were active in the 1790s at no. 97 Strand.

In the early nineteenth century Charles Wheatstone ran an imposing music warehouse at no. 436 Strand. The most important figure at the time was music publisher and instrument maker John Walsh. Of Irish descent, he had established himself in Catherine Street, just off the Strand, by around 1690. He began publishing music in 1695, at which time he had few rivals in the trade. His firm was soon printing engraved music on a scale previously unknown in England. In addition to English composers, he published a good deal of music by foreign composers, mostly copied from Dutch editions (from 1716 onwards he worked closely together with Estienne Roger in Amsterdam).
From 1711 onwards his name became associated with Handel. Around 1730 his son John took control of the business, and was responsible for developing the firm’s relationship with Handel from that time onward. In 1739 he was granted a monopoly on Handel’s music for fourteen years. John Walsh played another part in English musical life which was totally unforeseen and yet of lasting importance. 09 Violin maker Daniel Parker is a mysterious figure. Active from around 1700 to 1725, there is no trace about his birth or background and no record can be found of any apprenticeship. The little that can be discovered about his life has to be inferred from studying his thirty or so known violins and violas and the labels and dates that some of them bear. He worked mainly for the trade in the City of London, having no retail establishment of his own. His contribution can be seen in the instruments of Edward Lewis, Barak Norman, Richard Meares and John Hare, all of whom ran music shops on the northern edge of St Paul’s Churchyard at one time or another. Prior to 1700, there were few violin makers in England and they were in the process of developing their skill. Only a precious few Amati instruments were available to study and imitate.


A number of the early instrument makers were immigrants. Jacob Rayman was born in Füssen, Bavaria, in about 1596. He arrived in London in 1620, having come from s’Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands according to court papers of the time. He settled first at Blackman Street, then at Bell Yard, Southwark. Rayman was active till about 1650. He was not the first violin maker in this country. Various craftsmen were busy making violins amongst all sorts of other instruments by the end of the sixteenth century. However, no actual surviving work earlier than Rayman’s has been securely identified. His violins maintain many of the characteristics of Jacob Stainer’s Tyrolean design, tending to be rough on the exterior, with flat arching, and a fine varnish, all contributing to a dark sound.


The skill level was raised dramatically in the first decade of the eighteenth century. What caused this sudden progress? Virtuoso violinist and composer Gasparo Visconti was born in Cremona in January 1683 into a noble family. Details of his life and career are sketchy. He was a dilettante who pursued a musical career not out of economic necessity, but for its artistic delights. He had been, according to his own testimony, a pupil of Arcangelo Corelli for five years. The Corellian manner of his first published music, the six violin sonatas of Opus 1 (Amsterdam: Estienne Roger, 1703), appears to bear out the truth of that claim. He resided in London from 1702 to 1705, where he regularly performed as a solo violinist or together with his friend the French flautist Jacques Paisible. His sonatas for violin and flute were widely appreciated in England. His compositions were published by John Walsh who had connections with the violin trade and apparently with Daniel Parker himself. Visconti also had a scientific interest in the sound of the violin and is almost certain to have come to England with knowledge Stradivari’s working methods. In London he assisted Frederick and Christian Steffkin, the prominent viol players at the Royal Court, in acoustical demonstrations in July 1705 at the Royal Society. Since the Fire of London, meetings of the Royal Society took place at Arundel House, London home of the Dukes of Norfolk in the Strand near St Clement Danes (in 1710, under the Presidency of Isaac Newton, the Society acquired its own base in Crane Court, off the Strand). 11 In 1704 Visconti married Christina Steffkin. To celebrate the marriage, he commissioned a violin from Stradivari for his wife, and the original template for the neck of this instrument remains in the Stradivari museum in Cremona, inscribed with her name.


Parker presumably gained access to the Visconti violin and was the first craftsman to realise the high quality of the workmanship of Stradivari. He made patterns of the instrument, and from then on his violins were firmly rooted in Stradivari’s work of the period 1690-1700. The Cremonese model became the central inspiration for a new generation of English violin makers who were located around St Paul’s Churchyard. Whatever happened to Visconti after 1705 is poorly documented. It is certain that he returned to his native city by 1713, the year his daughter was born. He was the teacher of the violinist and composer Carlo Zuccari which indicates that he continued to be active in Cremona during the late 1710s and early 1720s (Zuccari left for Vienna in 1723). Parker’s standing in the meantime was established during his lifetime. The last known violin by Daniel Parker is a fine example of collaboration with Barak Norman, dated 1723. Norman died in the following year, and the once-populous community of instrument makers in St Paul’s Churchyard dwindled as Piccadilly became the new focus for English musical culture. His legacy was confirmed when Fritz Kreisler at the end of his 1910/11 tour of Britain (when he premiered the violin concerto that Edward Elgar had written for and dedicated to him) bought one of violins from W.E. Hill & Sons. Made in the early eighteenth century, its modelling and construction showed that Parker had grasped the Stradivarian principles of instrument making. Kreisler played the violin frequently during his career and referred to it as his ‘Parker Strad’.

(c) The Fitzwilliam Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) The Fitzwilliam Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The art of performing string instruments in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century was also refined by the arrival of immigrants from Italy. Once again, the Strand figures in the narrative. Violinist and composer Nicola Matteis was of Neapolitan descent, describing himself as ‘Napolitano’ in several of his works. Nothing is known about his origins or education. He arrived in London in the early 1670s. On 20 November 1674 John Evelyn made an enthusiastic note in his diary. He had dined at the Strand home of Henry Slingsby, Master of the Mint, and was treated to a private concert in which Nicola Matteis excelled (a Frenchman played the lute, an Italian the harpsichord, and a German the viol d’amore: music in London was largely a Continental experience). The violinist was actively supported by such eminent men as Roger L’Estrange, William Waldegrave and William Bridgeman, all of whom had strong interests in music (and were sympathetic to the Roman Church). He became the earliest notable Italian Baroque violinist active in the capital. Initially very much his own promoter, Matteis published his Arie diverse per il violin in 1676, a collection of 120 pieces for solo violin and continuo bass. A second edition with an English title-page together with a second part containing a further seventy pieces appeared two years later. These self-published volumes helped establish in England the skill and technology of engraving music. In 1685, he published the third and fourth parts of the Ayres for the Violin, which was followed two years later by an expanded second edition. His portrait was painted by Godfrey Kneller in 1682. Matteis teamed up with John Walsh in 1696 enjoying great artistic and commercial success with his published music. He married a rich widow in 1700 and retired from the London musical scene. Having squandered his wealth, he died in poverty sometime after 1713. Matteis is credited with changing the English taste for violin playing from the French to the Italian style. Burney stressed his importance in the English history of violin playing, stating that the virtuoso ‘had polished and refined our ears, and made them fit and eager for the sonatas of Corelli’.


Stradivari’s reputation in Britain was cemented in the Strand. A veritable cult of Cremona would follow. The Stradivarius violin became a metaphor for perfection attained by individual genius, consummate skill, and close attention to details. Little is known about Antonio Stradivari’s life. Contemporaries did not deem it necessary to eulogise a productive craftsman and chronicle his deeds as was done for Renaissance painters or sculptors. No authentic portrait has survived. After all, he was only a craftsman. It only contributed to nineteenth century myth making (the most persistent and prominent one is that of the ‘secret’ and ‘lost’ varnish recipe). In literature it led to the creation of a new leading role, that of the craftsman-hero. Painter Edgar Bundy specialised in historical paintings in oil and watercolour, usually in a very detailed and narrative style, a genre that was popular amongst the Edwardians. In 1893 he produced Antonio Stradivari at work in his studio, a painting that typifies the mystique surrounding the figure of the violin maker. It is the kind of sugar pill Romanticism which created many nonsensical notions about the artist, his craft and the creative process that have remained in circulation to this day. Such was the Stradivari hero-worship that in 1902 the three Hill brothers, owners of a violin and bow-making firm in New Bond Street and leading experts on the work of Stradivari, published a detailed study of the master’s work and productivity. According to their figures Stradivari produced a total of 1,116 instruments, most of which were violins – 540 violins, 50 cellos, and 12 violas could be accounted for. They went out their way to separate the legend from the reality of the workshop. The Hills were emphatic in asserting that Stradivari had no individual secrets in the craft of violin making. He was just a gifted and diligent artisan. It was the skill factor – not the genius, divine inspiration, or any other claptrap – that Daniel Parker recognised in the Stradivari’s craftsmanship. He used the master’s work as a starting point, developing his own results from a set of ideas that were familiar to Cremonese instrument makers without sacrificing useful elements which he had acquired during his traditional London training.