Northumberland Avenue is a street in the City of Westminster in central London that runs from Trafalgar Square in the west to the Thames Embankment in the east. The road was built on the site of Northumberland House, the London home of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland between 1874 and 1876.
When built, the street was designed for luxury accommodation, including the seven-storey Grand Hotel. The Playhouse Theatre opened in 1882 and become a significant venue in London. From the 1930s onwards, hotels disappeared from Northumberland Avenue and were replaced by offices. The street has been commemorated in the Sherlock Holmes novels, and is a square on the British Monopoly board.
The street is around 0.2 miles (0.32 km) long. It runs from Trafalgar Square eastwards from Trafalgar Square towards the Thames Embankment. At the eastern end are the Whitehall Gardens and the Golden Jubilee Bridges over the River Thames. The road is classified A400. The nearest bus route is London Bus Route 91 and the nearest tube stations are Charing Cross and Embankment.
Several British government departments are located in buildings on Northumberland Avenue; the Ministry of Defence and the Air Ministry formerly occupied the triangular-shaped Metropole Hotel on the street. Other buildings include the Nigerian High Commission at No. 9 and a London School of Economics halls of residence (opposite The Sherlock Holmes pub).
In 1608–09, Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton built a house on the eastern portion of the former property of the Chapel and Hospital of St. Mary Rounceval, at Charing Cross. This was a considerable property consisting of a house and gardens, running down to the River Thames, and adjoining Scotland Yard to the west. The estate was inherited by Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland when he married Howard's great-great niece, Lady Elizabeth in 1642, whereupon the property became known as Northumberland House. The house suffered damage in the Wilkes' election riots of 1768, but the duke saved his property by the expedient of opening the nearby Ship Ale House, which drew off the rioters.
In June 1874, the whole of this property at Charing Cross was purchased by the Metropolitan Board of Works for the demolition of the house to form Northumberland Avenue, which would accommodate hotels. Contemporary planning permissions forbade hotels to be taller than the width of the road they were on; consequently Northumberland Avenue was built with a wide carriageway. Part of the parallel Northumberland Street was demolished in order to make way for the avenue's eastern end. The street was open by 1876.
Thomas Edison's British headquarters, Edison House, was situated on the road. Several prominent personalities of the late 19th century had their voices recorded there by phonograph, including Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone and poet Robert Browning Mary Helen Ferguson, the first English female audio typist, worked at Edison House and supervised all musical recordings. In 1890, retired military trumpeter Martin Lanfried recorded at Edison House using a bugle he believed to have been sounded at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854.
The Royal Commonwealth Society is at No. 18 Northumberland Avenue. It was founded in 1868 as the Colonial Society to improve relationships with colonies in the British Empire including Canada and Australia, and moved to its current premises in 1885. The current name dates from 1958, reflecting the change from the Empire to the Commonwealth of Nations. The Commonwealth Club opened on the premises in 1998 and features the only suspended glass dining room in London.
By the 1930s, accommodation on Park Lane and Piccadilly had become more popular. Hotels closed and were sold for other businesses; the seven floor Grand Hotel became a retail headquarters. No. 8 is now an events venue for corporations including Marks & Spencer. The venue is the first in Europe to install amBX lighting.
Northumberland Avenue formed part of the marathon course of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The women's Olympic marathon took place on 5 August and the men's Olympic marathon on 12 August, with the Paralympics following on 9 September.
Northumberland Avenue is referenced several times in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels, where wealthy Oriental visitors stayed in hotels, including the Grand, the Metropole and the Victoria.
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