St Mary le Strand is an Anglican church located on what is now a traffic island at the eastern end of the Strand in the City of Westminster just north of Somerset House. It is the official church of the Women’s Royal Naval Service and has a book of remembrance for members who have fallen in service. Along with St Clement Danes, it is known as one of the ‘Island Churches’.
This is the second church to bear the name of St Mary le Strand. The first was located just to the south of the current building. It’s foundation date is not known but there was mention of the Church of the Innocents or St Mary and the Innocents as it was then known in a judgement of 1222. This church was demolished in 1549 by Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset to make way for the building of Somerset House. The congregation were promised a new church but this never happened.
The new St Mary le Strand was the first of 12 new churches built under the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches – the so called Queen Anne Churches. The church was built by James Gibbs and was his first work after his return from Italy. Construction began in February 1714 with the steeple being completed in September 1717 however, it was not consecrated for use until 1st January, 1724. The church survived destruction twice in the 20th century. The first was when the London County Council proposed to widen the Strand by demolishing the church. The second was during the blitz when it luckily suffered only damage from a nearby bomb explosion.
The church is built in a Baroque Italianate style and was originally meant to have a small campanile at the west end instead of a steeple as there was also have been a column erected a short distance from the church surmounted with a statue of Queen Anne. Due to the Queen’s death in 1714, the architect was ordered to build a steeple instead with the stone that had originally been purchased for the column.