From 1831 until 1907, writes Leonard W. Cowie, Exeter Hall played a vital part in the ameliorative work of believers in human betterment.
Number 372 in the Strand, now submerged by the Strand Palace Hotel, was formerly the site of Exeter Hall, an institution whose activities in the nineteenth century aroused strong and conflicting emotions among writers, and provided political cartoonists with constant material.
At the same time, it played an important part in the religious and philanthropic, musical and educational history of those years.
Originally this part of the north side of the Strand was occupied by Burleigh House (afterwards Exeter House), which was begun in Edward VI’s reign by Sir Thomas Palmer on the site of the rectory of St. Clement Danes, a house of the Master of the Savoy and tenements which formerly belonged to the ‘Covent Garden’ of Westminster Abbey.
When Palmer was executed for treason in Elizabeth’s reign, the Queen presented the house to Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, who completed it. On Burghley’s death, it passed to his elder son, Thomas, who was created Earl of Exeter in 1605. After the Restoration, Exeter House was occupied by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, who had married Frances, daughter of the third Earl of Exeter.
In 1676 Exeter House was sold and pulled down. Its grounds were covered with streets; and, where it had itself stood, Exeter ’Change was built by Dr. Nicholas Barbon, son of the Anabaptist politician, Praise-God Barebones. Barbon had been a successful speculative builder in London after the great fire of 1666, and Exeter ’Change was intended to be a sort of bazaar, with two walks of shops below stairs and two above.