One of the star sites in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, the tomb of Horatio, Lord Nelson, is certainly grand.

Located in what is known as the Nelson Chamber, it centres on a polished back sarcophagus which sits on a stone plinth surrounded by columns with a mosaic floor featuring nautical motifs underneath.

But what makes this tomb unusual is that the sarcophagus actually predates the cathedral itself – and it wasn’t originally made for Nelson.

The sarcophagus was initially commissioned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, and made by Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano in about 1524. But when Wolsey fell out of favour – and eventually died in disgrace – the then unfinished sarcophagus was seized by King Henry VIII.

King Henry intended to use it for himself and commissioned Benedetto to rework it but it wasn’t complete when he died and while his children – King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – had intended to complete it after his death, none did so.

It was Queen Elizabeth I who moved the unfinished work out of Westminster to Windsor but during the Commonwealth various pieces designed to accompany the completed tomb were dispersed.

They included four large bronze angels that Benedetto had completed in 1529 which were intended to stand on the tomb’s four corners – for many years these were used as decorative features on gate pillars at Harrowden Hall in Northampshire but were finally recovered by the V&A in 2015 after a national appeal and can now be seen there.

The sarcophagus itself remained at Windsor until King George III presented it to the Admiralty in tribute to Lord Nelson.

Suitably fitted out, his remains were enclosed within when he was buried in St Paul’s crypt on 9th January, 1806.

Nelson’s body, which had been preserved in a keg of brandy on its journey aboard the HMS Victory back from the Battle of Trafalgar where he was killed in 1805, is actually held inside a wooden coffin which sits inside the sarcophagus. This coffin was made from the mainmast of the French ship L’Orient which was presented to Nelson following victory at the Battle of the Nile.

Meanwhile, the sarcophagus itself, which would have been topped with Wolsey’s cardinal’s hat had it fulfilled its original intention, is now topped with a coronet – a symbol of Nelson’s title of viscount.

A monument to Nelson, the work of John Flaxman, can also be seen inside the cathedral.

WHERE: Nelson Chamber, The Crypt, St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £20 adults/£17.50 concessions/£8.50 children (online and group discounts; family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk.

PICTURE: Above – Michael Broad  (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – reverendlukewarm (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

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The grave holding the remains of Puritan preacher and writer John Bunyan, who died in August, 1688, now celebrates  the famed author of The Pilgrim’s Progress with an effigy lying atop a chest tomb. But it was not always so.

Bunyan, was in fact, first buried in the Baptist corner of the burial ground but it was understood that when the tomb of his friend John Strudwick was next opened (it was at Strudwick’s London home that Bunyan had died), his body would be moved into it. It’s thought this was done which Strudwick himself died in 1695.

Bunyan’s name was inscribed on the side of the monument over the tomb which took the form of a relatively unadorned stone chest in the Baroque style.

By the mid-1800s, however, this had fallen into decay and a public appeal was launched for the tomb’s restoration.

More than simply cleaning up the existing tomb, however, the Portland stone monument was completely reconstructed in 1862.

Designed by sculptor Edgar George Papworth, the new monument was again constructed as a chest, but this time with an effigy of Bunyan lying on top and two relief panels on the sides depicting scenes from his famous book.

The now Grade II* monument has been further restored a couple of times since, including after World War II when it was damaged by bomb shrapnel.

WHERE: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, 38 City Road (nearest Tube station is Old Street); WHEN: 8am to 7pm weekdays/9.30am to 7pm weekends; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx.

PICTURES: Top – Edwardx (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – David Adams

Many people are aware of the memorial to 17th century playwright and poet Ben Jonson that sits among the who’s who of the literary world commemorated in Westminster Abbey’s famous Poet’s Corner. But fewer people visit the poet’s actual grave, located a short distance away in the northern aisle of the nave.

And while visitors to the northern aisle of the nave may think its a small stone set into the wall above the floor itself, with the inscription ‘O rare Ben Johnson’ (note the ‘h’ used here in his name), which marks the grave’s location, we’re not quite there yet.

The stone, which was indeed the original stone covering Jonson’s grave, was actually moved from the floor to this position when the entire nave floor was being relaid in the 19th century. For the actual location of Jonson’s grave you have to head back to the aisle’s floor and there, just to the east of a brass commemorating John Hunter, you’ll find a small, grey lozenge-shaped stone which marks the actual grave site (and bears the same inscription with the same spelling).

The inscription can also be found on his Poet’s Corner memorial. It was apparently put on Jonson’s grave stone when one Jack Young passed by the grave as it was being covered and gave a mason 18 pence to carve it (Young is said to have been knighted later on).

All that’s very well but what really sets Ben Jonson’s grave apart from the other more than 3,500 graves buried in the abbey is that Jonson is the only person known to have been interred below the abbey floor standing upright.

The poet died in a somewhat impoverished state and it’s that which is said to explain the unusual arrangement. One version of the tale has the poet begging for just 18 square inches of ground for his burial from King Charles I; another has him telling the Abbey’s Dean that he was too poor to be buried with his fellow poets and that a space two foot square would serve him (the Dean apparently granted him his wish which meant Jonson’s coffin lowered into the ground end on end).

The fact he was buried upright in his coffin was apparently confirmed in 1849 when a clerk saw skeletal remains of a standing person in the spot Jonson was buried while doing another burial nearby.

The monument in Poet’s Corner, meanwhile, was erected in the early 1720s by the Earl of Oxford. It features a medallion portrait of him with actor’s masks and a broken golden lamp symbolising death on top. It was designed by James Gibbs and attributed to the sculptor JM Rysbrack.

WHERE: North Aisle, Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £23 adults/£20 concession/£10 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

PICTURES: Top – The original grave marker now set in the wall; Below – The tile marking the actual grave site (Google Maps – images have been treated to improve resolution).


It should probably come as no surprise that this rather elegant memorial in the former graveyard of St Pancras Old Church is that of architect – and founder of a rather remarkable museum – Sir John Soane (as well as his wife Eliza and their oldest son, John).

The tomb, described by architectural commentator Nikolaus Pevsner as an “outstandingly interesting monument”, was, of course, designed by the heart-broken Soane, the architect of neo-classical buildings like the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery, following the death of his wife on 22nd November, 1815.

Erected in 1816, it features a central cube of Carrara marble with four faces for inscriptions topped by a domed canopy supported on four ionic columns. A Portland stone balustrade surrounds the whole structure as well as stairs down to the subterranean tomb itself.

Among the symbolic decorative elements on the monument are a pine cone finial – a symbol of regeneration, a serpent swallowing its tail – a symbol of eternity, and reliefs of boys holding extinguished churches – symbols of death.

Sir John’s son, John, was buried in the tomb after his death in 1823 and Sir John himself was interred following his death on 20th January, 1837.

The monument is said to be only one of two Grade I-listed monuments in London – the other being Karl Marx’s gravestone in Highgate Cemetery. It is also famously said to have formed part of the inspiration for Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s design of famous K2 red telephone box.

The Soane tomb was vandalised in 1869 – and it was suggested at the time that it should be relocated to Lincoln’s Inn Fields for its protection.

It was more recently restored in 1996 by the Soane Monuments Trust and again, after more vandalism, in 2000-01 as part of a restoration of St Pancras Gardens by the London Borough of Camden.

The graveyard of St Pancras Old Church, incidentally, is also the site of The Hardy Tree.

WHERE: St Pancras Gardens, Pancras Road, Camden Town (nearest Tube station is Kings Cross St Pancras); WHEN: Daylight hours; COST: free; WEBSITE: https://posp.co.uk/st-pancras-old-church/; www.camden.gov.uk/parks-in-camden.

PICTURES: Michael Day (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0).

Located in Kensal Green Cemetery in London’s north-west, the mausoleum of circus equestrian performer Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842) is one of the largest and most decorated in the cemetery. Fitting, given Ducrow – who was also proprietor of Astley’s Amphitheatre – was known as the “Colossus of Equestrians”.

The grand Grade II*-listed tomb on the cemetery’s Central Avenue was designed by George Danson, theatrical designer for Ducrow’s horse shows, and is a pastiche of styles with Greek and Egyptian influences among others.

The elaborately decorated tomb features reeded columns, lotus capitals and sphinxes as well as beehives, reliefs of angels holding wreathes, masks of comedy and tragedy and plenty of pegasi.

The crumbling tomb, regarded as one of the most outstanding funerary monuments of Victorian England, was actually first erected for Ducrow’s wife 1837 at a cost of £3,000. It was further embellished for his own internment – including an inscription which reads in part, rather immodestly, “erected by genius for the reception of its own remains”.

WHERE: Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Road, Kensal Green (nearest Tube station is Kensal Green); WHEN: 9am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday; 10am to 6pm Sunday (summer opening hours); COST: free; WEBSITE: www.kensalgreen.co.uk.

PICTURE: Loz Pycock (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the more uniquely designed tombs in London, that of Victorian explorer, soldier, linguist and diplomat Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890; not to be confused with the actor of the same name) was created in the shape of a Bedouin tent.

Located in the cemetery of St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church in Mortlake in south-west London, the Grade II* tomb was designed by Burton’s strongly Catholic wife, Isabel, Lady Burton (1831-96), who is buried in it with him (his body was brought back from Trieste, Italy, where he expired; hers added after he death several years later). The tent’s form was apparently inspired by one the couple stayed in during a visit to Syria.

The tomb, which is constructed of stone from the Forest of Dean and Carrara marble and topped with two gilt stars, looks a fitting tribute for Burton who not only took part in the search for the source of the Nile but also scandalously translated the texts The Arabian Nights, The Perfumed Garden and The Kama Sutra into English.

The coffins of the couple can be seen inside the tomb through a large window in the rear of the roof which is accessed by a short ladder. The interior is also decorated with a range of items including religious paintings, statues and other items symbolic of the Catholic faith as well as strings of camel bells.

The inscription on the front of the mausoleum features a commemorative sonnet by poet Justin Huntly McCarthy as well as the inscription, “This monument is erected to his memory by his living countrymen”.

The tomb was restored in 1975 and more recently in 2012-13.

The interior of the church also features a memorial to Burton (who actually described himself as an atheist). It takes the form of a stained glass window which depicts Burton as a medieval knight.

WHERE: St Mary Magdalen Church, 61 North Worple Way, Mortlake (nearest overground station is Mortlake); WHEN: Reasonable hours; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmarymags.org.uk.

PICTURES: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

One of the more eccentric grave monuments in London, this massive triangular shaped memorial in a Pinner churchyard was erected by landscape gardener and horticultural writer John Claudius Loudon for his parents.

Located in the churchyard of St John the Baptist, the massive Grade II-listed monument is shaped like an inverted V with an arch piercing the base and features what appears to be a stone coffin stuck through it about halfway up the structure.

On one end, it bears an inscription to Scottish merchant William Loudon, who died on 29th December, 1809, and, on the other end, another to his wife Agnes, who died on 14th October, 1841.

It’s been suggested – and the words on the ornamental ironwork in the arch, ‘I Byde My Time’, are seen as supporting this theory –  that the reason for the odd design lies in the terms of a will which stipulated Loudon and his wife would only inherit a sum of money if their bodies stayed above ground.

That theory kind of falls apart, however, given that they are actually both buried below the monument. Another theory suggests the monument was deliberately designed to show that the couple were socially above – or perhaps closer to God – than the rest of those buried in the graveyard.

John Claudius Loudon, who died in 1843 – just a couple of years after the monument was erected, is buried at Kensal Green.

WHERE: St John the Baptist Church, Church Lane, Pinner (nearest Tube station is Pinner); WHEN: Reasonable hours; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.pinnerparishchurch.org.uk

PICTURE: Top – Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0/cropped); Right – Peter Reed (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0/cropped)


The mausoleum of wealthy London socialite Hannah Courtoy, located in the grounds of Brompton Cemetery in West London, resembles something akin to an Egyptian-style tomb monument – making it a rather unusual addition to the graveyard. But more bizarre still is that some believe it may contain a time machine.

Courtoy, who had controversially inherited a fortune from merchant John Courtoy with whom she had three daughters but never married, died in 1849. She was buried in this rather odd-looking mausoleum (along with two of her three daughters).

It has been claimed that the tomb was designed by Joseph Bonomi, a sculptor and Egyptologist who is actually buried only a short distance away, with those who believe so pointing to Egyptian imagery – including scarab beetles, a symbol of eternal life – decorating the tomb’s imposing bronze portal as evidence of his involvement.

And that’s where the time machine idea also comes in – some Victorians were known to believe that the ancient pharoahs of Egypt had discovered the secret of time travel and it has been floated that Bonomi might have discovered this secret when on expedition in Egypt, brought it back with him to London and employed what he learnt in the construction of this mausoleum (hence why it took four years to build).

The claims around this tomb are that the mausoleum, located close to the centre of the cemetery, is not in fact a time machine but some kind of teleportation device. And that the builder, working in collaboration with Bonomi, was Samuel Warner, the inventor of the torpedo, who is also buried nearby, this time in an unmarked grave.

WHERE: Brompton Cemetery (South Gate off Fulham Rd. North Gate off Old Brompton Rd) (nearest Tube stations are West Brompton and Earl’s Court); WHEN: 7am to various closing times daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/brompton-cemetery.

PICTURES: Edwardx (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

 

Frank C Bostock is not a name you’d probably immediately recognise but his grave monument gives a big clue to his profession.

Born in 1866 into a family that ran a travelling menagerie (his grandfather was the famous George Wombwell who is buried at Highgate Cemetery), Frank, who became a lion tamer while still a teenager, initially worked as part of the family operation.

In his late 20s, however, he travelled to the US where he established his own menagerie in New York initially in Brooklyn and later at Coney Island. He later returned to the UK and there set up a massive touring exhibition, known as the Jungle, that travelled from city to city.

Bostock died, ostensibly from the flu, on 8th October, 1912. He was buried at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington in what was by all accounts a grand affair.

The Grade II-listed rectangular white marble grave cover, made by Millward and Co, is topped with a carved figure of a sleeping lion.

There’s said to be a couple of traditions associated with the grave – one says people stroke the lion’s left paw for luck, the other says people place flowers under the lion’s paws for the same.

WHERE: Highgate East Cemetery, Swain’s Lane (nearest Tube station is Archway); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: £4 adults/children under 18 and members free; WEBSITE: highgatecemetery.org/visit/cemetery/east.

PICTURE: Taken in July, 2011. Julian Walker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Before we start our next Wednesday series, here’s a recap of our coverage of 10 historic London hotels…

1. The Ritz Hotel…

2. The Savoy…

3. Claridge’s…

4. The Langham Hotel…

5. The Great Western Hotel (Hilton London Paddington)…

6. The Midland Grand Hotel (The St Pancras Renaissance London)

7. The Grosvenor House Hotel (JW Marriott Grosvenor House London)…

8. The Dorchester…

9. The Connaught…

10. The Hotel Russell (the Kimpton Fitzroy London Hotel)…

Our next series kicks off next week (apologies for any confusion)…

Designed by the architect Charles Fitzroy Doll in distinctive French Renaissance-style for the Frederick Hotels Company, the Hotel Russell opened on the east side of Russell Square in 1898.

The now Grade II*-listed building, which is said to have been based on the 16th century Château de Madrid in Paris, is clad in decorative Doulton’s thé-au-lait (“tea with milk”) terracotta.

Its facade incorporates the coats-of-arms of the world’s nations as they were in 1898 and above the entrance are life-sized statues of four queens – Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne and Victoria – which were designed by sculptor Henry Charles Fehr (pictured). The Guilford Street frontage features busts of four Prime Ministers: Lord Derby, Lord Salisbury, William Gladstone, and Benjamin Disraeli.

The hotel’s interior features ornate fixtures and fitting including a Pyrenean marble staircase which runs off the opulent marble foyer and an interior courtyard housing a Palm Court. Each bedroom was fitted with an en-suite bathroom.

Its restaurant, now named the Neptune but originally named after Doll, was designed almost identically to the RMS Titanic‘s dining room (Doll designed both). That’s not the only Titanic connection – the hotel also features a bronze statue of a dragon on the stairs named ‘Lucky George’ and the Titanic carried an identical statue.

The hotel survived World War II largely intact – with the exception of a roof-top dome which was damaged in an air raid in 1941 and not replaced.

Fast forward to April, 2018, and the hotel reopened as the The Principal Hotel (on the 106th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic) following an extensive £85 million, two year renovation by designer Tara Bernerd.

But the Principal Hotel Company sold its portfolio of hotels to Covivio a few months later and they, in turn, leased the management of the hotels to the InterContinental Hotels Group. The Principal was renamed the Kimpton Fitzroy London in October that year.

Alongside 330 or so rooms, amenities at the five star hotel include the glass-roofed Palm Court, cocktail bar Fitz’s (named for Charles Fitzroy Doll), and the coffee shop Burr & Co. There’s also a grand ballroom, meeting rooms and a fitness centre.

Interestingly, Doll designed another hotel, the Imperial, also on Russell Square, which opened in 1911. It was demolished in 1966.

For more, see www.kimptonfitzroylondon.co.uk/us/en/.

PICTURES: Top – David Iliff (licensed under CC BY 3.0); Right and below – Jack1956.

This is the final in our series on historic London hotels. We’ll be launching a new special series next Wednesday.

The Connaught Hotel, another five star Mayfair establishment, was built in 1892 on the site of smaller hotel which had opened in what is now Carlos Place in the early 19th century.

Known as The Prince of Saxe-Coburg Hotel (or The Coburg for short), the first hotel on the site opened in 1815 as an offshoot of Alexander Grillon’s hotel in Albemarle Street. The Coburg was created out of two houses owned by the Duke of Westminster.

In 1892, the owners of The Coburg – Lewis Isaacs and H L Florence – embarked upon a complete rebuild of the hotel and in 1897 it reopened with a 90-year lease on the building signed by Sir John Blundell Maple, of a famous furniture making family.

The new premises was renamed The Connaught during World War I amid anti-German sentiment. The new moniker was a reference to the seventh child of Queen Victoria, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.

Frequented by the gentry between the wars thanks to its handy position between Buckingham Palace and Harley Street, during World War II the hotel served as home to French President General Charles de Gaulle.

In the post war years, the hotel soon established a reputation for fine food and drink thanks in part to the opening, in 1955, of The Grill Room. This was only enhanced with the arrival of Michel Bourdin as head chef in 1975 – a position he held for 26 years.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, opened the hotel’s new kitchens in 1992 and 10 years later Angela Harnett’s Menu at The Connaught opened, winning a Michelin star in 2004 (it closed in 2007).

In the mid 2000s, the Grade II-listed hotel underwent a major £70 million restoration and refurbishment with new additions including a new wing, the Aman Spa and a Japanese garden. In 2008, French chef Hélène Darroz opened a restaurant at the hotel and the following year, in 2009, a new art deco ballroom designed by Guy Oliver – Mayfair’s first in more than 80 years – opened its doors.

Most recently, in 2017, New York-based French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened a new restaurant at the Connaught. Other newer additions include Tadao Ando’s Silence, a water feature installed outside the main entrance in 2011.

With around 120 rooms and suites (not to mention the world-famous Connaught Bar), the hotel, which had been acquired by the Savoy Group in the 1950s, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group along with Claridge’s.

Famous names which have been recently associated with the hotel include Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Gwyneth Paltrow. And, of course, Ralph Lauren, who was so enamoured of the hotel’s famous staircase that he had a replica made for his Madison Avenue store in New York.

For more, see www.the-connaught.co.uk.

PICTURE: Via Google Street View.

 

This five star luxury Mayfair hotel opened in 1931 and quickly established a reputation for luxuriousness.

Located at 35 Park Lane on the site of what was formerly the London residence of the Earl of Dorchester (and later a mansion built for millionaire RS Holford), the hotel was the dream of Sir Robert McAlpine who bought the site in partnership with Gordon Hotels in 1929 for £500,000 and vowed to create a luxury hotel that would “rank as the finest in Europe”.

Engineer Sir Owen Williams initially oversaw the building’s design but a falling out saw architect William Curtis Green take over the project (meaning while the structural frame was Sir Owen’s work, the elevations are largely the work of Green). A quarter of the building was constructed underground.

When the 10 storey modernistic building was opened on 18th April, 1931, by Lady Violet Astor, it featured luxurious rooms and suites (with, apparently, the deepest baths of any hotel in London), a ballroom built to accommodate 1,000, an Oriental Restaurant and, of course, the Dorchester Bar (it was here the ‘Dorchester of London’ cocktail was invented).

The Dorchester survived World War II with only minor damage (its basement served as an air-raid shelter). In fact, during World War II, such was the reputation of its reinforced concrete structure, that UK Cabinet members including Lord Halifax stayed here while US General Dwight D Eisenhower planned the D-Day invasion from his suite – now the Eisenhower Suite – during World War II.

In the 1950s, stage set designer Oliver Messel revamped various aspects of the hotel including designing some suites in an extension in Deanery Street (the Oliver Messel Suite is named for him).

The hotel has hosted its share of the rich and famous – Prince Philip hosted his bachelor party in the hotel’s Park Suite on the eve of his wedding to Queen Elizabeth II in 1947 (the Queen, meanwhile, had dined there the day before the engagement was announced), and actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor used the hotel as something of a “second home”.

Other notable figures who have stayed at the hotel include writers Cecil Day-Lewis and Somerset Maugham, painter Sir Alfred Munnings, director Alfred Hitchcock and film stars Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Danny Kaye and James Mason as well as Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan and Nicole Kidman.

The Dorchester was listed as a Grade II building in 1981 and, having been sold by the McAlpine family to a consortium headed by the Sultan of Brunei in the mid-1970s, it was purchased outright by the Sultan of Brunei in the Eighties (and later transferred ownership to the Brunei Investment Agency).

The hotel was completely renovated between 1988 and 1990 and was again refurbished in 2002.

Facilities today at the hotel – alongside the 250 rooms and suites – include numerous restaurants and bars such as the three Michelin star Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, China Tang, The Spatisserie and The Grill at the Dorchester, as well as The Bar at the Dorchester and The Promenade where afternoon tea is served. There’s also a spa.

Today The Dorchester is the flagship of the Dorchester Collection of hotels which also includes 45 Park Lane, Cowarth Park in Ascot, The Beverly Hills Hotel and The Hotel Bel-Air in LA, the Hotel Eden in Rome, Le Meurice and Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris and the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan.

Out the front of the hotel is a London Plane tree which was named one of the “great trees of London” in 1997.

For more, see https://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/london/the-dorchester/.

PICTURE: || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || (licensed under CC BY 2.0/image cropped)


Built on the site of what was Grosvenor House in Park Lane – London residence of the Dukes of Westminster, the Grosvenor House Hotel opened in 1929 but wasn’t completed until the 1950s.

The Mayfair hotel was conceived and constructed on the orders of commercial speculator Albert Octavius Edwards and was designed by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie with luxury in mind (Sir Edwin Lutyens was responsible for the external elevations).

Originally designed as two apartment blocks, it was apparently only when the first block was completed that it was decided the second north block would be a hotel. It opened on 14th May, 1929, with an event described as “outstanding”.

Along with some 472 rooms – it was the first hotel in London to feature en suite bathrooms which came with running ice-cold water in each, its facilities included The Great Room, originally an ice-skating rink where then Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) learned to ice skate which Edwards decided in the 1930s to convert into one of the largest banqueting spaces in Europe.

It was subsequently the scene of many awards evening and charity events including Queen Charlotte’s Ball as well as BBC broadcasts (the Beatles are among those who have performed there). The hotel was also the first in London to have a swimming pool.

The hotel, which only suffered minor damager during the Blitz, saw service during World War II. The Great Room was initially home to the Officers’ Sunday Club and later as one of the largest US officers’ mess. During the war, the premises hosted everyone from Charles de Gaulle and King Haakon of Norway as well as US generals Dwight D Eisenhower and George S Paton.

The hotel actually has strong American connections from the get go – American methods were used during construction to speed things along – and its restaurant was noted for swerving American-style food. Among other Americans who have stayed there include Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Orson Welles, Jackie Onassis, Henry Kissinger, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Madeline Albright.

The actual construction of the hotel continued into the 1950s when permission was given to demolish a house at 35 Park Street (located next door to the hotel) following the death of its owner – Bruno, Baron Schroder, and a 92 bedroom extension to the hotel was built. It was officially opened by Peter Thorneycroft, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1957.

The hotel, which was acquired by Trust Houses in 1963, underwent several changes of ownership in more recent years and following an extensive renovation in the Noughties, it reopened in September, 2008 as a JW Marriott hotel.

It was reportedly announced late last year that Qatari-owned Katara Hospitality was buying the hotel from Indian conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, which has owned the hotel since 2010, for an undisclosed sum.

For more, see www.LondonGrosvenorHouse.co.uk.

PICTURES: Park Lane facades and entrance in Park Street. Courtesy of Google Maps.

Another of the opulent Victorian hotels built at London’s railway termini, the Midland Grand Hotel was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in an ornate High Gothic style.

Scott’s design for the new hotel – which was to be built adjoining the railway station and would form its southern facade on Euston Road – was selected over 10 other submissions to win an 1865 competition run by the Midland Railway Company.

Scott was apparently reluctantly involved – he only entered the competition after pressure from one of the company’s directors despite apparently previously refusing to get involved with the project prior to that.

His expensive – and expansive – design (apparently resembling his rejected plans for government offices in Whitehall) included an 82 metre high clock tower at the east end of the more than 170 metre long facade and a 76 metre high tower at the west end (it also originally had an extra floor that wasn’t included in the final building).

The luxurious property – considered from the outset one of London’s best hotels, it cost whopping £438,000 – featured some 300 bedrooms, a grand double staircase, curved dining room and mod-cons like water-driven lifts (it was the first private building to boost these and one remained in place until 1958), an electric bell calling system and flushing toilets.

Staff communicated via a system of speaking tubes and wary of fires after the Palace of Westminster burned down, a “fireproof floor”. The property also boasted the first ladies’ smoking room in London in 1873 and, in 1899, the first revolving door in Britain was installed at the entrance.

Decorative details in the best guest rooms, meanwhile, included Axminster carpets, carved marble fireplaces, 18 foot high ceilings, and vast windows. En suite bathrooms, however, were not included.

The hotel’s east wing opened on 5th May, 1873, but it wasn’t completed until spring of 1876. One Herr Etzesberger, formerly of the Victorian Hotel in Venice, was apparently appointed general manager.

Guests included music hall singer and comedian Marie Lloyd, Jesse Boot (of Boots chemists fame), railroad and shipping entrepreneur Cornelius Vanderbilt and George Pullman (of the Pullman sleeping car fame).

The hotel was taken over by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1922. It closed in 1935 thanks to its now outdated and expensive-to-maintain facilities and, despite innovations like a Moroccan coffee house and in-house orchestra.

Renamed St Pancras Chambers, the building was subsequently used as railway company offices. It survived the Blitz and attempts to have it demolished thanks to a high profile campaign led by poet Sir John Betjeman, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner and the Victorian Society and in 1967 the hotel and St Pancras station were given Grade I-listed status.

British Rail continued using it as offices but in the 1980s the building was deemed unsafe and closed. It was restored in the 1990s and in 2004, permission was given for it to be redeveloped into a new hotel – the same period during which the station was being redeveloped into one of the largest rail termini in Europe in order to accommodate cross-channel trains.

This project saw the main public rooms of the old Midland Grand Hotel kept and restored as well as some bedrooms while the former driveway for taxes was converted into the new lobby and a new bedroom wing constructed. The upper floors of the original building, meanwhile, were converted into 68 apartments.

The five star, 245 room St Pancras Renaissance Hotel opened on 14th March, 2011, to guests but the formal opening took place on 5th May that year – exactly 138 days after it first opened its doors.

Facilities at the property today, part of the Marriott group, include The Chambers Club, The Booking Office Bar & Restaurant, MI + ME, The Marcus Wareing-designed Gilbert Scott Restaurant, the Hansom Lounge – where afternoon tea is served, and George’s Bar. There’s also a spa and leisure club and pool and meeting facilities.

The premises has appeared in films including the The Secret GardenRichard III, Batman Begins, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It also served as the backdrop for the Spice Girls video clip, Wannabee.

For more, see www.stpancraslondon.com.

PICTURE: Top – LepoRello (licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0);  Right – David Adams; Below – Jwslubbock (licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0).


This grand Victorian hotel – originally known as the Great Western Royal Hotel – was among the first large hotels constructed in London in proximity to railway termini – in this case Paddington Station.

Located 146 Praed Street, it was constructed in the 1850s to the designs of Philip Charles Hardwick and apparently cost some £60,000. The interior was designed in the Louis XIV style and the building as a whole was built with the intention of rivalling the great hotels of Europe.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who conceived the project to provide accommodation for people travelling on the Great Western Railway to Bristol and the West Country (and so managed to convince the directors of the GWR to invest), was the hotel’s first managing director.

The now Grade II-listed hotel was officially opened on 9th June, 1854, by Prince Albert and, apparently, the King of Portugal.

The main block, which effectively forms the facade of the railway station behind it, is book-ended by two towers which are said to house two storey bedrooms.

It boasts a sculpted pediment above the main entrance which was designed by John Thomas and features allegorical figures representing peace, plenty, industry and science.

The railway company took over the hotel late in the 19th century and in 1907 it was apparently updated with electric lighting, telephones and a pneumatic messaging service.

Much of the original ornamentation was lost when it was extensively modernised and extended in the 1930s in the art deco style under the eye of architect Percy Emerson Culverhouse.

The hotel was sold off as part of the privatisation of the railways in 1983 and reopened as part of the Hilton hotel chain in 2001. It remains part of that chain today.

For more, see www.hilton.co.uk/paddington.

PICTURES: The Great Western old and new – Top – via Wikipedia; Right -Oxfordian (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0); 

 

This sprawling London hotel in Portland Place – just past the top end of Regent Street – has spent much of its life as a hotel but was also once part of the BBC.

Built in 1863-65 to the plans of John Giles and James Murray, the £300,000 Langham Hotel – claimed as Europe’s first “grand hotel” – was deliberately designed to be on a scale and with a level of magnificence the city had not yet seen.

Spread over 10 floors – including those below ground – and designed in the style of an Italian palace, it boasted 600 rooms including numerous suites and featured mod-cons including the city’s first hydraulic lifts (electric lighting and air-conditioning would follow).

Features included its celebrated Palm Court, said to be the birthplace of the traditional afternoon tea.

It opened in a rather spectacular celebration on 10th June, 1865, with more than 2,000 guests including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).

It soon gained a reputation among the rich and influential. Along with exiled members of European royal families including the Emperor Napoleon III of France and exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, those who stayed here included the likes of American writer Mark Twain, Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, explorer Henry Morton Stanley and romantic novelist Ouida.

Charles Dickens believed there was no better place for dinner parties and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another guest, used it as a setting in his Sherlock Holmes novels.

Its proximity to All Soul’s in Langham Place – the scene of many a fashionable wedding – saw it host many wedding receptions and the servants at Langham were led in prayers each morning by a clergyman from the church.

It was also popular with international musicians and artists thanks to the location of Queen’s Hall nearby.

The Langham declined in popularity during the two World Wars as the social centre of London moved west. Having served as a first aid and military post during World War II, it was badly damaged during the Blitz with much destruction caused when its massive water tank ruptured.

After the war, the BBC bought the hotel and used it for offices, studios and the BBC Club.

The BBC sold the building in the mid-Eighties and in 1991 after a £100 million renovation, it reopened as the Langham Hilton Hotel with Diana, Princess of Wales, a regular visitor.

It was sold again in 1995 and extended and refurbished. It again underwent a five year, £80 million, refurbishment in the mid 2000s, reopening in 2009.

The five star Langham – now the flagship of a group of hotels, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015 with the opening of the Regent Wing as well as The Sterling Suite, a luxurious six bedroom suite, and a new Langham Club Lounge.

Now a Grade II-listed building, it contains some 380 suites and rooms as well as The Grand Ballroom, the aforementioned Palm Court, restaurants including Roux at The Landau and Artesian, a British tavern, The Wigmore, and a spa.

It has appeared in numerous films, including the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, in which it doubled for a hotel in St Petersburg. It also features a City of Westminster Green Plaque commemorating a meeting there between Oscar Wilde, Conan Doyle and Joseph Marshall Stoddart who commissioned the two writers to write stories for his magazine.

For more, see www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london.

PICTURE: Top – Sheep”R”Us (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – David Adams

Correction – this is actually number four in our special series, not three!

This five star Mayfair establishment owes its origins and name to William Claridge, possibly a former butler, and his wife Marianne, who took over management of a small hotel at 51 Brook Street in 1853.

In 1854, they purchased the adjoining Mivart’s Hotel, first established in 1812, and substantially expanded the premises. It apparently combined the two names – Mivart’s and Claridge’s – for a short time before the reference to Mivart’s was dropped.

The hotel, which stands on the corner with Davies Street, was bought by Richard D’Oyly Carte (owner of The Savoy) in 1893 and subsequently rebuilt in red brick to the designs of CW Stephens (of Harrods fame) with interiors by Sir Ernest George and the inclusion of modern amenities including en suite bathrooms and lifts. The hotel, which is now Grade II-listed, reopened in 1898, with some 203 rooms and suites.

It was extended in the late 1920s with the addition of 80 new rooms and a ballroom while the lobby was redesigned by art deco pioneer Oswald Milne (much of that decoration, including work by Basil Ionides, remains).

The hotel’s reputation as a place to stay among the well-to-do was given a significant boost when Empress Eugenie, wife of French Emperor Napoleon III stayed in 1860 and entertained Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

It was also favoured by exiled royals during World War II including King Peter II and Queen Alexandria of Yugoslavia all staying here. In fact, their son, Crown Prince Alexander II, was born in suite 212 in 1945 (now named the Prince Alexander Suite).

The story goes that Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared the suite Yugoslav territory for a day (although evidence supporting the story about Churchill’s involvement is apparently scarce). It’s also said that a spadeful of dirt from Yugoslavia was placed under the bed so the Crown Prince could literally be born on Yugoslav soil (but there’s no mention of this aspect of the story on Crown Prince Alexander II’s official website).

Churchill and Clementine stayed in a suite here on the sixth floor after the wartime PM’s unexpected defeat in the general election of 1945.

Other luminaries to have stayed here include American actors Cary Grant, Katharine (and Audrey) Hepburn, Yul Brynner and Bing Crosby (Spencer Tracey famously said he didn’t want to go to heaven when he died but to Claridge’s) as well as director Alfred Hitchcock, Aristotle and Jackie Onassis, and, more recently, everyone from Mick Jagger and Madonna to Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Kate Moss celebrated her 30th birthday here.

And, of course, royals including the late Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip have all been regular diners.

The hotel, which underwent a major restoration from 1996 and saw 25 new suites designed by David Linley opened in 2012, is now part of the Maybourne Hotel Group, having parted ways with the Savoy Hotel in the mid-noughties.

Current facilities include the restaurant Fera at Claridge’s (this opened in 2014 after the closure of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in 2013) as well as The Foyer & Reading Room (where afternoon tea is served), The Fumoir cocktail bar, Claridge’s Bar and a health club and spa.

The Claridge’s Christmas Tree is a much anticipated part of London’s festive season, with recent years seeing a different world-renowned designer taking on the task of decorating it, including the likes of John Galliano, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and Christopher Bailey of Burberry.

The hotel was the subject of a three part documentary, Inside Claridges, in December, 2012.

For more, see www.claridges.co.uk.

PICTURE: Tim Westcott (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 


The first purpose-built luxury hotel built in Britain (and often referred to as London’s “most famous” hotel), The Savoy opened its doors on 6th August, 1889.

Located on the river side of the Strand on the site of what had been the medieval Savoy Palace (its most famous resident was John of Gaunt), the hotel was built by theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte using profits made from his staging of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, some of which were performed in the neighbouring Savoy Theatre.

The now Grade II-listed building, which apparently had no overall architect in its initial design process, exuded opulence and its interiors included the latest in modern amenities such as electric lighting and lifts, en suite bathrooms in most of the guest rooms and constant cold and hot running water.

César Ritz, who would later rise to fame as the owner of The Ritz Hotel in Paris and then London (see our recent post), was hired as the manager and Auguste Escoffier as the chef. Together they oversaw the introduction of a new, unprecedented level of hotel service which would set the standard for future enterprises. This included keeping a comprehensive index of guest’s tastes and preferences and saw Escoffier revolutionise the restaurant industry in the country with the creation of various “stations” in the kitchen (his pots and pans are apparently still at the hotel).

The hotel was expanded in 1903-04 under the eye of architect Thomas Edward Collcutt (the designer of Wigmore Hall) with new east and west wings and the main entrance was moved from the river side of the building to Savoy Court running off The Strand. The Front Hall is a survivor of this period while the Lancaster Ballroom dates from 1910.

The hotel underwent further remodelling in the 1920s – it was during this period that the famous stainless steel sign over the Savoy Court entrance, designed by art deco architect Howard Robertson (later Sir Howard), was created (Savoy Court incidentally is the only street in the UK where traffic must keep to the right – more on that another time). The sign is topped with a gilt statue of Peter of Savoy, the uncle to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence (pictured below). It was Peter who first built the Savoy Palace on the land where the hotel now stands. The sign, meanwhile, was created for the 1904 extension but placed here during the 1920s works.

Further modifications – including the introduction of air conditioning – followed in later decades. The hotel now boasts some 267 rooms and suites (the latter include the Royal Suite which spans the entire riverside of the fifth floor), many of which feature panoramic views of the River Thames.

Famous guests over the years have included royalty such as King Edward VII (when Prince of Wales) as well as more recent royals, French actress Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Henry Irving and Sir Laurence Olivier. It’s also hosted a who’s who of Hollywood – everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne – and US President Harry S Truman.

Others associated with the hotel include opera singer Dame Nellie Melba – the dessert known as a Peach Melba was created here in her honour, and artist Claude Monet, who painted Waterloo Bridge from a position on one of the balconies.

Among other significant events to take place within its walls was a 1905 “Gondola Party” hosted by American millionaire George A Kessler which saw the central courtyard flooded as part of a recreation of Venice with guests dining on an enormous gondola and entertainment featuring singer Enrico Caruso.

In 1953, to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the hotel hosted a ball attended by 1,400 of the rich and famous with special touches including 16 Yeoman Warders from the Tower of London who lined the entrance staircase.

Films shot here include Kipps (1921), based on a HG Wells novel (Wells was in attendance during the filming), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Notting Hill (1999).

The Savoy remained in the Carte family until it was bought by an American private equity house in 1998 and eventually sold, in the mid-2000s, to become part of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts of Canada.

Closed in late 2007 for a complete renovation (the cost of which has been put at £220 million), it reopened in October, 2010. Among restaurants and bars now in the premises are the Thames Foyer restaurant – hosted in a glass atrium, it’s where afternoon tea is taken, the American Bar – described as the oldest cocktail bar in Britain, the Beaufort Bar, and the restaurant Kaspar’s.

The latter is named after the hotel’s oldest “employee” – Kaspar the Cat. Carved in 1927 by Basil Ionides, the cat was created to act as a 14th guest in the private dining rooms when 13 guests were present, a figure which was considered unlucky and which, tradition held, meant the first person to leave the table would one the first to die.

Its origins go back to 1898 when a wealthy South African by the name of Woolf Joel apparently scoffed at the idea of 13 being an unlucky number at the table and volunteered to leave it first. He was shot dead back in South Africa just a few week’s later. In the wake of his death, management at the hotel decreed that any table of 13 would be joined by a staff member.

But this was only a short-term solution – not only there was there the privacy of diners to consider, the fact staff would be a person down when this was required was a problem. So when Ionides redecorated the private dining room ‘Pinafore’ in the 1920s, he created the cat, complete with napkin, to fulfil the role of the 14th diner. And so he has ever since. Kaspar, the subject of a children’s book written by Michael Morpugo in 2008, can these days be found in Kaspar’s or, when not working, in the Front Hall.

For more, see www.thesavoylondon.com

2019 is upon us so we at Exploring London would like to take the opportunity to wish all our readers a very Happy New Year! We look forward to bringing you fascinating new stories about London’s history and culture in the year to come.

Meanwhile, here are the two most popular (new) posts of 2018…

2. Treasures of London – The Great Hall at Eltham Palace…

1. A Moment in London’s History – The execution of the George, Duke of Clarence…

PICTURE: © ENGLAND’S HISTORIC CITIES (New Year’s Eve fireworks from 2014).