Albemarle Street in Mayfair is generally believed to be the first street in London made into a one-way street.
The decision to make the street one-way apparently stems from the popularity of a series of science-oriented lectures at The Royal Institution of Great Britain given in the early 19th century by Sir Humphry Davy, inventor of the miner’s lamp and the first lecturer appointed at the RI following its inception in 1799.
Such was the crush of carriages in Piccadilly to attend Davy’s lectures that in response, the powers that be at The Royal Institution gave instructions to coach drivers about the direction of travel in the street and paid for constables to enforce their ruling.
The concept of the one-way street, however, does apparently go back much further. The Spectator reports that in 1617, Pudding Lane – the site of the start of the famous Great Fire of London in 1666, was among numerous laneways around Thames Street which were designated as one-way only for carts to ease congestion.
Above: The Royal Institution as it is today, where Friday night lectures caused the introduction of one-way traffic in the street. PICTURE: Gryffindor /CC BY-SA 3.0
Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair (now officially the Rocco Forte Brown’s Hotel) is generally awarded the accolade of being London’s oldest hotel.
The hotel, which initially fronted on to Dover Street, was founded in a series of former Georgian townhouses in 1837 by James and Sarah Brown, formerly valet and maid to Lord and Lady Byron.
After being sold to the Ford family in 1859, the hotel was extensively modernised with electricity, the installation of permanent bath tubs, lifts, and in first for London hotels, an on-site restaurant. The building itself underwent a major expansion in the late 1890s when the family bought the St George’s Hotel which backed onto Brown’s and fronted onto Albemarle Street. The two buildings were merged into one, an extra floor added, and a new facade built for the hotel facing out onto Albemarle Street (pictured right). Three further townhouses were incorporated into the building in the early 1900s.
Possibly the most notable event to take place at the hotel was in 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call there. Other visitors included authors Rudyard Kipling (who wrote The Jungle Book while resident) and Agatha Christie (At Bertram’s Hotel is said to be based on Brown’s), royalty such as Queen Victoria and the French Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugenie (they stayed in 1871), and world leaders like US Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (said to count the bar among his favorities), Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia, and Emperor Haile Selassie, who took refuge there in 1936 after the Italians invaded Ethiopia.
The hotel, which now features 117 guestrooms, underwent a multi-million pound refurbishment in the mid-Noughties after becoming part of the Rocco Forte Collection of hotels. As well as The Albemarle restaurant and The Donovan Bar, it also serves award-winning afternoon teas at The English Tea Room.
For more about Brown’s Hotel, see www.brownshotel.com.