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GREAT WESTERN ROYAL Welcome

HILTON LONDON PADDINGTON LONDON’S FIRST GRAND RAILWAY HOTEL (1854)


Meet You at Paddington The story of the first palatial terminus hotel The Great Western Royal Hotel - The Hilton London Paddington © Andreas Augustin – Famous Hotels, 2002 ISBN 3–902118–06–7 All rights in this publication are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronically, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the copyright owner. The right of Andreas Augustin to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988. Thanks to Florian Augustin for his research on London during the blitz. Editors: Carola Eleonore and Francesca Brizi Photographs: Famous Hotels Archives, Great Western Paddington Hotel collection, Hilton International, Science and Society Picture Library, the European Railway Picture Library Design: Ramazotti Michelangelo www.famoushotels.org gwr@famoushotels.org


THE LEGEND LIVES ON In 2002 Hilton reopened the historic Great Western Royal Hotel at Paddington after two years of extensive renovations. Under its modern name Hilton London Paddington a milestone in the history of railway hotels has been given a new lease of life.


At ‘Steam’, the bar of the Hilton London Paddington; Sir Alexander Fleming (penicillin); the Heathrow Express; Sweeping the floor of the lobby; detail of Kate Lovegrove’s mural at the hotel’s lobby and the historic staircase.


THE GREAT WESTERN ROYAL HOTEL – HILTON LONDON PADDINGTON

the story of the first palatial terminus hotel

ANDREAS AUGUSTIN


Crowds on Paddington’s platforms 4 and 5 waiting for the train to take them to the Henley Regatta in 1908.


Contents 9 1838 From London to New York – Brunel’s Great Western Dream 15 1850 Setting the Stage – The Era of Invention 23 1854 Modern Hospitality – To Travel 26–27 The Most Famous Hotels of the 19th Century 42 1854–1900 The Guest is King – From Fast Tram to Grand Slam 59 1920–1945 Modern Times – Bar Necessities 71 1945–2002 Sleeping Beauty – 4.50 from Paddington


The Great Western Royal Hotel

ISAMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL sits on his solid chair at the Eastbourne Terrace entrance of Paddington Station. Unimpressed by the daily bustle of commuters, he watches the trains with the Great Western logo on their carriages arriving and departing. He was the driving force behind the rapid development of the Great Western Railway Company, its tracks, trains and ships. And he was the first chairman of the Great Western Royal Hotel, which has become the Hilton London Paddington.

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The Hilton London Paddington

1838, Paddington

From London to New York Brunel’s Great Western Dream A man had a dream: to travel from New York to the heart of London. Sounds odd? Well, not if you’ve heard of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In March 1833, 27-year old Brunel was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. He was born into one of the most exciting periods of history. His father was an engineer and young Isambard choose to follow in his footsteps. He was 19 when, on 27 September 1825, large crowds saw George Stephenson at the controls of his steaming Locomotion as it pulled 36 carriages along the Stockton & Darlington railroad. Modern railway travel had been invented. Brunel knew he wanted to be involved in building everything related to it. The aim of the Great Western Railway was to create a link between London and Bristol, England’s innovative city on the western coast of the island. From here, its charismatic chief engineer Brunel imagined, they would take the railway passengers on Great Western Railway ships across the Atlantic to America. And bring American passengers back to London, where they would be greeted by the open arms of Paddington Station, the terminus of the Great Western Railway. Here, Brunel foresaw, the finest hotel of their journey would be waiting to 

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The Great Western Royal Hotel

THE OLD STATION AND THE NEW This diagram indicates the proximity of the present terminus to the Paddington Canal. The dotted lines show new roads or repositioned highways (Paddington to Ealing, by Keith Smith and Vic Mitchell). Today’s location is the same as it was in 1854.

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The Hilton London Paddington

become their home away from home. The first section of the track that went from London to Taplow (Maidenhead) was inaugurated in 1838 and in 1841, Brunel completed the line to Bristol. Impressive constructions along the route included the viaducts at Hanwell and Chippenham, the Maidenhead Bridge, the Box Tunnel and Bristol’s Temple-mead. Station. The Great Western Railway was the first to install an electric telegraph along its line. Controversially, Brunel used the broad gauge (2.2 m) instead of the standard gauge (1.55m) on the line. By 1844 the Great Western Railway had opened a new line from Bristol to Exeter and from Bristol to Gloucester where it met the standard gauge of the Birmingham & Gloucester line. This created problems, as passengers and goods had to be transferred from one train to another. One of the consequences of using the broad gauge was that Great Western locomotives could not use Euston Station and Brunel had to build his own station. He built it at Paddington. This is in short how the stage was set for Paddington Station and the Great Western Royal Hotel, the first palatial terminus hotel.

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The Hilton London Paddington

PADDINGTON Paddington - area in the borough of Westminster, London. Formerly (until 1965) a metropolitan borough, it is located west of St. Marylebone and north of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Its southern section includes the neighbourhood of Bayswater, and in its northern portion is Maida Vale. The area has been inhabited since ancient times. It was crossed by Roman highways now roughly traced by Edgware Road (see Watling Street) and Bayswater Road. Paddington is believed to have originated from the followers of Padda, an Anglo-Saxon chieftain who settled near today’s junction of Edgware and Bayswater Roads. It remained rural until the opening of canal and road systems. In 1756 Sussex Gardens started life as New Road so that cattle could be driven to Smithfield without interfering with coaches. In the next century it was known as Grand Junction Road and the houses on either side were called Cambridge and Oxford Terraces. Paddington has a multiethnic history. French Huguenots settled in the village of Paddington in the 18th century, and in subsequent generations there were arrivals of Greek, Jewish, and Asian groups. Arab communities later became established along Edgware Road. To the north west of Paddington Station is Little Venice, a fashionable enclave on the Regent’s (Grand Union) Canal

The map on the left is part of the 1872 Ordnance Survey Map. The hotel is marked in orange colour.

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The Great Western Royal Hotel

THE PRINCE OF WALES HOTEL ‘A COMMERCIAL INN FOR FAMILIES AND GENTLEMEN’ The Prince of Wales Hotel next to the entrance of the first Paddington Station. It proved that hotel business near the railway terminus was a matter of bare necessity. It stood approximately where Bishops Road meets Eastbourne Terrace today. Passengers passed through the arches on the right to reach the platforms. Two arches were for horse-drawn carriages for conveyance by train (Illustrated London News).

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The Hilton London Paddington

1850, Paddington

Setting the Stage The Period of Invention

Long before our hotel opened on 9 June 1854, the village of Paddington was given to Westminster Abbey. Later, it was given by Edward VI to the Bishop of London and his successors. Over the centuries it has become one of the most remarkable districts of London and had its first historical boom time throughout the 19th century. In 1800 it contained 357 houses, and a population of 1,881. Fifty years later, in 1850, the number of houses had risen to 6,519 and the number of inhabitants had risen to 46,306. In 1800 the fastest connection between Paddington and the City of London was provided by a certain Mr Miles, ‘his pair horses coach, and his redoubtable boy (who told tales to the great amusement of his master’s customers and played on an old fiddle to beguile the time at every resting place on the road). This coach and these celebrated characters were for a long time the only appointed agents of communication between Paddington and the City of London,

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The Great Western Royal Hotel

THE ROYAL FAMILY IN 1846 Oil on Canvas, by Franz Xavier Winterhalter

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which is situated further east. The journey to the City was performed by them in something more than three hours, the charge for each outside passenger being 2s, the “insides” being expected to pay 3s.’ noted William Robins in his Paddington Past and Present. Prince Albert, the German cousin Queen Victoria had married, enjoyed the development of technical innovations, as did his wife. In particular, the journeys of the Royal couple to Windsor, partially on the Great Western Railway, were always an exciting diversion. In 1842, Queen Victoria arrived at the Paddington railway terminus for the first time; her 17 mile journey on the Brunel railway track had taken 23 minutes, at a breathtaking speed of an average of 44 m.p.h. By now, Brunel had made himself a name not only as builder and constructor of railway lines, but also as a builder of ships: the paddle steamer The Great Western which made the Bristol-New York crossing in under 15 days, and the SS Great Bri-tain which was the first propeller-driven ocean-going steamship. As the Great Britain was being completed, the first ship of the famous Cunard line, the Britannia, went into service. On 17 July 1840 she docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia, having crossed the Atlantic from Liverpool in eleven days and four hours. Today the QE2 casually makes the same trip in five days. Browsing through the headlines of the time, we find that the Penny post has been instituted in England, Singer has introduced the sewing machine and women’s suffrage was one of the main topics of conversation. Women were shaking off the passive, feminine role,

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pushing back the boundaries of patriarchal society and claiming their rightful place among the doctors, teachers, artists and adventurers of the masculine world. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto. Once slavery had been outlawed in the British colonies, the issue was now forced to the forefront of American politics. In China, mystic Hung Hsiu-ch’iian, who believed he was related to Jesus, led the Taiping Rebellion against the Ching dynasty. Charles Dickens (who had risen to instant fame with his publication of The Pickwick Papers in 1837) wrote A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield and Nathaniel Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter. Soprano Jenny Lind, the ‘Swedish Nightingale’, travelled as far as the United States for many celebrated performances. A young BavarianAmerican by the name of Levi Strauss couldn’t have imagined that his invention would one day polarize generations, when he was tailoring his first pair of jeans. At Paddington, at 26 Bishop’s Bridge Road (now demolished) George Smith of Smith Elder, the publishers of Jane Eyre, entertained Charlotte and Anne Bronte when they first visited London in 1848.

Charles Dickens

The British Empire spanned the globe. Almost a quarter of the world’s surface was under the reign of Queen Victoria. The adventurous Victorians were people of vision. They had a love of travel and exploration, and a taste for exploitation as well. Colonialism was the global game and Asia and Africa were the preferred playgrounds, markets offering an abundance of men, land and wealth. The British shopped heavily and paid with interesting contracts, containing the 

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rules of cricket in the small print. London was the largest city in the world, with over 3 million inhabitants, followed in Europe by Berlin, Vienna and Paris, all capitals of empires with equal ambitions but different opportunities. A period of invention, adventure, discovery and technical milestones lay ahead. Most of the modern amenities which we now take for granted were about to be discovered, invented or built: from automobile to radio and from telephone to x-ray. Let’s press the fast-forward button on our history time recorder and zip to 1851, when Prince Albert was busy organizing the Great Exhibition of 1851, a forerunner of our present day World Expos, which lead to the erection of the Crystal Palace. The Prince Consort (being German, Prince Albert was greeted with suspicion) earned the respect of the English people because he admired the fine arts and was a committed patron of education and the universities. Paddington gained importance with the arrival of the Great Western Railway in 1838. An older terminus still served the area, situated about 1/4 mile away from today’s Paddington Station. A hotel for travellers, The Prince of Wales (see picture on page 14), was opened next to the new and temporary station before 1850 and remained in operation until 1952. Its success would induce a group of Great Western Railway shareholders and officials to build the Great Western Royal Hotel at the new station. In 1853, The Builder noted: ‘A city of Palaces has sprung up on a bishop’s estate within twenty years: a road of iron with steeds of 

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Austrian chandeliers grace the ballroom of the London Hilton Paddington, which made history as the Great Western Railway Hotel.


The Great Western Royal Hotel

The Great Western Railway was the first to install an electric telegraph alongside its line. Above, a descendant of the five-needle telegraph invented in 1837 by William Cooke (1806–1879) and Charles Wheatstone (1802–1875). Unlike its direct-reading predecessor this instrument required a skilled operator. On January 1st 1845 the following message was received by this instrument at the (old) Paddington Station. ‘A murder has just been committed at Salt Hill and the suspected murderer was seen to take a first class ticket for London by the train which left Slough at 7h42m pm. He is in the garb of a Quaker with a brown great coat on, which reaches nearly down to his feet; he is in the last compartment of the second first class carriage.’ On January 1st 1845 the following reply was sent by this instrument from Paddington Station. ‘The up train has arrived and a person answering in every respect the description given by Telegraph came out of the compartment mentioned, pointed the man out to Sergeant Williams. The man got into a New Road omnibus and Sergeant Williams into the same.

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steam brings into the centre of this city and takes from it, in one year, a greater number of living beings than could be found in all England a few years ago.’ ‘The electric telegraph is at work by the side of this iron road. And by means of conveyances, open to all who have any small change, from sixpence to a penny, the whole of London can be traversed in half the time it took to reach Holborne-bar at the beginning of this century.’

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The Great Western Royal Hotel

THE NEW STATION OPENED IN 1854 The new station at Paddington had very low platforms. Trains departed from the new station from 16 January 1854, while arrivals continued to come into the old station until 29 May 1854. Paddington Station was the largest of all London’s stations, covering 28,807 square yards (Euston 23,144, King’s Cross 22,808).

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The Hilton London Paddington

1854, Paddington

Modern Hospitality To Travel Around 1850, Brunel realised that the old railway terminus at Paddington had no future. He had to build a new station to cope with the increasing railway traffic and the increasing number of passengers. Brunel teamed up with the group that created the World Exhibition’s Crystal Palace. Together with Matthew Digby Wyatt (architectural trimmings), Owen Jones (decoration) and contractors Fox Henderson he designed the hall we have today and its adjacent buildings. Brunel obviously sought to reproduce Sir Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, constructing a massive glass roof with 30-foot bays, creating a huge hall covering all platforms (then three for departures and three for arrivals). In 1853 The Builder noted: ‘Paddington built itself a beautiful vestry-hall to transact the important business of this parish.’ The construction of the new station gave rise to the building of many small hotels and boarding houses in the vicinity. With the building of Paddington Station the stage for our hotel was set. Brunel himself wanted to build a hotel, tailored to the requirements and standards of his Great Western Railway passengers. That was part of his great 

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dream; the journey from London to the West, eventually all the way to America, all accompanied and made possible by the Great Western. In parallel, he had to prepare Paddington to welcome travellers to London. At a Great Western hotel. Hotel accommodation was not only scarce, but also a relatively new concept. Grand Hotels, as Alexis Gregory puts it in his book The Golden Age of Travel, were an invention of the second half of the 19th century. First of all travelling was not at all common. Only a select few chose to experience the reputed nuisance of long distance transfers, a combination of difficulties, unexpected problems, bureaucracy, and, last but not least, danger. A journey overland was an excursion. An overnight trip, practically an expedition. One would arrive at an inn, which was actually a public house which had a handful of rooms with beds that only remotely resembled a comfortable place to rest one’s head. Travelling abroad in the 1850s took weeks, often months, half a year, maybe longer. A journey to the exotic, far-flung colonies was almost the decision of a lifetime. We must not forget that the opening of the Suez Canal was still decades away. The voyage around Africa to Asia took three months. If a person had to travel, it was rarely for pleasure. It was to conduct business or legal affairs, or for sheer survival, as many migrated to find new jobs and build new lives, sometimes to visit relatives or for a study journey. If there are still people today who do not like the idea of being transported somewhere else, just imagine the average mind-set of 150 years ago. 

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The word ‘tourist’ was as young then as today’s linguistic inventions such as ‘virtual travel’ or ‘data-transfer’. It stems from the word ‘tour’, and was used in the term ‘grand tour’, the journey which well-off young gentlemen (and very rarely, ladies) would embark on after graduating and before entering the daily routine of business and married life. It would take them around the classic highlights of the Mediterranean: France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Orient, Egypt and back via North Africa to Spain. There were not many of these travellers and those who travelled stayed in boarding houses and small inns. Knowing this, it is easier to understand that hotels as we know them did not exist – there was no demand for them. Around the middle of the 19th century, hotels in Europe were basically maisons meublées, houses letting furnished rooms with little or no service provided. Some of them claim that their existence dates back to the Middle Ages simply because their name was first mentioned in some yellowed contract covering the sale of a donkey.* Usually, the arrival of a guest at an inn went unnoticed. No porters to take care of the luggage, no receptionist to take the guest to his room, no concierge to look after his personal requirements, never mind organize a theatre ticket or confirm a train reservation. Unless you were prepared to pay extra, you had to carry your luggage upstairs yourself. Guests had to pay extra for candles and a surcharge if they wanted to have a log fire to warm their bones – and the firewood would be delivered by an occasionally available hotel servant. Accommodation at inns was no more than a rented furnished room 

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* The Aging Game The Oldest Hotels The Hotel Drei Könige am Rhein in Basel, Switzerland, insists its opening date was in 1026 because three kings met at this location around that time. The Goldener Hirsch in Salzburg dates back to 1671, when its name was first mentioned. Then it was an inn; today it is a luxury hotel. The Angleterre in Copenhagen, Denmark, dates back to 1755 when one of its historic owners first had a restaurant (somewhere else). The Breidenbacher Hof in Duesseldorf opened in 1812. The Shelbourne in Dublin dates back to 1824. The first American ‘grand hotel’ was New York’s City Hotel (1794), a sophisticated inn with seventy-three bedrooms and some much-talked-about public areas.


The Development of the

Grand Hotel Industry

The Most Famous 19th Century Hotels of Asia & America SHEPHEARD’S, CAIRO, 1841

WILLARD, WASHINGTON D C, 1850

SUISSE, KANDY, 1850

MILLS HOUSE, CHARLESTON, 1853

NEW ORIENTAL, GALLE, 1863

PARKER HOUSE, BOSTON, 1855

GALLE FACE, COLOMBO, 1864

MENGER, SAN ANTONIO, 1859

GEZIRA PALACE (Cairo Marriott), CAIRO, 1865 BELA VISTA, MACAO, 1870 GRAND, YOKOHAMA, 1873 HILL CLUB, NUWARA ELIYA, 1876 ORIENTAL, BANGKOK, 1876 ANNAPURNA, KATHMANDU, 1879

BALSAMS GRAND, DIXVILLE NOTCH, 1866 MOHONK MOUNTAIN, NEW PALTZ, 1869 PALMER HOUSE, CHICAGO, 1870 ROYAL HAWAIIAN, HAWAII, 1872 PALACE, SAN FRANCISCO, 1875 SAGAMORE, BOLTON LANDING, 1883

EASTERN & ORIENTAL, PENANG, 1885

CHELSEA, NEW YORK, 1884

WINTER PALACE, LUXOR, 1887

STRATER, DURANGO, 1887

WINDSOR, MELBOURNE, 1887

JEKYLL ISLAND CLUB, JEKYLL ISLAND, 1887

RAFFLES, SINGAPORE, 1887 GRAND, CALCUTTA, 1890 IMPERIAL, TOKYO, 1890 MENA HOUSE, GIZEH, 1890 DES INDES (DJALAN GADJAH MADA), JAKARTA, 1897 MAIDEN’S, DELHI, 1898 MOUNT NELSON, CAPE TOWN, 1899 CATARACT, ASWAN, 1899 GRAND DE PEKING, PEKING, 1900

DEL CORONADO, SAN DIEGO, 1888 JEROME, ASPEN, 1889 CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE, ALBERTA (CAN), 1890 PLAZA, NEW YORK, 1890 BROWN PALACE, DENVER, 1892 HISTORIC VANCE, STATESVILLE NORTH, 1892 CHATEAU FRONTENAC, QUEBEC, 1893 PFISTER, MILWAUKEE, 1893 WALDORF–ASTORIA, NEW YORK, 1893 JEFFERSON, RICHMOND, 1895 GREAT SOUTHERN, COLUMBUS, 1897


The Most Famous 19th Century Hotels of EUROPE BREIDENBACHER HOF, DÜSSELDORF, 1813 DANIELI, VENICE, 1822 SHELBOURNE, DUBLIN, 1824 NASSAUER HOF, WIESBADEN, 1830 DES BERGUES,GENEVA, 1834 BROWN’S, LONDON, 1837 SAVOY BAUR EN VILLE, ZURICH, 1838 BAUR AU LAC, ZURICH, 1844 VALTIONHOTELLI, PUNKAHARJU (FINLAND), 1845 WESTMINSTER, PARIS, 1846 INGHILTERRA, ROMA, 1850 SEILER HOTEL MONTE ROSA, ZERMATT, 1853 GREAT WESTERN ROYAL, LONDON, 1854 VIER JAHRESZEITEN, MUNICH, 1858 GAUER HOTEL SCHWEIZERHOF, BERNE, 1859 BEAU-RIVAGE PALACE, LAUSANNE, 1861 DE PARIS, MONTE CARLO, 1864 DE L’EUROPE, HEIDELBERG, 1865 LANGHAM, LONDON, 1865 VICTORIA JUNGFRAU, INTERLAKEN,1865 ÖSTERREICHISCHER HOF, SALZBURG, 1866 AMSTEL, AMSTERDAM, 1866 ATHÉNÉE (PLAZA ATHÉNÉE), PARIS, 1867 GRAND HOTEL, VIENNA, 1870 CAP EDEN ROC, ANTIBES, 1870 BRENNER’S PARK, BADEN-BADEN, 1872 PALACE, TURIN, 1872 GRAND HOTEL DUC D’AOSTA, TRIESTE, 1873 BÜRGENSTOCK, 1873 IMPERIAL, VIENNA, 1873 GRAND HOTEL, OSLO, 1874 GRANDE BRETAGNE, ATHENS, 1874 GRAND HOTEL, DAVOS, 1875 GRAND HOTEL EUROPE, ST. PETERSBURG, 1875 LE RICHEMOND, GENEVA, 1875

GRAND HOTEL ET DES PALMES, PALERMO, 1875 SACHER, VIENNA, 1876 FRANKFURTER HOF, FRANKFURT, 1876 INTER CONTINENTAL, PARIS, 1878 MONT BLANC, MEGÈVE, 1880 DES INDES, THE HAGUE, 1881 GRAND HOTEL VESUVIO, NAPLES, 1882 KRASNAPOLSKY, AMSTERDAM, 1883 HASSLER, ROME, 1885 SPLENDIDE ROYAL, LUGANO, 1887 PANHANS, SEMMERING, 1888 FÜRSTENHOF, LEIPZIG, 1889 SAVOY, LONDON, 1889 REID’S, FUNCHAL, 1891 BRISTOL, VIENNA, 1892 PERA PALAS, ISTANBUL, 1892 DU PALAIS, BIARRITZ, 1893 GRAND, ROME, 1894 MÉTROPOLE, BRUSSELS, 1895 DE L’EUROPE, AMSTERDAM, 1896 GRAND HOTEL PUPP, KARLOVY VARY, 1896 PALACE, ST MORITZ, 1896 VIER JAHRESZEITEN, HAMBURG, 1897 CONNAUGHT, LONDON, 1897 BAYERISCHER HOF, MUNICH, 1897 BRITANNIA, TRONDHEIM, 1897 CLARIDGE’S, LONDON, 1898 RITZ, PARIS, 1898 MÉTROPOLE, MOSCOW, 1898 DOLDER GRAND, ZURICH, 1899 GREAT CENTRAL, LONDON, 1899 CONTINENTAL, OSLO, 1900 VILLA IGEA GRAND HOTEL, PALERMO, 1900 EUROPA, PRAGUE, 1901

The Development of the

Grand Hotel Industry


The Great Western Royal Hotel

A FAMILIAR SIGHT The faces tell it all. A cab strike was as annoying in 1852 as it would be today.

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or apartment. Elegant travellers would therefore send ahead one of their well-travelled servants to make sure everything was set up as it was at home. They would unpack the luggage, iron the clothes and pave the way for their master. The servant would then withdraw to sleep in the cheaper staff quarters usually situated on the last floor of the establishment, only to be up first thing in the morning to attend to his master’s various needs, from hot water to a cup of tea. Room service had not yet been invented, so the servant would try to negotiate with the hotel’s kitchen to try to arrange for a tray with breakfast that he would carry upstairs. It is ironic that a number of hotels nowadays strive to reintroduce ‘butler ser-vice’ for special guests. The development of European grand-hotel style received its impetus from the other side of the Atlantic. Architect Isaiah Roger built what many consider the first American luxury hotel: the Tremont House (1829) in Boston. It had 170 bedrooms and a dining room which could seat 200. For the first time the complete care of a guest – the (albeit modest) ‘grand hotel concept’ – was introduced with separate guest rooms, restaurants, and services from porter to chambermaid. There was a concierge who handed every visitor his ‘own’ key to his room. It was not at all common for guests to have lockable, separate bedrooms to themselves. These rooms had a ‘real’ bed, proper curtains, a little rug and a small washing bowl. Unexpectedly, a maid would bring a pitcher with hot water in it and even a piece of soap (which was used for subsequent guests as well until it was too small to be handed out any longer). This was the American hotel revolution!

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In the restaurant, French chefs catered to the culinary desires of the guests (the ladies among them were seated in a separate area). Charles Dickens visited the Tremont House bar and noted that: ‘the stranger is initiated into the mysteries of the gin sling, sherry cobbler, mint julep, zangaree, timber doodle and other rare drinks.’ In London there were of course plenty of inns and pubs and some establishments of doubtful repute. Of the hotels we know today, for example, Brown’s Hotel was already open; a small hotel on the way to the city, between Paddington and the West End. However, most of the existing lodgings were modest guesthouses. A hotel the size and style of the Great Western Royal at Paddington was a new idea. It became the forerunner of many other purpose-built hotel buildings and heralded a new attitude to service. The ideal situation for such a hotel was at the south-eastern end of the station hall where it masked the train sheds. There could be direct access from the platforms to the hotel. Thus, the hotel would form the facade of the station, but would not be part of the Great Western Railway. Money had been raised to build the hotel by a section of the Great Western Railway board, forming a separate company to administer its affairs. So deep was Brunel’s involvement that, despite his other commitments, he became the chairman of the hotel company. The hotel was built at the same time as the new station. Brunel, a man of heavy-duty design ideas, knew instinctively that he was not the right person to draw up the plans for such a refined establishment. 

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He chose Philip Hardwick the younger, who could always seek the advice of his father Philip who had drawn up the plans for two hotels at Euston station in 1839: the Victoria – more of a dormitory – and the upmarket Euston. Building started in April 1853 and in an unbelievable 14 months, the team had accomplished something which even by today’s standards seems hard to achieve.

The GWR logo in the luxurious Executive Lounge

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Brunel knew instinctively that he was not the right person to draw up the plans for such a refined establishment. He chose Philip Hardwick the younger.

The stucco-fronted block of 5 storeys with its 7 storey corner towers formed the earliest Victorian French Renaissance building. It housed 165 bedrooms. Caryatides and at street level a heavily decorated ironwork porte-cochère covered the main entrance. Above, a central pediment contained allegorical figures, one of the favourite exterior devices of the time. In a confident Victorian manner, they represent ‘Peace, Plenty, Science and Industry’, created by the prolific sculptor John Thomas, whose statues and carvings also graced the new Houses of Parliament.


The Great Western Royal Hotel

Architect’s impression of the Great Western Royal Hotel, 1854

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The Hilton London Paddington

1854, Paddington

Great. Western. Royal. The Best Connection

The Great Western Royal Hotel opened its doors for business on 9 June 1854, just five months after the first passenger trains going westwards departed from the platforms at the new Paddington Station. It had taken £44,000 to complete the building. This morning all the mirrors were up, all the windows were clean, all the beds had been made and the last carpet had been put in place. From its first day, the Great Western Royal Hotel was acclaimed as the finest of all London hotels (and there was competition to compare with, as the same year saw the opening of the sixty-bedroom Great Northern Hotel at King’s Cross Station). With its direct link to the West Country and being the Royal Family’s gateway to Windsor, the Great Western Royal Hotel immediately achieved the status of being the ‘best connected hotel of London.’ With its 165 rooms and 20 sitting rooms (which in connection with a 

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Great Western Royal announcements of the first hour. The convenience of direct access to the station was always a unique feature. And: Visitors may lock up their rooms during their absence!

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bedroom could form respectable apartments), it was considered a very large hotel for its day. As many guest rooms as possible had been built on the lower floors, where the highest rates could be charged. The rooms on the higher floors were less spacious. The French description of ‘bel étage’ was coined for the first floor. It wasn’t until the installation of the noisy and hazardous steam lift, and in fact before the invention of Otis’s modern safety lifts, that hotel rooms on higher floors had the same status as those further down. For the hotelier, this meant that the upper rooms were never charged at the same rate as the rooms on the ground floor and first floor. The hotel was the talk of Paddington, its opening a red letter day for the local community. There hadn’t been many public events of international standard since the Crystal Palace exhibition three years previously. We can imagine Isambard Kingdom Brunel leaving his shabby top hat at home that day, wearing his best frock coat, standing in the foyer of his new grand hotel. He and his board of directors and Mr Wheeler, the manager of the hotel, welcomed a distinguished clientele at the opening ceremony. Everybody was nervous because they expected a Royal visit. After all, the hotel bore the name Great Western ‘Royal’ Hotel. Coaches pulled up in front of the main entrance, unloading streams of visitors which entered the spacious lobby with its reception counter, a separate desk for the porter and a cashier’s counter. The amazed viewers strolled through the various sitting rooms on the ground floor, visited the large apartments on the first floor, comprising a drawing room and one or two 

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The Great Western Royal Hotel

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The Hilton London Paddington

bedrooms. They never tired of praising the extraordinary standard of all the bathrooms which had enclosed water closets. Suddenly a landau, sporting the Royal crest, drawn by a set of four horses, appeared in the distance. The crowd immediately cheered when they spotted the tall figure and prominent whiskers of Albert, the Prince Consort. He arrived together with His Majesty, the King of Portugal, to inspect the new hotel and the neighbouring station. Mr Wheeler and the directors of the GWR hotel company were very pleased indeed. Their Great Western Royal Hotel was literally baptised with a Royal blessing.

 The historic Great Western Royal Hotel’s dining room with snowy damask tablecloths and silver plated monogrammed cutlery on beautifully carved mahogany tables sported silver vases of sweet peas, irises or lilies of the valley. Elegant statues carried the cups and bowls of symbolic plenty, and on the walls a wealth of pierced plaster showed skilled craftsmanship. Following pages: ‘Departure from Paddington Station’ William Frith (1819–1909), 1861.

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The Great Western Royal Hotel

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The Hilton London Paddington

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LONDON PADDINGTON THE GREAT WESTERN HOTEL  

LONDON PADDINGTON THE GREAT WESTERN HOTEL

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