Hotels with history

From ghosts to glamour, we bring you 10 fascinating facts and little-known stories about London’s top hotels.

The Renaissance Hotel, known as the Midland Grand in 1884

1 The Savoy Hotel’s heritage dates back to 1246 when Count Peter of Savoy built a palace on land by the River Thames given to him by King Henry III – Henry’s wife Eleanor of Provence was Count Peter’s niece.

2 Hotels were rare in London before the 19th century. Wealthy people tended to stay in their own or rented townhouses while the less well off might stay in a coaching inn. The George Inn, Southwark, dates back to 1676 and was one of the many famous coaching inns in the days of Charles Dickens – he referred to it in Little Dorrit. It is now the only galleried inn left in London.

St Pancras Station booking office in 1884

3 The advent of railways was the catalyst for growth in the hotels in London. Tourism boomed and the railway companies led the way when it came to accommodation, with huge hotels constructed at each major station. The Midland Grand at St Pancras station, for example, was one of many hotels at the forefront of early tourism in the city. It reopened in 2011 as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

Harlequin Suite bathroom at The Dorchester

4 The first successful telephone call ever made in Britain was at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, where inventor Alexander Graham Bell stayed in 1876. English Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling also completed The Jungle Book here.

5 The Stafford Hotel in St James’s is connected to Buckingham Palace via underground passages. The secret warren begins in the hotel’s 380-year-old wine cellar. Although now blocked off for security reasons, the tunnels are said to have been a means of enabling illicit trysts between what was a private residence and the palace.

6 The Goring Hotel opened in 1910 and was the first in the world to offer en suite bathrooms with each bedroom. A room cost the equivalent of 37p a night. The Allied war effort was run from the Goring’s kitchen during WWI, and the hotel was subsequently home to Winston Churchill’s mother. It is now famous for being where the Duchess of Cambridge spent the night before her wedding.

Renaissance Hotel’s Booking Office Bar & Restaurant

7 Elizabeth Taylor received news that her $1 million contract request – a first for Hollywood – to star in Cleopatra had been accepted while she was staying in the Harlequin Suite at The Dorchester on Park Lane. The pink marble bathroom that was installed just for her in the early 1960s remains exactly as it was then.

8 The Langham, on Regent Street, is said to be one of the UK’s most haunted hotels with seven different ghosts sighted in the 148 years it has been running. Guests can request to stay in room 333, the location for most of the spooky sightings, which include a Victorian gentleman whose legs appear to be missing. The explanation for this is that the floors have been raised since Victorian times to make way for central heating.

9 The Georgian House Hotel in Victoria has had numerous reports of ghostly goings-on. Two children are believed to haunt this former townhouse, having been both seen and heard on repeated occasions.

10 Despite being famous for its old-fashioned glamour, The Ritz on Piccadilly was always modern in its outlook: the hotel was the first in London that allowed young, unmarried women to visit without chaperones.

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