Legacy Is Our Future
The Landmark London was originally opened on the 1st July 1899 when rooms cost a mere three-and-sixpence a night and has established standards of luxury and magnificence ever since. The hotel was designed around a vast courtyard which allowed light and air into all the bedrooms. The courtyard was unique in London and it provided an extremely dramatic entrance and has awed guests for over a century with its glass-roof and airy interiour. It also allowed guests to be delivered by horse and carriage directly into the courtyard offering comfort and privacy.
The Landmark London’s illustrious legacy includes all the marks of greatness including an opening ceremony with members of the Royal Family, a charity event for St. Mary’s Hospital proceeding Alexander Flemings discovery of penicillin, a “Welcome Back from Prison” breakfast for the Suffragettes, the M19 debriefing of legendary British Lieutenant Airey Neave, to a major refurbishment by a Japanese Popstar. It must also be mentioned that the hotel has been known to have the inevitable ghost of a building that comes with such an illustrious heritage.
1894 – 1895
1894 – Sir Edward Watkin was the ‘Last King of the Railways’ and formidable in the industry. He held the office of chairman to numerous lines and it was his vision to combine those railway lines to create the Great Central Railway, Marylebone Station and a grand hotel to service its passengers. He fought and won against fierce opposition for the line most notably from Lord’s Cricket Ground as the plans would take up a small portion of the cricket ground.
They were duly placated when Watkin offered them more land and rehabilitated the entire grounds. The war with the opposition of his plans took its toll financially and on his health. He suffered a heart attack before construction of the railway began in 1894 and Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Wharncliffe (the serving Vice Chairman) took over his role.
Sir Edward Watkin was in attendance at the opening ceremony of Marylebone station and of the hotel but died only two years later in 1901.
1895 – The Great Central Railway, judged by financial terms, was not a great success. When financial strain arose, Sir John Blundell Maple, Chairman of Maple the furnishers negotiated the site for his company. His father owned a small furniture shop which Sir John inherited. By the 1880’s Maple was the undisputed furnishers of hotels in London but in 1895 Waring’s emerged as a major competitor. Threatened with this aggressive newcomer Sir John saw investment in building as opposed to furnishing hotels as a lucrative activity which would ensure that Maple retained its leading role in hotel fitting out.
He took the enterprise one step further by installing a Maples shop in Marylebone station that way if guests of the hotel liked the furniture they could go over to the station to buy it.
1897 – 1899
1897 – The architect commissioned to build the hotel was Col. Robert Edis, his previous work included the ballroom for the Prince of Wales at Sandringham. Edis was a famous and revered architect of the time after writing a book in 1881 called “Decoration and Furniture of Town Houses”. At the peak of the construction boom new hotels were opening virtually every year. Each hotel management wanted to outclass its rivals and the opening of the Savoy in 1895 and the Hotel Cecil in 1896 established standards of luxury and magnificence that were hard to equal. To this end the hotel was designed around a vast courtyard (twice as large as the original Savoy) which allowed light and air into all the bedrooms. The courtyard could deliver guests in comfort and privacy, such a facility was a mark of the really luxurious hotels but Edis took the idea one stage further by completely glazing the courtyard. At the time this seems to have been unique in London and it provided an extremely dramatic entrance. Edis also installed a cycle track on the roof so that businessmen of the day could exercise to recover from high living.
1899 –The Great Central Railway opened for passengers on the 9th March 1899; Sir Edward Watkin was in attendance with his successor Edward Montagu, the Earl of Wharncliffe. Montagu died aged 72 in May of that year. He must have been a beloved figure as when the hotel opened they named the ballroom the Wharncliffe Rooms after him.
On the 6th and 7th June 1899 the opening ceremony of the Great Central Hotel was held. It was called the “Streets and Squares Bazaar” and it was a huge charity event. The first day was opened by the TRH Duke and Duchess of Fife. HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife was daughter to H.M King Edward VII, granddaughter to H.M Queen Victoria and sister to H.M George V (grandfather to H.M Queen Elizabeth II).
The whole ground floor was decorated especially and given free of charge to the event. The Great Central Hotel also provided refreshments. The reason was to raise money to build a new wing at St. Mary’s Hospital. Members of the board at St Mary’s Hospital nominated the ‘centres’ and representatives to take part. ‘Centres’ referred to different communities of London that were invited to provide for a stall either through subscriptions, donations or gifts in kind to sell. The Westbourne Terrace stall sold paintings by eminent artists as listed on their advert. Other ‘centres’ that took part were Hampstead, Grosvenor Square and Mayfair, Gloucester Terrace and Kensington Palace Gardens. There were over 40 in total.
The hotel opened officially on 1st July 1899 and rooms cost three-and-sixpence a night.
1902 – 1908
1902 – Lilian Helen “Lily” Montagu, CBE (22 December 1873 – 22 January 1963) was the first woman to play a major role in Reform Judaism. At the age of 26, in “The Jewish Quarterly Review”, she expressed the need to retain the allegiance of Jews who were drifting away from Judaism. Lily joined forces with bible scholar Dr. Claude Montefiore and approached United Synagogues in the Marylebone area to ask to hold the first service of the Jewish Religious Union. Their request was rejected as United Synagogues refused to allow men and women to sit together.
In October 1902 the first service was held in the Wharncliffe Rooms at the Great Central Hotel for 300 people with policeman guards at the entrance in case of any civil unrest. Dr. Claude Montefiore delivered the service frequently making references to ‘Jews and Jewes’. The JRU went on to become the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues and still exists today.
1906 – Gertrude Wainwright was born in 1876 in Yorkshire, her mother was a teacher and a widow and she had two brothers Harry and Frederick that both worked as Railway Clerks. The 1891 census reveals that Gertrude was training as a milliner’s apprentice.
Ten years later the 1901 census lists Gertrude as unemployed and living with 14 others in Manchester Street, Paddington.
On the 10th July 1906 she gave birth in the Great Central Hotel to a boy, Samuel Paget and no father was registered on the birth certificate. She was 30 years old. By this time she had moved to 16 Sydney Place in South Kensington. It was extremely uncommon for ladies of that era to be staying in hotels alone. How could the unemployed daughter of a widow afford such extravagance?
Coincidentally, at that time there was a Richard Arthur Samuel Paget (37) that lived with his wife Muriel (29) in mansions overlooking Regents Park on Cornwall Terrace. They had a cook, a housemaid, a ladies maid and a footman in residence but no children.
Could Samuel be Richard’s illegitimate son?
1908 – In the early 1900’s a group of women known as the Suffragette’s were lobbying the government to give women the right to vote. The leader of this political movement was Emily Pankhurst along with her daughters.
On the 19th March 1908, Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst was released from Holloway prison where she and other women were being held as political prisoners. In a meeting of the Suffragettes at The Royal Albert Hall later that day a speech was transcribed and it stated that the Great Central Hotel was holding a “Welcome Back from Prison” breakfast for Mrs Pankhurst and the other Suffragettes.
Between 1902 and 1910 major changes were made to the design of the courtyard. Large winter gardens had been brought in to fashion and the central courtyard must have proved unsuitable in an age of growing car use. The entrance to the courtyard was thus blocked up and the entire central space was turned in to a huge winter garden. A dance floor was installed in the centre.
1914 – 1956
1914 – At the beginning of the First World War the hotel was requisitioned by the military for use as a convalescent home for officers.
1918 – The Great War only represented a temporary change of use for the building as hotel business was resumed soon after.
1935 – After the Great War Mr Paul Paquot was the Hotel Manager. The decade was known as the height of glamour and hedonism and Paul got carried away. When the depression arrived, bringing depths of anxiety and despair, Paul’s life echoed what was happening in society and he was declared bankrupt in 1930. Only five years later he was found dead.
What makes this intriguing is that some guests have claimed to of seen the ghost of a man wearing a sharp 1930’s pinstripe suit and hat on the 4th Floor.
1939 – The legendary British Lieutenant Airey Neave, was the first British soldier to escape from Colditz on January 5th 1942. Neave crawled through a hole in a camp theatre after a prisoner performance to a guardhouse, then boldly marched out dressed as a German soldier reaching Switzerland two days later. Upon his return to Great Britain, Neave reported to the Great Central Hotel where escapers and evaders were debriefed by MI9 in the hope of helping other Allied Troops escape. Throughout WW2 MI9 were responsible for bringing 3000 people home safely.
Airey had been to the Great Central Hotel before and was quoted saying, “Before the war, the Great Central Hotel held a strong attraction for me. I was drawn to the magnificent dullness and solidity of the hotel. I liked the brass bedsteads, the marble figures on the stairs and the massive afternoon tea. Outside this refuge my young world was threatened by Hitler. Inside, I could pretend that I belonged to a safer age.” Neave later joined MI9 and went on to lead the campaign that got Margaret Thatcher in to office.
In March 1979, Airey Neave was assassinated in the car park of the House of Commons one month before Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister.
1941 – In WW2 the Nazis had recognised the importance of propaganda. The British were reluctant to see advantages and did not like the idea of their tactical blunders being recorded and photographs of British soldier corpses being made available to the public. America exerted pressure to record the war and British Diplomats in unoccupied countries reported that Nazi propaganda was gaining support. It is for this reason the Army Film & Photographic Unit was formed.
In 1941 troops were interviewed, recruited and billeted at The Great Central hotel, Marylebone for up to 4 months while rudimentary field training was held at Pinewood Studios and in Green Park. In 1943 the unit used footage filmed during real battles to make Desert Victory and the film went on to become the third most popular of the year. Churchill was delighted with the film and said that ‘it excited the greatest admiration and enthusiasm throughout the Allied world and brought us all closer together in our common task’
1945 – The Great Central hotel was where former Prisoners of War were debriefed on the second floor by MI9. Many intriguing stories came to light, but few were as strange as the one that emerged on the morning of 24th September 1946, when a young Irishman was escorted to one of the hotel rooms where he was met by two men in civilian dress. These were not members of MI9, that organisation had been disbanded at the end of the war. They were in fact members of a special unit set up after the outbreak of the war to investigate serious crimes committed by members of the British army.
The Irishman was stripped and searched, revealing a tattoo under his left armpit. It was a small, simple marking, consisting of no more than a letter ‘A’, but its significance was far more serious. The practice of tattooing a blood group in this manner was generally associated with the SS. After interrogation the Irishman was revealed to be James Brady.
James Brady originally joined an Irish regiment of the British Army and but for a twist of fate would have ended up fighting against the Nazi’s. Instead, having been captured by the Germans in Guernsey, he switched sides and was trained by German military intelligence. He was recruited to the German Special forces.
In 1946, Brady was tried by the court-martial in London; it is safe to assume he was stationed in the hotel whilst in England. James Brady was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years.
In 1945 the London and North Eastern Railway Company had a shortage of office space as their own building had been lost to the Blitz and so bought the building from Frederick Hotels (later Frederick Hotels joined Trust House Forte THF which later became the Forte Group). In 1947 architectural maps held at the National Archives show plans for restoration ordered by LNER. Interestingly, what was originally the Billiards Room for gentlemen (now our Great Central Bar and Restaurant) was recorded as the staff dance hall and for every year that the building was used for railway offices, Music and Dancing Licences were purchased.
1949 – The nationalisation of the railways meant the LNER became the British Transport Commission.
1956 – In 1956 the British Transport Commission, which later became British Rail, initiated the main conversion work. It was around this time that the central courtyard roof, Edis statement of luxury and grandeur, was removed and the Winter Garden temporarily open to the elements. The building gained the nickname ‘the Kremlin’.
A newspaper article stated that the ballroom was being used as a basketball court. Ex staff of British Rail, now retired, told us that there was a canteen, an officer’s mess and a senior officer’s mess with a bar for meals in what are now our event spaces.
1988 – Today
1988 – Kentaro Abe purchased the hotel and started construction work in 1989. Kentaro Abe is the real name of Japanese pop star Sen Masao.
In 1991 a new design proposal was submitted and at this stage the new roof to the atrium was erected, the stairs in the lobby were installed and the Marylebone Road entrance was raised. The new design for the Winter Garden considered every detail of the spaces encountered from entering the building, up two flights of steps into stone clad arches to establish an image and manner of decorum befitting the grandeur of the hotel while also heightening the expectation for the drama and experience of the soaring Winter Garden. The proposed name for the new hotel was to be the Windsor Hotel.
1991 – The building was bought by Hazama Corporation Ltd and restoration continued.
1993 – The hotel reopened as the Regent and was part of the Four Seasons Group. Fittingly His Grace James Carnegie, the 3rd Duke of Fife was in attendance. James Carnegie is the grandson of RH Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife.
1995 – Bought by the Lancaster London Hotel Company and renamed the Landmark London Hotel.
2008 – Becomes a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.