Friday, 29 November 2013

Great Central Hotel

Great Central Street is neither great nor central, being a short road opposite Marylebone Station. Instead, it was named for the Great Central Railway, whose aspirations included making Marylebone the hub for a train service stretching across Europe. There is, however, a rather glorious Victorian building on its west side.

A grand station would need a grand hotel, and so the Great Central Hotel was planned. When Sir Edward Watkin, the railway's amibitious leader, ran out of funding the project was taken over by Sir John Blundell Maple - better known for the Maple's furniture company. Since they were already leading furnishers of London's hotels, a move into building one perhaps didn't seem too great a leap. Indeed, Sir John also opened a Maple's shop in the station, so hotel residents could buy the furniture if they liked it!

In 1899, this large, grand hotel was opened, attached by a glass and cast-iron canopy to the small station behind. A large central courtyard not only brought light to inner bedrooms but allowed coaches to bring their passengers to the heart of the hotel; it later became a winter garden and is now a restaurant.

The hotel is perhaps the most tangible reminder at Marylebone of what the railway project was envisaged to be, in contrast to its more modest outcome. As a railway hotel, the Great Central enjoyed only a few decades of success; once railways lost customers to cars, the hotel's popularity declined. In the Second World War it was used by the army - Airey Neave was debriefed here after his escape from Colditz; thereafter, it served as offices for the British Railways Board. 

Like its older sister at St Pancras, however, the Great Central was destined for a return to glory. It reopened as a hotel in the 1990s and is now the five-star Landmark Hotel.


Bill Ellson said...

Great Central, not Grand Central

CarolineLD said...

Thank you - now corrected! I started off correctly, but then my brain seems to have gone to sleep - so much for proofreading.

Hels said...

You suggested that St Pancras inspires real devotion, and that Great Central Hotel is destined for glory. Big statements! Are you thinking of the renovated Victorian architecture or the quality of their hotel service?

By the way, I have visited St Pancras only as an interested student, not as a paying customer.

CarolineLD said...

Probably the architecture above all, although I've also visited the St Pancras Renaissance several times for food and drink and the service is excellent. The building really does have devoted fans, not least the in-house historian, most of whom remember it from its pre-restoration days of very faded glory.

I've not been in the Great Central, but by reputation it has made quite a comeback from its days as an office building!

Stephen Barker said...

Don't forget that you can travel on part of the Great Central Line in Leicestershire. It is the only preserved steam railway that runs on double tracks as it would have done as a main line railway.

CarolineLD said...

Thank you - that adds somewhere else to my 'to visit' list!