247 beds in a week, excluding mangers! – Sunday 6th February 2011

Posted on February 6, 2011

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The Midland Grand was designed by the architect of Christ Church Southgate, Giles Gilbert Scott

Christmastide officially came to an end when we observed The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple (I had forgotten why we keep the manger scene up in Church until the end of January). Apart from the somewhat uncomfortable memory of midnight mass in an unheated twelfth century village church (thank goodness we benefit from Victorian ingenuity) my Christmastide has been rather relaxed, involving 247 beds in ascending order of comfort, starting with my own (and excluding mangers)!

The second bed I encoutered was in December, when I attended a reception held in the Speaker’s House at the Palace of Westminster. The ‘house’ is part of Charles Barry’s building (the ‘turrety’ bit on the far right as you look across from the South Bank) and is lavishly decorated. The House is not just ceremonial, but serves as the official residence of the Speaker and his family. He travels in procession from the apartments to the Chamber of the House of Commons each day. I think I must have watched too many episodes of Come Dine With Me (isn’t it awful?) because while the nibbles were being served, I had a poke about using the cover story that I was searching for a refill for Lord Smith. While the carpets and curtains are infamously luxurious (the wallpaper cost £300 a roll!), I was surprised by the quality of the bed which, although looked fabulous draped in bright red and gold covers with a splendid canopy over its four posts, it felt as hard as rock! The Speaker noticed me testing the bed and explained that its function is purely ceremonial rather than ‘operational’. It is designed to be slept in by the monarch on the night before the Coronation. I was told that the last person to take up the option of spending the night in the Speaker’s House was King George IV (which would make sense as I seem to remember that he spent rather a lot of time in the Commons and I doubt whether he woud have noticed how hard the bed was?!)

Decoration in the Private Dining Rooms

In January I encountered 246 far more comfortable beds when I was given a sneak preview of the nearly-complete Midland Grand Hotel, by a parhsioner of St Mary’s Stamford Hill. A very knowledgeable man, he has become such a permanent fixture of the building that he was given a starring role in the Spice Girl’s “Wannabe” video when they ‘zig-a-zig-ahhd’ down the main staircase of the building in 1997! Designed by the architect who created our own building – George Gilbert Scott – while the exterior of the hotel may seem far more elaborate, the materials and carvings inside would be familiar to any parishioner of Christ Church. Despite the inevitable budget cuts, which meant fewer floors and less ornamentation than originally planned, it still achieved it’s original objectives of “outclassing” every other station in London and it is said that Scott considered St Pancras to have been his most successful building. It’s fortunes famously mirrored those of the Midland Railway Company and although it only operated as a hotel for sixty years before being converted to office space, the building managed to survive demolition more than once.

Our guide took us through the new main entrance and into the public areas. Two new self supporting glass walls enclose what was originally a semi-external area, covered only by a glass roof (a smaller scale version of the roof over the main station), to form a large function room just behind the main reception. From this light and airy space we moved into the darker, paneled Booking Office Bar, with its 29 metre marble counter and “story telling” carvings that depict the various jobs and trades that were associated with the station when it was first built. We were then taken through to the refurbished

At £8000 a night, the view from the Royal Suite isn't great!

dining rooms. The private dining room is magnificently ornate with gilt mouldings, mosaics and wall paintings. As we were being shown around, finishing touches were still being applied – we bumped into someone painting gold leaf onto the ceiling of what was the Ladies Smoking Room on the first floor (which has a balcony looking out over the Euston Road). This was the first room in the country where women were allowed to smoke tobacco in public. Unfortunately we could not take the main staircase up to see the rooms (because the carpet was being laid) so we took the tradesman’s route!

The new hotel provides 245 bedrooms of which 56 are in Scott’s original building. As a listed building, only minimal alterations could be made and so the room sizes are the same as they would have been when the hotel was first in use. This makes them expensive! A suite (comprising two rooms connected to a sitting room) overlooking Euston Road will set you back £4,000 per night! To provide modern comforts without interfering with the historic building, a large ‘pod’ has been inserted into the bedrooms, away from the walls. These contain a bathroom, lavishly appointed in marble, as well as (hidden from view) all the heating and cooling aparatus needed to keep the bedrooms at a suitable temperature (the windows could not be double glazed). The most expensive room is the Royal Suite, which comprises three bedrooms, a kitchen and a study

The station concourse - as seen from the 'seated' position in the bathroom!

and at £8,000 per night is a lot cheaper than the Savoy, although the view (across the station roof) leaves a bit to be desired (unless girders are your thing!)

The beds were far more comfortable than those in the Speakers House, but the guests staying in rooms on the station side will have a shock when they sit in their bathrooms. From here they have a perfect view across the station concourse (and vice versa!) A very European welcome toLondon!

It is lucky that Scott designed our church first as I am sure this is not a design technique that our clergy would appreciate!

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