The Railway Hotel • Convenience and Luxury

grand-hotel-des-wagon-lits-1930s-luggage-label-jpgThere was an interesting TV documentary about the history of luxury hotels broadcast this week. You can watch it on Box of Broadcasts or catch up on the BBC iplayer. Here’s the link to the programme

I’ve written about restaurants, seaside resorts, mountain holidays, and department stores, so I was a bit surprised to realise that I hadn’t written anything about hotels…well here goes

The 19C expansion of the railway network supported an enormous growth in number of people travelling. Indeed, it is fair to say that each of the major seaside resorts was able to develop and grow because of their close connection to the railway network. In addition to holiday travellers, there were many commercial travellers. All of these people needed rooms to stay in over-night, and it was natural, in these circumstances, for the railways to provide a variety of hotel accomodation.

At a local level, hotels for commercial travellers provided simple accommodation and food. At the seaside resort or by the major rail terminus, a larger and more luxurious form of accommodation was provided including state rooms and suites. The hotel had open areas around the lobby where people could meet and various kinds of simple food could be taken. The grandest hotels also had big restaurants and ballrooms.

One of the things that made the luxury hotel especially interesting (and exciting) was that, unlike the accomodation of the Gentleman’s Club, the hotel was, from the first, open to women. Like the department store, the spaces of the luxury hotel became one where women could participate as equals.

As you might expect, the high-point of the luxury railway hotel was probably the Edwardian era before WW1. The style of the hotels is a 19C baroque called belle-epoque. This style is derived from the decorative style of Versailles, and depends upon sparkle and gilt and mirrors. Marvellous.

You can get a sense of the imporatnce of the railway and the status attaching to travelling when you consider, for example, that the large street frontage of London’s St Pancras was, infact, the Midland Hotel…run by the railway for the benefit of its passengers.

Likewise the Great Western Railway Hotel at paddington and Great Northern at King’s Cross, and the hotels at Victoria and Charing Cross. In London, this already extensive provision pof accommodation was augmented by a number of important and historical hotels: he Ritz (1906), The Savoy (1889), Claridges (1898 with lifts and bathrooms), the Connaught (1897), the Waldorf (1908), the Dorchester (1931), and Browns(1837).

There are many more recent arrivals, and they keep coming!

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