Berners Hotel, the London Edition
By the Survey of London, on 21 July 2017
The Berners Hotel is a rare instance of continuity in the area around Berners and Newman Streets. Though the current building dates only from 1905–11, the hotel can be traced back to 1826. In that year the pair of houses at 6-7 Berners Street were converted from a bank into a hotel, involving the dismantling of a massive strong-room at the back constructed of iron and stone. The bank had been established in 1792 by the firm of De Vismes, Cuthbert, Marsh, Creed & Company. Later known as Marsh, Sibbald & Co., it failed notoriously when one of the partners, Henry Fauntleroy, was hanged for forgery in 1824.
No such notoriety was attached to the hotel. It was one of many, small family-run establishments in the vicinity of Oxford Street, where fashionable comers and goers mixed with longer-term residents. From the 1820s the private houses in Berners Street were increasingly being turned into lodging houses or shops. Pietro Rolandi’s Italian bookshop was one such at No. 20, a haven for literary and political exiles, which first opened in the same year as the hotel.
In 1880 the hotel’s then owner, Richard Kershaw, sold up to the Berners Hotel Company, which acquired building and fittings alike, barring a piano belonging to Miss Kershaw and an assortment of display cases of stuffed birds. The company lasted a decade, being sold on in 1890 through Thomas Ward, of the London Music Publishing Company, to Berners Hotel Ltd among whose subscribers journalists (Henry Sutherland Edwards and George Augustus Sala) and minor musicians were strong. The hotel was renovated, and shamelessly puffed by the new management for its association with Fauntleroy and its ‘interesting woodwork, carvings, painted ceilings, &c’. Appropriately, in 1895 Ward, its managing director, was charged with the Fauntleroy-like offence of forging bills of exchange to do with the supply of beer and spirits to the establishment.
Not long afterwards another hotel opened near by in Newman Street, the York Hotel. Its manager was Emmeline Lawrence, known as Mrs Mary Clark. A Welshwoman of considerable ambition, she oversaw the expansion of the York Hotel and soon became manager of the Berners as well. Backed by a fresh company, the Hotel York Ltd, she determined to rebuild the Berners Hotel on a much-enlarged site. Slater & Keith were commissioned to design the new building, which went up in stages. The first part completed was at the back, at 82–83 Newman Street and 73–75 Eastcastle Street, wrapping round the Blue Posts pub at the corner. The second, much larger western phase hit a snag when two Eastcastle Street houses, scheduled for demolition but still occupied, collapsed in 1908, killing eight men, all Austrian, German, Italian or Swiss employees of the hotel. The management also fought but lost a long legal battle with the LCC about fire doors or screens in the hotel corridors.
Once the rebuilding of the Berners Hotel had been completed in 1910, it was connected to the York Hotel by a subway under Eastcastle Street. The two hotels thus linked both had their main ground-floor public spaces facing west towards Berners Street, where spacious coffee rooms, lounges and main stairs were to be found. But they looked quite different. The York with its two corner tourelles belonged to the late Queen Anne manner affected by Slater in the 1890s, whereas the later and bigger block of the Berners, perhaps attributable to his partner Keith, is an altogether more pompous Edwardian production, neo-Georgian in style touched by Frenchness, with plenty of Portland stone and carving to set off the red brick, a pedimented entrance, and two storeys in the mansard roof. The lounge and coffee room were both double-height spaces, caked in opulent Edwardian plasterwork.
In 1912–13 Mary Clark tried to expand her hotel empire with an even larger scheme for the Princess’s Theatre site on Oxford Street, and in 1914–15 she ventured on a further new building at 74 Newman Street housing garages for her clients’ cars on two levels underneath five floors of open dormitories for maids. This landed her in financial trouble and she had to go. Under her successor, Henry L. Clark (no relation), the two hotels prospered. In the late 1920s hot and cold water, electric fires and phones were installed in every room; at this time the hotels claimed to be able to sleep 500–600 per night. The smaller York Hotel or Hotel York survived Government requisitioning in 1918 to acquire an extension designed by Slater & Moberly facing Newman Street (Nos 78–79) in 1932. But after it was requisitioned again during the Second World War it was not reopened, becoming a nurses’ home for the Middlesex Hospital in 1946, and then in 1997 a block of flats. The Hotel York Ltd maintained its independent management of the Berners Hotel till 1957.
In 1972 the hotel was under threat, but following the intercession of John Betjeman (‘I don’t know who the architect was but he was somebody pretty good’) it was listed and survived. A long period of closure ended in 2013 when the Berners Hotel reopened as the London Edition, fully restored at the behest of Ian Schrager (as at the Sandersons Hotel), here working with ISC Design Studio and Marriott International. The main spaces have been generously restored but, as the management is keen to insist, ‘The London EDITION is no period piece … It is a potpourri of styles that only a sure hand could pull off’. 
1.London Edition press release 2013