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    The Langham Hotel

    By the Survey of London, on 18 March 2016

    The Langham Hotel of 1863–5 was London’s largest hotel when new, and among London’s largest buildings, a prime example of what were dubbed ‘monster’ hotels, more kindly ‘grand’. Following the railway-station hotel boom of the 1850s the Langham was a significant novelty for being dissociated from a terminus. The Langham Place site in a smart district was thought right for a hotel for its openness, therefore healthfulness. Distance from a railway station could be marketed as a virtue, but this was still a bold speculation that looked to American rather than local precedents.

    The Langham Hotel (by The Langham, London, reproduced with a Creative Commons licence via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)])

    The Langham Hotel (by The Langham, London, reproduced without changes under a Creative Commons licence via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    The Langham Hotel Company Limited set out to build a hotel ‘on a scale of comfort and magnificence not hitherto attained in London’. [1] Its ‘very respectable’ directors were a solid bunch of mercantile men, headed by two aristocrats stooping to trade – Henry Chetwynd-Talbot, 18th Earl of Shrewsbury and Talbot, as president, William Coutts Keppel, Lord Bury, as vice president. Among the directors was Peter Graham of Jackson & Graham, a high-class Oxford Street furnishing firm. The adjacency of several embassies including the American consulate inspired hope of accommodating diplomats. Imminent completion of the Metropolitan Railway with its station at the top of Great Portland Street would, it was claimed, make up for the absence of a main-line terminus.

    A design competition was won by John Giles, a novice architect. He was persuaded to work with the more experienced James Murray, whose designs for the interiors were regarded by the competition committee as especially good – the forced partnership ended up in court over ownership of the drawings. Giles was probably responsible for the floor plan and exterior, Murray for details of the internal layout. Lucas Brothers, who had recently finished the London Bridge Railway Terminus Hotel, were contractors and major shareholders. Jackson & Graham supplied furniture and brought in Owen Jones to design interiors.

    The hotel opened in June 1865 with the Prince of Wales and 2,000 others in attendance to see London’s most splendid hotel, spread over ten floors including basements and attics, and overall half again bigger than the Grosvenor Hotel of 1862. It aimed ‘to suit all from princes to the middle-classes’. [2]

    The Langham Hotel, drawn from measured survey. Please click to download a high resolution version of the drawing (© Survey of London, Helen Jones with Andy Crispe).

    The Langham Hotel, drawn from measured survey. Please click to download a pdf version of the drawing (© Survey of London, Helen Jones and Andy Crispe).

    Plans of the ground floor and first floor of the Langham Hotel (© Survey of London, Helen Jones and Andy Crispe)

    Plans depicting the layouts of the ground and fifth floors of the Langham Hotel in 1907. Please click to download a pdf version (© Survey of London, Helen Jones).

    The report of the opening in the Illustrated London News neatly summarizes how the hotel was received:

    The style of architecture would be called Italian; it is, however, plain, simple, and substantial, and singularly free from meretricious ornament. It includes large drawing-rooms, a dining-room, or coffee-room, 100 feet in length, smoking-rooms, billiard-rooms, post-office, telegraph-office, parcels-office, &c., thus uniting all the comforts of a club with those of a private home, each set of apartments forming a ‘flat’ complete in itself. Below are spacious kitchen, laundry, &c., and water is laid over all the house, being raised by an engine in the basement. Some idea of the extensive nature of the establishment may be formed when we add that its staff of servants number about two hundred and fifty persons, from the head steward and matron down to the junior kitchenmaid and smallest ‘tiger’. The ‘Langham’, on an emergency, can make up as many as 400 beds. The floors are connected with each other by means of a ‘lift’ which goes up and down at intervals. It is as nearly fire-proof as art can render it. [3]

    Giles’s exterior, yellow Suffolk bricks (commonly known as “Suffolk Whites”) with Portland stone dressings, is heavily indebted to the Grosvenor. It is Italianate, but picturesquely so, with consciously eclectic Gothic elements and an eventful skyline with French pavilion roofs. The shape of the site was a gift, allowing, even forcing, some break-up of the cuboid massing to the east, the locus for an asymmetrical parti with a pointily domed tower and a big two-storey bow. The building was praised – ‘The points which call forth admiration are the union of regularity with picturesqueness, so desirable in town architecture; the subordination, at least in the side, of detail to general effect, and the reserve and simplicity which are manifest in a great part of the work.’ [4] Many have since disagreed, but a century later Henry-Russell Hitchcock judged the building ‘a rich and powerfully plastic composition, most skilfully adapted to a special site, and more original than most of what was produced in the sixties in Paris’. [5]

    Monster Mash

    The rich sculpture which adorns the eaves cornice and imposts of the lower-storey window arches (© Survey of London, Derek Kendall, 1988).

    The sculptural detail repays close examination. Below the heavy eaves cornice there are griffins and sphinxes, some addossed and seated, others rampant yet bovine, made of moulded cement on slate armatures. Livelier and lither stone-carved creatures, more griffins, lions and lizards, grace the imposts of lower-storey window arches. These ‘semi-Gothic Grotesques’ were harshly judged – ‘Their antics … have an artificial and done-to-order look about them, very different from the grim humour of ancient work.’ [6] Hitchcock, who suspected the influence of Viollet-le-Duc, saw ‘elephantine playfulness’, which seems fairer.

    In December 1940, bombing destroyed the building’s north-east corner and, with consequent flooding, the hotel closed. The BBC took up occupation from 1941, using the premises as offices and studios to 1986. Reconversion to hotel use in 1987–91 was by Hilton International.

    Reference

    [1] Morning Post, 30 June 1862, p. 2

    [2] The Times, 12 June 1865, p. 9

    [3] Illustrated London News, 8 July 1865, p. 12

    [4] Building News, 20 Oct 1865, p. 72

    [5] Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1958, p. 16

    [6] Building News, 20 Oct 1865, p. 727

    Oslers shop, Oxford Street

    By the Survey of London, on 11 December 2015

    Following on from the Survey’s two-volume project on South-East Marylebone, we are embarking on a linear volume on Oxford Street, London’s premier shopping street ever since the eighteenth century. Besides the present department stores and modern shops there were once many glamorous shops along the street, now lost and long forgotten, which the Oxford Street volume will bring back to life. One such was Oslers, retailers of glassware, formerly on the north side of Oxford Street near Newman Street.

    A colourful watercolour now in the Victoria and Albert Museum offers precious evidence for perhaps the most scintillating of Oxford Street’s Victorian shop interiors, the London showroom of F. & C. Osler, manufacturers and retailers of ornamental glass. It was designed by Owen Jones in 1859 and survived until 1928.

    Interior perspective of Oslers, Oxford Street, from a drawing by Owen Jones, 1859 (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

    Interior perspective of Oslers, Oxford Street, from a drawing by Owen Jones, 1859 (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London). If you are having difficulty viewing images, please click here.

    Oslers’ London shop was an outlet for the inventive products of a Birmingham firm started in 1807 by Thomas Osler and partners as Shakespear & Osler. Outstanding in craft among Midlands glass-makers of the Industrial Revolution, the company owed its early success to an improved method for making glass drops for chandeliers and other ornaments. In 1831 Osler handed over the business to his sons Follett and Clarkson Osler, who introduced new machinery for precision cutting of flint glass and diversified into vases, decanters and fancy articles of many kinds. By the early 1840s the brothers had developed an international market, notably in India, where they had a showroom in Calcutta. In 1845 they took a shop at 44 Oxford Street just west of Newman Street, advertising ‘glass chandeliers, table glass, etc. … made from rich and exclusive designs, a great variety of which are constantly on view’. [1] Next year a grand chandelier made by the Oslers for a mosque at Alexandria elicited a visit to their Birmingham works from Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt, who ordered another, over 17 feet high. This was shown at Oxford Street and led to Prince Albert ordering a pair of candelabra for Osborne House as a birthday present for Queen Victoria.

    A glass bust of Queen Victoria shown by F. & C. Osler at the Great Exhibition of 1851 (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

    A glass bust of Queen Victoria shown by F. & C. Osler at the Great Exhibition of 1851 (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

    The high point came when Oslers were commissioned to create the monumental ‘crystal fountain’ at the centre of the Great Exhibition in 1851. This drew the firm into the circle of Owen Jones. When the Crystal Palace was subsequently reconstructed at Sydenham, Jones carried out striking experiments with glass and colour in the Alhambra Court there which earned him a run of glamorous commercial interiors in the West End. First came his Crystal Palace Bazaar further west on Oxford Street. It was followed by the rebuilding of Oslers, after the firm bought the neighbouring No. 45 and took a new lease of both properties in 1858. The new front was chaste, the Building News reported: ‘the moulded jambs and soffits of the windows are worked within the thickness of the walls, and the principal cornice of the elevation has a very simple projection compared with those of the Palladian type’. [2] Within the new shop, opened in July 1859, splendour prevailed. A three-arched vestibule paved with Minton tiles led to a showroom 106ft long and 24ft wide. Its walls were lined with 14 mirrors on each side and a crimson paper, and the whole was top-lit by a glass roof divided into three sections, a high semi-circle in the centre raised over lower quadrants. Heftily ornamented ribs divided this roof into 1,456 star-shaped panels of blue, amber, white and ruby glass, much like those in the roof of the Crystal Palace Bazaar. The room terminated in a ‘monster looking-glass’, 24ft 9in by 12ft. The goods were ranged on mahogany counters along the sides, and on central tables. The contractor for these works was John Willson, while for the decoration Jones employed his regular collaborators: Jackson & Graham for the fittings, Desachy for the mouldings and enrichments of the ribs (in his patent ‘staff’), and James Sheate for colouring and gilding.

    Oslers' crystal fountain at the Great Exhibition of 1851, from a print by John Absolon (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

    Oslers’ crystal fountain at the Great Exhibition of 1851, from a print by John Absolon (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

    In 1862 Jones added an extension at the back, probably towards Newman Street, which the Art Journal claimed surpassed the original gallery. Here perhaps were shown the glass ‘temples’ made to his design and shown in Oxford Street that year in conjunction with the International Exhibition, prompting the Illustrated London News to class Oslers among ‘the great sights of London’. [3] In its later years the firm failed to keep pace with changing taste and lost its avant garde status. The coloured glass was removed from the roof and plain tints substituted around 1900, on the grounds that the latter were more suitable for the metal and glass electric light fittings which by then were Oslers’ main product. In 1908–9 the architect George Hornblower made further extensions, inserting a sweeping double staircase at the back of the long room, leading to upstairs china showrooms, all in a staid Arts and Crafts style.

    In 1925 the firm amalgamated with Faraday & Son Ltd. to become Osler & Faraday Ltd, who rebuilt the premises to designs by Constantine & Vernon (builders, Bovis Ltd). The main frontage of the new building, Lanthorne House at 89–91 Newman Street, adopted a conventional neo-Georgian mode, while 100 Oxford Street (as the address of the firm had become after 1880) was in a more commercial style. Osler & Faraday ceased trading in 1965 and went into liquidation in 1976. The Newman Street frontage has been again rebuilt, but the Oxford Street front survives. The basement has long been home to the 100 Club.

    Sources

    1. Morning Chronicle, 28 June 1845
    2. Building News, 3 June 1859, p.510
    3. Illustrated London News, 12 July 1862, p.56