For those new to CabbieBlog or readers who are slightly forgetful, on Saturdays I’m republishing posts, many going back over a decade. Some will still be very relevant while others have become dated over time. Just think of this post as your weekend paper supplement.
Too romantic to survive (30.03.2010)
What have these two men got in common? The first was a founding member of the Victorian Society and a passionate defender of Victorian architecture, after failing his degree at Magdalen College, Oxford, he started his career as a journalist and ended it as one of the most popular British Poets Laureate to date and a much-loved figure on British television beloved by generations, the second a security guard.
Dubbed “The Most Romantic Building in London”, the Midland Grand Hotel is on the cusp of returning to its original purpose after closing its doors three quarters of a century ago. Dot com bubble is nothing new and so it was when this Victorian gothic revival building was nearing completion. It was the last of the great railway termini hotels of the Victorian era and by far the most expensive, costing 14 times as much to build as it near neighbour the Great Northern Hotel.
During its construction in an effort to cut costs a floor was shaved off the original plan and the lavish ornament cheapened, oak was substituted with cheaper deal and for the completion of its interiors, its celebrated and workaholic architect Sir George Gilbert Scott was replaced with a more malleable practice. Upon opening the Midland Grand was the epitome of luxury and one of the most spectacular gothic revival buildings in the world, boasting among other “luxuries” a Ladies’ Drawing Room which later gained notoriety as the first Ladies’ Smoking Room in London, the room was equipped with an electrophone, linking guests to the Queen’s Hall and other London halls and churches.
But within 20 years its clients were expecting what the Grand lacked, for the hotel was built before the time of en suite bathrooms, requiring an army of servants to scuttle around the 300 rooms, laden with tubs, bowls, spittoons and chamber pots.
After struggling on for a few more years the hotel finally closed in 1935, going the way of all large buildings in London and became offices for its owners the railway company, its interiors were enhanced with partitions, suspended ceilings and fluorescent lights.
In the Sixties attempts were made to demolish it with its current owners describing it as “completely obsolete and hopeless” preferring the simpler lines of its neighbour at King Cross.
At this stage in the Grand’s life our poet laureate in the shape of John Betjeman led a campaign and only stopped its demolition at the 11th hour later gaining a Grade I listing in 1967.
By 1988 the building was declared unsafe, and remained unloved and forgotten by the public as they rushed past along the Euston Road, and frozen in time the haunt of film makers and pigeons. 1995-5 saw £9 million pf public money spent on restoring its interiors, but the exterior was for all the world unloved.
Enter now the hotels most unlikely supporter a security guard employed for 30 years to protect its empty shell, Roydon Stock. So captivated was he by this building he’s now the major authority of its heritage, giving tours into its dark interior, correcting historians and even debating with England Heritage on its restoration.
Now after £200 million spent by a consortium of developers which have against all the odds converted its upper floors into 67 rooftop flats, and soon next year the Old Lady of Euston Road will reopen for business as a Marriott Renaissance Hotel.
If people like John Betjeman and Roydon Stock hadn’t fought for its survival we would probably have a modern monstrosity in its place in the shape of Marathon House further along the road.
I’ll finish with the words of Rowan Moore the Architecture Critic for the Evening Standard who has put it much better than me:
The building is also a rebuke to all those who wanted to demolish it in the name of efficiency and modernity. Fifty years ago they were many, but the idea now seems inconceivable. There are currently similar mutterings about a work of George Gilbert Scott’s grandson Giles, Battersea Power Station. Anyone who doubts the wisdom of preserving the latter should go to St Pancras and see what an awkward pile of old bricks can do.