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  • Hotel London
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  • img1Hotel London is great and growing. Perhaps no feature of London life was more conspicuous for a smart advance in the closing years of the last century and the opening of the new than hotel accommodation of every variety, and what might be called the hotel habit -- the living in hotels of even Londoners themselves. There was a time, not so very long ago, when London had to bear the reproach of giving less satisfaction in the hotel way to the visitor than almost any other great city. Even yet the foreigner has his complaints to make, especially when he comes to settle the bill, but in a general way the Metropolis has responded excellently to an increasing demand. To-day she can fling at the cities of the European and American continents a boast that she will name twenty of her hotels, and challenge each of her rivals to produce twenty that are better, or even as good.

    You may never have reflected, and perchance may not have had the materials for reflection, upon how vast and of what infinite variety is the Hotel London of to-day. Let us consider the first of the two points just named, and estimate in some small way the dimensions of Hotel-land within the confines of the capital. The most careful of calculations brings one to the safe conclusion that there are daily no fewer than 120,000 visitors in the Metropolis. Not all of these stay over a single night, and of those who do a fair proportion welcome the hospitality of friends in private houses. Yet, when all deductions have been made and we have fined the figures down to those of the net hotel and boarding-house population, it is discovered that there are, on an average, between 50,000 and 60,000 people who daily come within this category. Of this great number it is reckoned that the recognised hotels, licensed and of varying pretensions, are capable of accommodating just about half, and the boarding-houses and private hotels are well able to account for the rest, existing as they do in their thousands. It has been found in actual practice that over 8,000 guests have slept in twenty of the chief hotels on busy nights of the season. One single hotel has about 1,000 bedrooms, and there are five others with 500 or more. A dozen of the chief hotels make up an aggregate of only a few short of 6,000 bedrooms, a proportion of which contain a couple of beds, so that in the whole these sleeping apartments will very likely accommodate 12,000 people -- the population of a small town. And the directory gives you the names of over 300 big licensed hotels in London.

    The story of the growth of Hotel London to these vast proportions is tinged with not a little of romance. Once upon a time there was an enterprising servant in a West-End mansion, which he forsook in order that he might start a boarding-house. The latter in due course developed into an hotel, and the hotel so thrived and grew that to-day it is one of the biggest in the Metropolis, whilst the quondam [former, onetime] servant, for his part, is a rich country gentleman with large lands. He is not alone in his great success. And on the other hand, showing again the vast outcome of the enterprise of the pioneers in the making of modern Hotel London, it may be cited that a score of the chief hotels among them represent a capital of about eight millions of money, and even the little group of Gordon Hotels are capable of accounting for three and a-half millions.

    img1But it is not our purpose to weaty with statistics, though such few as are in the foregoing lines will be pardoned for the tale of immensity which they alone can tell. We will discover now the variety of our Hotel London, and the even greater variety of its patrons. Each hotel is not for every patron. The Americans have claimed the biggest; and have, indeed, made the success of some of them. The Germans preponderate at others, and there is another where we may find a regular potpourri of highly respectable foreigners of different nationalities. Such is De Keyser's Royal, at the eastern extremity of the Victoria Embankment. Do not even the names of the hotels of the west tell their own little tales of foreign individuality and of cosmopolitanism? There are the Hotel Continental and the Hotel de I'Europe with expansive titles; but there are so many others, many of which you may not know, but all by their names alone making a mute and often successful appeal to particular classes. However, with this brief general survey, let us particularise. With the duty we owe to rank let us return to the kings and nobles, and see where they most do congregate.

    You may find their majesties at two or three places in the fashionable west. Some time or other they are certain to be at the pre-eminently aristocratic Claridge's, in Brook Street, away from all the din and bustle, and in an atmosphere which is positively scented with exclusiveness and distinction. There are not many hotels in the world which have the extremely restrictive peculiarity of Claridge's. This is no place for the mere man of money, who is nothing more than that -- with not even a social aim. Whatever king he be, he may live here and move about in no disguise and with perfect freedom from any vulgar gaze. For here, tenanting the grand and costly suites of rooms, are men and women who are numbered amongst the foremost of their respective lands, men and women who would make up for this king a court of which he might well be proud. There is an English duke, a Spanish princess, a Russian grand duke, a variety of counts, several leaders of London society, and, generally, a collection of people in whose veins runs the best blue blood of every nation. Wealth, rank, and power are represented. On a winter's evening, as we pass along the street, a carriage with a fresh arrival rattles up to the entrance, and with a passing fancy that we will stake the reputation of Claridge's, as it were, on this one haphazard throw, we pause a moment to discover the new comer. Claridge's wins. The American Ambassador has just arrived from Washington, and has driven straight to Claridge's, where he will stay for a few weeks. Another time an Oriental potentate comes driving up, and with some form and ceremony and his own native ser- vant in attendance he passes within. Yet even Claridge's has not a monopoly of the greatest. You may find royalty and nobles at the Albemarle, in Piccadilly, or at Brown's, in Dover Street, or at the Langham, in Langham Place, upon which King Edward, when Prince of Wales, set the aristocratic stamp by opening. The grand and highly fashionable Carlton is, again, one of the most likely places in London for the foreign potentate or the social star of home to be temporarily housed in, especially if there is a desire to be, in the colloquial term, "in the thick of it." In the Palm Court here one may lounge to perfection amongst the best-known people of at least two continents. Different celebrities, too, have their own conservative tastes and their own hotels; and there are old-fashioned country families, most highly respectable, who would prefer to pay Claridge's and Carlton prices at hostelries of far less renown but of guaranteed "tone." To leave the rank and fashion pure, and seek the greater rendezvous of wealth and luxury we must proceed a trifle eastward and southward, dip down to Trafalgar Square and Northumberland Avenue, and walk a few score paces along the Strand. In the maintenance of such hotel luxury as we are speaking of the American contribution preponderates.

    Our cousins of the States are a very notable factor indeed of Hotel London. At the opening of the bright summer season they arrive with their trunks and their money in thousands, till the Transatlantic accent hums in the region to which we have just passed. Always for the biggest, their first thought is for the Cecil; and so pass into the courtyard any fine morning in the season, and walk up to the tables and chairs at the foot of the steps, where the loungers recline preparatory to their day's assault upon the lions of London, and you will not need to search for the man with the American voice, or for the girl with American smartness. They are everywhere -- here outside, inside, there still dallying at the breakfast table, penning picture postcards in the writing-room, and -- just a few thirsty souls are these -- sipping iced concoctions downstairs at the American bar. There is special accommodation for the American, even to the chef. This middle-aged man, with the kindly face and the grey moustache, stepping into a hansom is a great American railroad king who means to revolutionise railway London; the slight dark figure in the porch is that of a man who is an engineer of monopolies and trusts. These are men who are feared. The richly-apparelled lady who is sweeping along a corridor is an American society woman who recently gave a dinner in New York which cost twenty pounds a head.

    You will discover also a great American contingent, as well as a fine smattering of other nationalities, at the Metropole, the Victoria, and the Grand -- all Gordons, all in Northumberland Avenue, and all palatial and luxurious. The great First Avenue in Holborn and the Grosvenor at Victoria are also Gordons. Well-to-do Frenchmen, well-to-do Germans, and many besides are here in numbers; but then, as has been said, De Keyser's Royal, on the Embankment, is the particular resort of the Continental visitor. Germans are here in force, and if you move still more eastward and come to Finsbury Square you will find a further batch of hotels with great German reputations. Klein's and Seyd's are in the Square, and Buecker's is also there. In Finsbury Square, where beef is "bif," the sons of the Fatherland may live precisely after the manner of the German fighting cock.

    Other nationalities, other hotels; and many more, especially in the east, could be added to this already long list. In these followings of the foreigner we are neglecting the strangers of our own country who are temporarily within the hospitable gates of the Metropolis. Whence comes the provincial? We discover that he comes very largely vik the termini at Euston, St. Pancras, and King's Cross, and here we find the great railway companies have raised palaces for his temporary residence. The railway hotel is essentially the hotel for the busy man who must live in style and comfort, but who is always catching express trains, or who in catching but a few must make a quick certainty of them. Of course, such hotels as the Midland Grand -- truly grand -- the Euston, and the Great Central are for other people besides -- for families and for pleasure folk as well. All sorts and conditions of British people, but especially business people, are here. One of the greatest financiers of modern times has worked his deals from a suite of rooms in the Midland Grand, and such is high commercial loyalty that in another suite may be found a celebrated director of the Midland Railway itself At Charing Cross Station is another railway hotel, and at Cannon Street, in the heart of the City, one more -- which is perhaps the most businessike of all, for a long programme of big company meetings is negotiated here every day. Shareholders have rejoiced and sorrowed, congratulated and stormed, in the Cannon Street Hotel as in no other. Then there is the more purely commercial hostelry, of which the Manchester, in Aldersgate Street, the Salisbury, off Fleet Street, and Anderton's, in the middle of news-paperdom, are great examples. You may witness a busy scene at the Manchester in the evening, when the commercial travellers, their City wanderings over, send their reports and instructions to headquarters, or, as they call it, "write up the mail." Forsaking commerce, we will seek out the hotels of the studious, and we shall find them in Bloomsbury, hard by the British Museum, busy hive of brainworkers. The Thackeray, Kingsley, and Esmond trade, one might almost say, upon the Museum; even the telegraphic address of one of them is "Bookcraft." These three are temperance hotels; so, too, are Cranston's Waverleys; and, in passing, let it not be forgotten that London accommodates excellently the people who prefer the teetotal establishment. Wild's, in Ludgate Hill, and the Buckingham, in the Strand, are two more among many.

    If we tried we could not before leaving Bloomsbury miss the magnificent Russell, fashioned on the Gordon system, and bearing the Frederick name. For patrons of a different character, in the long street arteries which feed Bloomsbury are countless private hotels, which faithfully serve a mission of cheapness. Mostly they are numbered, but some of them take names to themselves ; and, being bound by no traditions, desiring only to be up to date, fearful and wonderful specimens of hotel nomenclature are prepared in a single night. What was a modest title at eventide glares forth pretentiously as "Hotel Pretoria" next morning, wars and patriotism just then making the blood to leap. And by the same token when there was a scamper for Alaskan gold fields an "Hotel Klondyke" came topically forward. In these days, from highest to lowest, it is Hotel this and Hotel that -- a la mode "hotel" comes first.

    Away in the farther West-End are many other hotels of great reputation. Beginning at Westminster, there are the cosy St Ermin's, the Windsor, and the Westminster Palace. At South. Kensington there is Bailey's; overlooking Rotten Row is the Alexandra, of most pretentious appearance; hard by is the Hyde Park Hotel, carried on in conjunction with the Carlton Hotel; whilst the Buckingham Palace, the Royal Palace, the De Vere, and many others are all institutions of the Metropolis, and there are others, such as Morley's in Trafalgar Square, the Holborn Viaduct Hotel, and the Queen's in Leicester Square, which a London visitor can hardly help but see.

    Of the oddities, peculiarities, individualities of Hotel London -- ah ! they are so many, too many for one short survey. The trades and the professions have their own hotels. To take two wide different examples, one might point out that, whilst all who attended the great wool sales from the country and abroad would stay at the Great Eastern, country lawyers and clients whose business is at the Law Courts would favour Anderton's or the Inns of Court, which vie with each other in proximity to the great headquarters of Justice. And the space in between these two could be well filled. Come with me to Covent Garden, and I will show you a big hotel with 200 rooms which will not admit ladies -- it is "for gentlemen only." There is another not far away which has obtained a peculiar patronage from persons arriving in London by P. and O. steamers, who know nothing whatever of Hotel London, and have gratefully accepted a hint that was given them. There is a clerical hotel, ships' captains have their own in dock-land; there is a Jewish hotel; and in the neighbourhood of Regent's Park there is even one which is advertised as "the only Spiritualist hotel in London." After that, it would be futile to attempt a further illustration of the possibilities of hotel individualism in the great Metropolis.

    We will go back to the Strand, and see that each street as it runs from the great thoroughfare southwards to the Thames is honeycombed with hotels of different sorts and sizes. And in perambulating westwards again we may this time note the Savoy, with its abundance of fair fame, which we could on our last journey hardly couple with the Cecil, though they adjoin. The Savoy is as aesthetic as it is big.

    Such is Hotel London in all its magnitude and with all its wonders. And in the enumeration of so many wonders we dispel at least one. There is such a variety and such a choice in hotel life that more and more are Londoners of means forsaking their homes and living only in hotels, with all their careless freedom.

    For years Hotel London has been passing through an interesting process of evolution, and the end of the process will not be in the twentieth century.


    "Living London: its work and its play, its humour and its pathos, its sights and its scenes", By J. C. Woollan; Cassell & Company, Limited, Vol. II.
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