London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

Famous London Hotels - Claridge's

05/02/2004, By Mia Josephs

Reader Rating: 3 from 25395 votes

The actor, Spencer Tracy once remarked: “Not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s.” Ever since Claridge’s opened its doors it has been seen as the epitome of elegance, luxury and grandeur.

It has not only attracted most of the golden names of Hollywood, including Yul Brynner, Audrey Hepburn, Carey Grant and Bing Crosby, but it was also once dubbed the Annex to Buckingham Palace. (It’s traditional for foreign heads of state, who are guests of the British monarch at Buckingham Palace from Monday to Wednesday to move to Claridge’s on the Thursday, and then return the hospitality by hosting a banquet for the monarch that evening.)

Claridge’s has had a long fascinating history. Beginning life back in 1812, as a tiny hotel known as Mivart’s, it quickly grew from comprising one building to encompass 5 consecutive houses along Brook Street. By 1953, the dawn of the age of the railway hotel, a letter in The Times, claimed that there were just three first-class London hotels, Mivart’s, The Clarendon in Bond Street and Thomas’s in Berkeley Square.

In 1854, the property changed its name to Claridge’s. Mivart had retired and William and Marianne Claridge had taken over the property. Under Claridge, the reputation of the hotel continued to grow and in 1860, it received the ultimate seal of approval when Queen Victoria visited Empress Eugènie of France who was in residence there. Queen Victoria was so impressed that she wrote to her uncle, Leopold I, King of the Belgians, in glowing terms of the visit.

A lack of funds led to the takeover of the hotel by Richard D’Oyly Carte, founder of The Savoy Group, in December 1893, on the suggestion of César Ritz. C. W. Stephens, who was already famous for rebuilding Harrods, was commissioned to demolish the original buildings and replace them with an elegant, seven-storey hotel.

The new Claridge’s opened its doors in 1898 and since then has played host to virtually every head of state and celebrity. Despite this, Claridge’s prided itself, as it still does, on its policy of discretion.

Even today exciting discoveries are still being made dating back to this “new” Claridge’s. A few years ago a beautiful wall painting was discovered in The French Salon after being hidden since the 1930s under an art deco mirrored panel. The painting, now fully restored, is on canvas with a frame set into the wall and was clearly commissioned for the room which was built in 1909-10.

Yet it was in the Art Deco period, back in the 1920s and 30s, that Claridge’s really burst onto the London social scene. Today it is still renowned as the Art Deco jewel of London.

In 1929, Basil Ionides, a pioneer of the eclectic school of art deco decoration was invited to supervise the complete modernist remodelling of Claridge’s. One of the major transformations was to Claridge’s entrance. At this time, Claridge’s still had an awkward, old fashioned carriage drive entrance. Oswald Milne was invited to demolish it and to design a new main entrance - which still remains today.

Milne also had a hand in designing many of the hotel’s suites - two of which, 514/5 and 516/7, were restored by designer David Laws to look almost exactly as they did back in 1931.

The next decade was to witness the Second World War. Claridge’s became a haven for exiled royalty and heads of state including the monarchs of Norway, Greece, Yugoslavia and The Netherlands. Indeed, the property became a home away from home for many a crowned head, so much so that in 1947, before the wedding of the then Princess Elizabeth, a harassed diplomat telephoned Claridge’s and asked to speak to the King. “Certainly sir”, was the response, “to which King do you want to speak?”

Winston Churchill declared suite 212 Yugoslavian territory for a day on 17th July 1944 when Crown Prince Alexander II was born there -- and Yugoslavian soil was even sprinkled under the bed so the prince would be born on Yugoslavian soil.

Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's

Churchill himself was to take a suite at Claridge’s after he found himself without a home after his unexpected defeat in the 1945 General Election.

Throughout the rest of the 20th century Claridge’s remained as popular as ever. Legend has it that Table 131 in the old Claridge’s Restaurant was called The Royal Box because it was set discreetly inside the alcove at the side of the room, making it popular with kings, presidents and prime ministers. One table was referred to as the Greek Cantina because Aristotle Onassis regularly chose to sit there while the novelist, Dame Barbara Cartland, had a permanent table reserved for her, for fifty years, which was always covered in pink flowers.

And today, the most influential and successful people in the world still come to enjoy the comfort, service and elegance of Claridge’s. Recent extensive refurbishment has meant that once again Claridge’s is the epitome of luxury, style and art deco elegance, combined with every modern convenience and cutting edge technology.

There are now 203 individually designed bedrooms and suites, including two stunning penthouse apartments. 3 Michelin star chef, Gordon Ramsay, runs the restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s and the glorious art deco Bar, Fumoir and Foyer are other destination points, be it for cocktails, breakfast, lunch, dinner or Claridge’s famous, quintessentially English, Afternoon Tea. Superior pampering – including an amazing facial to counteract the effects of jet lag – and fitness facilities are provided by the Olympus Suite.

And Claridge’s is just two minutes away from the luxury shopping of Bond Street and Regent Street.

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