Monday, November 9, 2009

Historic Hotels in London - Antiquity and Accommodations ~ Jeff Kashiwa "Hyde Park"

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By Eoin Evans

The recorded history of London goes back over 2,000 years; legend has it that the city was founded by Brutus of Troy after he battled and defeated the giants Gog and Magog to gain control over the site. Today, London is home to numerous historical sites and buildings, attracting millions of tourists each year. Not least among these attractions are the grand hotels in London, each with its own unique stories to tell. Among the historic hotels London boasts, a few stand out from the rest.

The Langham

Since it was built in 1865, the Langham has been a centre for culture and society in London. Catering to an exclusive clientele, the hotel has provided accommodations to well-known guests including Mark Twain, composer Antonin Dvorak, conductor Arturo Toscanini, Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, and Oscar Wilde. It was at the Langham that famous explorer Henry Stanley made preparations for his fabled journey to Africa in search of Doctor David Livingstone. The Langham's well-deserved reputation for discretion was forged during the courtship of Wallis Simpson by Edward VIII within its walls. The Langham truly earned its own immortal place in history during World War II, however, when it served as the base for BBC broadcasts by Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Brown's Hotel

Brown's of Mayfair bills itself as the first hotel ever to open in London; founded in 1837 by Lord Byron's valet, it has witnessed nearly two centuries of London history. Brown's was the site for the first successful telephone call made in Great Britain; Alexander Graham Bell accomplished this feat in 1876. The International Niagara Convention, held in 1890 at Brown's, established alternating current as the standard throughout the world. Other famous guests of the hotel include Theodore Roosevelt, Napoleon III, Rudyard Kipling and Agatha Christie.

The Savoy Hotel

Renowned as London's most famous hotel, the Savoy Hotel was founded in 1889 by Gilbert and Sullivan as an adjunct to their Savoy Theatre, located just next door. The Savoy Hotel's access road has the distinction of being the only location in London requiring traffic to use the right hand side of the road; a number of reasons have been offered for this, but the most plausible is that the theatre is on the right side of the road, and this requirement was instituted to allow guests to exit cabs more conveniently. The Savoy Hotel was the first to have electric lights and elevators; these amenities were made possible by the profits Gilbert and Sullivan realised from their partnership. In a sense, the Savoy is the hotel that The Mikado built, since its success made the hotel's construction possible. The Savoy's first manager, Cesar Ritz, went on to found the Ritz chain of hotels, but not before being involved in a scandal involving the misappropriation of a large quantity of wine and spirits from the Savoy's cellars. Famous guests of the Savoy include Claude Monet, James Whistler, and Oscar Wilde; it has also been a particular favourite of the Royal Family and provided the setting for Princess Elizabeth's first public appearance with Prince Philip.

These represent only a small fraction of the historic hotels London has to offer travellers. The Cadogan Hotel, for instance, was the site of Oscar Wilde's notorious arrest and set the scene for Lillie Langtry's surreptitious courtship of the future Edward VII; the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair claims the honour of being the site where Wellington's victory over Napoleon was first announced. The Wigmore Court Hotel boasts that William Pitt once made his home within its walls, and the Edward Lear is named after its most famous owner and resident. Travellers and holidaymakers can choose between a wide array of historic hotels in London, each with its own unique set of stories to tell.

Eoin has written for many publications in his native south Wales and further afield. He currently lives in London's trendy Docklands with his partner. Both are regular faces in West End theatre audiences.

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