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The Langham, London
The first purpose built hotel in London, established in 1865


Added on January 17, 2011
I have visited the hotel again, now part of Langham Hotels International and fully refurbished. I recommend to stay in an Executive Room such as room number 613. With its calming green colors and a large bathroom, it is the best deal. Otherwise go for a Junior Suite such as 802, where I stayed. If you can afford it, the hotel features a series of elegant suites. Check my review of the new restaurant Roux at the Landau, opened on November 24, 2010.

Article added on February 6, 2004
The Langham, London opened under its new name in May 2004, owned and managed by the Great Eagle Hotels Group in Hong Kong, which already runs the Hong Kong and the Boston Langham. In February 2004, Duncan Palmer became the new General Manager. He formerly occupied the same position at the Sukhotai hotel in Bangkok.
 
The Langham London, established in 1865, was the first purpose built Grand Hotel in the British capital and the epitome of Victorian chic. In the early 19th century, London had become the Western World's largest city ever with over one million inhabitants. It was the center of an empire which controlled a quarter of the earth's population. Still, it lay far behind the Continent and the United States regarding restaurants and hotels.

The city's first large hotel, the Great Western Railway Royal Hotel, opened in 1852. Designed by Philip Hardwick, it had 165 rooms and was an instant success. Twelve years later followed the Charing Cross Hotel at the foot of the Strand, designed by E. M. Barry.

However, London still experienced a shortage of hotel bedrooms, especially of high standard. The travel agent Thomas Cook had only two hotels to offer to his customers. For richer travelers, he arranged lodgings in private homes.

In 1862, the Langham Hotel Company held an architectural competition, comfortably won by John Giles of Craven Street. The hotel's foundation stone was laid on July 17, 1863. On June 10, 1865 His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales opened The Langham. By the way, his "private view" of the hotel was not so private since 2000 aristocrats and dignitaries were invited too.

The hotel's name goes back to Sir James Langham who, in 1820, had built a mansion on the site, subsequently named Langham Place. It was 95 feet above the Thames high water mark on fine gravel soil, much healthier than the peat bogs in Belgravia nearer the Thames, favored by other hoteliers. In fact, the area was regarded as London's healthiest, with a much lower death rate than any other of the city's districts.

The water supply came by way of an artesian well reached by borings into the chalk-basin at a total depth of 365 feet below the basement floor of The Langham. With the help of two fourteen-horsepower pumps, it was possible to pump 25,000 gallons of water to the iron tanks in the cupola tower, from where it was distributed throughout the building into its over 600 rooms, including 34 suites and over 200 single and double bedrooms.
 
Italian craftsmen had designed and cast the plaster relief ceilings and laid intricate mosaic flooring, decorated in white, gold and scarlet. Moorish murals in the public rooms, inspired by Owen Jones, marble pillars, silk hangings, hand-printed wallpapers and 15,000 yards of Persian tapestry carpet created a sumptuous atmosphere.

When The Langham opened in 1865, it filled a gap in the lodging landscape. It was the first hotel in London to offer air conditioning, hot and cold running water in all bedrooms as well as hydraulic lifts, which were referred to as "rising rooms", and it was the only London hotel with its own post office. Furthermore, The Langham offered fourteen public lavatories and nearly 300 water closets. By 1879 the entrance and the courtyard were lit with electric light. The hotel was completely redecorated in 1888. In the 1890's,  the hotel got a telephone and the inner courtyard was covered with an iron and glass roof to create a larger winter garden.
 
Unfortunately, in its first years of functioning, The Langham was not well managed. The Earl of Shrewsbury, a retired Admiral of the Fleet on half pay, was no entrepreneur. Furthermore, Britain suffered an economic crisis in 1866, and the American Civil War, which had ended the previous year, made US citizens invest in rebuilding their country rather than traveling to Europe.



The Langham Hotel Company was forced into liquidation. In 1868, a new group purchased the bankrupt company by way of the Court of Chancery for £155,715, half the price it had cost to build London's first luxury hotel. Within a year, the new chairman of The Langham, Henry J. Rouse, was able to reduce the costs and make a half-year profit of £10,000.
 
The Langham became a fashionable place to stay, above all with the higher classes of society. For instance, it is said that Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was commissioned to write The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) at the hotel. In 1895, Wilde was convicted to two years in prison for homosexuality, then a criminal offense. On release, he was shunned by English society and refused entry at The Langham. Wilde was forced into exile and died too poor and drunk to pay his bill in the Hotel d'Alsace in France in 1900.

Among the famous guests of The Langham was also the romantic novelist Maria Louisa Ramee. Born in Bury St Edmonds in 1839, of a French father and an English mother, she published her first novel, Held in Bondage, in 1863. She took the pen-name "Ouida", derived from her own babyish attempts to pronounce "Louisa".

According to Tom Steel, almost on a yearly basis, Ouida published racy novels for their day, some positively swashbuckling. Her heroes were too handsome to be true, her heroines frequently haunted by "lurid" pasts. Her novels encountered great success because they demarked themselves from the moralistic prose of early Victorian literature.

At 28, Ouida took rooms at The Langham, where she lived an exotic life for four years, receiving visitors while lying in bed and writing manuscripts. Her preferred way of work was by the light of scores of candles, with black velvet curtains forever drawn to keep out obtrusive daylight, surrounded by masses of purple flowers; she frequently ran up florist bills alone of £200 per week.

Ouida regularly stayed at The Langham until April 1887. On her last visit, she had been living on credit for four months. She had to rely on friends to pay her colossal hotel bill. At 70, Ouida died of pneumonia in Viareggio, Italy.

At The Langham, Ouida 's guests included dramatist Oscar Wilde, the poets Algernon Swinburne and Robert Browning, the novelist Wilkie Collins, the painter John Millais, the explorer Richard Burton, who had written spellbinding stories of his visit to Mecca in disguise. His wife, Isabel Burton, was the only woman Ouida ever invited to dinner at The Langham. The Irish poet William Allingham noted in his diary about his visit to her in 1872 that she lay on her bed, "In green silk, sinister, clever face, hair down, small hands and feet, voice like a carving knife."

Ouida on her side based many of the characters and adventures in her books upon the people she entertained at her soirees at The Langham. She wrote two of her most successful novels in 1867, when she had moved into The Langham. Two other of her books, Tricotrin (1869) and Puck (1870) also originated in the hotel.

The manager at the new Langham was the American confederate Captain James Sanderson. He was likeable, efficient and quickly and quietly improved the hotel's administration and turned The Langham into a profit-making enterprise.

The Langham London history continued: Part 2 + Part 3.


A Langham Grand Junior Suite Lounge. Photos © The Langham, London.


The façade of the Langham. Photo © The Langham, London.




A Langham Classic Executive Room. Photo © The Langham, London.


A Langham Grand Executive bathroom. Photo © The Langham, London.


The Infinity Suite Lounge. Photo © The Langham, London.


The Artesian Bar. Photo © The Langham, London.
 
Source, literature
Tom Steel: The Langham, est. 1865: A History, 1990. The article on the left is closely based on Tom Steel's history of The Langham. - The whereabouts of the records of the old Langham Hotel Company remains a mystery.

Added on January 17, 2011: The Langham. The Legend Lives since 1865, published in 2005 for the 140th anniversary of the hotel, 134 pages.



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© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.