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,
Article added on February 6, 2004
The Langham, London opened under
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
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
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
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.
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
Added on January 17, 2011: The Langham. The Legend Lives since 1865,
published in 2005 for the 140th anniversary of the hotel, 134 pages.