Hotel Cecil, London

The Hotel Cecil was one of the largest and grandest hotels in the world when it opened in 1886 situated between the Embankment and the Strand and not far from the Savoy Hotel. It was one of the most popular places to visit in London with excellent cuisine, perfect ambiance, luxurious surroundings and one of the best dancing salons in the West end.

The exterior of the Hotel Cecil

The exterior of the Hotel Cecil

The building was originally a red brick and stone block of chambers and flats built next to the Adelphi Terrace overlooking the Embankment Gardens. It was one of the schemes of the well known financier, MP and fraudster Jabez Balfour whose Liberator Building Society failed in 1892 causing a scandal by leaving thousands of investors penniless. The building project was abandoned and a company was subsequently formed, with some distinguished gentlemen as directors, to buy the building and they turned it into one of the most comfortable hotels in London. It was named the Hotel Cecil after Sir Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury and treasurer to James 1 who had had a house on part of the site.

Advert for the Hotel Cecil

Advert for the Hotel Cecil

Built in a very spacious and lavish style with over 800 rooms, at first it had an enormous entrance courtyard, known affectionately as the beach and regarded as the most American spot in London. Here, on the paving were cane chairs and rocking chairs and piles of luggage and it became a favoured meeting and socialising spot.

M. Bertini, a clever, quick eyed and bearded Italian was the manager and M. Coste one of the greatest chefs of the late Victorian era was in charge of the kitchens. The Cecil restaurant was a large, lofty and spacious with a very imposing colonnades or pillar of rich blue. At one end the vast windows formed part of hanging terrace which seems almost at one with the trees and the gardens of the embankment overlooking the Victoria Gardens and the river and big windows on the West side giving a glorious view of Westminster. For the summer, there was also a veranda part of the restaurant with a sheltered striped sun awning.

But at first the décor in the restaurant was too sombre and things were not right. The panelling was of walnut wood with a large square of deep crimson velvet embroidered with the Cecil coat of arms and great mantelpieces of purple grey Sicilian marble. The restaurant had no ante–room, and people had to wait in the busy hall of the hotel that proved to be an inconvenience. It was deemed to be slightly old fashioned and not palatable for the ladies. It was not long therefore, before the management decided to build on the large entrance courtyard creating a separate entrance for the restaurant and a vast Palm Court or winter garden as a noble reception room all charmingly decorated and upholstered in powdered blue and gold. The Palm Court was the location for dancing that was held nightly because of it was airy and expansive and romantically lit. Even with chairs and sofas around the sides of the room, the floor space was considerable. By the 1920s it had an excellent jazz band at one end and a charming fountain at the other and became a hugely favoured spot in London.

Dancing in the ballroom of the Hotel Cecil

Dancing in the ballroom of the Hotel Cecil

At the same time the restaurant was redecorated from floor to ceiling to make it far more palatable in tones of pink and white and gold. The wall panels were of Rose du Barri silk, the pillars gleaming white, while the friezes were of the lightest blue. A dark rose carpet gave an added accent. In its centre was placed a handsome table of many tiers for fruit and sweet things. After the renovation the restaurant was often referred to as the Rose du Barri room.

Below the main restaurant was the Grill Room or (the main restaurant) was the Indian room decorated in oriental fashion with blue and yellow tiles. The Grill is actually beneath the restaurant but it is by no means below ground, for the slope from the Strand to the Embankment is so acute that there is a difference of one story from back to front. The grill also has a fine view of the river. Here a grill dinner and a table d’hote dinner was served and when the room overflowed another equally spacious room was opened up. The table d’hote for lunch was 5s and dinner 7s and sixpence. There was also a string orchestra but no dancing and sometimes a thé dansant was staged.

At first M. Paillard, the great Parisian restauranteur was brought over to be the manager for a while and the services of ‘Smiler’, a curry cook of great renown, was utilised. A Roumanian band from Paris was also imported and given a perch on a rostrum and M. Califano known as ‘Sunny Jim’ was appointed as Maitre d’hotel.

By the mid 1920s the table d’hote luncheon is 7s and sixpence and dinner was 10s and sixpence and the cuisine was on a broad cosmopolitan line that one expected from a large first class hotel with a large overseas and foreign clientele. By the 1920s the head chef was M. Campeau who was highly regarded for his great originality, variety and attractiveness of his food and he was particularly renowned for his vegetarian banquets.

 

The restaurant at the Hotel Cecil

The restaurant at the Hotel Cecil

The Palm Court at the Hotel Cecil

The Palm Court at the Hotel Cecil

One particular luncheon comprised a grape-fruit in place of hors d’oeuvre. Iced consommé, poached eggs in aspic, sliced breast of chicken and foie gras in jelly. Then a dessert of fresh strawberries and a sliced fresh peach sprinkled with a liquer flavoured syrup resting on strawberry ice and partly covered with a golden nest of spun sugar.

For dinner there would a wonderful sole invented by M. Campeau, called Sole de la Francise after his daughter. The sole is stewed in a liquid consisting of two-thirds fish stock and one third dry Chablis, with salt, pepper, bay leaf, parsely, butter and white mushrooms, a little cream. Decorated with skinned and stoned grapes.

The Hotel Cecil had the biggest banqueting accommodation in London and 600 people could dine in the Grand Hall; 350 could dine and 500 could dance in the Victoria Hall; 200 could dine and 350 could dance in the Prince’s Hall.

Sadly Shell Mex purchased the hotel in 1930, the river façade was remodelled into a more sober stone thirteen-storey building with a central clock tower, which would not be out of place on an art-deco mantelpiece.

One of the terraces at the Hotel Cecil

One of the terraces at the Hotel Cecil

A view of the ballroom at the Hotel Cecil

A view of the ballroom at the Hotel Cecil

All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent

Sources:

Dancing Times & Variety

The restaurants of London by Eileen Hooton-Smith (NY)
The Night Side of London by Robert Machray (1902)
London Restaurants by Diner-Out (NY 1924)
The Gourmet’s Guide to London by Nathaniel Newnham-Davis (1914)
Jabez: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Scoundrel by David McKie

A visit to the Hotel Cecil October 1922

 

6 Responses to “Hotel Cecil, London”

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  2. Ragna says:

    Thank you for this interesting post. My Great Grandfather Sydney Frederick McLaven worked here as a night porter until around 1904. Do you know if there are archives available to see if I can find out more about his life here.

  3. Mrs Taylor says:

    Thank you so much for this very interesting information. My late father told me that my grandfather’s business of ornate cane furniture which was based where the P.O tower is now, Tottenham Ct Rd made the furniture (maybe in part) for this Cecil Hotel. I thought that my father said that the hotel was bombed in the war. I too would be interesting in finding out anymore information that might be available and especially if there are photos of his work. Thank you!

  4. Mr Smith says:

    Hotel Cecil was also the venue for the first International Eugenics Conference held in 1912. A surprising number of well known people attended it, perhaps indicating the the “respectability” the science had prior to WWII. It could perhaps be considered the venue for ideas which culminated in one of the darkest & most shameful episodes in human history.

    “The First International Eugenics Congress took place in London on July 24–29, 1912. It was organized by the British Eugenics Education Society and dedicated to Galton who had died the year prior. Major Leonard Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin, was presiding. The five day meeting saw about 400 delegates at the Hotel Cecil in London.

    Luminaries included Winston Churchill, First Lord of the British Admiralty and Lord Alverstone, the Chief Justice, Conservative PM Lord Balfour, as well as the ambassadors of Norway, Greece, and France. In his opening address Darwin indicated that the introduction of principles of better breeding procedures for humans would require moral courage.

    The American exhibit was sponsored by the American Breeders’ Association and demonstrated the incidence of hereditary defects in human pedigrees. A report by Bleeker van Wagenen presented information about American sterilization laws and propagated compulsory sterilization as the best method to cut off “defective germ-plasm”. In the final address, Major Darwin extolled eugenics as the practical application of the principle of evolution”

  5. Terri Evans says:

    I love your post! I found out about Delmonico’s restaurant. As a young girl I came to know the Tucci family and I nearly dropped dead when you mentioned them! It was the most beautiful place! What old New York looked like! My was it gracious! Goodbye to another era! I would love to see something on Luchow’s restaurant on 14 th street. The home of ASCAP! Thank you for this wonderful research!
    Terri

  6. Barbara Watts says:

    I enjoyed visiting this site. My grandfather, Frederick Edwin WARNE was chief barman at Hotel Cecil before and after WW1 and coincidently my father-in-law, Sidney George WATTS was a bell boy here just after WW1. He remembered my grandfather. Is there anywhere I can find out more details to help me with my family history research regarding the Hotel Cecil, please. Thankyou for putting the photos up as it gives me some idea of the luxury that they both worked in. My mother and aunt remember going to a function at Christmas I believe and looking down on all the people dancing.

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