Sunday 16 August 2009

Regent Palace History

Q: Please can you supply information on any history for the Regent Palace.

The Regent Palace Hotel was built in 1914 for ‘T Lyons & Co. Ltd’ on Crown land and opened on Wednesday, May 16, 1915. At this time, it was the largest hotel in Europe with 1028 bedrooms. The hotel is situated opposite the statue of Eros, in Piccadilly Circus near Shaftesbury Avenue, Leicester Square and Regent Street. The area directly around Piccadilly, with Piccadilly Circus at its centre, is commonly considered to be the centre of London. Indeed, in its heyday, in the 17th century, this area was one of the most fashionable and exclusive parts of the city. As the constant crowds testify, it is as popular today as it was then. Piccadilly Circus was formed in 1819 by the intersection of Piccadilly, Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue and the Haymarket. The unusual name comes from the word "pickadill" which was a type of stiff collar, fashionable in the 17th century. At its heart is its most famous landmark – known as the statue of Eros. However, it is neither a statue, nor the figure of Eros! It is actually a memorial fountain commemorating the Victorian philanthropist the Earl of Shaftesbury, and the figure is not the Greek God of Love, but the Christian angel of Charity. Eros has become one of the most famous landmarks in London so expect the area to be busy (and bring your camera!).
The Regent Palace Hotel is located on a triangular site close to the north side of Piccadilly Circus, a site more than an acre in extent, bordered by Glasshouse Street, Sherwood Street, Brewer Street and Air Street. The hotel was completed in 1915, from designs by Messrs. Henry Tanner, F.R.I.B.A, F.J. Wills and W.J. Ancell.
The building is a steel-framed structure, faxed externally with glazed terra-cotta, the roof being covered with green slates. No less than 6000 tons of steelwork were required for the structure. There are nine floors above ground level, with a lower ground floor, basement and sub-basement. The main entrance is at the apex facing towards Piccadilly Circus. Here, one once entered through a vestibule into a circular lounge, lined with marble and having a richly embellished ceiling in the form of a shallow dome. The vestibule opened into the reception hall, on the one side of which was a staff counter and office, while on the other, was a marble staircase and three passenger lifts serving the various floors. Beyond, entered through the large swing doors, was the Rotunda Court. It had, over the centre, a large dome-light filled with stained and leaded glass and was seated with chairs and tables, which were chiefly occupied for afternoon tea. Opening out of the Rotunda Court was the Louis XVI Restaurant. The walls were of a light tone, with dark brown hangings to the windows. From one side of the Rotunda court access was gained to a corridor off which opened the general writing-room, and the Ladies’ writing-room, and at this point also were stairs leading up to the bedroom floors and down to the apartments on the lower ground floor, which include an immense grill-room, a smoking and reading room, a small palm court, and a billiard room. In the basement are the kitchen and kindred offices, and in the sub-basement the heating, ventilating, and power plant. From the first floor upwards, the whole of the hotel was occupied by bedrooms, sitting-rooms and bathrooms.
Unfortunately, though, we are unable to provide much information about the hotel and its history from the time it opened up until its recent past., in fact within the hotel there is very little in the way of historical records. Indeed, most of the information provided, is from personal experiences accounted to us in correspondence. Quite regularly, we have old bills, menus and key cards forwarded to us by family members whose parents had stayed at the hotel, generally, on their honeymoon. In its early days it was owned and operated by J Lyons and Company who formed a subsidiary company called Strand Hotels Limited. In its earliest days, a Mr Morris Salmon had responsibility for the Regent Palace Hotel. Later, it became under the remit of Douglas Gluckstein and Rex Joseph. The earliest records that we have show that a Mr Frederichs and Mr Delaloye formed part of the management team responsible for running the hotel. The Delaloye family was associated with the hotel industry for many years up until the late seventies when the father, son and grandson worked at the Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch.
We also know that during the First World War, a considerable part of the hotel was requisitioned by the British Government and during the Second World War, 2 separate bombs caused minor damage. One of these bombs hit the staff Annexe which is a building adjacent to the hotel, containing 160 bedrooms for staff living in (mainly maids), bearing in mind that in the grand days of the hotel, there were over 1000 people employed on the premises. One member of staff lost their life in this raid.
The staff annexe building also contained a complete laundry service for all of the Strand hotels in London. The two buildings are linked by a bridge, still visible today, and an underground passage Westminster City Council granted a licence to construct in the 1930’s.
In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, J Lyons introduced Lyons Electronic offices to their businesses. The first digital billing computers were introduced at the Strand Palace Hotel and then the Regent Palace Hotel in the early 1970’s. They were the first of its kind in the world although in the Hilton in New York, they had started at the reception end of the process to gather marketing information in conjunction with IBM. The Regent Palace Hotel also supplied meat in the form of pre-cut steaks to all the Strand Hotels and Cornerhouses including the famous “Grill and Cheese” restaurants. The carcasses were brought into the hotel and butchered on site in specially designed production kitchens in the basement of the hotel.
It was the association with the meat trade that seemed to attract a massive influx of farmers at the annual Smithfield week, taking place at Earls Court and indeed, still does today, during the first weekend in December. In the 1960’s and 1970’s the whole hotel would be booked out by the farming community.
In the 1960’s, the hotel developed a less than favourable reputation as a place of ill repute. Located near Soho, it was an obvious meeting point for ladies of the night to ply their trade. Rumour has it that if you phoned the concierge desk and asked for an extra pillow a deal could be done. These days have long gone through legislation and Soho has retreated back to its old boundaries.
There are many anecdotes and stories associated with the hotel from as far away as Australia and America. We even get the occasional letter from service men, having stayed at the hotel during the latter days of the war. Please keep them coming, we are always interested to hear about our past. Contact us on
It has to be remembered that although the hotel is now threatened with demolition that in its heyday it was considered to be a hotel of luxury, offering the highest standards that could be found in London. How times have changed.