Celebrating 80 years of Iconic Art-Deco and Glamour
Last year saw The Midland celebrate its 80th anniversary, having first opened its doors in July 1933.
Designed by Oliver Hill with interior decoration by Eric Gill, the hotel has a rich hertitage. Throughout its history The Midland has been a favourite haunt of celebrities such as Coco Chanel, Sir Laurence Olivier and Noel Coward, along with many of the actors and musicians performing at The Winter Gardens. Today it stands restored to the glory as the jewel in the crown of the British coast.
The Early Years
The Midland was requisitioned for use as a military hospital during the Second World War and during the eighties, the hotel was even used as a location in the filming of episodes of the TV Poirot series of detective stories Agatha Christie's Poirot, most notably in the episode 'Double Sin' where the name of the hotel is mentioned by one of the characters - Captain Hastings.
The Railway Companies
In 1846 the 'Little' North Western Railway company obtained permission to build a hotel as part of its scheme to construct a railway linking the new port with Yorkshire.
The hotel was designed by Edward Paley, a local architect and cost the grand sum of £4,795 including furnishings. It was a two-storey building of grey stone with green shuttered windows and contained forty bedrooms. It stood in its own spacious grounds and catered for a clientele referred to as the 'carriage trade'.
Known initially as the North Western Hotel it became The Midland Hotel in 1871 when the Midland Railway took over the 'Little' North Western Railway.
In January 1932 plans were approved for a new hotel to be built on the seafront at a cost of just under £72, 000 which would mean the existing Victorian building would be replaced with a more modern structure. The owners of the hotel saw Morecambe as an opportunity to make a new departure from traditional hotel design and selected the architect Oliver Hill to provide "a building of international quality in the modern style". Work commenced in August 1932, with the new building rising from the lawn in front of the old hotel before the latter was eventually demolished.
Oliver Hill realised that the new hotel would give him a chance to put into practice his vision of unity in architecture and decoration, observing: "you have here a unique opportunity of building the first really modern hotel in the country." Hill also took a keen interest in furniture, décor, upholstery and costumes and had gained a reputation for his extravagant interiors using such materials as glass, chromium, vitrolite, marble and exotic woods.
What set The Midland apart from others was Hill's holistic approach to the project. He believed that the exterior design should be intimately linked to the interior décor and insisted on taking complete control of the hotel's colour scheme, works of art, decoration and furnishings - even down to the colour of the hand towels and the shape of the door handles! These he saw as counterpoints to the austerity of modern architecture, providing points of visual interest.
Hill commissioned the renowned sculptor and engraver Eric Gill to carve two seahorses for the outside of the building. Inside the building he carved a circular medallion in the ceiling overlooking the staircase. It shows a sea god being attended by mermaids and is edged with the words "And hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn". Gill also designed an incised relief map of the Lake District and the Lancashire coast for a wall of the South Room, which is today the Eric Gill Suite.
Arguably his greatest work for the hotel, and perhaps even his career, was the huge bas-relief for the hotel's entrance lounge entitled "Odysseus welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa", which today stands grandly behind the main Reception desk in the main lobby of the hotel. Carved into six tonnes of Portland stone and measuring approximately 5m by 3m, it depicts a naked Odysseus stepping from the waves being greeted by Nausicaa and three handmaidens bearing food, drink and clothing - a scene meant to symbolise the hospitality being offered to guests by the hotelier.
Gill's original design for the relief was called "High Jinks in Paradise" but its cavorting naked youths and maidens proved a bit too risque for the LMS who asked him to submit a less explicit composition!
The Grand Opening
The new Midland Hotel opened on Wednesday 12th July 1933. Although the local newspaper the 'Visitor' had stated that there would not be a public ceremony, by 1pm a crowd of some 500 people had turned up in front of the hotel.
Inside, a gathering of VIPs, local dignitaries and other guests enjoyed a celebratory luncheon of iced melon or shrimps, cold soup, a main course of salmon or lamb followed by strawberries and ice cream and coffee - all served on the hotel's specially commissioned tableware.
The new hotel opened to widespread critical acclaim. 'Architecture Illustrated' devoted an entire issue to the Midland, while other publications were equally enthusiastic.
One guest, the Earl of Derby, said of the new hotel ‘it is a magnificent building, which set an example for others to follow.’
Sir Josiah Stamp, President of LMS, said he had recently seen the most up-to-date hotel accommodation in Chicago, Copenhagen and Stockholm, embodying the latest modernism, cubism and other 'isms' but the new Midland Hotel eclipsed them all.
A correspondent from 'Country Life' magazine was so captivated by the illuminated spiral staircase that he likened it to " a fairy staircase that one would willingly climb till it reached to heaven."
Immediately after its opening the Midland became the place to stay and quickly attracted the wealthy middle classes from across the north of England. Socialites came from even further afield, in pursuit of luxurious escapism.
Redeveloping the Iconic Hotel
In a state of disrepair The Midland was forced to close its doors in 1998, and stood derelict and at the mercy of the sea for nearly ten years. In 2006 the Manchester-based property developer, Urban Splash finally commenced restoring and refurbishing the building.
The Midland re-opened its doors on the 1st June 2008, with beautifully restored existing features, such as the grand cantilevered staircase and a number of artworks by the renowned artist, Eric Gill, and a few contemporary additions, such as the chandelier in the Rotunda bar.
English Lakes Hotels Resorts & Venues
In April 2009, English Lakes Hotels Resorts & Venues took over the management of the hotel.
English Lakes is a family business, based in the Lake District on the shores of Windermere at Low Wood Bay, and run 5 very individual properties.