Thursday, December 20, 2012

Inside Claridges

You may wonder what a five star Mayfair hotel, popular with Posh and Becks, has got to do with Lydiard House on the outskirts of Swindon.

Claridges is built on the site of 45 - 57 Brook Street - seven properties constructed between 1723 and 1725.  One of the early tenants at number 51 was Sir Gustavus Hume of Castle Hume in County Fermanagh.  The next was John and Anne St John who moved in soon after their marriage in 1729.  For the next ten years the couple divided their time between Brook Street, the manor house at Battersea and building work at Lydiard House.

In 1812 Lord William Beauclerk bought the lease of number 51 and applied to Lord Grosvenor for permission to use the property as a hotel.  Although the request was initially turned down on the grounds that there were already too many hotels in Brook Street, Beauclerk pressed his case.  He stated that he intended to incorporate an existing hotel at number 43 thereby ensuring that the number of hotels on Brook Street would not be increased, and that 51 was already in use as 'a Private and distinct Lodging House.'

During the ensuing objections Beauclerk's tenant, a Mr Mivart, pleaded that the apartments were always held by the month or similar periods of time, and not let by the night to casual comers and that 'there is neither Coffee Room, Club Room, nor any sort of accommodation for Business of a Public Description.' In later decades the hotel had a reputation for supplying discreet accommodation for royalty, quite apt as Lord William Beauclerk descended from Charles Beauclerk, an illegitimate son of  Charles II and Nell Gwyn.

Mivart won his case and soon set the standard for the next 185 years.  In 1827 he numbered distinguished statesman and writer Baron Alexander von Humboldt from Hanover and the Count and Countess Woronzow from St Petersberg among his residents.  By 1838 had acquired the leases on 51-57 Brook Street and 48 Davies Street, a large corner house with stabling.

Within ten years of vacating the property John and Anne's former home at number 51 had undergone considerable internal alterations whilst retaining its old brick facade.

The present hotel takes its name from William Claridge who took over the enterprise following Mivart's retirement in 1853.  Number 49 - 53 received a mini makeover following the grant of a new 30 year lease on John's old home.

In 1881, with William Claridge in failing health, the hotel became a limited company and by the end of the decade there were plans for a comprehensive rebuilding project.  John and Anne's old home was demolished along with it neighbours in November 1894 and shortly before Christmas that year Countess de Grey laid the foundation stone for the new hotel.  Today the site of John and Anne's former home is roughly in the middle of Claridges front door.

In 2012 the BBC spent a year behind the scenes at Claridges where staff make extraordinary efforts to ensure the comfort of their wealthy guests.  The last episode screened this week covered the excitement of the summer Olympics and the arrival of the exclusive Noma restaurant. Celebrated Nordic chef Rene Redzepi opened a pop up restaurant in the ballroom with a menu reading more like a bushtucker trial from I'm a Celebrity ... but the diners seemed to like it.


Staff at Claridges Hotel

John, 2nd Viscount St John

Anne Furnese

The remodelled 18th century Lydiard House.

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