4 October 2012

Staying in Style: The Hotel

The Hotel, at this time known as the Royal Hotel, c. 1800. Drawn by T. Hollins
and engraved by F. Eginton. In this image is also pictured the Dispensary.



















The Hotel sat on Temple Row, opposite the St. Philip’s churchyard area, surrounded by smart town houses that were used by the wealthy. It had been built in line with the circa 1720s houses (right of image) which were most likely built by William Westley. The building on the far right was used as a dispensary of medicines for the poor and is explored here.

The Hotel was erected in 1772 by tontine subscription and was the first building in Birmingham to adopt the French styling of hotel. The term was only just coming into use at this time, and it was used to promote what was basically an inn as a more fashionable and refined place to stay. The Hotel provided accommodation for travellers to Birmingham, food and also had a fine assembly room attached which was enlarged in 1804.* There is little specific information about the running of Birmingham’s Hotel but guests would have probably unloaded from their carriage to be taken into the main reception room and had their hats and coats taken by a servant; they could then be shown to their room, and it seems that some of the more elegant rooms were upstairs.* There would have been a dining room for meals, there was a bar, and some some hotels had a coffee room as well.* They were usually sitting rooms, and these may have been divided into separate rooms for the gentlemen and ladies. A courtyard for carriages and stabling for horses was at the rear of the Hotel, and accessed through the gateway on the left of the building (see image above).

The exterior of the building was quite simple and relatively unornamented but it was admired for this elegance and was thought a superior building. It also maintained a reputation as a higher-class establishment throughout its life.* Its higher status was partly due to it not having the ‘annoyance of stage coaches’.* Stage coaches were long distance coaches which stopped at specific points on a set route and were deemed an inferior way to travel by the wealthy, mainly due to the traveller being bound to the path of the coach, and having to share the coach with strangers. Travelling post was a much more desirable way to get from place to place as the hirer of the post-chaise could decide where the travelled, with whom and when (like a taxi or hire car, as post-chaises could be hired with or without a coachman).* The Hotel was known for excellent posting facilities, always required of an exclusive hotel; it could accommodate post-chaises and had ‘an extensive supply of horses and carriages [...] always in readiness’.* The mail coach also called at the Hotel.

The front entrance of the Hotel led to a ‘spacious saloon’ where guests would have been greeted, and at the extremity of which was a large, grand staircase which led to the assembly room. The assembly room was eighty feet long, thirty feet wide with a lofty ceiling; it had an organ and space for an orchestra as well.* Assembly rooms of the time were designed to impress and Birmingham’s Hotel was thought to be decorated in a most ‘tasteful and decorative manner’.* There were three cut-glass chandeliers, six large mirrors along the walls and it also contained five decorative cut-glass lustres, all designed to reflect and enhance the candle-light and produce a sparkling effect.* The season in Birmingham was through the winter when eight or nine dancing and card assemblies would be held, as well as three or four music concerts, all by subscription, so as to keep the entertainments for the elite and leading families.

* References on request
NOTES
The 1791 riots began at the hotel; find out more here.
To find out more about assemblies, click here.
ROYAL HOTEL: In 1805 the Hotel applied to become the Royal Hotel after HRH the Duke of Gloucester stayed; Princess Victoria (the future Queen) also stayed in 1830, among many other distinguished guests that the proprietors would often list in their adverts.
PROPRIETORS:
DADLEY and PALMER: c.1780, 1787 (Thomas Dadley & Fielding Palmer)
PALMER: 1789
DADLEY: 1779, 1791, 1793
W. STYLES: 1800, 1808, died 1809
WILDAY: 1814 (Wm. Wilday d. 1818) (Mary, 1824) (Mr. Wilday, 1829)
FREDERICK DEE: newly fitted in 1830, 1838
 

Trade card for Royal Hotel under Frederick Dee, 1838.

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