Today’s Secret Library blog is written by John Heywood, author of Beside the Seaside: A History of Yorkshire’s Seaside Resorts. A few weeks ago, John delivered a talk at the Central Library on the same theme.
When I was asked to write a brief article to accompany my talk Beside the Seaside at the Central Library, it set me thinking as to how I could link elements of the book to the City of Leeds. If I had been at the Library at the time, the obvious answer would have been almost staring me in the face in the work of architect Cuthbert Brodrick (1821 – 1905), designer of the Town Hall, Mechanics Institute (now the City Museum), Corn Exchange and several other buildings in the City.
Brodrick was born in Hull, the son of a wealthy merchant and ship owner. Although he came from a semi-maritime background it didn’t appeal to him and after leaving school he was articled to a local architect, Henry Francis Lockwood where is ability shone through winning a silver medal in 1839. After qualifying, he embarked on a grand tour of England, France and Italy, before opening his own practice in Hull in 1845.
Whilst the population of Leeds are largely aware of his work in the city fewer people know that he was also the architect of the hotel which is synonymous with the Yorkshire coast town of Scarborough, the Queen of Resorts – ‘The Grand.’ The prestigious cliff top site was originally bought by the Scarborough Cliff Hotel Company. They employed Brodrick, Sadly the company’s funds ran out on the difficult build and the project was finally completed by businessman Archibald Neil.
The design of the hotel was based on the theme of time, with four towers. representing the seasons, twelve floors, the months of the year, fifty two chimneys for the weeks of the year and three hundred and sixty five bedrooms the days of the year. It was built in a V shape in honour of Queen Victoria. The interior design and furnishings were of the very highest standard, creating one of the most luxurious hotels in the world at the time. There were over thirty lounges and public rooms. Over six million bricks were used in its construction.
It opened in July 1867 under the management of Augustus Fricour, previously of the Hotel Mirabeau in Paris, to a tremendous flourish as the Leeds Intelligencer reported on 27 July of that year. ‘The formal opening of the Grand Hotel in Scarborough was marked by a magnificence and brilliance quite in harmony with so palatial a structure – on the Wednesday evening by a splendid banquet and last night by a grand full dress ball, when an assembly of youth, beauty and fashion were witnessed which augers well for the future of this princely undertaking. It may be said, without an exaggeration, that if not the best it is one of the most splendid in Europe.” Describing the interior of the hotel the article continued: “The general furnishings of the house have been executed by Messrs Smee and Sons of London. The drawing room, one of the most splendid rooms ever designed – is decorated in a most chaste manner, white, gris, perle and gold being the predominant colours.’ The hotel also possessed one of the first hotel lifts in the North of the country, it was rather quaintly known as the ‘hydraulic ascending room.’ Guests to the Grand also benefited from additional taps which allowed them to bathe either in fresh and in seawater. This proved a really popular facility.
Some one hundred and fifty years on and through changes of ownership (including Butlins) the Grand still welcomes guests to Scarborough and although it is not as elegant, not as palatial or indeed not as exclusive, its towering cliff top presence it remains the town’s most iconic and well loved building although I am sure the Spa would argue that one with me.