Morecambe's iconic Midland Hotel set to celebrate its 80th birthday in style
Morecambe's iconic Midland Hotel will celebrate its 80th birthday in style. Roger Borrell reportspeople
Back in the 1930s a reviewer described the spiral structure that coils sinuously upward through the heart of the Midland Hotel as ‘a fairy staircase which one would willingly climb until it reached heaven.’
It would be tempting to conclude that the old boy had been at the cooking sherry. But the truth is, even 80 years on, once you have reached the top of those stairs you know what he meant.
The chrome handrail that has been gripped by the likes of Laurence Olivier and Coco Chanel reaches a dramatic full stop with a ten foot ceiling medallion depicting Neptune and Triton, carved by sculptor Eric Gill and painted by his son-in-law Denis Tegetmeier. It is heavenly.
While many talented, hard working people were responsible for building Morecambe’s monument to the art deco era, it was Gill who made it a really remarkable structure.
From the outside, it looks like a great white liner but it was his beautifully carved seahorses, like huge chess pieces, that give it that extra something.
Gill carved them in situ and hotel guide and historian Brian Taylor takes great delight in recounting that the artist, high on a scaffolding platform, worked wearing an artist’s smock. And nothing else, much to the alarm of passers-by who happened to look up.
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Like many geniuses, Gill had his flaws and they are demonstrated in some of his pieces at the Midland. Look closely, and you’ll often see someone with their hand where it ought not to be.
His masterpiece towers over the reception desk, a polished Portland stone relief of Odysseus being welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa. Gill thought the theme a good fit with the concept of hospitality and he was right.
Thieves were less hospitable when the long-closed Midland was a crumbling wreck. They removed the six tonne artwork but later panicked and abandoned all 16 pieces in a service station car park in Yorkshire.Since it was saved from destruction by Manchester-based developer, Urban Splash, the people who loved the hotel and the items than disappeared from it during the bad times have been returning.
English Lakes Hotels will continue that process during 2013 as part of the 80th anniversary celebrations. ‘Many people have special memories of the Midland,’ says the general manager, Matt Stanaway. ‘But there must be a lot of people who also have mementoes.’
Matt and his team are putting together an exhibition of memorabilia and former guests are loaning items. The hotel is also doing its bit – they have recently bought a piece of china from one of the original tea services and the team tracked down and brought back a beautiful art deco cabinet.
‘We’ve also found 40 of the original walnut veneered bedroom doors,’ adds Matt. ‘They were just stacked up across the road in the Winter Gardens. We can’t use them as doors any more so we are having them made into coffee tables.’
While he is keen to celebrate the past, the Midland team knows their big challenge is to meet the expectations of guests who want the history but with 21st century luxury. ‘This is never going to be a museum piece or a pastiche of a 1930s hotel,’ he declares.
Nevertheless, they are doing their best to recreate the finer points of the Midland. Urban Splash started the process with great attention to detail, such as using tiny shards of coloured glass in the render so it sparkles in the sunlight. And soon, Matt hopes to have the striking lobby floor back to its best with thousands of restored mosaic glass tiles being relaid.
During this year, the Midland is planning a series of events to celebrate its 80th. As well as the exhibition of memorabilia, there are plans for a gala dinner, a special afternoon tea and a vintage day with vehicles from the 1930s.
You suspect there will never come a time when the Midland is totally restored. Too much has changed and the hotel has been through too many traumatic times, but the levels of hospitality and service which made the Midland world famous are back.
Brian, who is also concierge, came here because of his love for the hotel. He packed in a senior role in business and moved to Morecambe with his wife just so he could be at the Midland.
‘My wife and I used to come in the days when you could get bed and breakfast for £20,’ he recalls. ‘But before it closed, it was pretty grim. One couple complained to the then owner that they had no hot water in their room. He told them: “Well, you’ve only booked for bed and breakfast, not hot water.” Happily, those days are gone never to return.’