The Midland Hotel, Morecambe (1933) – an unlikely building in an unlikely setting – is one of the finest examples of Streamline Moderne (late Art Deco) architecture in Britain. Its heyday lasted barely six years, until the outbreak of war. After that, it became progressively difficult to operate, until it was rescued, sumptuously renovated and reopened in June 2008 by the developer Urban Splash.
Its railway-owned predecessor dated back to 1848, to the very beginnings of the resort that became Morecambe, and the Promenade Station was constructed in 1907 specifically to bring trains as close as possible to the hotel’s front door.
By the early 1930s the old hotel was badly out of date, and in January 1932 the directors of the London Midland & Scottish Railway approved plans to replace the 1848 building with “a building of international quality in the modern style”, designed by Oliver Hill (1887-1968) on a budget of slightly less than £72,000. The new building rose from the lawn of the old hotel, which was subsequently demolished.
Oliver Hill was at the height of his career in the 1930s: after starting out designing picturesque Arts & Crafts cottages, he embraced the visual potential of the Moderne style, of which his best designs, in addition to the Morecambe Midland Hotel, are the partially-built Frinton Park Estate in Essex (1934-6) and the house Landfall (1938), near Poole in Dorset.
His attributes were an eye for unifying architecture with decoration, and his adventurous use of materials such as concrete, chrome and vitrolite. The result was a building that, in the words of the Architectural Review, “rises from the sea like a great white ship, gracefully curved”.
Hill’s brief for the Midland Hotel enabled him to recruit the best available decorative artists while maintaining full control of the building’s aesthetic programme.
The sculptor and designer Eric Gill (1882-1940) designed and carved for the façade two Portland stone seahorses in the form of the celebrated Morecambe Bay shrimps, a ten-foot Neptune and Triton medallion above the central staircase, a bas-relief, Odysseus welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa, and a map of North West England, painted in oil by his son-in-law Denis Tegetmeier.
In the circular café were originally murals by Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) of the seaside by day and by night. These quickly deteriorated, and one mural was reconstructed by London Weekend Television set-designers for the TV series Agatha Christie’s Poirot in 1989.
The floor of the entrance hall was embellished with a mosaic seahorse and circular, wave-patterned hand-knotted rugs by Marion Dorn (1896-1964), who also worked on the Berkeley, Clarides and Savoy Hotels in London and the Cunard liner Queen Mary.
The new hotel opened on Wednesday July 12th 1933, and quickly attracted celebrities in search of luxury and privacy within easy reach of London, performers from the Winter Gardens and other theatres, and Yorkshire businessmen who commuted by railway club carriage to Leeds or Bradford through the summer months.
It’s interesting that the LMS Railway thought it worthwhile to cater for the most affluent members of British society in the north of England. After the war and nationalisation the British Transport Commission could hardly get rid of it fast enough.
There are images of the Midland Hotel as it stood before Urban Splash took it on at http://www.abandoned-britain.com/PP/midlandhotel/1.htm.
The Midland Hotel is now operated by English Lakes: http://englishlakes.co.uk/hotels/lancashire-hotels/the-midland-hotel-morecambe.
The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Lancashire’s Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.