Written by Staff Writer at CNN
If the idea of traveling across the world by tramp, or wicker carriage, seems a bit contrived, then spare a thought for three former owners of the Gloucester Road Hotel , just a minute’s stroll from Buckingham Palace.
The hotel, located in north London, was the favorite haunt of some of the most colourful characters in the history of British royalty. Thomas Eddington , who went on to fly the Concorde with British Airways in the 1980s, was a regular visitor. Prince Andrew met Queen Elizabeth II while staying there in the 1960s. And Princess Margaret, for whom the hotel is named, feted visits from all manner of artists, including Mick Jagger and John Lennon.
The property, which originally opened in 1932, was purchased by Prince George of Wales’s family in the mid-1920s. He brought his family with him, making the now elegant hotel their home from 1925 to 1933. George married Mary Donaldson, the daughter of an American mining family who’d emigrated to England in the 1850s, and she became the Queen’s godmother. The couple had one child, the Duke of York, who grew up to marry another American, Sarah Ferguson.
This family mansion was home to a motley collection of loyal clients, including Edward VII , George V , and King George VI
But the Gloucester Road Hotel was more than just a playhouse to rich people. The clientele were also drawn to its surroundings: Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the tale of Sherlock Holmes, was a frequent guest. He sent a dummy into the grounds to see if it felt welcome before the day he planned to stay there. It didn’t.
Ian Fleming , the author of James Bond, also rented a room, and was thought to have met Bond star Sean Connery there.
Meanwhile, it was Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, who invited the family to live in Kensington Palace, stepping into the role of paterfamilias, just as he might have 30 years later.
A different old-fashioned experience
When it was sold to Northumberland Properties in 1999, it was the last of a handful of Victorian hotels to be turned into boutique hotels. The Gloucester Road has undergone several short-term relocations, including to the tail end of the 1980s and the heights of commercialization in the 1990s, when it was converted to apartments in a trendy street north of Soho.
But the current version of the hotel was conceived for the 21st century.
The guest rooms feature Moorish touches. Credit: Courtesy of Crowne Plaza Gloucester Road Hotel
By the 1990s, traveling by car was an industrial process, slowed by traffic jams and fossil fuels. By the 2000s, the country had cut down its carbon output by 50%, and the nation’s favorite car was the electric, as gadgets such as smartphone power came to the fore.
With their footloose clientele, the Gloucester Road’s clientele were a smidgeon older than the younger people who grew up in the suburbs of southwest London; when they traveled the quickest form of transport available, it was a train.
The hotel had to cater to this. A choice of accommodation on the hotel website includes a “driving experience,” which features a classic classic car on the forecourt.
This is in stark contrast to the previous types of accommodations on offer: the suites at the original property boasted bedrooms with period details, and the bathrooms featured antique fixtures; rooms at the boutique are clearly for a company executive coming in from a day’s driving.
What’s changing is the experience. As with hotel-ownership groups popping up all over the world, the developers of the Gloucester Road invested heavily in the room fabric. The hotel’s website claims to offer luxury “in a rustic style.”
“We think that [local residents] will be delighted to have the renaissance of a grand country house hotel back in the area and to be surrounded by its charm and charm in an area that’s been changing,” Jeffrey Brancheau, managing director of Northumberland Properties, told CNN Travel.
In true old-fashioned style, once the refurbishment is complete, the Gloucester Road will have a “return to the countryside” theme: carpets, settees, bedside tables are set in green and white porcelain, while the front of the rooms has been covered in tall wood wainscoting.
It will come with an on-site gallery for its guests to discover original artifacts, the result of a national collection of sash windows acquired by a lady from St. Athanasius High School who died last year. She donated it to the Manchester Art Museum in the 1920s, but it was only given to the Gloucester Road two years ago.