This past Wednesday, I visited Morecambe to see the interior of The Midland Hotel, and be guided around the hotel by the very knowledgeable concierge Brian, who has worked at the hotel since it reopened in 2008, and also stayed in the hotel when it was previously managed by other hoteliers. It was clear that Brian had a real passion for the hotel, and actually relocated to Morecambe with his wife when he heard the hotel was being redeveloped, so he could work there. As part of his role, Brian shows guests and tours around the hotel and has developed in-depth understanding of the modern history of the building, it changing features and how many decisions were made during various incarnations of the building. He has actually written a book about The Midland which will hopefully be published soon.
It was interesting to talk to Brian about the guests that stay in the hotel, and how far afield they travelled, often internationally, to see this iconic piece of architecture restored.
We started off the tour at the Eric Gill relief to the left of the current reception desk. Eric Gill completed four commissions in total for the hotel, with the map mural being a last minute addition for the children’s playroom. Titled ‘Odysseus welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa’, the entrance mural it is carved into six tonnes of Portland stone and shows Odysseus coming from the sea welcomed by Nausicaa and three maids offering food, drink and clothing. This scene represents the experience the hotel trade offers. The mural was stolen in the 1980s, and when a police campaign was launched to find the precious work, the thieves started to lose confidence, abandoned a truck with the mural within it at a South Yorkshire service station, and called the police anonymously to let them know where it was!
The hotel, designed by architect Oliver Hill, opened on 12th July 1933. Few examples of the original furniture is left, apart from existing doors, three tables and a cocktail cabinet. One of the three tables is pictured above, with an imitation formica surface top of the Pear Walnut doors.
The second commission for Eric Gill was a last-minute request, and it was originally intended as an educational map for the Children’s room. The mural has actually been moved since the Urban Splash development to make way for a reconfiguration of the ground floor, but has remained intact. The map shows the Lancashire and Lake District coast with figurative symbols within different locations, such as the man on his knees indicating the slave trade.
It is a relatively ‘clean’ work for Eric Gill, with only a man touching a woman’s breast in the top left hand corner as sexual suggestion. Since visiting The Midland this time, I have spent more time reading about Eric Gill, his work and sexually obsessive and abusive behaviour. I was surprised and shocked by this, but like everyone else can make a clear visual work to aesthetic and content of his artwork.
Gill’s third commission is the circular medallion carved at the top of the staircase, painted by his son-in-law Dennis Tegetmeier, who also hand painted the colour on the map mural. The medallion depicts a sea-god being attended by mermaids and is edged with the words “And hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn”. Brian said it was suggested that the positioning of this work in relation to the stairwell, proposed the stairs as ‘a stairway to heaven’. It is a space that incredibly impressive structurally, and on an emotional level it feels entirely optimistic, with light poring into an upwards tunnel that we can view on all sides where we are positioned upon and moving to.
The medallion is framed by the elaborate staircase, and the curved windows on the front of the buildings are a reproduction of the original lined glass from 1933. The hand rail is also the original, although it has been raised slightly for health and safety reasons. The original metal hand rail was kept as it is the rail that celebrities such as Roger Moore and Laurence Olivier touched when they stayed. The stairs are actually built back to front, usually stairs start from the left in architectural practice. The wall covering is a wallpaper replica of the original covering which was actually originally grooved Artex.
When Oliver Hill originally designed the hotel, he supplied plans to extend the roof terrace into another floor, which was rejected by the local council. When Urban Splash redeveloped the site, they used Oliver’s existing plans to build this extra floor. Contrary to popular belief, Hill did not base his design on a cruise liner, but on the curved shape of land, although the form of cruise liner’s commonly inform this style of ‘seaside moderne’ architecture.
Eric Gill’s fourth commission were the two carved seahorses on the front of building, which then went on to inform the hotel logo and foyer mosaic designed by Marion Dorn, who also designed the carpets in the entrance area.
A comment that Brian made about the hotel was that it was launched and relaunched and thrived in a recession and a depression. In 1933, in the mid war period, and 2008, in the latest recession, when people looked to travelling within the United Kingdom for holidays and short breaks.
I really do think, especially since I visited other buildings from this era recently, they have done a sympathetic job renovating the building, and giving it a life again. Of course, there are foibles, such as some out-keeping furniture but it has been turned into a functioning business again while highlighting the importance of its architectural design and history.
Whilst there, I bought ‘The Midland Hotel – Morecambe’s White Hope’ by Barry Guise and Pam Brook, which I looking forward to reading.
(This is a re-post from the blog Looking Back|Moving Forwards)