Unseen Britain - Grand Hotel in Scarborough
By Alan Russell
Anyone living in Jersey should be aware that they could soon be experiencing, if they haven’t already, some earth tremors. No, they will not be the result of the Eurasian tectonic plate suddenly deciding to accelerate its annual movement southwards of fourteen millimetres and nor will it be a side effect of an energy company carrying out discrete fracking operations in the Channel Islands. The slight tremors will be the result of Cuthbert Brodrick spinning in his grave in St Mary’s churchyard in Jersey.
Cuthbert Brodrick designed The Grand Hotel in Scarborough. It is still standing but sadly through comprehensive neglect and lack of investment by a series of owners is now no longer as grand as he, or Augustus Fricour, the first appointed manager, witnessed when the hotel was opened on 24th July 1867. Fortunately the building is Grade II listed so at least the exterior is in theory at least preserved for posterity. The seagulls are not aware of this status and are doing their level best to ignore the theory and remodel the exterior with copious amounts of excreta transforming what once were sand stone features into something looking like white marble.
Brodrick’s design was revolutionary as it is reputed to be the first purpose built hotel in Europe.
So on with the statistics and other bits of information to illustrate why this was such a flagship of a hotel in its day. The building is in the shape of a huge ‘V’ to commemorate Queen Victoria. The points of the ‘V’ are topped with four towers to represent the seasons of the year. The original design was twelve floors high for the months of the year. There are fifty two chimneys on the roof for the weeks of the year. The first design was for three hundred and sixty five rooms for the days of the year excepting leap years. And finally, the original building needed some eleven acres of carpet to soften the welcome of thousands of feet coming into the hotel.
In 2016 if you could remove the slot machines and garish posters the main entrance and lounge at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the first floor would still be recognised by Brodrick and Fricour. Deep rich navy blue slightly patterned carpets in the lounge area and red carpet covering the wide and shallow steps of the stairs. Go beyond this area and the illusion begins to shatter very quickly.
The first room we were offered number ‘316’. We were told it was a ‘large’ room. The lift we had to use to access the third floor was nothing more than a service lift with a patterned sheet metal interior. It’s metal fascia facing into the lobby appeared to be held on to the surrounding walls with black and yellow hazard tape. Things did not look good.
319 was at the end of a corridor. The door looked like it had just been attacked by a police raid. Inside every available square inch of floor space of the ‘large’ room was taken up with beds. There was a double, single and a sofa bed all made up to welcome the guests. In the bathroom the inside of the door matched the outside of the door facing the corridor and to top things off the panelling on the bathtub was loose.
Back into the service list with luggage, room keys keys and the reception desk.
We were then offered room 519. Another lift, another floor and another room. The door had seen better days but not as bad as the door to 319. This time there were only three beds covering the floor but as the room was much smaller they too covered the whole floor. What was worse? There was a drip of water landing on one of the beds from the ceiling light fitting which was full of water.
We rejected this room.
We were given the keys to another room; 619. By now we were both exhausted and hungry and the last thing we needed at this stage of our journey were the navigation skills of Captain James Cook. What didn’t help was that the maps showing the location of rooms were not accurate but find 619 we did, eventually. It was a loft room with sloping ceilings that forced a rapid development of spatial awareness to avoid severe concussion.
After what we had just seen this room was heavenly and we stayed the night.
Down for dinner to the huge dining room overlooking the bay. There dinner was a sort of carvery where residents helped themselves to whatever they wanted. The food was less than average and service consisted of a man in chef’s clothing taking empty pans into the kitchen and returning with full ones containing battered fish, meat pie swimming in gravy, vegetables and the inevitable chips. When the coal mines closed in Yorkshire I thought the skills would be lost forever but they are alive and well at the ice cream freezer at the Grand Hotel. To reach the tubs of ice cream diners had to bend over an open chest freezer and chip away at rock hard ice cream in huge four litre catering tubs. The man in front of me took ages to excavate his ration. When I got to the freezer I was half expecting to see the frozen corpse of a frail old lady who had overbalanced and gone head first into the frozen wastes lined with vanilla and chocolate ice cream.
The restaurant is ’brown’ service. That is no tablecloths, just brown sticky tables and minimum staff rushing to take away used plates and crockery.
Restful sleep was impossible. Deep in the bowels of the hotel an extractor unit was working flat out and the noise resonated right up to our room. Outside the seagulls were holding their own very public majlis. We had hoped it would finish at sunset but whatever they were screeching about they screeched on about right through the night. Late, late late into the evening the herniated strains of ‘Amazing Grace’ penetrated walls and pillows.
Down too early for breakfast so we ventured out on to the terrace above the restaurant. It was sparsely populated by the 21st century equivalent of lepers; smokers. They were puffing away at their cancer sticks in smoke surrounded isolation as smokers do. The decking was green in places. The rest of the surface was covered in splats from seagulls. Included in the floor covering was the upturned corpse of an eviscerated pigeon.
Breakfast was over and done with as soon as possible like an amputation or execution.
Everything about the place beyond the central lobby is knackered. Carpets are worn threadbare, they are stained and straining to escape the confines of the floor. The wallpaper is leaving the walls and everything is exhausted from over use without proper maintenance or replacement. The only saving grace the building has is that it is Grade II listed which means the exterior cannot be changed from its original designs. The seagulls and pigeons are not aware of this restriction and are making valiant excrete based efforts to alter the exterior unchecked.
Would we stay again? No.
Would we recommend it? No.
Would we eat there? No.
Definitely not a place to stay for business travellers.
We were not the only guests having trouble with rooms as we met at least two other couples who were trying out their third bedroom since checking in.
While I was researching in the Scarborough library I came across the following verse completely by accident written as an advertisement for Keatings Powder, a 19th century panacea for fleas, cockroaches and beetles:
I am a bug, a seaside bug,
When folks in bed are lying snug,
About their skin we walk and creep,
And feast upon them while they sleep,
In lodging houses where we breed,
And at this season largely feed.
We checked out the next day and stayed at the Travelodge directly opposite for the rest of our stay in Scarborough.