J. Lyons & Co.
The magnificent Tower Hotel, next to Tower Bridge and close to the Tower of London, was opened by Field Marshall Sir Richard Hull GCB, DSO Constable of the Tower of London, on 19 September 1973. The bands of the Grenadier Guards, drawn up at the entrance to the banqueting suite, greeted guests arriving for the opening luncheon which was televised by BBC Television.
Most new hotel development post WWII had been to the west of London, particularly along the Cromwell Road and out towards Heathrow Airport. Indeed Lyons themselves opened their Ariel Hotel in 1961 close to Heathrow Airport. The Tower Hotel was the largest hotel development of the twentieth century east of the City of London. It took three years to build on a very difficult island site in the historic area of London known as St Katharine's Dock. Architects were the Renton Howard Wood Partnership with Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd responsible for the main building and civil engineering endeavours. Responsibility for the interior design fell to Glyn Smith Associates while the consulting engineers were Ove Arup & Partners with quantity surveying responsibilities falling to Rider Hunt & Partners.
Without doubt the Tower Hotel enjoys the finest location of any hotel in London with magnificent views across Tower Bridge and the river. St Katharine's Dock itself (resulting from the combining of three separate docks) had been restored to historical importance after the devastating fires it suffered when east London was set alight during WWII. The dock basin contained historic ships and yachts while the famous Ivory House on its far side had been converted to exclusive apartments. There was a small pier in front of the hotel used by river buses and other vessels. On the opposite side of the river bank was Butler's Wharf where, in its earlier days, Lyons had their tea warehouse. A short walk away was Traitors Gate, the Monument, where the Great Fire of London started, Tower Hill, The Mint and London's Custom House. The area was steeped in history.
A feature of the hotel was the high volume pumps which had been installed in the basement area in case of flooding by the Thames. This was before the Thames Barrier had been built downstream at Greenwich.
The hotel had 860 bedrooms, three restaurants, a bar, banqueting suits and penthouse suites arranged on 14 floors although some parts of the hotel were only nine or ten storeys high. Each of the double-glazed bedrooms (104 singles, 654 twin bedded and 68 double-bedded) had coloured television, radio, direct-dial telephone, individually controlled air conditioning and private bathroom. Each had a view of either the Thames, Tower Bridge or St Katharine's Dock to the side and rear. Bedroom interiors featured different colour schemes; orange and yellow or green and brown matched with a range of light English oak built-in furniture. The rooms had a ship's cabin quality appropriate to a riverside setting emphasised by the nautical detailing on the furniture, bathroom interiors and compact storage facilities.
The main restaurant was the 108 seat Princess Room with its own cocktail lounge and views of the river and Tower Bridge. The dark stained timber panelling, smoke silk walls and rich brown velvet upholstery blended with a brown metal ceiling, rose linen tablecloths and a series of silk decorative wall panels. Live music was played by a series of ensembles with a harpist being one of the favourites. The Carvery (an innovation introduced earlier in some of the company's hotels from America) was in contrast in brilliant reds to reflect the meat being served off the bone. A fixed price of £2.20 covered a complete meal and service with an 'eat as much as you like' value. On the ground floor level (the two main restaurants were on the upper foyer) was a coffee shop with orange and reds as the colour scheme. It served meals, snack or just coffee/tea throughout the day until 1 am. The Thames Bar was decorated in mint green, royal blue and scarlet. Open to the public it had its own terrace and wonderful views of the river. The York and Lancaster Rooms were designed for prestige functions giving individual comfort for 200 people. The suite had its own entrance with the entrance foyer dominated by a striking red tapestry. Their were smaller suites (Neville, Mortimer and Beaufort) suitable to seat 30 or 40 people. The penthouse suites were on the twelfth floor, eight in all, and they were furnished with French wool brocade bedspreads, Scottish tweed upholstery for the furniture and linen curtains. The VIP suite comprised two bedrooms and a double living room.
At the time of opening the General Manager was Brian Ridgway who had been with the company for eighteen years. Richard Matthews was the Front Hall Manager and Simon Dolan the Front Office Manager. Peter Fitzgibbon was the Catering Manager, Mike Preston the Head Chef, Graham Wells the Conference and Banqueting Manager, Audrey Fuller Personnel Manager, Pauline Hancocks Head Housekepper, Judi Johnson Booking Office Manager, Lilian Barkes Head Receptionist, Stan Bayly-Jones Works Manager, Roland Thompson Hotel Accountant and four Assistant Managers John Buchanan, Stewart Edwards, Wolfgang Granditsch and Harry Howard.
Quite obviously the hotel was popular with American tourists and it soon became profitable. The decline in the fortunes of Lyons in the mid 1970s triggered the sale of their hotels, most of which were sold to the Charles Forte Group. The Tower Hotel, however, was sold to EMI in July 1977.
Courtesy Peter Bird
Front row (L-R)
Audrey Fuller (Personnel
Brian Ridgway (General Manager)
Brian Smith (Essential Services Manager)
Richard Johnstone (Security Officer)
Back row (L-R)
Richard Mathews (Front Hall Manager)
Peter Fitzgibbon (Catering Manager)
Stan Bayly-Jones (Works Manager)
Graham Wells (Banqueting Manager)
Roland Thompson (Hotel Accountant)