J. Lyons & Co.
Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch, London
The Cumberland Hotel takes its name from the Duke of Cumberland (son of George II 1721-1765). A public house stood on the site from as early as 1747 until it was demolished at the turn of the twentieth century. The old Roman way from the west of England to London - the Oxford Road of which Oxford street is a part - met the equally ancient Watling Street (now the Edgware Road) near the site of the present Cumberland Hotel. Tyburn Brook, which flowed nearby, was in a district known as Tynburnia which was almost as aristocratic as Mayfair and Belgravia. Alongside the brook were the Tyburn Trees and for generations the trees were used for execution. Later a permanent fixture of gallows was erected where for centuries executions continued to be performed, the last taking place in 1783.
The rural nature of the district began to change rapidly in the early eighteenth century. Cumberland Place had been built in the mid 1700 (probably after the Battle of Culloden in 1746) followed by Old Quebec Street in 1770 and Bryanston Street in about 1780. Aristocratic families moved to the district and the Duke of York took a house in Portman Square in 1805. Lord Camelford lived in house on the north side of Oxford Street where it remained until 1913 when it was demolished to make way for a cinema and a block of flats.
In 1901 the island site bounded by Oxford Street, Old Quebec Street, Bryanston Street and Great Cumberland Place, was progressively acquired by Lyons for the erection of the Cumberland Hotel. This was well before the Stand Hotel had been built in 1909. Apart from the complicated land deals, the Cumberland project was formidable. The excavations alone entailed the removal of over 100,000 cubic yards of material during which historical relics from all periods were unearthed. The architect in charge was F. J. Wills with Oliver Bernard responsible for the public rooms. All building work was carried out by Lyons own staff.
The Cumberland Hotel featured all the latest developments of comfort. It was sound-proofed, double glazed, air conditioned and all 900 bed-rooms had their own en-suite. All air entering the hotel was filtered including the supply to the kitchen areas. Here the exhaust was treated to eradicate cooking smells. The reading lamps in the bedroom were of a triangular design with close fitting metal doors on two faces. In a twin-bedded room therefore, the occupants could adjust the lantern doors to prevent light from affecting the other sleeper if he/she chose to sleep rather than read. With both sides of the lantern closed a pin-head of amber light provided the perfect night-light. The structure consisted of thirteen floors, ten of them above ground and three below ground. The public rooms, restaurants, banqueting hall, grill room and centre court were located centrally.
Part of the hotel backbone was an enormous 100-ton girder which required the world's largest lorry to convey it. Fifteen thousand tons of steel-work was used in the hotel's construction. Four hundred thousand square feet of 'Empire grown timber' was used in the making of bedroom furniture. The 50,000 yards of sheets cost £25,000 and the carpets £18,000. Two thousand staff were employed at the hotel and a specially built annex provided accommodation for 300 girls who slept in single or double rooms. There was one bath to every four girls and they ate in their own restaurant on the ground floor of the annex.
The Hotel was visited by the young King George V and Queen Mary two days before the public opening on 12 December 1933 in time for the Christmas trade.
The first hotel manager was Proserpi Amilcare who remained in charge until his death in 1947 aged only 59. At fifteen he had started work as a waiter in Cannes and two years later came to England working in the Midland Hotel, Manchester. From 1907 until 1914 he worked in Baden-Baden, Berlin, Vichy, Monte Carlo, and the Savoy Hotel London. In 1914 he joined the company at the Popular Cafe and in 1918 became superintendent-in-charge of the Louis Room at the Regent Palace Hotel. In 1924 Amilcare took charge of Lyons' famous Grill Room at the Wembley Exhibition. Then after a short stay as manager of the Trocadero Restaurant he was appointed manager of the Regent Palace Hotel in 1926 where he remained until the Cumberland Hotel opened in 1933. One of his last public appearances, despite his illness, was when he attended the unveiling of Lyons' Second World War memorial at Sudbury, Middlesex, on 9 November 1947. He was laid to rest, in the presence of several Lyons directors and senior managers, in West Norwood Cemetery on, 17 December 1947.
Courtesy Peter Bird