J. Lyons & Co.
The Ariel Hotel was the first post-war hotel that Lyons built and it opened in January 1961.
The catalyst for hotel expansion came in the combination of two events: first, an approach from Watney's, the brewers, for the construction of a hotel on a site they owned on the Bath Road, close to Heathrow Airport; and, second, the sale of the Royal Palace Hotel, with its disposal proceeds providing the bulk of the building costs. The initiative for the development came from Julian Salmon who was not directly involved with the day-to-day hotel business, but he did foresee the tremendous growth in air travel and the need for airport hotels.
Planning and construction of the Ariel Hotel proved to be very troublesome. The contractors, architects and other consultants, who had no previous experience of planning or building large hotels, had already been appointed. They had prepared an unconventional circular design whose shape was said to be more in keeping with a cake than a hotel. The two-acre site was a short distance from the Heathrow airport runway and the hotel required not double glazing but triple glazing. This had ramifications for the design and durability of the elevation cladding of the building. Every Tom, Dick and Harry within Lyons had something to say about the design and interior fittings of the hotel and these discussions took up much time and effort. Full-size mock-ups of bedrooms were constructed in the basement of the Regent Palace Hotel. Everyone was invited to comment, and variation orders to the architect and interior designers were scattered like confetti. The interior design of the public areas was entrusted to an American designer based in Chicago, this at a time before the fax machine, let alone e-mail. When it opened in 1961 it was well behind time and way beyond budget. It had 180 bedrooms, all sound-proofed with air conditioning and most with private en suites.
The name Ariel was chosen from a staff competition, won by Mrs F. M. Bailes of Hogarth Press, who received £25. The Queen was given a preview of the hotel before it was opened by the Minister of Aviation, Peter Thorneycroft. Within Lyons the Ariel Hotel was not given a great deal of coverage but from time to time well-known guests, traveling through Heathrow, stayed there. The most interesting group were probably the first party of Britain's Tokyo Olympic team who arrived home on 27 October 1964 and stayed one night at the Ariel before going on to Buckingham Palace for lunch with the Queen. The hotel had arranged hairdressers and valets and all were allocated rooms with private en suites. Among the group was Mary Rand the gold medalist.
When Lyons disposed of their hotels in 1977 the Ariel was sold to the Charles forte Group.
Courtesy Peter Bird
HRH The Queen making an informal visit to the Ariel Hotel in January 1961. Talking with her is Rex Joseph with Isidore Gluckstein to the right.
Great Britain's Tokyo Olympic team, 1964. Gold medallist Mary Rand is pictured in the centre of the front row.