The Midland Hotel
June, 2008
On a sunny afternoon in July 1933, a remarkable building opened its doors to the public for the first time.
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The London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company had taken the bold step of replacing its old Victorian hotel on the seafront in Morecambe, Lancashire with a sparkling white Modernist structure – quite unlike anything seen before in an English seaside resort.
Acclaimed from every quarter for its revolutionary architecture (designed by Oliver Hill) and the quality of its interior, with outstanding works by leading artists of the day, the Midland Hotel was unique. Resplendent on the promenade, its gleaming façade promising a bright future, the Midland was seen as the town’s ‘white hope’.
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But the interest of the building was not just the architecture; several remarkable contemporary works of art were commissioned for it. Most of these were by Eric Gill, who modelled two seahorses like Morecambe shrimps at the top of the central convex entrance bay and painted a circular plaster relief on the ceiling above the circular staircase within (see left). Gill was also responsible for a decorative map wall illustrating the monuments and delights of Lancashire and a large stone relief of Odysseus Welcomed from the Sea by Nausica. There were also rugs by Marion Dorn and a mural by Eric Ravilious in the circular café with its tables of pink vitrolite.
The glamour of the Midland Hotel did not quite survive requisitioning during the Second World War although it remained an hotel until recently. Instead, it became a remarkable and evocative period piece and so - inevitably - was used for one of Brian Eastman’s clever Poirot television films — for which the Ravilious mural was recreated in the café.
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In 1979, the Gill stone relief had been dismantled for display in the ‘Thirties’ exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. Unfortunately, it was not replaced in its original position when it was returned. Even more unfortunately, it went missing in 1998 after being lent to the Gill Exhibition at the Barbican, though how six tons of stone could disappear without anyone noticing seemed curious. Eventually it was found, neatly packed, round about the time when the owner of the hotel, under investigation by the police, suddenly died.
Its fortunes having reached rock-bottom in 2002, this former embodiment of glamour and luxury was a sorry sight. Empty, save for the vagrants and pigeons, with peeling paint, broken windows and a leaking roof, it barely staved off demolition.
At the eleventh hour, however, rescue came in the shape of award-winning property developers Urban Splash, who purchased the building in 2003. The multi-million pound project to rehabilitate the hotel for the twenty-first century is now complete and it has just re-opened for business. Retaining the elegance and style which made the Midland Hotel so special, this beautifully restored hotel, including the now returned Eric Gill sculpture, is set once again to be Morecambe’s ‘gleaming white hope’.
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