This year sees The Midland celebrate its 80th anniversary having first opened its doors on 12th July 1933. Designed by Oliver Hill with interior decoration by Eric Gill the hotel has a rich heritage. The Midland has allegedly been a favourite haunt of celebrities such as Coco Chanel, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Noel Coward which only adds to its illustrious history and air of seaside glamour.
It is impossible to ascertain which exact piece of The Midland is the most celebrated or distinguishing, as The Midland offers so many unique, iconic art deco features worthy of admiration and we will all have our own favourites. As today marks its 80th anniversary I thought it would be a great idea to share with you some of my favourite features from The Midland, so you too can gain insight into this iconic art-deco beauty. Below are the first five, some of these you will recognise, many others you may not, but all of which I hope you will enjoy…
49… THE NUMBER OF SEAHORSES
You may be surprised to discover that the total number of seahorses in the hotel is forty-nine. The first five are easy to place! Two greet you on your arrival, standing outside at the top of the tower, as the only embellishments to the exterior of the building, which started life as two lumps of Portland stone, carved in situ by Gill. Our next is the mosaic seahorse that lies inset into the floor of the Foyer. Across from this you will find two marking the bottom of the grand cantilevered staircase, engraved on both hand rails. The other 44 can be found one in each bedroom bathroom in the shower grate! So next time you stay be sure not to miss it!
£20… MARION DORN’S DESIGN FEE
Marion Dorn, born in the US in 1896, became a successful designer in the 1920’s and was known as an innovator of Modernist interiors. She was commissioned to design and provide various interiors for The Midland such as carpets, rugs, fabric and perhaps most notably the mosaic seahorse that lies inset into the floor of the Foyer. Hill was responsible for persuading the committee to adopt Dorn’s seahorse as the emblem of the hotel, and we know that she was paid a fee of just £20 for the trade rights, to include use of the seahorse design on any equipment throughout the hotel. The mosaic seahorse is still intact in the hotel today as an original feature, however unfortunately various other pieces by Dorn, such as the rugs in the lobby, were not saved during the renovation and the rugs we see today are replicas of the originals.
74… THE NUMBER OF STEPS IN THE GRAND CANTILEVERED STAIRCASE
The grand staircase spirals upwards from the entrance hall and is a full cantilever staircase containing 74 steps, with each step supported by the previous step and the following step. On its opening in 1933 it attracted enormous attention from contemporary reviewers of the time, with one describing it magnificently as:
“… a fairy staircase that one would willingly climb till it reached to Heaven.”
An interesting aspect to note is that the staircase has been designed back to front; usually a staircase is entered from the left hand side and not the right. This is a deliberate design to emulate combatant times of the past when the majority of men were right-handed and so they would attack with swords whilst the left-handed men would defend.
1… MISQUOTE GREETS ALL GUESTS
From first entrance into the entrance hall your eye will immediately be drawn upwards to Gill’s medallion of Triton and Neptune looking down on you. The wording on the piece reads:
“And hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn”
This was supposed to echo the last line of a sonnet written in 1807 by William Wordsworth. Unfortunately there was a slight mistake made as the sonnet actually reads:
“Or hear old Triton blow his horn”
On the medallion you can see Neptune, Triton and two sea nymphs. It is interesting to note that we know the completed carving we see today differs from original plans in that, on the hands and feet of Neptune you can see signs of stigmata.
6 TONS… A WEIGHTY PIECE OF ART
The Odysseus mural behind reception depicts the story of Odysseus being welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa. Odysseus was shipwrecked and washed ashore, with no possessions. Young Princess ‘Nausicaa’ found him and with the blessing of her father the King, Odysseus was brought fruit, wine, materials and was welcomed to stay. Gill felt that this was a true representation of the hospitality industry, as he saw Princess Nausicaa as the Hotelier welcoming Odysseus, the weary guest!
The quote underneath from Homer affirms this image:
“There is good hope that thou mayest see thy friends”
The entire piece weighs 6 tonnes, is made up of 16 sections and was stolen around the time of The Eric Gill Exhibition in the 1980’s, but luckily later recovered!
Do you have any other stories about The Midland?
- Article written by +Tanya Stewart