The work of architect Cuthbert Brodrick (1821–1905) – designer of Leeds Town Hall, the Mechanics Institute (now the museum), the Corn Exchange and several other buildings in the city – has been familiar to me for most of my life but it was whilst researching my 2018 book Beside the Seaside, that I discovered more about the Yorkshire architect.
Cuthbert Broderick and the Grand Hotel, Scarborough
Brodrick was born in Hull, the son of a wealthy merchant and ship owner. Although he came from a semi-maritime background it did not appeal to him and after leaving school, he was articled for seven years to a local architect, Henry Francis Lockwood winning a silver medal for in 1839. After qualifying, he embarked on a grand tour of England, France and Italy, before opening his own practice in Hull in 1845. His first important commission was Hull Royal Institution in 1852.
Whilst the population of Leeds are largely aware of his work in the city, fewer people know that he was also the architect of the hotel that is synonymous with the Yorkshire coast town of Scarborough: The Grand. The prestigious cliff top site, which was formerly occupied by Wood’s Lodgings where Anne Brontë died on 28 May 1849, was originally bought by the Scarborough Cliff Hotel Company. They employed Brodrick but sadly the company’s funds ran out on the difficult build and the project was finally completed by business owner Archibald Neil.
Designing the Grand Hotel
The creative design of the hotel was based on the theme of time, with four towers representing the seasons, 12 floors the months of the year, 52 chimneys for the weeks of the year, and 365 bedrooms the days of the year. It was built in a V shape in honour of Queen Victoria. The interior design and furnishings were of the very highest standard, creating one of the most luxurious hotels in the world at the time. There were over 30 lounges and public rooms. Over six million bricks were used in its construction. The ornate exterior carving was executed by sculptors Benjamin Burstall and Matthew Taylor of Leeds.
It opened in July 1867 under the management of Augustus Forecourt, previously of the Hotel Mirabeau in Paris, to a tremendous flourish as the Leeds Intelligencer reported on 27 July of that year:
“The formal opening of the Grand Hotel in Scarborough was marked by a magnificence and brilliance quite in harmony with so palatial a structure – on the Wednesday evening by a splendid banquet and last night by a grand full-dress ball, when an assembly of youth, beauty and fashion were witnessed which augers well for the future of this princely undertaking. It may be said, without an exaggeration, that if not the best it is one of the most splendid in Europe.”
Inside the Grand Hotel
Describing the interior of the hotel, the article continued:
“The general furnishings of the house have been executed by Messrs Smee and Sons of London. The drawing room, one of the most splendid rooms ever designed – is decorated in a most chaste manner, white, gris, perle and gold being the predominant colours.”
The hotel also possessed one of the first hotel lifts in the North of the country, it was quaintly known as the ‘hydraulic ascending room’. Guests to the Grand also benefited from additional taps, which allowed them to bathe either in fresh or in seawater. This proved a popular facility. The hotel was popular with the nobility and the wealthy for many years.
The Grand, then and now
The most famous or should that be infamous incident in its long history was when it was badly damaged on 16 December 1914, during a raid by the German navy. The raid, which began around 8am, resulted in the hotel being hit at least 30 times.
Some 150 years on, and through changes of ownership, the Grand still dominates the spa town. Though sadly it is certainly not the elegant, palatial, or indeed exclusive hotel it once was, its towering clifftop presence ensures it perhaps remains the town’s most iconic and well-loved building (although I am sure the Spa would argue that one with me!).