Blackpool’s five star Metropole...in 1913

The Metropole Hotel can be seen to the left of this 1920s photograph looking up North Promenade from Talbot Square, Blackpool.
The Metropole Hotel can be seen to the left of this 1920s photograph looking up North Promenade from Talbot Square, Blackpool.
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The new year might only just have started but already some Memory Lane readers will be starting to think about the short breaks and holidays they would like to take in 2013.

And one of the most exciting but stressful things is going to be choosing the right hotel. Simplest way of gauging what a hotel is like and the type of establishment it is, comes by looking at the star rating.

It is fairly common knowledge a one star hotel will provide an informal, basic standard while at a five star hotel guests will benefit from more luxurious accommodation and a range of extra facilities during their stay.

However, very few of us stop to think how this system of rating hotels came about or even how long it has been used.

As 2012 marked the centenary of the AA Hotel Ratings scheme, it’s at least 100 years! Good quality hotels have been recommended by the motoring organisation almost since it inception in 1905. In 1908 about 1,000 of the leading hotels in the UK worked with AA scouts to provide information for motorists on places to stay, which was then listed in the 1909 handbook.

By 1912 it was felt a more critical approach was necessary to indicate the kind of hotel that was listed. The-then AA secretary, Stenson Cooke, had once been a wine and spirit salesman and felt the star rating of brandy would be a familiar yardstick to apply to hotels.

In his words, “a really decent, average, middle-class hotel” would merit the standard three stars.

By the 1913 AA Handbook the hotels listed carried the star ratings and more recently, in collaboration with VisitBritain, VisitScotland and VisitWales, the AA developed Common Quality Standards for inspecting and rating accommodation on a rising scale of one to five Stars.

These standards and rating categories are now applied throughout the British Isles and some readers might think Blackpool has too few star rated hotels. But that is an argument for another time on a different page.

The latest version of the AA Hotel Guide has details of more than 3,500 establishments ranging from intimate, personally-run establishments to elegant country houses, fashionable boutique hotels, five star rated hotels and more than 500 budget hotels.

In the 1913 AA Handbook there were around 1,375 hotels listed, 20 of these hotels were rated as five star – including the Metropole, the only Blackpool hotel on the “sea” side of the tram tracks.

That guide reveals you could get a bed at the Metropole from 3s 6d (17.5p); breakfast from 2s (10p); lunch 3s 6d (17.5p) daily; and dinner 5s (25p) daily. For an extra 5s 6d (27.5p) your chauffeur could tuck into his supper and enjoy bed and breakfast, safe in the knowledge that your car was kept in the hotel garage overnight.

Sadly, you won’t find the Metropole in this year’s guide, although five of the original five star rated properties – The Grand Hotel, Brighton, The Majestic Hotel, Harrogate, The Midland Hotel, Manchester, The Spa Hotel, Tunbridge Wells and The Royal, York - remain.

Joining the Metropole in the 1913 book were The Carlton, The Clifton and Queen’s Hydro, all rated three star.

St Annes had the Imperial Hydro (four stars) and The Grand (three stars), while neighbouring Lytham had the Clifton Arms (three stars) and the Ship and Royal (one star). At the other end of the coast came the Mount Hotel, Fleetwood (three stars).

Today the Fylde coast clocks up 18 properties – all but four of them in Blackpool – including The Carlton, still boasting those three stars from 100 years ago, and Lytham’s Clifton Arms, which has four stars, one more than in 1913.

Simon Numphud, AA hotel services’ manager, says: “The AA hotel rating scheme has provided the industry with a common quality standard that has now been used worldwide. Over the past 100 years the hotel industry has seen many changes with the advent of budget hotel chains and trendy boutique hotels. It is lovely to see that there are still some favourites that remain in the guide after all these years. The rating scheme is one of several important filters that customers use to help guide them through the wealth of hotels they now have to choose from. Our team of inspectors continue to inspect and rate hotels throughout the length and breadth of the country.”

The AA Hotel Guide 2013, price £14.99, is available from bookstores, at www.theAA.com, as well as an app from iTunes and Android Stores.