Resort hotel with a dickens of a history

Imperial Hotel, in Blackpool, pictured 9.02.72
Imperial Hotel, in Blackpool, pictured 9.02.72
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North Shore’s iconic Imperial Hotel has seen many famous faces come through its doors over its 150 year history.

One of the first was Charles Dickens.

Imperial Hotel, Blackpool
No 10 Bar 25.09.87

Imperial Hotel, Blackpool No 10 Bar 25.09.87

The well-known author came to the resort on April 21, 1869, during his tour of the north.

He spent the night at the Imperial, as he was giving readings of his works to packed audiences, after a triumphant tour of America.

The Blackpool Herald reported on April 23: “Blackpool has had this week the honour of receiving the distinguished visitor in the person of Charles Dickens, the great novelist, who arrived at the Imperial Hotel on Wednesday and left yesterday.”

He was meant to be appearing in Preston the following day, but not feeling well, he summoned his doctor from London who refused to allow him to appear in the city. He then returned to London the next day for more medical consultations.

Gracie Fields and her husband Boris Alperovici looking at their Christmas cards in their suite at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool on Christmas Eve 1955.

Gracie Fields and her husband Boris Alperovici looking at their Christmas cards in their suite at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool on Christmas Eve 1955.

He described the Imperial as a “charming place of rest”.

In 1871, Mr Curwen was appointed as the manager of the Imperial, with a commission of 7.5 per cent on the profits.

But, like William Head before him, he was unable to make a success of the business.

The following year, Mr Taylor, who had managed hotels in Brighton and Jersey, was appointed to succeed him.

Prime Minister Harold Wilson arrives at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool, before attending the North west Regional Conference of the Labour Party at the Winter Gardens, in 1965

Prime Minister Harold Wilson arrives at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool, before attending the North west Regional Conference of the Labour Party at the Winter Gardens, in 1965

Again, the venture did not prove successful and a scheme was prepared for the foundation of a limited company to take over the hotel.

The scheme did not come to fruition until August 1873, when the hotel was sold to Mr Rothwell and others for £32,000.

The company struggled along, but made no headway as a profit-making proposition.

Two years later, a resolution was passed by the board to wind up the company voluntarily for the purpose of reconstruction.

Harry Belafonte (right), the American singer, was unable to appear at the Opera House , Blackpool as he was confined to The Imperial Hotel with laryngitis , in 1958

Harry Belafonte (right), the American singer, was unable to appear at the Opera House , Blackpool as he was confined to The Imperial Hotel with laryngitis , in 1958

The company was liquidated in December that year and a new company – bearing the original name – was formed.

In 1881, the company name was changed to the Imperial Hydropathic Hotel Company, Blackpool.

The new company also found the hotel was no money-spinner and they got into difficulties.

Eventually the directors were facing bankruptcy and the bailiffs were ready to take possession of the hotel.

James Kirk, who had only recently joined the board, stepped in with a loan.

His intervention appeared to mark the turning point of the hotel.

With James Fish and then Charles Parker as chairman, the directors had a further seven years of hard work and worry before they were able to declare a dividend.

But in 1889, a four percent dividend was paid, reaching five per cent in 1892 – and the company started to grow.

In 1901, Turkish and Russian baths and a sea water plunge bath were built in the basement of the south wing and a ballroom added, which would accommodate 400 guests.

Three years later, a wing was added to the north end of the hotel, which incorporated a dining room for 400 guests, with lounge and palm court adjoining, and additional bedrooms.

Under the dining room was a banqueting room of the same size, a billiards room, cloak rooms and other amenities.

Then in April 1918, towards the end of the First World War, the Government took over the hotel to be used as an officer’s hospital, and they retained possession until May 1919.

After the occupation, the hotel needed wholesale renovation and it was closed while a major modernisation and re-decoration scheme was carried out.

The £40,000 scheme included the installation of hot and cold running water in the bedrooms, mahogany panelling in the main hall.

In 1925, other big improvements were carried out in the basement – which provided a complete suite for banquets, conventions, dances or meetings, with access from Wilton Parade.

Between the wars, an addition was made at the north-east corner of the hotel which provided further accommodation for guests.

During the Second World War, the hotel was again taken over by the Government, as were so many other Blackpool hotels – for office accommodation, and when the directors regained possession 11 years later big and costly improvements – including seven-and-a-half miles of carpeting – were carried out, at a total expenditure of £100,000.

The unused old Turkish Baths in the south wing of the basement – recently uncovered and currently being renovated – were dealt with in two phases.

First in 1956, the area was cleared and equipped as a children’s play room.

Then in 1962, it was changed into five stock rooms named the Ducal Rooms, with direct access to the car park, the children’s playroom being transferred to some unused bathrooms on the first floor.

In 1965, two further well-furnished meeting room were added behind the site of the old Turkish Baths.

In more modern times, for more than two years, volunteers have been working to uncover the hidden tiling in the former Turkish Baths at the Imperial. Now one room of ornate ceramics has finally been revealed, and work is well underway on the other two rooms, which in their heyday were a magnet for well-to-do Victorian holidaymakers wanting to partake of the benefits of Blackpool seawater.

The end of 1958 saw the whole of the hotel provided with central heating.

The dining room was completely modernised in 1963 and a new luxurious cocktail bar created in 1961.

Work was begun in 1960 to give every bedroom in the hotel its own bathroom suite, telephone and radio, television and fire alarm.

In 1987, the Imperial underwent one of her biggest face-lifts, with a £700,000 clean-up involving re-pointing brickwork, windows and guttering replaced, and 14 new bedrooms created in old staff quarters on the top floor.

A £5m revamp took place in the early 90s – including a new health and fitness club.

Around 10 years ago, work has carried out on the hotel to restore it to its former glory – which included works to the front façade, the stunning carved ceiling in the Washington Suite, and the oak panelling and fireplace discovered in the Churchill Suite.

Over the years, there have been a whole host of famous faces staying at the Imperial.

They have included various politicians and prime ministers – including Harold Wilson, Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and John Major.

Royalty such as the Queen Mother has stayed there, not to mention film and pop stars including actress Gracie Fields, at Christmas 1955, and singer Harry Belafonte.