The Midland Hotel - Morecambe
But they are going to be reproduced here anyway! (Lantern Images here)
You may remember from my previous reminiscences that my husband Andrew is a Notts. County supporter, which, I hasten to add, does not necessarily make him a bad person! However, his determination to visit all football grounds where his team plays, ensured that we visited Morecambe this weekend because Morecambe FC who are nicknamed “The Shrimps” happened to be hosting “The Magpies”.
Having mentioned shrimps I am reminded that the Midland Hotels Seahorses adorning the central tower just happen to be Eric Gills artistic tribute to the famous Morecambe Bay crustaceans.
To be absolutely certain that we didn’t miss the kick-off on Saturday, we travelled up to Carnforth [where we chose to stay this time] on Friday night and despite the severe weather warnings that were being given out, we had a relatively uneventful journey except for encountering quite strong winds in exposed areas. As the turn-off for Carnforth is the same as for Morecambe, Andrew suggested that we should drive through Morecambe just to see if we could see anything happening at the hotel. [Maybe he was feeling a little remorseful because we were in Morecambe at the beginning of the year and it wasn’t the Friends of the Midland A.G.M. weekend which, it so happened was the following week]. As we turned onto Marine Road we soon saw, even though it was after 9pm that there was glass in the windows, the odd light was on and the scaffolding protecting the building was mostly down – the biggest difference was that the walls were smooth and once more gave the frontage a superior grandeur. We drove on to Carnforth content in the knowledge that there would be something worth seeing when we came over the next day.
We arrived to a Comedy of Errors as far as our hotel was concerned culminating in the key to our room being lost and the alternative offered, although in the same price bracket, was really disappointing! Several large glasses of white wine assisted the remainder of the evening to pass in a reasonable glow – in the end we were given the housekeepers key to the room we had originally booked and the difference was astonishing. I wish I hadn’t had quite so much wine as it made me very dozy and although I came too every so often, I did in fact miss the majority of the Australian Open Ladies Final, despite my best efforts to keep awake! Actually thinking about it, the survival of the Midland must really mean more than a lot to me – it is unthinkable that I would miss any tennis on TV and more to the point it is unthinkable that I would agree to go away anywhere if there was tennis to be had – but for the Midland I’m doing it twice this year!
On Saturday morning we went into Morecambe in plenty of time for me to be ferried back to Carnforth whilst Andrew made his way back to watch the match. We were able to park quite close to the site and despite the strength of the wind it was possible to get a reasonable view of the hotel. We only went as far as the site office as this is still a work in progress and a very active building site. From that vantage point I was able to take a few decent pictures and have a good look at the changes. The fact that there is glass in the window frames makes such a difference to the broken and tatty bordered up views of the past. In the middle of all the construction survives the palm-like plant which it was feared would perish in the renovations – another tribute to Urban Splash’s sensitivity to these sorts of issues. There was a lot of standing water in the front apron of the hotel, a reminder of the extremely wet weather experienced recently, as there was in most fields we passed between Morecambe and Carnforth. As I turned to go, I noticed that the entrance “cones” were finally exposed and was able to come close up to them for the first time. They must stand about 6 feet tall and are still in a state of disrepair, pealing and cracked, but it can’t be long now before they too are cleaned up and given a fresh coat of the rendering already adorning the main building. I’m really curious to see if Urban Splash will reinstate the lighting that used to sit atop the cones. Judging by the original pictures it was a silly little flame like structure that didn’t seem to be in proportion to the rest of its support.
Beyond the cones I noticed the simple and modest Board announcing the fact that this was the “Urban Splash – Midland Hotel”.
On exiting the building site we walked on to Brucciani’s famous ice cream parlour in biting wind. http://www.classiccafes.co.uk/bruccianispecial.htm
As we walked the short distance between these two landmarks we noticed that the distinctive protective hoardings being used by Urban Slash were receiving a coat of paint themselves – I have been truly amazed at the professional approach being taken by the restorers – the Midland could not have been placed in safer hands! The further we walked away the more enchanting became the panoramic view as the greenery from the park area obscured the building site that is the front of the hotel. I started to recognise the various views staring out at me from brown monochromatic vintage postcards, the shapes created by the landscaped gardens – the past was coming alive in front of me.
Blown to pieces, our hair standing on end, we entered the safe haven of Brucciani’s and ordered Hot Chocolate. It was hot, very sweet and very sticky – but welcoming. I had chosen Hot Chocolate in preference to my usual Cappuccino because that is what I had drunk in Iceland whilst visiting the Hotel Borg. We went there because I couldn’t resist its promotion “Whilst waiting for the midland Hotel to be restored, why not visit the fully restored Art Deco Hotel Borg in Reykjavik?” I was hooked and we went and it was quite an experience which we enjoyed immensely and the Borg has done a great restoration job – yes, yes as Trekkies we found some amusement in the name – not to mention the tennis link – Bjorn? OK, I won’t then! We had a view overlooking the square but it was difficult adjusting to the fact that it was night nearly all of the time – at 10am there was still a pitch black sky and big moon to be seen directly overhead. But I have to say it – Iceland serves the most magnificent Hot Chocolate at any time of day or night or night or night!!!
Returning to why we visit Morecambe on a regular basis [OK read that as I force us to come here regularly] – we have hoped for so long that the Midland will survive, but there have been so many setbacks that there is a sort of terror each time that there will be nothing to see the next time we visit. I now subscribe to the Morecambe Visitor to get updates or any interesting news on a regular basis. I also check all the web-sites and in December noticed that bookings were being taken for the Grand Opening later this year. I rang up immediately [credit card at the ready] to bag a room for the Opening Night whenever it was going to be. Imagine, I hadn’t been quick enough – there was nothing left for the opening night! But, the person I spoke to me quickly reassured me that there would be a week of opening nights and I could have any room I wanted on the second first night [I knew what he was talking about even if it does sound convoluted!] So I bagged the Honeymoon Suite – the biggest and poshest suite in existence, at the top of the hotel overlooking the superb vista that is Morecambe Bay! I wanted this room because it is one of the new ones that didn’t exist in the original hotel – we stayed in one of the original suites on previous visits, it seemed fitting to try out a new room as this is a new start! The opening week of nights is a bit fluid at the moment so we don’t know if we are going to be staying there on a Monday in June or a Saturday in May – just so long as it isn’t the Friday night we’re going to see Liza Minnelli [2nd attempt – tried to see her in Birmingham about 10 years ago but she was taken ill].
All this shouldn’t interfere with Wimbledon or any of the preceding tournaments, it shouldn’t impact on the French Open too much either should it? Guess what – as a special treat the Friends of the Midland have taken over the hotel for a full weekend – it just happens to be the weekend of the Wimbledon Finals! Last year I remember spending my life in BBCi watching all the matches I could over the finals weekend – I somehow don’t think that will be the case this year. In a way I could have given up the friends weekend because the whole exercise was over subscribed and everyone’s name and choice was put in a hat and balloted. We got our second choice – the Junior Suite [first choice was a double room with balcony] but it doesn’t really matter, does it, because the first time we go and stay, on the second first night, we are going to have the best room in the world!
Just for now though, I shall await May and June with a little impatience but with a nice warm feeling in the knowledge that the long haul is almost over.
It all started with an e-mail my husband received which he forwarded to me at work on 18th June [fittingly my fathers’ 92nd birthday]. This particular e-mail had been sent to him by your own Saltdean web-mistress Nikki Fabry – I get a bit confused here as I always correspond with Nikki under my own e-mail address, so the first piece of magic was, that the information her e-mail contained did reach its eventual destination – me! Nikki, in turn, had been the recipient of the original message from Gary Falkingham of Urban Splash [see Visitor article below this update] who wanted to let her know that the missing banister was “missing no more!” Mysteriously he added that he would give Nikki the full story if she rang him.
Knowing I would be interested in the full story, Nikki left me to ring Gary. Well, you can imagine the introductory conversation can’t you – me having to explain that I’m the one who writes the updates on the Saltdean site and that Nikki had sent his e-mail to my husband who had forwarded it to me at work and here I was – waiting for the full story. I’m pretty certain, after getting that lot down the telephone mouthpiece Gary wasn’t thinking it was magic, more like a Malfoy curse [yes, OK I admit it, I am finally reading the Harry Potter series now that the books are all published.]
Anyway … once he’d got over the shock Gary told me pretty much the same as has been chronicled in the Visitor article – but the story was slightly more tense before its happy ending. Gary did indeed spot the couple on site and, worried for their safety, investigated why they were there. At first the couple were a little reticent but finally told him that they thought they had something that belonged to the hotel and would he like it back. Gary asked them what they had, but they intimated that they weren’t exactly sure what the item was. He asked them to describe it and to his amazement was able to visualise the banister/staircase – which he had just read about the day before on ….. this web-site! Remember, you read it here first! Magic or coincidence or just spooky? Sure enough, the following day the couple returned and presented Gary with the whole piece as seen in the Visitor article. They didn’t seem to want any thanks or recognition for its return and disappeared as mysteriously as they had arrived. Now that is magic! In the meantime, the reporter from the Visitor wanted to know more about the Ocean – neither he nor Gary were aware of its existence – so for the first time I’ve been able to offer reciprocal information and the Ocean and this web-site have now been brought to the attention of the Visitor readers.
I had to laugh when I read that this particular artefact was on Interpols’ missing antiques list – fancy, little old me helping to track it down – definitely a touch of magic there. I’ve done a search on the Interpol site but haven’t yet found the page with the information on – if I find it before this is published, I’ll add it to the article.
What I also did as a result of this “adventure” was to make a subscription to the Visitor as things really do seem to be moving with the Midland now and it is great to follow the progress but there’s nothing like experiencing the changes so ….
Last week we went to Morecambe to see how things were and maybe to get a look at the banister itself, although you would have expected it to be securely chained under lock and key and monitored by an electronic eye. We got to the Midland in the early afternoon and the sky was starting to look a little troubled [we’d had about 3 dry days up to that point] which did not augur well. The first and most obvious difference is the fact that there is nowhere near as much scaffolding and the blue mesh which had covered it previously had all but disappeared. The building itself is no longer peeling but has a new smooth matt-looking exterior [the polishing “finish” to this rendering is still to come]. We were met by Gary himself who explained that they had already had visiting dignitaries that morning and so at best he could only offer a whistle-stop tour – as that was more than we hoped for we accepted.
Firstly I asked to see the recovered treasure – Gary looked around the office and pointed to an empty spot saying that it was usually there – well not anymore. He went off to the Conference Room and came back empty handed – eventually it was found there, it had magicked itself back … OK, so that’s a bit of poetic licence. (see PostScript at rear of page for full story)
In the Conference Room we were shown groundplans of the hotel – having studied architecture as part of my History of Art degree, I appreciate the work that goes into planning a structure. Groundplans and elevations were a chore to learn, but this day I was glad I had paid attention! The basement [the Tardis of the previous article] will be a high percentage of utility and kitchen amenities – but there is also a generous proportion set aside for relaxation and beauty! The ground floor will retain much of its original purpose – a lobby, dining facilities and two conference facilities instead of one as previously. A new sun terrace will be introduced along the sea-facing side of the hotel but this one will be more in keeping with the style of the hotel as opposed to being “lopped on” as the preceding version had been sometime during the hotels chequered post-war history.
Floors 1 and 2 will house en-suite bedrooms and there is the possibility that the two bedrooms on the first floor in the rounded end [on your left as you look at the front entrance] might be “themed” to the 1930s.
Then there is the roof which will have special suites with all-glass walls overlooking the bay which has magnificent sunsets and flanking the suites will be decking with loungers.
We donned hard hats, high conspicuity waistcoats and reinforced boots and set off to have a look. Not much seems to have happened on the ground floor since our last visit, but great strides have been made in lifting off the wall and saving the Eric Gill “pictorial relief” of North-West England. A specialist had been called in and with the assistance of a special preserving glue and complicated interior scaffolding the mural is safely behind what looks like wads of lagging or cotton wool. The plan is to have the Gills “Odysseus Welcomed from the Sea by Nausica” stone relief positioned back in its original place in the lobby and the mural to be placed on the reverse of the wall supporting the sculpture. This weeks’ Visitor has covered the progress of this part of the restoration.
The original frieze (left) and how it looks after restoration (right)
The first floor is where the greatest progress is visible – no longer the gaping shell that hosted pigeon racing of old – now there is structure. The walls to the eventual rooms are in place and a corridor is formed. Each of the rooms will be individual in shape, dimension and we are informed, colour schemes. This area is a positive hive of activity – men measuring, men carrying, men thinking and one man skimming inside one of the rooms – a positive art form – he is on stilts and gliding around as if surfing – an artist in his profession! The Visitor has a virtual tour of one of the “mocked” up rooms on its web-site. The latest state of the art ideas are being funnelled into these rooms to make the best possible use of the space available.
Men at work in one of the newly created rooms and two views of the prototype rooms (the calendar above the bed and tree coat hanger feature in every room and suite)
The second floor is still boarded up and no work in progress there other than to protect from the elements. The roof has a skeleton scaffolding of the proposed new suites and up there, last week, the view was magnificent. The sea was moving apace but not roughly, boats of all shapes, sizes and colours were bobbing about and there was even a Big Wheel in the distance.
The Morecambe shrimps immortalised on the front of the tower of the hotel as Gills’ seahorses have had a face lift and once again look as they might have done when the hotel was first opened although the scaffolding in place currently doesn’t allow for a direct and individual shot of them. Areas of the rendering on the roof have had their final polish and gleam and glint as they pick up the rays from the sun now once again shining down …. all in all a really enormous piece of magic!
Thanks to my enthusiasm for the Midland and my updates on this site I’ve been approached by reFresh magazine to write a history of the hotel for their September issue which will run in tandem with an article by Urban Splash which I am very much looking forward to reading as I am sure their knowledge of the restoration will reveal all sorts of yummy new information! I keep telling you – it’s all magic!
(28th February 2007 - Thanks Anna! - Update on the progress of the Midland Hotel in Morecambe as at 20th January 2007.)
To all of you who are following my updates, a heartfelt thank you, especially those of you who are feeling the demise of your beautiful Ocean Hotel.
So why has the Midland become the or even a Tardis? Not perhaps the copyrighted version : Time And Relative Dimension (or Dimensions) In Space - but certainly an acronym of its own which will follow on completion of this article as a tribute to Urban Splash and all the hard work they have put into saving the Midland.
On 20th January 2007 following the AGM of the Friends of the Midland Hotel on the 19th, the membership was treated to another "tour" as promised in the AGM notification.
The exterior safely ensconced in scaffolding in preparation for the new rendering and the entrance hall also protected with scaffolding.
Before and after 'clean-up' images of the Seahorses (Shrimps)
This year my husband Andrew and I thought we would be smart and wait in the car until just before the appointed hour of 10.30am as we remember how cold it was last year and even the promise of windows in the building did not fill us with comforting thoughts of warmth! Hoist by our own petard we discovered that the number of interested members had grown sufficiently for the tour to be divided into two groups only one of which could be on site at any one time because there weren't enough hard hats and high conspicuity vests for all of us to go in together. Group 2 sheltered in the site "Conference Office" which had a table, a few chairs, pictures on the wall and a small heater - however, the door had to be kept open or we would otherwise have suffocated - the office [a site box container] is probably only designed to house a dozen people comfortably. [Fig 1 07] Many of the group kept popping outside to alleviate the anticipation of the visit and there were loud cheers when the first group appeared on the roof - cool, that meant we were going to get up there after all! One of my dreams is to hug one of the seahorses, but I don't think that is going to happen any time soon if ever!
At last, Group 1 vacated the building in dribs and drabs and handed over their hard hats and high conspicuity vests without which we were not allowed into the building. As I have walking difficulties, I tend to walk behind the crowd rather than within it - two things happened as we started to make our way forward - the wind, which was vicious that day, blew the stick I was using to help me away from my body so I had to adjust the way I used it. Just as I looked up to see where everyone else was - I started seeing them disappear - nothing unusual in that is there? They were just entering the building - but where they? No-one was going in through the front entrance, they had been led to the right hand side of the building, lined up flush to the wall and then single file down a slope which gave the optical illusion of their bodies disappearing in layers until just the heads, then the hard hats were left and then - nothing …… spooky? As I followed somewhat slowly I arrived at the optical illusion which is a concealed [delivery?] sloped entrance into the basement - home of the "tank" we had heard so much about the previous evening. By "tanking" the basement Urban Splash will be able to move many of the utilities down there which originally had taken up valuable space on the ground floor. The Midland never possessed the assets that the Ocean had, I refer of course, to that whole underground structure which spread beneath the hotel and added masses of room.
I still don't quite understand what the "tank" is all about, however I can see that the basement has been "lagged" - presumably the tank is not just a square thing [I had visions of a floatation tank] placed somewhere - I think the whole basement has become the tank and has been waterproofed, shored up, framed and lagged and it now looks like the interior of one of the versions of the original Tardis when flown by the Dr Who incarnated as Tom Baker. [Figs 3 + 4 07]
We then entered the main part of the ground floor via the staircase that leads to the "Tea Room" lovingly recreated for the episode of "Poirot" entitled "Double Sin" - where the dastardly ladies con is revealed! This was an area we saw for the first time last year but it is still amazing to think that we were able to walk freely into the heart of the building! The ground floor has not changed remarkably [it was already all but gutted last year], but the big difference is that there are windows in place as much to help with the weather but also to keep the building and its contents dry. What contents? There are sackfuls of render stacked in what was once the reception area. [Fig 6 07] The other big difference is the brieze block wall that has been especially put in place to eventually receive the Eric Gill relief "Odysseus being welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa" which is cut in Perrycot Portland Stone. Assuming it can be moved the other side of this specially built screen is intended to be new housing for the pictorial map of North-West England created by Gill and his son-in-law Denis Tegetmeier. Finally and rather brutally, the whole of the central spiral staircase has scaffolding to the top of the building for structural work to the front tower - familiar to you all whether you picture the Midland or the Ocean. All the glass has been removed from the tower - but will be replaced and renovated to keep the spirit of the original.
l to r - Tony Porter with a backdrop of Rotunda recreated Mural / Andrew Ludlow with obligatory hard hat in the Rotunda
The last view of the Rotunda reproduction canvas recreated for the 'Double Sin' episode of 'Poirot'
The first floor has pipes in place and some form of racking in place for whatever [possibly electricity] needs to be put in place and a couple of rooms have been mocked up. No more pigeon racing on this floor [see previous updates].
Then they let us out on the roof. By this time I was very tired and stopped concentrating and my head met the scaffolding - luckily for me, in between my head and the scaffolding there was the hard hat - what an experience - no pain!
We came out onto the roof, the sun was shining brilliantly, the wind was howling, let's call it what was - a gale and sea was the angriest I have ever seen it - but as a landlubber that probably doesn't say much! And then, there they were - my beautiful Seahorses - really the Morecambe shrimp in stylised disguise - cleaned up and looking perky - smiling at the view below them! [Figs 08 and 09 07]
And so, the wait, any wait for the completion will be worth it as Urban Splash weave their magic and the Midland's "Tantalisingly Awaited Renaissance is Delivered In Style" - told you - TARDIS!
I have to admit that my pilgrimages to the Midland are taken with a certain amount of trepidation and the awful thought of what I might see when I get there. This is an emotion deeply ingrained in me because of the years of deterioration that the poor old lady has suffered. It doubly hurts to know that the Ocean is also going through troubled times - I wonder what it is about these two grand dames which brings them such excessive highs and lows in their existence?
What I need to say early on in this article is that although the Midland Hotel in Morecambe is currently completely covered in scaffolding and blue mesh - Urban Splash are making great inroads into preserving this timeless building. What made me jump with joy was seeing men in hard hats working on the second floor - I could just see them bobbing in and out of the fire-escape side. I had a little chuckle as well because one of the things everyone agreed was an appalling eyesore was the rusting spiral fire escape which was removed pdq by Urban Splash. However - if you have a look at the photo you will see that a similar temporary structure has had to be built to allow access. Don't get me wrong - nobody misses that fire escape and I dare say under Health and Safety it would have probably been condemned years ago, but it just struck me as ironic that had it been in better condition, it might just have proved to have one final positive use before being consigned to oblivion!
Quick reminder of how it all looked, although the rusty fire escape has already been removed - more derelict images here
Because I know that this time I would not be allowed onto the site, I determined to see if I could find out anything about the interior of the hotel as it was in its heyday in the 1930s. I have lots of exterior postcards of the hotel but nothing of the interior. I had rung Morecambe Library [Reference Section] some time before going up to see if they had anything I could browse through. The gentleman I spoke to, whose name I discovered right at the end of my visit was John, was as helpful as he could be over the telephone telling me they had a "boxful" of cuttings but not much of it was pre-war. I found that a little disappointing - but a "boxful" of any stuff is better than nothing. When I arrived at the library - which is modern, spacious, airy and in the middle of the Arndale Centre, I was able to find the Reference section easily as the library has signs posted above each alcove indicating the contents of the section - simplicity itself! Luckily, John was on duty and remembered our conversation and led me to the "box" which actually ended up being a "drawer-full" but there it all was! As it happens there were quite a few articles from illustrious magazines such as "Architecture Illustrated" and "Architectural Review" from 1933 but they weren't really good enough to copy - but I was pleased to see comprehensive coverage of the interior as well as some groundplans, after all it was labelled as the "First Art Deco Hotel" to be built. John left me to look through the bounty having said that I could have photocopies of anything in the folders. I only managed to get through the "chronological" folder as I was conscious of the time it would take and made copious notes and references to later find books/magazines on the internet and copies of articles from the British Library. John had already been so accommodating that I didn't wish to take up too much more of his time but I couldn't resist requesting photocopies of more "locally valuable" items such as a very well put together Kalber brochure and a menu supplied specifically for the library staff.
It had been a pretty emotional two hours reading about the opening of the hotel in 1933, its various threats of closure, its abandonment, its failed projects and the arrival of the knights in shining armour - Urban Splash. I also chuckled over the promise of one previous owner to paint the hotel in Mr Blobby colours - there was even a computer-graphic of what it might look like - talk of a chequered history - now, could that be an idea? Only kidding, but I did think that maybe, when the hotel is up and running and glistening in the sun - rather than let it lose its magic at night, what if, like Buckingham Palace, on special occasions it might sport a new livery - such as the Union Jack - or be a different colour every so often - the 30s so loved their rainbow effects ….. but that's just a personal dream triggered by a rumour [not substantiated] that the Midland was painted black during the war. Oh how I would have loved to see that! But again, there is no photographic evidence that I am aware of - unless anyone reading this would care to prove me wrong? What colour was the Ocean during WWII - was it camouflaged by the Fire Brigade?
Having emerged from the library with lots of "lubbly-jubbly" - I found my husband and sister, we swept past the majestic and mysterious [behind her veils] old lady and headed off for a long and leisurely lunch in Bolton-le-Sands before making our way home.
Apart from updating you, my dear friends at Saltdean, I have also updated two leading Midland fans, Tony Porter and his wife Beatrice. You will already know from previous articles that Tony and Beatrice have a wealth of knowledge of all things Art Deco and were instrumental in buying, saving and breathing life back into Burgh Island - beautifully described in "The Great White Palace". Although Andrew and I have known Tony for many years, it is only recently that we have become more than acquaintances and because of this I finally plucked up the courage to ask Tony and Bea to sign their book for me this year despite the fact that I had owned it since 2002. I was such a keen fan of Burgh that I had the book on pre-order at Amazon! If you would like to know more please visit : www.tonyporter.co.uk/welcome.htm
Tony is immensely interested in the progress at the Midland and I was happy to update him as Morecambe is a little easier to reach from Nottingham than from Devon.
And so, here I am again back at my computer where I have just been surfing and discovered that there is a "site visit" to the Midland on 20th September, guess who is booking her annual leave right now! In the meantime, courtesy of the internet and a telephone call, I have already found one book and one back issue of a magazine featuring the Midland and "Signpost" have promised a copy of a review in their magazine if they are ensured a credit for its use.
Other links you might find interesting with news of the Midland - the Urban Splash link is beautiful and the bay-online link is packed with historical and current goodies. (UPDATE - Both now sadly unlinked from the Internet)
We received our invitations to the Annual General Meeting in good time, as always, from our considerate Committee who are fully aware that many of the "Friends of the Midland" are from outside of the Lancashire area - demonstrating just how far the passion, to save this building, has spread.
Not only did they issue an invitation for us to attend and go through the usual mundane stuff - but they promised us a presentation from Urban Splash and then …. they promised we would be taken around the building the following day so that we could see for ourselves what Urban Splash had accomplished so far!
How generous is that? An established and well-known company, taking the time to take into consideration what a few aficionados have to say, understanding and joining in their passion and letting them participate in the great renaissance - how cool is that? I applaud Urban Splash for their enlightened view and approachable disposition - an honest company who have no fear of criticism. All this and they went in search of the funding to make this a reality in the first place - I really do believe they deserve a big hand.
And so to the visit - on Thursday, 3rd February, my husband Andrew and I set off to Morecambe from Nottingham - a reasonable journey of nearly 200 miles, so we were not really just county-hopping, it was a bit of a trek. The weather and level of traffic proved auspicious and we arrived at our destination not long after midday. We drove past the beloved derelict happy to see it was clothed in a substantive protective barrier and even happier to confirm that it was really still there!
We visited a shop or two, lunched and settled into our pub accommodation in a village slightly north of Morecambe (unfortunately we weren't able to book any rooms at the Midland!!). We thought we had arrived at the AGM in a timely fashion - well, we had but so had about 70 others - the place was teeming with people - what a turnout! True to the Agenda - we were given a presentation by Urban Splash who showed several examples of their work - it is always a treat to see actual "before and after" pictures - and an insight into how they envisaged the Midland would look on completion. The presentation did not just consist of pictures - we heard how the sites were acquired and why, what opposition had been met, what challenges had been offered - it seems that if there is passion and belief in the impossible Urban Splash seem to want the job! Our presenter announced a couple of deviations from the original ideas that had been necessitated but nothing that could worry us. In conclusion we were reminded that there would be a visit the following morning. Following on, after a coffee break, the AGM moved along apace with no great changes ensuing.
Saturday - we started gathering at 10.30am for the promised 11.00am tour. Present, as he had been at the AGM, a distinguished and very knowledgeable "Friend of the Midland" - one Tony Porter who had, together with his wife, almost single-handedly saved and restored the Burgh Island Hotel in Bigbury, Devon.
I know Tony, so he won't mind me saying that when Andrew and I first stayed at the Midland (in 1999) we noticed there was a "Porters' Lodge" by the lift and we joked that it was typical of Tony's farsightedness that had already "bagged himself a pitch".
We repeated the story to him when we entered the old derelict and had to show him the spot as everything was gutted and Tony had not seen the porters lodge when it was in situ. We were escorted into the building - it really is now just a complete shell - probably not unlike when it was first built before the finishing touches were added. We could see the whole structure - Bill Maynard from Urban Splash told us that once he had given his talk we could have a free run of the building except the roof as it was just too windy. Bill had time throughout to answer collective and individual questions - he told us that although they had saved everything they needed to save that had been stripped - one end piece of the banister was missing - they would dearly love its return. I have a picture of the missing piece, which I am sharing with you, should they need to reproduce. So off we went to have a look at everything - to the left of the staircase (remember everything in the Midland is the reverse of the Ocean - our staircase is on the left as you walk in and yours is on the right) was the corridor that led to the porters Lodge, the lift, the Conference Room which housed the mural of the coastline and the Eric Gill sculpture and the loos. Everywhere was open except for the load-bearing columns - but we were able to walk in and out of the "rooms". We then headed in the other direction going passed the entrance lobby and the reception desk, passed the dining room and kitchens (I know all this because I'd been there previously) and then we came to a bit that we had, in all the time of coming, never been able to access - the Rotunda café.
From l to r - the bannister as first seen by us on our initial visit to the hotel and a detail showing the precise and well-loved Marion Dorn design
UPDATE: The missing banister was returned to Urban Splash under mysterious circumstances after someone at US had seen my picture in the article on the Saltdean website - spooky or what?
We headed passed the kitchens and into a space which had a very narrow staircase following the line of what looked like a colonnade but was in fact the café. We entered the café which is a perfect circle and still has the remnants of the murals painted for the episode of Poirot entitled "Double Sin." (UPDATE: In the last year, part of the mural has been recreated by talented artists Jonquil Cook and Isa Clee-Cadman)
Urban Splash is still researching what was there originally. There are lots of little anomalies - like, what colour were the window frames originally - where they white or that eau-de-nil-like colour so beloved of Art Deco architecture. The debate is growing - they might have been white on the inside and the eau-de-nil-like colour on the exterior, but the frames show white beneath the colour also. Later on, some of us leaned over to have a look at the basement window frames (all the top ones having been removed by now) and found traces of royal blue paint!!!!!! Anyway, after we had gorged ourselves on the rotunda, for me a special treat and privilege as I had managed to get into nearly every other nook and cranny on two previous visits - I've even seen bits of Burgh Island I probably shouldn't have - we went upstairs. In many ways that was worse because both floors are identical in shape, two long curved empty corridors. Again, it was a treat to see the structure of one of rooms in the bay tower to the left (as you look at the building from the front - a wing that is not replicated in the Ocean) and it was so sad to be able to stand on the exact spot that had been our "suite" on the two occasions we had stayed there!
How the balcony area looked when we stayed in the Bowland Suite
The door to the Bowland Suite and the completely gutted interior of the area that had been the room we stayed in
Several pigeons accompanied us on our tour, they seem to have found several places to enter and egress - but then they got tired of us in their "birddom" and started to have a Formula 1 style race - but they were very good, they stayed on the inside of the cordoned area and we stayed on our side. It was remarkably chilly in that building and it felt warm as we stepped out and continued taking photos to record the unique event of which we had become a part. Another puzzle is the composition of the exterior rendering of the building - we know that it has been described as sparkling with blue glints in the sun and Urban Splash have rediscovered the original ingredients used - but what is the magic ingredient that makes it work - was it even meant to do that in the first place?
My question is about the Seahorses at the front - original postcards intimate that they were white, but presumably not rendered - currently they appear to be a cross between brown and purple-grey (a sort of taupe) and the architects vision has them a purple colour to stand out against the brilliant white - my own preference would be to see them white again as I believe they were originally - I love those seahorses and was not a little spooked when I noticed, at our beloved Ocean, that the entrance mirrors carried a Seahorse design!
The lobby at the Grand Ocean greets you with Seahorse images and the iconic stairwell is reflected in the image on the right
As a follow-up to my previous lengthy article which was all about "our Midland" - I have to say that I am feeling rather territorial about the "Ocean" now as well due to all sorts of factors.
Principally because I've made two new friends as a result of my visit to the hotel. Firstly the owner of the Saltdean.Info web-site who allows me to indulge in my pet projects and Douglas d'Enno author and resident of Saltdean who encouraged my interest in the Midland's "twin." You cannot imagine how sad I am that both hotels can't function successfully at the same time - as it would have been wonderful for me, and I am sure all others interested in this phenomenon - to have the odd weekend in Morecambe at the Midland then counter it with a weekend in Saltdean at the Ocean (and vice versa). For a Midlander - the journey lengths aren't that much different. (By the way - don't believe all the stories about Nottingham being the gun capital of Europe or that we, its residents care about the big "N" - we have Robin Hood and we will continue to cherish him!).
Anyway - I digress - so having seen the Midland degrade into dereliction whilst staying at the delightful pink and plum palace that is the Ocean, their fortunes are now reversed. The Ocean to be converted and the Midland to be saved and hopefully become a thriving business once again.
There are assurances and finances by Urban Splash (web-link to follow) which are solid and hopeful - unlike Kalber Leisure who even up until recently had the Midland Hotel as a flag-ship project on their web-site.
The Friends of the Midland held their 5th or 6th Annual General Meeting on the 4th of February 2005 - 26 members from all parts of the UK attended and 15 sent apologies. Bill Maynard, Director Of Development at Urban Splash attended and talked to the members - this was such an encouraging moment!
To view the magnificent projected plans that Urban Splash have visit their web-site via this link :
http://www.urbansplash.co.uk/us.php?action=linkToPipeline&arg_1=aboutus_fp Select the "Home" tab, then Image Library, then find the Midland Hotel link on the drop-down menu and select "search" - this will show you several images of how the restoration will look.
(UPDATE - the site no longer exists, but to give you a flavour here are two screen shots)
In the meantime - the Midland is finally properly protected with security boarding with information and pictures displayed on the protective barriers - a real commitment to this magnificent project!
I have to say - having been a staunch Midland fan - I am now torn between the two and hope both of them survive.
Wonderful article kindly passed on by Douglas d' Enno. Written by Anna - a great fan of the Midland Hotel The Grand Ocean's 'twin' - it describes her stay at the Grand Ocean
When I mentioned, in passing, to Barry Guise (Friends of the Midland) that my husband and I were going to stay at the Ocean, he asked me if I would like to write an article for the Newsletter about our stay. I have to admit that I was a little surprised and not a little honoured to be trusted with such an undertaking. I was also a little worried as the content of the Newsletter, is to my mind of such incredibly high standard that I should hate to let the side down, but I'm giving it my best shot. I also doubted that the Newsletter should contain information about a hotel that has nothing to do with the Midland and Morecambe, but then remembered that the Newsletter often carried other Art Deco related articles, so feel more comfortable tackling what I hope be appropriate to the Newsletter standard.
My first thought when asked to write this, was that I really must find out more about the background and history of the Morecambe Midland's "twin." I racked my brains for a clue and remembered from our "Friends" weekend all those years ago that someone had mentioned that the Ocean was a Butlin's hotel. How and in what context I cannot remember, but I think it was during the slide-show. So off I went for a "surf" … I had by this time bought John Hinde's book of Butlin's photographs and was deeply disappointed that it contained only photographs of the campsites and not the hotels. Google directed me to a historic Butlin's site where people are encouraged to share their experiences and reminiscences - here I found a wealth of Art Deco frontages but nothing resembling hotels. Sneakily on the right hand side of the page there was a link to Butlin's Hotels - as the page loaded, so the sight of the Ocean materialised. From here the link took me to a booking facility and that is how I decided to book a weekend away for my husband's birthday (yes, you are right, I didn't consult him - it was going to be a surprise). I checked his diary, there were no commitments and Notts. County were playing away, so I felt fairly safe.
I was feeling pretty confident now and explored further on the Net - I found a wonderful website where someone, who is obviously interested in Art Deco, had loaded some excellent pictures of the Ocean and I contacted the owner. He was unable to tell me anything about the hotel other than it was owned by Butlin's and was still a going concern - that much I knew already. What I hadn't spotted however, was that it was no longer, in actual fact, owned by Butlin's (more later).
I then decided to start tracking the history of the place - I started in my favourite place - www.ebay.com - you can find anything in there. I found postcards - lots of them for sale - those that I didn't win I downloaded pictures of. I contacted all the sellers asking what they knew - very little beyond the fact that they were all Butlin's buffs and this was a Butlin's hotel. (By the way - I sold the John Hinde book!).
Next stop was to see if Saltdean had any web-pages and here the adventure really started. Saltdean is very proud of its heritage and has a very comprehensive website which is worth visiting www.saltdean.info.
At this point, before I go any further - as we were leaving the Ocean I asked the receptionist if there was any historical information she could give me - it was at this point that I found out that the hotel had been bought by the Grand Leisure Hotel group about 5 years previously, that it had been a Butlin's hotel (yawn!) but that there was a book called "The Saltdean Story" that had all the historical information in it. When I got home I looked the book up, got its ISBN number and the name of the author. Another link brought me, amazingly, a contact address for Mr. Douglas d'Enno (you'll see his name a lot on the Saltdean website) whom I emailed immediately. Within half an hour Mr. d'Enno had not only responded but sent me the full chapter of his book (which sadly, is now out of print ….. but a sequel is being planned and the Ocean will feature!) At this point, I think it appropriate to mention that the majority of the archival facts are from Mr. d'Enno's book and he has kindly given me permission to reproduce this information for the purpose of this article. All quotations in inverted commas will be Mr. d'Enno's - the other sources I am using are the Saltdean website and Brighton and Hove Property Area Guide for Saltdean.
In 1938 "The four and a quarter acre site was bought by a company known as Land and Freeholds Ltd. And the lease was granted to Ocean Hotels Ltd,, which was an arm of the Saltdean Estate Company. Several months after the hotel was opened, however, the ownership of the land was transferred to the Investment and First Mortgage Co. Ltd. Of Pall Mall, London.
Early in March 1938, when the shell of the huge building had already been erected, an application for a provisional licence was considered at Brighton Licensing Sessions. Supporting the application was Mr. Erik Rhodes, of Messr. Jolly & Rhodes; he pointed out that the scheme was already nearing completion, with the opening scheduled for that coming July. He referred to the rapid development, particularly in recent years, by the estate company, of Saltdean as a resort offering every attraction and amenity. The promoters had confidently expended £200,000 on the Ocean Hotel venture, and the accommodation provided would make up for the shortage of high-class accommodation in the district. At the session, attention was drawn to the rapid pace at which residential development had been taking place - whereas in December 1931 there had only been 103 buildings on the Estate, there were 802 by the end of February 1938. It was intended that the hotel should have 426 bedrooms. A description was given of the Oceans principal features: the main building was shaped like a crescent and contained the whole of the public rooms and some of the bedrooms, and there were six other buildings which contained bedrooms and bathrooms only. The buildings were so constructed that all the principal rooms faced in a southerly direction, and there was a swimming pool and paddling pool. The restaurant measured 120 feet by 50 feet and there was a large ballroom and cafe. The hotel was so arranged that during the season the six detached blocks could be closed down and the main building, with its 130 bedrooms, run as a separate hotel. 'There is nothing quite like this hotel in England', stated Mr. Rhodes, adding: 'It is rather continental in design; I believe one can see the same sort of thing in Germany'.
Naturally, there was a wealth of promotional literature to herald this 'modern miracle in Hotel development': a colour postcard was produced bearing a splendid illustration of the new building, urging recipients to 'COME SOUTH, SEE SALTDEAN AMONG THE SOUTH DOWNS AND STAY AT THE MOST UNIQUE HOTEL IN ENGLAND'. The terms advertised were 'Single Room with Breakfast 7/6 (37½p) or inclusive terms from 3½ gns. (£3.67½p) weekly'; the reverse of the card pointed out that the hotel was in the course of construction, and that it was hoped to open the doors to visitors on 1 July 1938, so that provisional bookings only could be made for the time being. The promoters had even gone so far as to establish an orchard at the end of Saltdean Vale to provide fresh fruit in season, while vegetables were supplied from the nursery which had been established just off the very end of the Vale, by Looes barn."
So, that is the beginning of the existence of the Ocean Hotel whose architect, R.W.H. Jones, who also designed Teynham House and Curzon House, had the vision described above as he drew up plans for the Lido and the Ocean Hotel.
I have to say that knowing the Midland's heritage, I wonder whose vision R.W.H. Jones had drawn on, hadn't Oliver Hill had a similar idea much earlier in the 1930s (the front I mean). I'm also really surprised at the siting of the Ocean - in the middle of an estate? I'm glad I did my research or we might never have found it last weekend, I had fully expected the hotel to be facing the sea! Although I'm trying not to make comparisons with our beloved Midland, the Ocean really does suffer from not having the wonderful open-air, seafront advantages of the Midland.
"During the Second World War the Ocean Hotel was occupied for a short time by the Ladies A.T.S and then taken over by the Auxiliary Fire Service. Protection against fire was as equally important as air-raid precautions, and a team of five full-time fire wardens were appointed and occupied an empty house in Westmeston Avenue. The Fire Service at the Ocean Hotel took over the Lido as a water tank and erected a tower in the Oval park for climbing practice and exercise drills. The Ocean garage became an agricultural machinery and repair shop.
The Ocean Hotel was officially opened as a fire service college on 10th October 1941 and was a major news event at the time. It was intended to operate for the higher training of senior officers and instruction of junior officers and other ranks. Herbert Morrision - at the time Home Secretary - opened the College and he made the point that fire services had increased tenfold and maybe even twenty-fold since the start of the war. The number instructed at any one time was around 200 and later in the war the college also admitted women. It also had the facilities of a chemist, a fully equipped laboratory and control rooms. The Ocean Hotel was used throughout the War and it was not until 1952 that the lease of the hotel was taken over by a subsidiary of Butlins Ltd."
Mr d'Enno also provides us with a superb post-war picture of what was happening in Saltdean and to the Grand Ocean Hotel.
"Although the front page of the Peacehaven and Newhaven Times for 24 January 1947 carried the headline 'SALTDEAN'S OCEAN HOTEL FOR SALE', with a price tag of half a million, the huge building remained in the hands of the N.F.S. For several more years. It was the venue for annual general meetings of the S.R.P.O.A., [Saltdean Residents' Associationn] with the permission of the commandant. Rumours that it might be used as a 'prison without bars' had been officially scotched by the Prison Commissioners. By the time Billy Butlin purchased the hotel (excluding the Ocean Garage complex), the price had dropped to a quarter of a million, due to the difficulty in finding a buyer with the means to make it a going concern. Butlin admitted later, however, that the Ocean had been the bargain of his life. Its doors were opened as a holiday centre again on 2 May 1953, after an army of workmen had spent the previous six months restoring the near-derelict building. Over 800 specially-invited guests visited the Ocean as part of the re-opening ceremony. A special dedication service was performed by the Bishop of Chichester (the Right Reverend G. K. A. Bell), who greeted the first contingent of 'campers' early in the evening. The new ballroom, with its sweeping view of the Channel, was filled with celebrities of stage, screen and radio, writers, newspapermen and councillors. Prominent civic guests included the Mayor of Brighton (Alderman Miss Dorothy Stringer) and the deputy mayor of Hove (Coun. A. J. Hill Perry). Butlin's publicity officer proudly announced: The kitchens are the last word in modernity and we have our own bakery. There will be big-screen television, many types of outdoor sport, sundecks, a resident band, a roller rink and bathing and splash pools. Except for two or three key posts, all the staff of 200 have been recruited locally. The demand for accommodation exceeded all expectations and enquiries for holidays six months ahead were pouring in to the Butlin headquarters in London. One notable booking was that of 600 Americans who wanted to stay in Saltdean during Coronation week."
Historical postcards featuring views of Saltdean and the Ocean can be found here
So thanks to Mr d'Enno this pretty much builds up a very comprehensive history, much of it echoing the fate of the Midland during the war years and subsequently later, although the Ocean was saved from collapsing in the mid-fifties and the Midland has had to wait for the 21st century.
Our visit to Saltdean was planned to coincide with my husband, Andrew's birthday, but we really do visit these wonderful monuments at the wrong time of year! (Our first visit to the Midland was in the first weekend of December, the wind howled and turned gale force, the waves were 30 feet high and water ran down the walls of our suite and the breakfasting area!) We awoke to a wonderful covering of snow - very pretty but not auspicious for the 150+ mile journey from Nottingham! Happily as we sped southwards, the sun emerged and dried everywhere off - you could not have guessed at the earlier weather conditions. The sun stayed bright all weekend although it was very very cold.
We entered Brighton and headed in the direction of the pier to find the coast road to Saltdean. We went passed what we thought was the Pavilion (confirmed the following day, we only saw part of it from the main thoroughfare) and turned left onto the coast road passed the famous pier. (We visited the wreck of the West pier on the way home on Sunday). There were no signposts and we went through Rottingdean and saw Roedean (looking more like Hogwarts than St. Trinians) and finally entered Saltdean. The cliffs are phenomenal but where was the hotel? - I spotted it as I knew to look upwards and there it was like a sprawling shanty-town in the middle of an estate. I recognised it from the postcard views I had seen on ebay. We turned left up the hill and then had to turn very sharply into the hotel entrance. It was astonishing, the Midland was standing in front of us! The only immediate differences were : the strange and tight entrance, the front garden (which is very prettily landscaped), the fact that it was surrounded by an estate and the lovely little porch on the entrance. Then we went inside ….. the staircase was on the wrong side and there was no lovely little portico - but it was a myriad of purple and pink and so I was immediately in my element. The carpet has an art deco design (whether copied from the original or designed to suit the deco décor I do not know) which runs throughout the hotel. The reception area is very efficient and modern with 3 computer terminals prominently displayed, but all the signs Reception, Premier, Lifts are in deco style. As Premier guests we had a room (booked with a sea view) on the third floor (one more than the Midland) and were two rooms away to the right of the tower (no sea view) overlooking the front. (I found out on my return that there used to be a roof garden - I wish I had had the time to explore that further if I had but known!). The room was a double and broiling hot (only one setting on the heating) so despite the cold outside, we immediately opened the windows. We later found out to our cost, that the fridge (not the freezer) also had one setting as our water bottles were frozen when we took them out for the journey home! The room was clean and pretty, en suite and no telephone (there is a public phone downstairs for the use of guests).
The lift that took us up to the 3rd floor was unspectacular and as we exited to find our room we entered a wide open space which led to the stairwell, so you get a spectacular view down the stairwell and the landscaped garden is visible through the tower.
We then recced the joint …. every inch of space is used for entertainment or rented for shop space including amenities such as hairdressers. In the basement we found the tunnels leading to the Mariner annexes - these are rooms built on to the back creating the shanty-town effect. Down there are also amusement arcades and a large entertainment area and a couple of bars. It is also the way to the swimming pool which is now an indoor pool - well the Lido (beautifully preserved) is further down the hill.
On the ground floor are two eating areas - we were directed to the far restaurant which is for the Premier guests. The passage/corridor walls are all decorated with framed pictures or posters of the 30s and the restaurant has murals in the style of and direct copies of Tamara de Lempicka (her Girl in a Motor Car is faithfully reproduced). The door leading out of the restaurant is another faithful reproduction of the lift doors in the Empire State Building.
Breakfast and dinner (although we did not know this) are included in the price. On the 2nd night, having spent all day in Brighton in The Lanes, we were too tired to contemplate going out again so tried our luck in the restaurant. Starters and Sweet are served at table, any wine bought is paid for there and then and the main meal (like breakfast) is served from the hatch. All in all an amusing experience!
We are glad we experienced this hotel and recommend you to try it if you are down Brighton way - but don't be surprised at anything that happens - go purely to soak in the atmosphere and see this "twin" as a thriving business.
I long for the day the Midland is up and running so that we can go and stay there again - but I pray it will not be run on the lines of the Ocean!
It's amazing what you can find out when you are researching something :
When searching ebay for information I made contact with one seller in the United States who had a particularly fantastic card of the Midland. He sent me an e-mail asking where it was? I directed him to the Midland website as well as telling him what I knew. He responded by saying that it was so interesting he had sent the website to several friends and wished us well and hoped the Midland would be saved.
UPDATE (since this article was originally written) - Happily, now in 2015 we know that the Midland has been saved, thanks to Urban Splash, and is now once more a successful hotel business run by English Lakes in a thoroughly 21st manner without losing the ethos of the original.
A Midland Hotel luggage label (original) was sold for US $242.51 - I did bid and was prepared to go up to $75 for the privilege - I decided to download the webpage instead! (Image of the sale page to follow)
The seller kindly attached rulers to the image of the label to give an indication of size of the original as provided (presumably) by LMS to their travelling passengers.
My friend and colleague at work, Yvonne, has a sister and brother-in-law who live near Morecambe and who like manyothers are interested in the fate of the Midland. They didn't know about the existence of the Ocean until I started bombarding Yvonne with all my findings.
On the Saltdean webpage, residents of Saltdean record their shock at watching a television programme and discovering "their" hotel being placed in Morecambe - until they realised it wasn't the Ocean! (Do have a look at the way they wrote up their experience, their description of their shock is wonderfully touching.)
Our weekend was nearly ruined, having booked everything stealthily via the Internet on Sunday, on Monday when I was at work, Andrew took a call from the booking agents ……… surprise over!
Please have a look at the virtual tour of the Ocean Hotel (and look out for the seahorses in the lobby - yes, I know, seahorses!) http://www.infotel.co.uk/14031.htm
UPDATE (since this article was originally written) - regrettably the link no longer exists, but I have retained it for its historical value.
Enough's enough, I have downloaded this article in its entirety and hundreds of pictures (well maybe not hundreds) onto a floppy disk which I am sending to Barry - anyone wishing to copy any of the images is more than welcome.
UPDATE (since this article was originally written) - as the Friends of the Midland ceased to exist once the hotel had been refurbished all the information that will have been on that floppy diskette (yes, I know!) is not reproduced in this section of my website.
Thanks for reading this and do visit the Ocean if you get the chance - we certainly found it an unforgettable experience!
UPDATE (since this article was originally written) - the Ocean complex has been saved. The hotel area which resembles the Midland Hotel has been converted into luxury residential appartments. There is now restricted access to this building as it would not be right to have people wandering around, as we discovered to our cost on our last visit to see the Ocean in its refurbished state - we were shooed off the premises despite possibly being potential buyers. Staying there is no longer an option for anyone wishing to experience both as hotels. The ramshackle buildings, accommodating legions of Butlins visitors, at the rear have been removed. This also necessitated the indoor swimming pool and ballroom area being demolished.
The original architectural design for the Ocean as shown in the 'American Architect and Architecture' Building News Magazine
Amazing historical recorded by Douglas d'Enno of the demolition of the rear of the Ocean complex
Does anyone have a copy of "The Saltdean Story" by Douglas d'Enno or Alan Powers "Oliver Hill, architect & lover of life : 1887 -1968" please? I'm on the lookout for both with a view to purchasing.
UPDATE (since this article was originally written) - I purchased a copy on ebay after a very long wait. It is in excellent condition and I even persuaded Douglas d'Enno to autograph it for me!
From the Morecambe 'Visitor' newspaper
Just in case you have difficulty in reading this arcticle, I am reproducing it below :
"The case of a missing piece of staircase had Urban Splash and the Friends of the Midland Hotel stumped, until a mystery couple came forward out of the blue.
A man and woman turned up at the Midland last week and returned the three-foot metal handrail, stolen from the hotel about two years ago, much to the delight of the site supervisor Gary Falkingham and the Friends.
And now Urban Splash can slot the aluminium section back into place at the bottom of the Midland’s grand circular staircase, once it is restored to its former glory as part of the ongoing renovations to the hotel.
Gary believes the key to this mystery may lie with a website dedicated to the Ocean Hotel near Brighton, which was modelled on the Midland when built in 1938.
‘By coincidence I was looking at this website (http://www.saltdean.info/oceanmidland.htm) the other day and noticed it mentioned the missing piece of staircase.’ said Gary. ‘The following day this couple got in contact to say they had it. Perhaps they heard of the search for it from someone who saw the website.’
‘They brought it in the next day and I offered them a bottle of wine as a reward. They said they wanted to remain anonymous and to bring it back to its rightful place.’
‘It would have been difficult to recreate so we are very grateful.’
Gary also said that the missing piece – which has the Midland’s trademark seahorse on the bottom - was even on the Interpol website of missing antiques.
Sue Thompson of the Friends of the Midland said ‘I’m over the moon that it’s been found. I’d really hoped that it would be found, like the Eric Gill was, it’s really made my day.’ "
I do know more and can give an authoritative follow-up because, of course, the article Gary had seen, was part of my own personal reminscences (some may call them ramblings) of the Midland Hotel and our visits to Morecambe over the years. I was invited by the web-owner of the Saltdean site to write up my experiences after Douglas d'Enno had mentioned to her that I had an interest and was probably (at the time) the only person who had stayed at both locations when they were still functioning as hotels. Actually, Andrew would have qualified for that as well but let's not obfuscate matters here. Following on from the publishing on the Saltdean website, the Friends of the Midland started to feature my articles in their very informative Newsletter.
On re-reading the article as I typed it up I was reminded of a couple of things I take issue with and would like to correct in this part of my website. Satdean.Info is not a site dedicated solely to the Ocean Hotel, although it does feature prominently. Saltdean.info is a wonderful community-linked website and I would wish that Hucknall could have something similar. A mining town that at one time boasted two Art Deco cinemas deserves a decent website! As usual I digress - and so to continue. At no stage on the Saltdean site or the history of the Ocean is there any reference to the Ocean being modelled on the Midland. Granted the Midland was built five years earlier and it does seem to be remarkable that similarities could be attributed to 'borrowed' ideas. It is possible that the architect, R.V. Jones will have subscribed to the Architectural periodicals of the day but as he also designed Saltdean Lido (at the time of writing also fighting for survival) it is apparent that he followed the 'formulaic' designs of the period.
The 'supernatural' link to Gary reading about the missing bannister on one day and receiving a call the next is a fun idea which I love as I do believe in these occurrences but I believe the timing to be quite coincidental. I read somewhere once that 'Coincidences are signposts' and I think this covers the situation here appropriately.
So, what do I think I know more about than was reported in the article? The facts are these - on reading the article, Gary got in touch with the owner of Saltdean.info to see if Nikki could shed any more light on the situation and/or the author of the piece (that would be me). Nikki sent me an e-mail to explain the situation - unfortunately, for some reason she sent the message to one of Andrew's e-mail accounts where it sat for a few days. (That was probably my fault as I may not have change the ID on the e-mail after sending Nikki an updated article). Naturally when I saw the e-mail I immediately contacted Gary to tell him that I didn't really have any more information than what I had written in the article, but was glad that he'd seen the image.
Now comes the really interesting bit - at the time of his contacting Saltdean, the couple mentioned in the article had not yet contacted Gary, so by the time I got round to phoning him, he had a story to tell.
This is more or less how it goes - Gary was working on the site when he looked up to find two people, a man and a woman, totally dressed in green (I kid you not, his words) approaching him from an unauthorised area of the site**. He was about to point out to them that they were trespassing and that it was very dangerous to be on the site without permission. Before he was able to act on his intentions, one of the couple asked if he was the 'one looking for the bannister' as they 'might' know where it was. Not wishing to scare them away Gary pressed them to tell him some more but they were very skittish and only said that if it was the piece in question they would bring it to him. For their own safety Gary saw them off the premises without a firm promise other than 'in a couple of days.'
The rest follows on as described in the article, the couple did come back after a few days and handed over the banniser and refused not only the bottle of wine but any recompense and looked frightened to death when he told them there would be a newspaper article written about its return - they didn't want a bar of that (at any cost)!
In completing his story, which had held me spellbound in an 'X-files' sort of way Gary then asked me if I could point him in the direction of some more information about the Ocean Hotel as the reporter wanted to make a bit more of a 'story' about it.
As it happened, we were due to visit Morecambe a few days later and I asked Gary if we could come and take some pictures of the bannister as it had now been returned. He said that it wouldn't be a problem and so when we got there he was happy to tell us that the sotry was going to be in the next issue of the 'Visitor.' He went off to find the piece and returned ashen-faced and it had disappeared again. We waited a tantalising hour or so as he searched high and low - luckily, not missing but just misplaced after the photographic session for the paper. The pictures above, leaning against the bright blue container is how the bannister looked on its return.
Of course, as can be seen from the article, the Ocean did not get much more of a mention other than to link it into the story, but I was interested to see that there had been links to Interpol - I tried to find some provenance but it proved too difficult - that would have made a nice ending to this part of my Midland tribute.
** Makes you wonder if they had been there before - there is a specific site called 28 days later where people visit closed down buildings and take 'selfies' of themselves inside the derelict buildings. I see it now styles itself 'Urban Exploration' - maybe the 'green' people knew the inside of the Midland better than those working there, hence their arrival from an unauthorised area? Spooky!
Page updated 15th February 2016