The Imperial Hotel (Part One)

A view of the Imperial from the Buckley Collection

The Imperial Hotel at North Shore cannot, like the Clifton and others, boast a tradition dating back to the 18th century. It was established in 1867 and is situated in a large Victorian red brick building in what, before development, was once Claremont Park. A syndicate which included two directors of the North Pier formed a company known as the Blackpool Land and Building Company, which purchased the whole of the land on the northern sea front lying between Carlton Terrace and the Gynn Inn, and created the Claremont Park estate.

The site of Regent Terrace is described as land sold to a Mr Lowe and then later the plot of the Imperial. When taken over by the building company the estate was to some extent agricultural and a farm house once stood on the site. Many older residents remembered that cattle used to graze on the land between Derby and Warley Road, where once where the baths (now demolished) stood. It is interesting to note that steps were indeed taken to secure the embankments facing the property from coastal erosion during heavy gales, which to this day sweep along our coast.

The doors officially opened on 27 June 1867 by Clegg and Jones with a price quoted of around £50,000 for the final cost of completion. The Imperial was at first was let out on a tenancy to a Mr William Beachy Head; the tariff to stay was three guineas a week and 4s 6d a day for servants. It seems evident that that the shareholders expected the hotel to be popular due to its location and the temperance movement, which was very popular at the time of construction. Mr Head in the early days struggled to make the hotel pay due to the lack of visitors; Blackpool was only just beginning to emerge as a destination for the masses, and railway and other methods of travel were not yet fully developed.

Dickens, the well-known author, came to the resort on 21 April 1869 during his tour of the north. He spent the night at the Imperial and 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 town. He then returned to London the next day for more medical consultations. He described the Imperial as a “charming place of rest” when he wrote to his sister-in-law.

In 1871 Mr Curwen was appointed as manager of the Imperial 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. Alas 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 around £32,000. The company struggled along, but made no headway as a profit-making proposition.

The entrance to the Imperial from the Albert Eden Collection

Two years later, a resolution was passed by the board to wind up the company voluntarily for the purpose of reconstruction; 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 it 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 of £3000; his intervention appeared to mark the turning point for 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. In 1889 a four per cent 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 officers’ hospital, and it retained possession until May 1919.

South of the Imperial Blackpool extended rapidly along its Golden Mile. Fortunately, a relaxation of the prohibition on alcohol led to the Imperial taking off as the venue of choice for important municipal events. In 1878 the opening of Blackpool’s splendid Winter Gardens was celebrated at the Imperial with the Lord Mayor of London booking the hotel for his entourage of 63 mayors and lady mayoresses from across Britain. In 1891 the laying of the foundations of Blackpool Tower was celebrated with a gala dinner at the Imperial. To further the hotel’s appeal, the Imperial embraced Hydropathy, a fashionable term for a combination of treatments that involved occupational therapy, physiotherapy and water for the alleviation of pain, stiffness in the joints and gout.

Juliette Gregson

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