Battleaxe readers will know that she is a great fan of faded grandeur hotels – Philosopher may be less so, but he tags along happily enough. I have had the Grand in Folkestone in my sights for ages, but we only just got round to spending a night in one of their apartments. What a great place!
After investigating our quirky accommodation – of which more later, we signed on for a tour of the building – they run every Friday at 2pm and cost £9.75 per person including tea in the Palm Court – we found it all very interesting.
The Grand is one of two enormous old hotel buildings that dominate the Leas promenade in Folkestone. Its neighbour, the Metropole, was built first, and the Grand followed in 1899. The Metropole has now been turned into flats, but the Grand has survived – just. Originally, the owners of the Metropole stated that no hotel was to be opened nearer than 600 yards from their building, so the Grand was originally gentleman’s residential chambers – with no liquor license. However, Folkestone was absolutely the height of fashion in those days, and the Leas the most fashionable district of all, with its streets laid out by Decimus Burton.
The Grand was built as a luxury destination to the most modern standards possible – a steel framed building with big windows, central heating, and a ballroom with the first sprung dance floor in Europe… opened by King Edward VII, who danced the first dance with the Queen, and the second with Mrs Keppel. The hotel had a network of tunnels underneath which enabled guests who wanted to be discreet to pop across to the Metropole next door, or to escape the hotel altogether – very handy. Both the first head chef, who came from the Savoy, and the manager, Gustaf Gelardi, were former London friends of the King.
Probably the most famous part of the hotel is the Palm Court. King Edward VII and his rather risque circle were regular visitors, and they liked to sit in the Palm Court looking out to sea. Locals would come to peer in through the glass at the royal guests, and likened the experience to looking at monkeys in a cage. The Palm Court became known as The Monkey House, the evening wear of the occupants Monkey Suits, and their goings-on Monkey business….
As time wore on the hotel was frequented by Edward VIII – but not Mrs Simpson, who stayed elsewhere. Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie and the Princess Margaret set also came, but the hotel suffered a drastic decline in the 60s and early 70s, from which it is only just recovering.
The old building is huge, but I hadn’t realised that much of it is inaccessible, most of the flats having been sold off leasehold, or rented out. There are only 18 apartments available to be let out to guests such as us. This gives it a really eccentric magic maze feel – the guest apartments are tucked away in odd corners of the building.
We were shown another apartment which was totally bonkers and had at least three bedrooms – ideal to come with friends.
The public rooms are absolutely massive, and all original except for the ballroom which was art-decoed up in the 20s. The present owner is obviously working very hard to keep the place viable and has lots of events going on, but it must be a struggle. The building does need a bit of tlc… but it does have a real ‘grand’ feel.
Philosopher was thrilled to find a little collection of paintings in the Drawing Room, by Carel Weight. Apparently he used to teach at an art school at the Metropole, and when the Metropole closed, the paintings were put on display in the Grand. Here are pictures of three of them, and here is some information about them.
We also kept finding odd things – like this mirror showing the zigzags where it was taped for safety in WW2, and a tarnished collection of croquet cups…
So, what was our suite like? Amazing. One of two one-bedroom apartments right at the top of the hotel, in the dome. You can see the windows in the phot at the top of this post. Ours was ‘Penshurst’, on the left as you look at the hotel. To get there, you had to go out into the old reception foyer of the building through a door that was kept locked, along a passage, up to the fifth floor in a particular lift, then up another staircase. We just about learned the way by the time we went home…
We had a sitting room with oval windows on one side that looked straight out across the Channel, and on the other side we looked westwards towards Hythe and Dungeness. We had a big bedroom that opened out onto a little balcony area right in the middle of the big old chimneys, a kitchen, and two bathrooms for some reason. It was all very comfortable – no complaints whatsoever, and the sunset views were incredible. It was also very reasonably priced!
Just above our heads the little cupola above the dome contained an art installation by Yoko Ono – beaming ‘Earth Peace’ across the Channel to France in Morse Code… fortunately it just flashed rather than dit-dit-ditted….
For our evening meal we journeyed down into the bowels of the building to find Keppel’s Bar – fine, and ate our breakfast in the Palm Court in the morning.
The next day we had originally planned to go to Dover Castle, but the weather was so fantastic we decided to go down to the Harbour and go walking instead. I’ll write about that in my next post. So, oh dear, we’ll have to come back to the Grand and go to Dover…
Battleaxe would totally recommend the Grand – for people who like their hotels a little out of the ordinary!