When Corinthia Hotel London moved in to the grand and distinctive building on the corner of Northumberland Avenue and Whitehall Place, we inherited an equally unique heritage. Since opening we have discovered stories (and secrets) about illustrious former residents, guests and visitors. The building’s history has proven endlessly fascinating and elicits a frisson of intrigue about what these rooms and corridors have seen. If walls could talk…
The building was originally built as the Metropole Hotel and opened in 1885.
In its first brochure, the hotel declared it was ‘particularly recommended to ladies and families visiting the West End during the Season and travellers from Paris and the Continent arriving at the Charing Cross Terminus.’ We love the thought of finely-dressed ladies and gentlemen strolling up to St James and Buckingham Palace, or along the river under parasols.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, Sir Winston Churchill was working in this building, looking out of the window when Big Ben struck signalling the end of World War I.
In 1916, thanks to its Whitehall proximity and location at the heart of London,
the British government requisitioned the Metropole as offices and accommodation for The Ministry of Defence staff working on the war effort. Before he
was Prime Minister, Winston Churchill worked frequently out of the Metropole and it is recorded that it was out of his office window in this very building that he watched people celebrate on the streets, upon hearing the bells chime for the end of the war.
During World War II the hotel provided office accommodation for the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Defence and it is the MoD’s former presence that gives the building its reputation as ‘spy HQ’ for the British secret service.
It is recorded that room 424 became the first home for MI9 and its sub-division, the Special Operations Executive, and later the holding point for one of the model planning beaches for D-Day. As befitting a building with this heritage, there are various tunnels and passages under the road to and from the hotel, that took officials to the neighbouring government offices. Today, they are locked up and remain top secret.
After World War II, the building continued as a government office for the Ministry of Defence. The imminent threat of war may have abated, but there were many other alleged activities, including the story of a special office in the building that, up until the early 2000s, was dedicated to the monitoring and sighting of UFOs.
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…” Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Our building was also a source of inspiration for fictional spies. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, was a regular guest at the original Hotel Metropole, and the nearby Sherlock Holmes pub contains many images and souvenirs of Holmes, his companion Dr. Watson and his adversary Moriarty.
The Metropole is referenced in Sherlock Holmes’ famous mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles among others.
Even James Bond visited the building, when Daily Express artist Yaroslav Horak depicted it as the MI6 headquarters in his Bond comic strips. In a nod to this fictional legacy, the James Bond movie Skyfall hosted its press conference here in 2011.