When Corinthia London moved into the grand building on the corner of Northumberland Avenue and Whitehall Place, we inherited an equally unique heritage. Since opening, stories and secrets about illustrious former residents, guests and visitors have been uncovered. The building’s history has proven endlessly fascinating and elicits a frisson of intrigue about what these rooms and corridors have seen. If only walls could talk…
It's the 1880s and the capital is experiencing an influx of international travellers through Charing Cross Station. To accommodate, four new hotels are commissioned to be built along the newly developed Northumberland Avenue. In 1885, the building we now know as Corinthia London opened its doors as the Metropole Hotel. The builder, Frederick Gordon, was renowned in the hospitality industry for his elegant restaurants and grand hotels.
In its first prospectus, it was noted that the hotel was "particularly recommended to ladies and families visiting the West End during the Season; to travellers from Paris and the Continent, arriving from Dover and Folkestone at the Charing Cross Terminus."
In 1916, thanks to its close proximity to Downing Street and British government offices, the Metropole Hotel was requisitioned as accommodation for Ministry of Defense staff working on the war effort.
Before becoming Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill frequented the building. Records show that on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, he stood at one of the windows watching Londoners celebrate on the streets as Big Ben chimed, marking the end of World War I.
During World War II, the building provided office accommodation for the Air Ministry and Ministry of Defense. It is the MoD's former presence that earned the building its reputation of 'spy HQ' for the British Secret Service. Records state that Room 424 was the first home of MI9 and its sub-division, the Special Operations Executive. It also became the holding point for one of the model planning beaches for the Battle of Normandy.
Befitting of a building with this heritage, there are a number of tunnels and passageways under the road which lead to and from the hotel. These would take 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 Defense. The imminent threat of war may have abated, but there were many other alleged activities including a special office that, up until the early 2000s, was dedicated to monitoring UFO sightings.
Our building was also a source of inspiration for fictional spies. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, was a regular guest at the Metropole Hotel, and the nearby Sherlock Holmes pub contains many images and souvenirs of Holmes, his companion Dr. Watson and 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.