I’ve known the Grand for almost 40 years since first starting work in Scarborough, and its state now is pitiful. The last time I went in, about a year ago, the public rooms, including the once-magnificent palm court, were tatty and grubby.
Outside, it is even worse, as a walk down the steps between the hotel and the cliff lift to Foreshore Road makes obvious. How has such a magnificent building, as iconic and emblematic of Yorkshire in its own way as York Minster or Castle Howard, been allowed to come to this?
It would, only a few years ago, have been unthinkable that Scarborough Council should need to seek a meeting with the Grand’s owner, Britannia Hotels, because the landmark building that towers over the South Bay has become the worst advert the town could have.
This, after all, had been one of the great hotels not only of Britain, but all Europe, a monument to opulence that proclaimed Scarborough’s status as the queen of resorts. Only four years ago, the Grand was included in Historic Britain’s top 10 places, buildings and historical sites that tell the “remarkable story of England and its impact on the world”.
Hardly surprising. Here is one of Victorian England’s proudest proclamations of what the world’s mightiest industrial nation could achieve. It not only built great cities, but great resorts too.
The Grand was Europe’s biggest hotel when it opened in 1867. It was V-shaped in homage to Victoria, and its 12 floors, 52 chimneys and 365 rooms declared it a year-round place of luxury.
Guests wishing to bathe in the sea did not even have to exert themselves and walk the few yards to the south sands – seawater was piped to their bathrooms.
Hull-born architect Cuthbert Brodrick had already left his mark on Yorkshire with two landmark buildings – Leeds Town Hall and the city’s Corn Exchange – but the Grand was his masterpiece for his native county.
If the hotel was in public ownership, it would be as cherished and lovingly cared for as Scarborough Castle, a mile away on the headland, undoubtedly attracting lottery funding because of its unique place in Yorkshire’s heritage.
But the Grand is far from being cherished, and it is an indictment of its ownership that Scarborough Council evidently feels that it must intervene for the sake of the town, however limited the authority’s powers are to make a real difference.
There are those on travel websites who have compared the Grand to Fawlty Towers, but that’s wide of the mark. John Cleese’s great sitcom set in a hotel was hilarious – but there’s nothing remotely funny about what has happened to one of Yorkshire’s great buildings.
Britannia Hotels needs to step up to the mark and spend that money – for the Grand’s sake, for Scarborough’s and also for the benefit of its own trade. It surely makes no business sense to operate a hotel that attracts such serious criticism in an era when the first thing travellers do before booking is to check the experience of guests who have stayed there.
Is it not a matter of serious concern to Britannia that their hotel’s reputation is so bad that Scarborough Council is concerned about its impact on the tourism that is the town’s lifeblood? It certainly should be.
If Scarborough suffers reputational damage, then that too must harm Britannia’s business.
But there is another aspect to the fortunes of the Grand. It is the obligation on the owners of such a historic – and nationally significant – building to preserve it for the future.
They are custodians of its heritage, and by extension of part of Scarborough’s history, and any failure of that duty would be a disgrace. This Grand Hotel – in every sense – deserves better, and if its owners are unwilling to lavish the care and money it deserves, the best thing would be for them to step aside and make way for an organisation that will.
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