Each time arriving guests walk into the courtyard of St Ermin’s Hotel, they never fail to look up in wonder at this amazing piece of history. While everything about this Grade II listed building retains its Victorian air, the hotel is actually built upon the foundations of a 15th century chapel, dedicated to St Ermin. In medieval times, Westminster was a city in itself, separate from London and full of wool merchants. Some believe an ancient monastery lay on this ground even before then, hundreds of years ago, before even the 10th century.
It was only in 1889 that the rapid expansion of Westminster meant the site was developed into top of the range, serviced apartments known as St Ermin’s Mansions. These blocks were highly fashionable with their red brick, Queen Anne-style exterior and scores of servants working ‘below stairs’ to keep all the residents happy. Just ten years later, however, St Ermin’s first became a hotel and the interior was uniquely modernised with the elaborate rococo ceilings, glittering chandeliers, Art Nouveau plasterwork and breathtaking, double height ballroom you see today by the famous theatre designer J.P. Briggs – hence the sense of drama that is all part of the atmosphere here.
And drama was certainly what St Ermin’s got. Throughout the 1930s and the Second World War, the hotel’s walls absorbed the whispers of the British intelligence services and Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive, which were both housed across entire floors of the hotel. In the 1950s, infamous double-agent Guy Burgess – one of the notorious Cambridge Five – handed over top-secret papers to his Russian colleague in the Caxton Bar. Staff at St Ermin’s say a secret tunnel to the Houses of Parliament runs from beneath the grand staircase.
While the style and tradition of the glorious past is fully embraced at St Ermin’s, the change of ownership in 2010 led to the restoration and redevelopment of the accommodations, public rooms and spaces to bring them right up-to-date and with the aim of enhancing their architectural splendour. The modern new look was executed by Los Angeles-based designer Dayna Lee. She is said to have taken inspiration for the reinvigoration of the hotel from visionary 19th century botanist and designer Christopher Dresser. Eagle-eyed visitors will notice the array of plant, flower and leaf designs and motifs throughout.
Meeting the theatrical original features in perfect harmony, the new furnishings and décor now help to create an even more luxurious and comfortable environment. There are some eclectic touches, including a red pleated lampshade by Porta Romana in the lobby which is perched upon a pair of duck feet.
The public areas, such as the Caxton Bar and Grill are more overtly modern in feel, making the most of the natural light coming in from the terrace. Vivienne Westwood wallpaper, multiple fabrics, terracotta leather wall sections, reclaimed wooden floors, and Oriental-inspired prints set off the old Victorian fireplace perfectly.
The staff and current owners of the property are incredibly proud of how St Ermin’s Hotel has managed to keep hold of its original feel whilst at the same time morphing into a modern, luxury hotel. Pop in and take a look for yourself.
St Ermin’s Hotel
Great Britain. Telephone +44 (0)20 7222 7888.