I thought I would share this old postcard of London’s Embankment featuring the Hotel Cecil because, as you may be aware, the Royal Air Force had its first headquarters there when it was formed, by combining the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, on 1st April 1918.
Why did the Air Force set up shop in a hotel? Because the building had been requisitioned by the government who needed office space for all the extra administrators required to organise a world war.
The Hotel Cecil was one of those late-Victorian buildings associated with the Liberator Building Society scandal and the fraudster Jabez Balfour, but that subject is literally a book in itself. If you want to know more, I suggest you follow the link and read a review.
Searching for the hotel’s subsequent history can lead to confusion. Various sources will tell you it was built between the Embankment and The Strand in 1886 – or (majority opinion) from 1890-1896. It was one of the biggest and most luxurious hotels in the world at the time with 600, “more than 800”, or 1000 rooms. The Liberator Society built it as a hotel – or as offices, and another company finished it as a hotel when Liberator collapsed. Facts and “alternative facts”. You choose.
The Shell-Mex oil consortium bought the building in 1930, demolished the river frontage and replaced it with Shell-Mex House, a structure from the monolithic school of Art Deco architecture. The Strand entrance was retained even though it was completely at odds with the new block.
In 1937, Arthur Mee wrote, “This remarkable block of offices has a noble entrance from the Strand, and its courtyard is one of the sights of London by night. It has ten floors with a total floor space of 380,000 square feet, and any one of its 16 lifts runs up to the roof, from which are splendid views of South London to the Kent and Surrey hills, North London to Harrow and Hampshire, and the panorama of the East”.
Modern specifications say Mee was two floors short (at least). These were added after WWII when height restrictions were relaxed. Mee’s “noble entrance from the Strand” is “not of special interest” to Historic England today but Shell-Mex House gets a Grade II listing. And just to add more confusion, the entire complex is now commonly known as 80 The Strand.