It’s not uncommon for savvy travelers to request a particular room when booking a hotel stay. Tipped off, they’ll identify which room has the best view or which scores highly on peace and quiet. It’s a little less common to ask not to stay in a specific room, but if you’re a potential guest of the Langham in London’s Marylebone, there’s one room you might want to avoid. Or not, depending on how brave you are.
You see, Room 333 at the Langham has often been described as London’s most haunted hotel room. One ethereal occupant of Room 333 has a penchant for tipping up his bed if a guest is sleeping in it. Another, a silver-haired gent dressed in Victorian evening wear, so the story goes, was a doctor who killed his wife in that room on their honeymoon. Distraught, he committed suicide. Now, he can’t bear to leave. A journalist staying at the hotel in 1973 – for a time, the BBC owned the place – painted a vivid picture of his encounter with the doctor. James Alexander Gordon said that he woke in the night to see a ball of light which slowly began to take human form. The figure hovered above the floor and was missing the lower part of both legs. The terrified journalist fled as the ghost stared at him and slowly moved towards the bed. His is not the only account, but as you’re statistically most likely to see the apparition in October, booking a stay from November to September increases your chances of sleeping through without interruption.
The doctor isn’t the only ghost thought to occupy this prestigious address
Wander the fourth floor and you might catch a glimpse of a man in military jacket buttoned up to the neck. He too has been seen in Room 333 and has a fondness for walking right through solid doors. Opening doors is so overrated! Some say he was a German prince who jumped to his death a little before World War One, perhaps as a result of unrequited love. Whatever is supposed to have happened, he’s the most active ghost wandering the hotel.
There are some who say that the choice of room isn’t accidental. Some who believe in the paranormal draw attention to the fact that the number 333 is half 666 – the number of the Beast. It’s been argued that this is the time when the gap between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its smallest, allowing spirits to cross over more easily. Of course, it could be complete coincidence, or the power of suggestion. And skeptics will say that the whole thing’s a load of rubbish.
More Ghostly Wanderings
A long dead butler who never knocked off work roams the corridors in his stockinged feet. Harmless, the guests demanding his attention are almost always to be found on the third floor. Some guests report seeing a footman too, dressed in a light blue uniform and wearing a powdered wig. In the hallways, you might come across a ghost with a nasty facial wound. He’s one who doesn’t seem to like Room 333. Duck down to the basement and you could run into Napoleon III who came here towards the end of his life after being exiled from France. Witnesses say that immediately before the ghosts appeared, the temperature dropped and they experienced a chill in the air. Pack a sweater and tell yourself that the heating needs turning up. That wouldn’t have worked though, for several members of the England cricket team who’d been put up at the Langham during the 2014 test. Bowler Stuart Broad awoke in the middle of a July night, too hot to sleep. As he got out of bed the bathroom taps mysteriously turned themselves on. Switching on the bathroom light to investigate, the water stopped as suddenly as it had started. Spooked, Broad decided to bunk in with a team mate and beat a hasty retreat.
Before you decide to do the same, remember that haunted hotels, pubs and any other kind of building you care to imagine are ten a penny in London. For every guest that fears they had overnight company, there are thousands who have slept like a baby throughout their stay in this iconic London institution. If there weren’t, the hotel would have gone out of business long ago. Instead, it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2015.
Grand Plans and Visionary Thinking
Lincoln-born architect John Giles, who later won acclaim for his many asylum projects, originally designed the hotel. He was awarded the contract to build the hotel which would stand at the Regent Street end of Portland Place in the heart of the prosperous West End. A grandiose project costing around £300,000, it was constructed with 300 bedrooms, each featuring an in-room WC, plenty of drawing rooms and even a basement pool. Thought was given to those who would use the hotel – corridors were widened to be sufficient to allow two ladies wearing the then-fashionable crinolines to pass with ease. The thirty six bathrooms attracted an additional charge. Even as late as 1904, a room cost 9 shillings while a hot bath was billed at an additional 1 shilling and sixpence.
No expense was spared to ensure that The Langham became the grand hotel it wanted to be. Skilled craftsmen travelled from Italy to create plaster relief ceilings and lay mosaic tiles on the floor. Marble and silk was lavished on the public spaces, which boasted Persian carpets and hand-printed wallpaper. The builders also installed hydraulic lifts, the first of their kind in a London hotel. There was a post office within the hotel, two libraries and a ticket office for rail and sea which was originally manned by Thomas Cook.
Air conditioning and electricity were also retro-fitted long before they were the norm. The hotel first installed electric lighting in the entrance and courtyard, later following suit with a fit out across the 300 bedrooms which ate up the equivalent of three months’ profit. Ever the innovators, the owners of the Langham installed the new-fangled telephone. The phone district became known as Langham, the hotel’s own number – with an impressive twenty lines – was 20809. How times change, now that the majority of 21st century guests will instinctively reach for their mobile phone instead.
A Royal Opening
In the end, the Langham took fifteen months to build, and when HRH the Prince of Wales performed the opening ceremony in June 1865, it was the largest and most modern in the capital. He’d become a frequent visitor and with his patronage affording the hotel the Royal seal of approval, it didn’t take long for the hotel to become a commercial success. Under manager James Sanderson, it built a reputation amongst visiting Americans. International travelers form a significant proportion of its clientele. In fact, it was a source of pride for the hotel to be able to assert that they employed “persons qualified to converse in every language, from pure Yankee to High Dutch”.
Those staying at the Langham today do so following in the footsteps of Henry Stanley, the American journalist, who stayed at the hotel en route to meeting Dr Livingstone in Africa. Mark Twain, Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, Charles Dickens and George Orwell have also graced its rooms and corridors. Likewise, it was a favorite bolthole of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who set his Sherlock Holmes novels there, A Scandal in Bohemia and The Sign of Four. Oscar Wilde, another regular, once wrote:
“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”
IIt was a sentiment that could well have been written about those who aspired to stay at the hotel. But unlike its competitors, the Langham actually took a break from being a hotel. Located across the street from the BBC, during World War Two it was a prime target during airborne attacks. During the Blitz in 1940, the Langham was called into war service, housing the St Marylebone ARP (the local air raid team) and first aid post as well as providing military accommodation. It wouldn’t be long before the unthinkable happened. A huge blast from a bomb dropped on Portland Place rocked the hotel on 16th September 1940. Though the hotel had to be evacuated, there were fortunately no casualties. For a while, rumors of an unexploded bomb kept the rescue crews busy, but luckily it wasn’t to be a reality.
A serious explosion caused more significant damage in the December. A parachute mine landed at about 10pm on the night of 8th December, catching on a nearby lamp post. It went off, leaving a deep crater and its impact was felt on the hotel, Broadcasting House and All Souls Church opposite. Four floors of one of its wings were flattened. A guest and a policeman lost their lives. Subsequently, fire broke out on the roof and a burst water tank led to extensive flooding. The hotel was evacuated and then closed. After being given the all clear, staff returned and defiant against Nazi aggression, unfurled a giant Union Flag over the hotel’s battered doorway.
Throughout the war the BBC had an agreement to store archive material at the Langham and many of its employees resided there when needed. One of them was Guy Burgess, later found to be a spy and member of the Cambridge Five. In May 1941, Burgess went back to his hotel blind drunk. Having lost his key, he attempted to break the door to Room 316 down with a fire extinguisher, causing a fracas and damage to the door. The ghost of the German prince would have been horrified at such wanton vandalism.
The BBC Steps In
After the war, it was perhaps inevitable that the Langham would close its doors to guests. The BBC eventually bought the hotel and relocated recording studios and offices there. One of its radio programs, aptly named “Grand Hotel”, broadcast from the premises and featured the Palm Court Orchestra. The Palm Court itself became a reference library for the Beeb; the restaurant, a staff bar. But the hotel wasn’t truly suited to the needs of the broadcasting corporation. In 1980, the BBC tried and failed to gain planning permission to demolish the hotel and commission a Norman Foster building in its place. Six years later, it offloaded the Langham to the Ladbroke Group who eventually reopened the property as the Langham Hilton in 1991. TV personality Gloria Hunniford cut the ribbon and Diana, Princess of Wales was its first Royal visitor. The cost of the refurbishment was a cool £100 million. Another sale and another renovation, this time for a bargain £80 million, saw the hotel relaunch in 2009 under its present day branding.
For those with the means, a stay at the Langham is still very special. Taylor Swift has brought an entourage when she’s been in town. The late Amy Winehouse moved in for a while in 2010 as she waited for her Camden home sale to complete. Fellow chanteuse Lady Gaga makes no secret of her association with the hotel, who “made it rain donuts” in her suite, famously posting this heartfelt message on her Instagram feed:
“The Langham in London is such a dream. They gave me a tea set, after all the years I’ve stayed here I shall cherish it. Thank you so very much.”
Taking afternoon tea at the Langham Hotel has been a thing since it opened – the Palm Court was the birthplace of this peculiarly British tradition. It’s an indulgence that has spanned the centuries, its patisserie delighting 21st century guests as much as those early trend-setters. At £55 per person, it’s considerably more expensive than the 1865 introductory price of seven pence. Nevertheless, it’s still the best way to experience some Langham pampering if you don’t want to be as reckless with money as Oscar Wilde suggested. Alongside it, overnighters and day guests can spoil themselves at the hotel’s Landau restaurant, its glamorous Artesian bar and decadent Chuan Spa. Luxury is not rationed here, and neither is the kind of service that makes one feel special.
The Pam Court
Of course, by timing your visit for daytime, there’s no chance of any ghostly encounters that might be the stuff of nightmares. Sleep well, and dream of how you’ll one day afford the £24,000 a night penthouse. You know you’re worth it.