Since its opening in 1879, The Grand Hotel Birmingham has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the finest hotels in London and beyond, attracting world-famous industrialists, artists, guests, bands and performers in the years since.
In the early days following the hotel’s construction, the vast spaces on the ground floor (later to become the Grosvenor Room) were used for exhibitions and conferences showcasing Birmingham’s industrial and technological might. Investors and businessmen from across the globe would have flocked to the hotel to meet the city’s industry pioneers and see their world-changing inventions in action.
A huge refurbishment (costing the equivalent to £3.5 million in today’s money) in the late Victorian era transformed the hotel into a high-end destination, boasting the grandest ballroom in the land, sumptuous restaurants and cocktail bars – and new standards of luxurious accommodation – all presided over by a brigade of highly-attentive staff in starched white jackets. The building was illuminated inside and out by a combination of brand-new electric lighting and flickering gas lamps. Add live music, laughter, clinking glasses and the heady mix of cigar smoke and vintage perfume to the mix and it must have been a thrilling multi-sensory experience to behold. No wonder, then, that the hotel’s bright lights quite literally attracted some of the planet’s most famous faces as the hotel moved into its heyday in the early 20th-Century.
Members of the Royal family and British aristocracy were drawn to the highest-of-high standards of opulence (and discretion) offered by the hotel: King George VI and the Duke of Windsor were known to have dined and stayed – others may have done so ‘under the radar’. Famous 20th-Century Prime Ministers and politicians such as Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain also enjoyed the hotel on various visits to Birmingham. The USA and Hollywood also contributed to the list of megastar customers, with the likes of legendary boxer, Joe Louis and actors James Cagney and Charlie Chaplin all visiting – and no doubt drawing considerable crowds.
The superstar visits didn’t end in the hotel’s heyday, however. In 1965 international civil rights campaigner Malcolm X visited the hotel on his visit to to Birmingham to give a powerful speech addressing the issues surrounding the treatment of black and Asian workers and their families at the time. Sadly, his visit to Britain was to be his last, as he was tragically assassinated a few weeks later in the US.
Fast-forward half a century to 2020 as the Grand Hotel Birmingham prepares to open its substantial doors to begin an exciting, new chapter in its story – and in doing so welcome the next generation of guests and revellers from the city Birmingham and beyond. It’ll be very interesting to see what names will be added to the hotel’s esteemed 141 year-old guest list.