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Backing for five-star hotel

Transformation of Martin's Bank set to go ahead. Here's some detail

Published on April 13th 2011.

Backing for five-star hotel

LIVERPOOL'S planning bosses are recommending the go-ahead be given to transform the city’s most famous banking hall into an international five-star luxury hotel.

Martins Bank Building in Water Street, designed by Herbert James Rowse, will be transformed as part of the £40m scheme.

The Rowse-designed interior features, such as the horse-shoe shaped tellers’ counter and the ornate colonnades will be kept.

The plans come before the council’s Planning Committee next Tuesday and bar any last minute hiccup, seem almost certain to be approved by councillors.

The big question remains – is Liverpool big enough for a full-blown high-end, five star hotel? Some experts in the hotel and leisure industry have their doubts, saying some of the existing four star hotels have spare rooms midweek.

Currently A-listers and billionaire visitors seem content to make do with the Crowne Plaza, the Radisson, Hope Street Hotel and a handful of others. Will there be enough of them to justify their very own luxury enclave?

Will there be enough people with deep pockets to sustain a 138-room hotel that will include all the expected extras needed to earn that five-star badge?

The banking hall, one of the most impressive on the entire planet, closed four years ago when Barclays decided to pull out of the business quarter of the city and head to Lord Street to mingle with the shoppers.

Since then it has been eyed as a casino, bar/restaurant and a smaller boutique hotel. None of those potential uses were seen as economically viable.

Now developers, Castlewood Property Management Ltd, are seeking permission for a sizeable five-star hotel. An end user has still to be announced, but rumours it would be a Waldorf Astoria have been dismissed.

The proposal would see the banking hall used as the main reception area and concierge. The tellers’ area, with those magnificent art-deco screens, would become a bistro. The former international banking department to the right would be a banqueting area, with conference space on the left hand side.

The developers want to create an overhanging area at the mezzanine level creating a cocktail bar and a fine dining restaurant, with several private dining rooms.New rooftop rooms will be created with glass balconies – likely to become the most sought after hotel rooms in Liverpool with spectacular views from the top of the 11-storey high building. That aspect of the scheme has been modified to ensure the views of the current colonnade pillars are not spoiled.

A luxury spa will be created at lower ground level and there will be extra conference facilities on the 8th floor where the walnut-lined boardroom and offices of the chairman and general manager are like time warps. Even the mahogany furniture is part of the listing schedule.

by Larry Nield

Not everyone is happy with the scheme. Wayne Colquhoun of the Liverpool Preservation Trust has told the council not enough has been done to retain the building as an operational bank.

The Twentieth Century Society has raised some concerns about changes to the big banking hall.

This is what the planning managers say about the scheme: “The grandeur of the building lends itself well to a high end hotel, and the use would have the benefit of enabling the public to access the communal areas of the hotel including the extremely important and impressive banking hall and will bring this important building back into full, beneficial use.”

The building is a Grade II* listed building within the Castle StreetConservation Area and the Liverpool World Heritage Site.

Liverpool-based Martin’s Bank had origins that went back to the 16th century. In 1918 it was acquired by the Bank of Liverpool, the new entity known as The Bank of Liverpool and Martins Bank Ltd, but in 1928 the name was shortened to Martins Bank. By then it had 560 branches and had a logo featuring a grasshopper, which was the family crest of original founder Sir Thomas Gresham, and a Liver bird, the logo of the Bank of Liverpool.

Women were contractually obliged to leave the bank upon marriage, and as late as 1965, men were not allowed to get married until their salary reached a prescribed level.

Martins Bank, and its expanded network of 700 branches, was taken over by Barclays in 1969.

During World War 2, much of England’s gold reserves were transported to the bank’s underground vaults for safe keeping – a top secret exercise involving Liverpool dockers and featured in the drama, The Bullion Boys.

Herbert James Rowse was born in Crosby and studied at the University of Liverpool’s School of Architecture under celebrated Professor Charles Reilly. Martin’s Bank Building was Rowse’s finest masterpiece, but he also designed India Buildings, the current Philharmonic Hall and the Birkenhead Tunnel.

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

e-qualatistApril 12th 2011.

Women were required to leave when they married. Can we bring that back please. Sounds wonderful, and it would help the jobs market.

AnonymousApril 12th 2011.

If Liverpool was in charge of looking after the Crown Jewels, poor old Kate Middleton would be wearing tat gems on her wedding day. We screw everything up, its what we do so well.

Liverpool WagApril 13th 2011.

Why say something so idiotic "anonymous?" What exactly has Liverpool screwed up here? Come on brave boy or girl....

AnonymousJuly 10th 2014.

You completed certain reliable points there. I did a search on the subject and found nearly all persons will agree with your blog.

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