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Midland Hotel, Morecambe

Phil Griffin gives a personal view on the refurbished hotel

Published on July 25th 2008.

Midland Hotel, Morecambe

I’ve stayed at the Midland Hotel Morecambe three times when it was a mess. Twice in the late 1980’s and once, surprisingly, a couple of weeks ago.

After three years of rebuilding by Urban Splash the 44 bed hotel re-opened on 1 June. It has had problems. Basically, it opened for business before it was finished. Plastering, wiring and leaking aside, there’s a chance that it might not be the glowing beacon of recovery those involved in the project might have hoped.

The Rotunda, a rather lovely circular café that once sported an Eric Revilious mural called Night and Day, now resembles a chain bar, complete with banquettes and, inexplicably, several copies of the same print of an overweight woman in a bathing costume.

Urban Splash bought the Midland Hotel on Christmas Eve 2003, seventy years after it was opened by the London Midland and Scottish Railway. LMSR sold some of their land to the borough council for £55,000. That was the total budget, including fees and commissioned art, that architect Oliver Hill had to work with. He created a shallow three storey building with a steel and concrete frame, and rendered brick walls. His elegant structure curves with the shoreline. Oliver Hill and his artist collaborators, Erics, Gill and Revilious, and designer Marion Dorn, also created an icon

To some degree Urban Splash has paid Oliver Hill tribute. It has, for instance, researched the building’s original render with forensic care. The renovation has removed the unsightly external fire escape and replaced the derelict sea- facing sun lounge that were later additions to Hill’s building.

However, things get a little weird the closer you get to the Midland today. Unfortunately, approaching it along the promenade from the North, the building is arguably less attractive than it was before work began. This is because the new render – which close-up glistens with quartz fragments – is actually a rather pallid off-white. Over time the building had been painted brilliant white, with turquoise blue lines running down the sides of Eric Gill’s carved sea horses. Curiously, whilst not authentic, this was degrees more attractive. Urban Splash and its architect Union North have added six penthouse suites. They must have commanding views of the bay, but they take a dull grey wedge form. It is one thing to differentiate contemporary interventions in historic buildings, but could this not have been more harmonious?

The renovation has done the original art works a favour. Eric Gill’s massive stone relief ‘Odysseus welcomed from the sea by Nausica’ is finally back in its original position. The mosaic floor inlays and Marion Dorn’s lovely sea horse with a shrimp’s tail are restored.

But a good deal of the rest of the ground floor is overwrought. The bar is a huge island that leaves all its workings on display, and not much room for comfort. The oversized light shades resemble a snooker hall. The wallpaper and all the materials, including the rather fussy timber floor and the retro panelling look cheaper than they no doubt were.

There’s a book published to coincide with the Midland’s reopening. You can buy it at reception. It is full of images of the hotel in earlier times, when it entertained the likes of Coco Channel and Lawrence Olivier. Which is a shame, because you can check out just how chic it once was.

Today there is hardly a stick of furniture that doesn’t make me feel I’d prefer to stand. The Rotunda, a rather lovely circular café that once sported an Eric Revilious mural called Night and Day, now resembles a chain bar, complete with banquettes and, inexplicably, several copies of the same print of an overweight woman in a bathing costume.

The outdoor furniture on the café terrace includes black die-cast aluminium lattice chairs on heavy concrete bases. These are Chair One designed by Konstantin Gric for Spanish manufacturer Magis. Very cool in Barcelona. In Morecambe their austere modernity speaks designer arrogance. In the hotel’s small bright lobby are over-sized wing chairs by Jurgen Bey. These are the Ear Chair and are furniture’s equivalent of the Pantomime horse. A designer in-joke.

The Urban Splash Midland Hotel might have felt more appropriate in the centre of a city. Five metres from the beach, it feels out at sea. If ever a building would have welcomed well chosen expensive period classic furniture and even the odd well placed 20th century antique, it is Oliver Hill’s Midland Hotel Morecambe. Walk through the ill-fitting front door – that must surely be a temporary measure – and see if you can find an atmosphere to drink in.

Urban Splash will get things right over time. Management has already been “refreshed”. Furniture, décor and the kitchen can be tweaked. What is more fundamental is that the hotel lacks grace and charm and a sense of place. Respect for Oliver Hill’s building and for the 1930’s does not demand pastiche and nostalgia. But neither is it served well by a certain sort of Metropolitan disdain.

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David WilliamsJuly 25th 2008.

Never have I come across a worse experience than the new Midland Hotel.The room was not available until 3 hrs after booking in, they had "run-out" of olives and had no butter at breakfast. they reached new peaks of inefficiency and poor service which were unimagineable. I could write a whole article on the management disaster which is the Midland Hotel and I'm sorry that all the good intentions and high hopes will fail because I understand that my experience was not unique. I'd be amazed if they have any return business and I believe it's a disaster.

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