My mum Rene (Alice Irene Flitney née Harding) died in 1999. When my brother, sister and I went through her things we found an envelope full of old newspaper clippings and other bits and pieces. We looked through the papers and put the envelope away, but those yellowing pieces of paper keep whispering of half-forgotten times and places. Places like Butlers Cross, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, West Wycombe, Little Kimble, Wendover, Ellesborough, Southcourt and Princes Risborough.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Grand Dame of Park Lane...

 Luggage label from 1929 (via)

Until the 1730s, the site on which the hotel now stands was described as meadows and ‘swampy meads’. The first building on the site was a large detached house located on the south side of Upper Grosvenor Street. The house passed through several owners, including the Duke of Cumberland and The Duke of Gloucester. The property changed hands again in 1806 when Lord Grosvenor purchased Gloucester House (as it was then known) and in 1808, he re-named it Grosvenor House. It remained the Grosvenor family’s London home for over 100 years. 

Grosvenor House facade c1800 (via)

At the outbreak of the First World War the house was put at the disposal of the Government, and occupied by the Food Controller’s Department until 1920. It was then put up for sale and purchased by a commercial speculator by the name of Mr. A. O. Edwards. It was Edwards who built what is now the Grosvenor House Hotel. The architect was L. Rome Guthrie, with external elevations by Sir Edwin Lutyens.  Work began in April 1927 and was completed in the spring of 1929. Not everyone approved of Mayfair’s new landmark. In a letter to The Times, it was described as an insult to the good taste and aesthetic judgement of the citizens of the metropolis.

The Grosvenor House Hotel (via)

The hotel opened its doors to the public on the 14th May, 1929. A press release announced the standard set by Grosvenor House begins with better food, wines, services and private accommodation than has so far been achieved, and it ends with a diversity of social and recreational amenitiesIn addition, the hotel was the first in London to have a bathroom and running iced water to every bedroom.

26 September 1929 - Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer

I’ve read that Queen Elizabeth II learnt to skate on the Grosvenor House Hotel ice rink. I have no way of knowing if that little piece of information is correct. The hotel certainly housed an ice rink until 1934 when it was converted into a banqueting space.

Grosvenor House Hotel Advertising Postcard c1930s

World War II brought dramatic changes to the hotel. The Great Room became home to the Officers’ Sunday Club. The hotel was also used briefly used as an annexe to the Immigration Section of the US Embassy; and in 1943, the hotel became the largest US Officers’ mess, serving 5.5 million meals in two years.

A 92 bedroom extension was added to the hotel in 1956. This was only made possible after the death of Baron Bruno Schröder, who had acquired the lease of 35 Park Street in about 1910, and refused to give it up. He remained in his house until his death in 1943, when permission to demolish the building was finally given.

Several major events took place in the 60s including a concert performed by The Beatles. In 1963 the hotel was acquired by Trust Houses who spent £500,000 on refurbishments.

While considering what to contribute to this week's Sepia Saturday, I remembered this photograph taken at the Grosvenor sometime in the 1980s. 

I'm at the front on the right as you look at the picture sitting next to my husband (he with the snazzy red bow tie). We have absolutely no recollection of the names of the people sitting with us. We were introduced on the night but didn't meet them again, which was often the way with these events. The only reason we can safely say the photograph was taken at The Grosvenor is because it is in one of their photo sleeves. We can't even remember what the occasion was other than to say it was probably a Ford Motor Company dinner.  My only abiding memory from the night is of being mightily impressed by the exterior of the building. 

More recent years have seen a great many changes at The Grosvenor. It was purchased by The Royal Bank of Scotland in 2001 to be managed by Marriott International and rebranded the Grosvenor House a JW Marriott Hotel.  It underwent a four-year renovation and restoration costing £142 million, reopening in 2008. In 2010, the Indian financial services group Sahara India Pariwar purchased the hotel from Royal Bank of Scotland for £470 million.  

An announcement in the press on March 2nd, 2015 brings the story more or less up to date; Deloitte was today appointed to handle the administration of Sahara Grosvenor House Hospitality Limited, which owns the long leasehold, on behalf of Bank of China. The underlying operating lease with Marriott, which operates the hotel, is unaffected by the appointment and the hotel continues to trade as normal. The rest of the newspaper article is available here

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday 290; Hotels - Illustrations - Design

That concludes our tour of the 'Grand Dame of Park Lane'. It’s now time to pack your overnight bag for a visit to Sepia Saturday.

Monday, 20 July 2015

I will be back!

I’m afraid I’ve rather abandoned this blog over the past couple of weeks. If you’ve visited my other blog over at March House Books you will know that apart from researching my family, I also run a second-hand book business.  However, that is about to change. I made the decision to close the business and a 65% off everything (which continues until the end of July) sale enticed lots and lots of people to buy.  I’ve just not had a moment to prepare a post for this blog, but I will remedy that as soon as I can.

My cousin John is busy working on the next part of his story so you have that to look forward to. I've also got one or two ideas for a new Sepia Saturday post so hope to get onto that soon. 

March House Bookshop is now closed.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Abel Flitney - Second son of Eli and Ellen Flitney

This is the third in a series of posts about my paternal great-grandparents Eli and Ellen Flitney. In my previous post, Eli and Ellen's eldest son Albert returned from WW1 their second son Abel would not to be so fortunate.

The year is 1878, and the family are living at Chalkshire a hamlet in the parish of Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire, England.  Albert Flitney is two years old, and the First World War still a long way into the future when Abel is born. By 1893 both Albert and Abel are employed as farm labourers but Abel's life is about to take a different direction. By 1900, he has met and married Matilda Ann Clayton and moved to Millards Cottages in Guildford, Surrey. I have no idea what precipitated the move, but by now he has also moved away from agriculture and is employed as a gardener.   Matilda was born at Longfield in Kent so perhaps that explains their later move to Chevening a village and civil parish in the Sevenoaks District of Kent. By this time, they had two daughters Rhoda Marjorie born in 1903 and Margaret Doris born in 1907.

By 1909 Abel is in the employ of Mr. William Burfoot of Chipstead Mill, Sevenoaks.

Advertisement for Chipstead Flour Mills c1923 via A History of the Parish of Chevening

The photograph on the right shows the former corn mill in Chipstead. Today it's divided into apartments with names such as Granary, Flour Store and Grain Store reflecting its earlier use.

Abel worked at Chipstead Mill until he joined the ranks of the 13th Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment. By 1915, he was in uniform as Private G/12022 Flitney, A.  After his death, his former employer William Burfoot said of him, "Private Flitney worked at Chipstead Mill for six years as a groom/gardener. He was greatly respected by all who knew him, and much sympathy is felt for his widow and two daughters".

What follows is reproduced by kind permission of Andrew Robertshaw from his book
Feeding Tommy: Battlefield Recipes from the First World War Pages 59 & 61

From Log Book of  Private Abel Flitney

Feeding Tommy Battlefield Recipes from the First World War by Andrew Robertshaw.  If you are interested in more information about Andrew Robertshaw, please visit his website HERE

While the menfolk of Chevening were away fighting many of the farms turned to the growing of crops, ploughing up acres of pasture land. In this way Chevening, together with other areas of the country kept Britain largely self-sufficient in food. At the same time, the large houses in the parish were maintained by an ever diminishing staff as the women left to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Kent 58 and to do other war works. Able's daughter Margaret remembers the four soldiers billeted on them. She also remembers her mother telling their quartermaster that he must increase their rations as they needed more food. (Angela Lucas - A History of the Parish of Chevening Pg. 190)

Abel died on the 2nd August 1917. The following is a letter sent to Matilda and published in the Kent Messenger on Sat 25 Aug 1917. 

Dear Mrs. Flitney, a very unpleasant task has befallen me, that of writing you a letter of sympathy and informing you of your husband's death, which took place in the recent big advance. He was killed by the force of a shell bursting very near to him, along with several others who happened to be with him. It may be a consolation to you to know his death was instantaneous, there being no lingering or suffering. Your husband was in my Platoon, and the whole time I had him under my command, I found him efficient, willing and cheerful. He was a good soldier, doing everything he had to do to the best of his ability, and I wish all my men had the same spirit, it would make things so much easier for those in command. I was very taken to your husband because of his pleasant countenance; he always had a smile and never had a grumble. You may rest assured he did his bit, and when I tell you I have lost one of my best men, perhaps you will realise how he was regarded. You have no idea how sorry I am, and how I sympathise with you in your bereavement. So please accept my deepest sympathy and sincere condolence, which is shared by all the officers of this company, and is the best I can offer trusting you will find comfort, and receive strength to carry your burden by placing your faith in our Heavenly Father, I remain, yours very sincerely.  

Abel is buried at La Brique Military Cemetery No. 2 Grave Reference 1. Y. 9. The cemetery is located to the North-East of the town of Leper.  'Fling open wide the golden gates and let the victors in' are the words on the headstone paid for by the family, at a cost of 14s or two-weeks wages for a private soldier.

Now a war widow Matilda went to work at Chipstead Place carrying out general domestic duties as a way of supporting herself and her two daughters.  She married Edgar E. Hornsell in 1942 at the age of 65. She died on the 27th January 1950 and is buried at Greatness Cemetery, where Abel is also remembered on her grave.  

I've not researched either of the two daughters, but I believe Margaret married Herbert E. Janes in 1936 and Rhoda Married M. Rogers in 1930.  I'm very tempted to find out more about them, but as I've started researching Eli and Ellen’s eight sons I feel I must continue with that for now.  As always, this is an ongoing search so if you have any information please get in touch.


Kent Messenger Sat 25th August 1917, Pg. 5
Commonwealth War Graves Commission - Flitney. A  La Brique Military Cemetery No. 2
The long, long trail
HM Passport Office General Register

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