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The story of Bristol's Royal Hotel really begins in 1863 when a 30-year-old local estate agent names Walter Hughes decided there was need for a "first class hotel" on an attractive site "away from the congestion of the old city streets". A prospectus issued by the College Green Hotel Company offered £10 shares. A row of 17th and 18th-century houses between Trinity Street and the ancient church of St. Augustine the Less were acquired and demolished with work starting on the hotel in 1865. The young architect was WilIiam Henry Hawtin, married to Walter Hughes' sister, who also went on to build houses in Cotham, Redland and Clifton in the 1870s.
At the hotel, two broad stone staircases led to the first floor which, we are told, had "elegantly appointed private rooms, dining rooms, sitting rooms, drawing rooms and bedrooms". Above this were three more floors containing over 70 bedrooms, making about 100 bedrooms in all. Electric lighting was installed in the 1890s, as was an electric passenger lift whose open framework became a well-known feature of the hotel. All the principal trains to Temple Meads were met by the hotel's own omnibuses. When the Royal Hotel opened on Monday, March 23, 1868, it met with the "hearty approval" of its first visitors.
Between the wars The Royal established a reputation for its good food and wines. Among the many famous people to have stayed at or visited the hotel are actors Cary Grant and Mickey Rooney, politician Winston Churchill, entertainer Gracie Fields, comedians Laurel and Hardy, actress Joan Collins, and singer/ entertainer Tommy Steele. The hotel remained open throughout the Second World War, although the Palm Court suffered some bomb damage. Laurel and Hardy stayed at the hotel during a visit to Bristol to see the Bristol City FC v. Wigan cup match on July 18, 1947.
It was Norfolk Capital Hotels who first put forward a controversial plan to extend the hotel over the site of the adjoining churchyard. Unused and in a state of decay, the church had been demolished in 1963. In September of that year workmen moved in for the first phase of what would turn out to be an immense undertaking. One million pounds had to be spent almost immediately to save the structure from collapse. The interior of the building had been wrecked by rain, floors had rotted, and the walls had been attacked by algae. All but the listed façade, the side walls and the Palm Court were demolished and rebuilt. In 2008 Marriott invested more than £3 million in a refurbishment of all bedrooms.
So much of this rich history endures for you to discover today: High Tea is still served in the same time-honored Victorian tradition as it was when the hotel first opened. The famous Palm Court made from bath stone and stain glass roof, situated in the centre of the hotel, still remains for you to see. The hotel is still full of large mirrors throughout the ground floor, and --as a listed building-- all the same architecture and design is still in place. Stroll and immerse yourself in the historic paintings covering full walls in our lounges, and stop for a rest in our restaurant and bar, named after Walter William Hughes.