Langham Hotel, Portland Place

Photo:Langham Hotel, Portland Place, W1

Langham Hotel, Portland Place, W1

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Message Form, Langham Hotel, September 1940

ARP Message Form, Langham Hotel, September 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Message Form, Langham Hotel, September 1940

ARP Message Form, Langham Hotel, September 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Message Form , Langham Hotel, 1940

ARP Message Form , Langham Hotel, 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Message Form, Langham Hotel, October 1940

ARP Message Form, Langham Hotel, October 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Langham Hotel,Portland Place

8 December 1940

By Ronan Thomas

The Langham Hotel W1 was bombed twice in night raids during 1940, sustaining varying degrees of damage.

The Langham, a vast, eight-floor, 600 room Victorian grand hotel, opened in 1865. Guests over the years have included writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and W.Somerset Maugham, composer Arturo Toscanini, actor Noel Coward and Mrs Wallis Simpson.

During the Blitz the Hotel provided vital war service. It housed a St Marylebone ARP and first aid post as well as providing military accommodation. In a longstanding arrangement with the BBC it also hosted offices and bedrooms for staff based at Broadcasting House, directly opposite.

At 10pm on 16 September 1940, St Marylebone ARP recorded the effects of a single high explosive bomb dropped on Portland Place. The blast caused minor damage to the Hotel and ruptured the local coal gas mains.

An ARP message received by the St Marylebone Report Centre at 9.59am 17 September noted that: “a big explosion shook the hotel”. The ARP requested fire engines, ambulances and gas company engineers, which all arrived by 10.57pm. No casualties were discovered; the Hotel's residents were all evacuated swiftly.

Rescue crews inspected the damage at 11.17pm and ARP wardens from St Marylebone Posts D1, D2, D4 and D5 set up trestle table barriers around the debris in Portland Place. At 12.50am, 17 September, inspection crews reported a possible unexploded bomb (UXB) lodged in the Hotel. In response, at 5.30am, police from Tottenham Court Road Station sealed off Portland Place from Upper Regent Street, to include New Cavendish, Langham, Mortimer, Hallam and Great Titchfield Streets.

At 8.18am, rescue crews, having checked the entire Hotel, ruled out the presence of a UXB. For the next twelve hours, repair and rescue crews cleared debris around the Hotel, returning to their Control Posts by 6pm on 17 September. These men had little time to recover; six hours later a major raid hit nearby Oxford Street.

The relationship between the Hotel and the BBC during the war was close and enduring; the Corporation held a storage tenancy from 1940 and relocated recording studios and offices there in 1945. In May 1941, a BBC in-house memo even noted a fracas outside Room 316 - involving a damaged door and a fire extinguisher - caused by Guy Burgess, wartime BBC employee, Cambridge spy and Soviet traitor, drunkenly attempting to get inside.

The Hotel was damaged again – this time far more seriously – during the night raid of 8 December 1940. A parachute mine floated down slowly onto Portland Place at around 10pm, its canopy tangling on a lamp post close to the Hotel, before exploding and badly damaging adjoining buildings: the Hotel, BBC Broadcasting House and All Souls Church.

The blast created a deep crater which rapidly filled with water and sewage from burst local mains. A police constable was killed by the blast wave close to the Hotel. Four floors of the Langham’s East Wing were destroyed by blast and shrapnel, killing a guest in one of the bathrooms in the process.

According to the Langham’s own records, fire then broke out on the Hotel’s roof and its main water tank burst, flooding the building in many places. All residents and staff were evacuated and the Hotel was closed, although no further casualties were recorded. Fires also burned in surrounding buildings in Langham Place; these were not finally extinguished until after 5am the following morning.

St Marylebone ARP wardens, rescue squads, fire crews, ambulances and mortuary vans were quickly sent to the Hotel and treated it as a major incident in conjunction with the serious damage and casualties also suffered opposite at BBC Broadcasting House. In the early hours of 9 December, utility crews sealed off leaking coal gas mains in Portland and Langham Places. By 6am, the incident was described by St Marylebone ARP as 'under control'.

Emergency repairs to the Hotel were effected but its previous glories were not rekindled until after the war. In the days following the 8 December mine blast, staff flew a large Union Flag over the Hotel entrance on Portland Place. The Langham was battered, but defiant. Today’s luxurious Hotel is the result of major restorations from 1986 and 2009.

This page was added by Ronan Thomas on 02/09/2010.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.