In 1860, James Radley, founder of the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, suggested to architect Matthew Ellison Hadfield that Sheffield required a first-class hotel. “Merchants from America, the Continent, and elsewhere, have frequently returned to Manchester and Liverpool, instead of remaining in the town.”
This spurred the Sheffield architect into action, enlisting local businessmen, and choosing a site next to the Victoria Station.
The Duke of Norfolk supported the scheme, but not wishing to be a speculator, gave a £1,000 donation. Encouraged by this, about forty shareholders invested, and the Sheffield Victoria Hotel Company was founded.
However, once plans were made public, there was a negative response from the public.
“An hotel let us have by all means, but pray don’t build it where the first visit will most assuredly be the last.”
This reflected the proposed location of the hotel close to the railway, rolling-mills, forges, and factories, all of which belched gases and smoke from chimneys.
There were also concerns that the “putrid water beneath it,” would make it a most uncomfortable place. A reference to the polluted waters of the River Don.
And there were cries that the site was too far away from the town centre where it might have been more sensible to build a new hotel.
It later emerged that a rival consortium had planned to build a large hotel in the town, with a suggestion that negative press had originated here.
The Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Company granted the site next to the Victoria Station on favourable terms. Nevertheless, there were obstacles to be overcome, not least the fact that the land had previously been the site of a dam, and subsequently the solid foundations for the hotel ended up costing the company £1,500.
As a director, Matthew Ellison Hadfield, designed the new hotel and work started in 1861.
The first board meeting of the Sheffield Victoria Hotel Company was held in the boardroom at Victoria Station in February 1862. Those attending were Charles Atkinson (chairman), John Brown (mayor), William Frederick Dixon, Thomas R. Parker, Henry Wilkinson, John Jobson Smith (M, S and L Railway Company) , Michael Joseph Ellison, Frederick Thorpe Mappin, James Willis Dixon, Francis Hoole, John Hobson, Robert Younge, Matthew Ellison Hadfield, and Bernard Wake (law clerk).
With work underway, the company looked for somebody to take over management of the hotel. With the help of James Radley, who had committed £500 to the project, the company appointed George Meyer, proprietor of the Queen’s Hotel at Alderley Edge, Cheshire, built for the London and North Western Railway Company.
The Victoria Hotel consisted of a front and two-wings. It rose four storeys above the entrance to the Victoria Station with a basement.
A covered passage was built from the station platform to the north wing, leading into a lobby which ran through the building. From this were all the various trappings of a fine hotel – coffee rooms, two sitting rooms either side of the main entrance, dining room, assembly room, bar, and smoking room.
The staircases and corridors, illuminated with gas lamps, were built of stone.
The fifty bedrooms on the first, second and third floors occupied the front and outer portions of the building, in addition to servants’ apartments and ten sitting rooms. There were two water closets on each floor as well as a communal bathroom. Luggage was conveyed to each floor using a hoist. The first floor bedrooms and sitting rooms were furnished with mahogany, the second and third floor rooms kitted out at lesser cost.
The kitchen was built behind the front portion of the hotel and contained two stoves and two plate-heaters. The basement extended underneath the kitchen. Half of this was occupied with servants’ rooms and the remainder used as a wines and spirits cellar. A passage with iron bar gates ran through the cellar with perforated zinc windows for ventilation.
George Meyer brought with him a considerable sum of money used to furnish the Victoria Hotel.
“I learned a lesson some years ago from the Emperor of the French. It was said that when Queen Victoria visited, she found all the rooms fitted up so much like those of her own palace that she had difficulty in realising that she was not at home. I hope that this will be just the feeling which all would experience who visited the Victoria Hotel.”
He spent about £15,000 on furnishings. The dining room had chandeliers and silver gas brackets with richly decorated walls. Splendid services of pottery and glass were manufactured in Staffordshire and silver-plate supplied by James Dixon and Sons.
The Victoria Hotel opened on July 28th, 1862. At the invitation of Meyer, a number of leading gentlemen and their families were invited to visit and a sumptuous déjeuner was prepared for them.
“The whole establishment has about it an air of comfort and elegance, and we may add of cleanliness, which in the midst of our smoky atmosphere will not be maintained without considerable exertion.”
An official inauguration ceremony took place in September 1862 when leading gentry and manufacturers were invited to a banquet “with a profusion of the good things of this world, and adorned with silver-plated epergnes, fruit and flowers, presenting a scene of almost Eastern luxuriousness.”
Despite the misgivings about its location the Victoria Hotel was a success. It was visited by the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1875 and hereon it was called the Royal Victoria Hotel.
Shareholders got their money back with a little over 3 per cent interest and hardly a share changed hands while under ownership of the Sheffield Victoria Hotel Company.
Their 24th annual general meeting in 1889 was their last because by negotiation the hotel had practically passed into ownership of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway.
“In the hands of the railway company the hotel will continue to be that great boom to the town which it had been from the outset.”
George Meyer had died in 1873, and his wife chose to retire.
It was the railway company’s first venture into hotel management setting a precedent for the Great Central Railway’s (as it became) later hotels at Nottingham and Marylebone.
The Royal Victoria Hotel was enlarged in 1898, later passing to London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and on nationalisation was owned by British Transport Hotels.
When the Victoria Station closed in 1970 the hotel might have gone the same way. However, it was sold in 1972 and for a long time was called the Royal Victoria Holiday Inn.
Most of the station’s buildings were demolished by 1989 allowing a new extension to be built and connecting to the main hotel by a covered passageway much the same way as passengers used to leave the platform.
The hotel and the retaining wall and approach ramp of the old railway station were Grade II listed in 1995 and in March 2019 the hotel was rebranded as the Royal Victoria Crowne Plaza.
© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.