LLJ582604 Thames Embankment Hotel Cecil and Savoy from Waterloo Bridge, London (photo) by English Photographer, (20th century); Private Collection; (add.info.: Thames Embankment Hotel Cecil and Savoy from Waterloo Bridge, London); © Look and Learn / Peter Jackson Collection; English,  out of copyright

7 things you didn’t know about London’s iconic Savoy Hotel

In 2019 one of London’s landmark institutions, the Savoy Hotel, turns 130. Having hosted many glamorous guests including Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Winston Churchill and the Beatles, the hotel on the Strand has an equally dazzling history. We’ve picked out 7 of the most fascinating facts about “London’s Greatest Hotel”.

 

What’s in a name

Savoy Palace, 1661 (etching), English School, (17th century) / Private Collection
Savoy Palace, 1661 (etching), English School, (17th century) / Private Collection

Although the Savoy hotel was opened in 1889, the story behind its name goes all the way back to the thirteenth century. In 1246, count Peter of Savoy built his palace on the site where Richard d’Oyly Carte’s 1889 hotel now stands, giving the establishment its name. The palace later became the home of the Dukes of Lancaster, and even though the palace eventually burned down, the land remains in the hands of that family to this day.

 

A room with a famous view

Waterloo Bridge, 1902, Claude Monet (1840-1926) / Private Collection / Photo © Christie's Images
Waterloo Bridge, 1902, Claude Monet (1840-1926) / Private Collection / Photo © Christie’s Images

The great Impressionist Claude Monet is known to have stayed at the Savoy numerous times, and his stays at the hotel became a source of inspiration for some of the painter’s most renowned works. Monet painted his famous views of Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge from the balcony of his fifth-floor suite of the Savoy. Another interesting fact about Monet’s stay at the hotel is that the artist would start his day with not one, but two English breakfasts.

 

Skipping the stairs

The back of the Savoy Hotel and Victoria Embankment Gardens, c.1904 (b/w photo) / Photo © City of Westminster Archive Centre
The back of the Savoy Hotel and Victoria Embankment Gardens, c.1904 (b/w photo) / Photo © City of Westminster Archive Centre

The Savoy has long held a reputation for having the latest gadgets and technology. This was no different at the establishment’s earliest stages, when the Savoy was the first hotel to have electric light, ensuite bathrooms and room service facilitated by a “speaking-tube” connected to the restaurant. Another technological highlight was the installation of so-called “ascending rooms”, making the Savoy the first hotel to have electric lifts!

 

Light it up

Poster advertising 'Job', 1898 (colour litho), Alphonse Marie Mucha (1860-1939) / Mucha Trust
Poster advertising ‘Job’, 1898 (colour litho), Alphonse Marie Mucha (1860-1939) / Mucha Trust
Elisabeth de Gramont (1875-1954) future duchess of Clermont Tonnerre, 1889, photo by Paul Nadar / Photo © PVDE
Elisabeth de Gramont (1875-1954) future duchess of Clermont Tonnerre, 1889, photo by Paul Nadar / Photo © PVDE

The Savoy has been home to several “daring” moments, including Marilyn Monroe’s notorious 1956 conference during which she wore a dress that exposed her midriff (very risque at the time). A long time before then, in 1896, another woman would go down in history for her controversial actions: the Duchesse de Clermont-Tonnerre became the first ever woman to smoke in public, and she did so at her dinner table at the Savoy.

 

The 14th Guest

Savoy Hotel, 2010 (oil on canvas) Savoy interior, Kaspar the Cat, Lee Campbell / Private Collection
Savoy Hotel, 2010 (oil on canvas) Savoy interior, Kaspar the Cat, Lee Campbell / Private Collection

Warning: creepy story ahead! Few people know about the Savoy’s good luck charm: Kaspar the cat. Kaspar is a 2ft. high Art Deco statue of a cat dating from 1927, when it was made to join guests at the dinner table for the following, slightly unnerving reason: in 1898, Woolf Joel, who had made a fortune in the diamond industry, had organised a dinner party for 14 people. At the last minute one guest wasn’t able to make it, leaving the remaining guests concerned about the age-old superstition that at dinners of thirteen, the first guest to leave the table will die. Joel ignored their concerns and left the table, and was found shot dead a few weeks later. To prevent such incidents, the Savoy would from that moment on supplement tables of 13 with a member of staff, until Kaspar came along in 1927 to become the hotel’s resident 14th dinner guest. He’s depicted here in this image by our Studio artist Lee Campbell.

 

The freshest eggs

New Year's Menu from the Savoy Hotel, from 'Hotel Metropole', a scrapbook of menus collected by Frank Lambeth Chantrain 1888-1914, 1908 (litho) / City of Westminster Archive Centre, London, UK
New Year’s Menu from the Savoy Hotel, from ‘Hotel Metropole’, a scrapbook of menus collected by Frank Lambeth Chantrain 1888-1914, 1908 (litho) / City of Westminster Archive Centre, London, UK
Head Chef at the Savoy Hotel (colour litho), Dudley Hardy (1867-1922) / Private Collection / © Look and Lear
Head Chef at the Savoy Hotel (colour litho), Dudley Hardy (1867-1922) / Private Collection / © Look and Lear

The Savoy is renowned for its masterful chefs and exclusive ingredients. One of its onetime exclusive ingredients might surprise you… the hotel’s chickens and eggs! During the second World War, to keep the supply of fresh eggs going during the hard times of war, the Savoy founded its own poultry farm, making it the first ever hotel to do so. A few years after the end of the war the farm stopped operating, but I’m sure the hotel still serves up excellent (if not their own) eggs.

 

A dozen of pink roses

Manpower de Raoul Walsh avec Marlene Dietrich 1941
Manpower de Raoul Walsh avec Marlene Dietrich 1941

The Savoy is home to a number of “personality suites”, including one named after the German actress and singer Marlene Dietrich, one of the icons of Hollywood’s Golden Age (who also happens to be celebrating an anniversary this year: 25 years since death). When Marlene Dietrich stayed at the Savoy she would request exactly twelve pink roses, every day. To this day, her suite at the Savoy is still continuously supplied with a dozen pink roses. The Hollywood star would certainly have approved.

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