SHAMUS IN LONDON | Bishopsgate, Great Eastern Hotel

Updated: Nov 12

“Things being equal, pal, you're about to enter the Great Eastern Hotel. On the whole they prefer decorous and sober, but they absolutely insist on collar and tie." [Shamus Dust, Chapter 4]

There are hotels and there are hotels. Then in 1886, at the height of the railway boom in England, there was the Great Eastern Hotel!

A red-brick gothic pile towering over the sidewalk and taking up practically a city block on the edge of Liverpool Street Station, left no one in any doubt just how wealthy the London & North Eastern Railway was.

Through the walnut and glass revolving door every luxury was on hand to satisfy the discerning class of visitor and business customer the hotel wanted on their books, and day after day they flocked to fill the 160 bedrooms.

No expense was spared. No essential forgotten, no little luxury overlooked. Where else in the City was anyone going to enjoy sea-water baths supplied daily by train from the Essex coast? Or dance the night away in a magnificent ballroom, styled on a Parisian palace? Or dine in an elegant glass-domed restaurant?

"Breakfast at the Great Eastern Hotel was a colonial affair, a hush of chintz and chiming silver where ancients in fly collars sat under a colored-glass dome and waded through kippers and kedgeree. There were barely a dozen people still eating, scattered through the room in ones and twos like an anarchists’ convention. Along the south wall there were window bays looking out on Liverpool Street high above the sidewalk." [Shamus Dust, Chapter 4]

Then came the motor car!!

Railway travel became less popular. Trade fell off. And The Great Eastern Hotel went slowly but surely into decline until in the 1990s, when the railway got itself updated and a new owner of the hotel decided to give it a chic makeover to bring it in line.

Which was when some bright spark noticed a few discrepancies in the blueprints.

Then, like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, builders moved in, took down a stud wall and found a dusty winding staircase. The staircase led to a spacious wood-paneled antechamber with a studded double door and behind that ....

... a vast and opulent masonic temple. With no less than twelve different types of Italian marble used in the floor, columns, and walls. The ceiling was a blue and gold dome, bearing a five-pointed “blazed star” and zodiac signs. And scattered around were throne-like hand carved mahogany chairs, bronze candelabras on claw feet - and an organ.

Built in 1912, this forgotten chamber which cost £50,000 (about £4 million today) is probably one of the most grandiose Masonic temples in London. Neoclassic in style, the windowless room is known as the “Grecian Temple.”

Strange to tell ... Even though the temple is within the hotel, the hotel owners have no rights over the use of the temple. That honor belongs to the Freemasons, but word is, it was used briefly as the staff canteen during building work! I wonder how workmen had to wear their pants?

Did you know?

  • The hotel was built between 1884-7 by two brothers Charles Barry, Jr. and Edward Middleton Barry, grandsons of Charles Barry who designed the Houses of Parliament. When it opened it was called The Liverpool Street Hotel. But what was luxury at the turn of the 19th century certainly wasn't so sought after as the 21st century approached. Back then only 12 of the 160 bedrooms had their own bathrooms. The less fortunate 148 rooms (totaling anywhere between 200-300 guests) shared communal facilities on each floor.

  • During World War 11 the ceiling dome was wrapped in mattresses and blankets and - probably to everyone's surprise - not only did it survive, but only only one small fragment of glass had to be replaced.

  • There are more than 30 hotels inside the Square Mile now but until the 1980s, the Great Eastern Hotel was only one of two hotels in the City of London. (The other at Cannon Street, never as prestigious or profitable, was demolished after serious bomb-damage during World War II.)

  • The Great Eastern Hotel is where vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing stays during his first visit to London in Bram Stoker's Gothic fiction horror novel Dracula.

The narrator of W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz meets Dracula in the bar of the Great Eastern after a twenty year separation; Austerlitz recounts details of the building including the Grecian Temple. The 1937 movie was re-issued in 1947 - the same year Shamus Dust begins.

  • The Grecian Temple was first Chaired by Grand Master Duke of Connaught -cousin to Queen Elizabeth II.

  • The temple was used by the Caledonian Lodge No 134, an English lodge for Scottish Masons in London, from 1920 right up to the year of our story -1947.

  • Many believe Jack the Ripper was a Mason and if so would have attended this temple as it is closest to his hunting ground.

  • The cover of SHAMUS DUST and the interior pages are set in Gill Sans. Well, yes you probably did spot that. But what might be news to you is that in 1929, the LNER - one step ahead of me - chose the same typeface as its official typeface. But they didn't limit themselves to print and before long it was cropping up on everything the company produced from locomotive nameplates and hand-painted station signage to printed restaurant car menus, timetables and advertising posters. Absolutely everything!

Janet Roger is the author of SHAMUS DUST : HARD WINTER, COLD WAR, COOL MURDER - available for purchase on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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