All change at the historic Royal Kings Arms in Lancaster
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 November 2018
A massive investment programme means the good times are back at a hotel which has a remarkable history
It may be called the Royal Kings Arms but you would hardly expect to find Edward VII in the gents’ lavatory. But then, this is a hotel full of fascinating quirks befitting one of Lancashire’s most historic inns.
The hotel, in Lancaster’s Market Street, has been a focal point for generations of locals. Many of them were married there. But it is fair to say this landmark fell on hard times in recent years. General manager Bob Warrior sums it up: ‘It was run down and neglected – it wasn’t really the place to be seen.’
He and his team, backed by new business owners from the area, are well on the way to changing all that with what appears to be an eye-watering level of investment. ‘We are transforming it into Lancaster’s luxury boutique hotel,’ adds Bob proudly. Many will think it long overdue.
The original hotel was built in the 1620s. Louis XIV was obviously impressed by the place because he bought it in 1666 although no one seems sure why. He even imported large tapestries with borders designed by Rubens to adorn some of the public rooms.
Charles Dickens stayed there twice and the place was immortalised in his short story, The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices. His second visit was with fellow novelist Wilkie Collins, regarded as the father of the British detective story.
Its Royal appendage was adopted when Queen Adelaide, wife of King William IV, set up home there during an extended visit north.
The Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII, was also a guest and that accounts for his rather splendid full-size portrait in what could be described as a modern day throne room.
It wasn’t all good news. A devastating fire resulted in it being rebuilt in 1879 and that is pretty much the building you see today. While it’s a striking edifice, it wasn’t a particularly well-built one. Structural engineers informed the new owners that it was leaning forward into the street at an alarming angle. Twenty tonnes of concrete have stabilised it, paving the way for a top-to-tail restoration project which is aimed at maintaining the history while providing contemporary high-end facilities. This has been the task of local designer Kyra McDaid, who has used exclusive Zoffany wallpapers to great effect.
The aim is to make it a luxury destination for visitors coming to Lancaster to see the sights and for couples getting married.
The first completed stage was The Brasserie located on the ground floor. Here, head chef Tze Devine and her team provide an extensive à la carte menu specialising in regional produce, with signature dishes such as locally sourced fresh grilled lobster. They also serve morning coffee and afternoon teas.
Further work has been carried to create a new first-floor residents’ lounge and bar, the front of the building has been painted, there’s a new reception, a private dining room and a Japanese-style garden is being built at the back.
Future renovations will include an update to the hotel’s grand ballroom, with its stunning chandelier already restored, and the hotel’s 55 letting rooms.
One of the more adventurous developments has been the Crypt, which is designed to give Lancaster’s nightlife a boost with a sophisticated basement cocktail and champagne bar.
‘The hotel hasn’t served the people of Lancaster well in recent times and we want to address that,’ adds Bob. It looks like a happy ending for this Grade II listed building – which is more than you can say for one of its guests from much earlier times, a young bride poisoned by her husband after just two days of marriage. While the groom was hanged, the incident didn’t seem to affect trade. In fact, the then owner began a tradition of giving his guests a small slice of wedding cake after their dinner – something Bob plans to revive...but maybe not for wedding parties.