Most people pass by 80, The Strand without a second glance. There is no sign that this is the Strand entrance to what used to be called Shell Mex House, with its dramatic frontage on to the Thames, until the oil industry moved out in the 1990s. The reason for that is that the entire front of the building on the Strand side, not just the facade, hosts the remains of the 1,000 room Hotel Cecil, once the biggest and most sumptuous in Europe and quite possibly the world. Its three dining rooms could serve over 1,000 customers and it was a hugely popular in the Roaring Twenties, especially with tourists from the United States.
Often known colloquially as the Cecil Hotel (rather than the other way round), it covered a three-and-a-half acre site down to the bank of the river. Its builder, the notorious Victorian fraudster Jabez Balfour MP (whose biography has been written by David McKie), went bankrupt and fled to South America before the hotel was finally completed by the liquidator in 1896. It was called the Hotel Cecil because the site had been sold by the Marquess of Salisbury, head of the historic Cecil family, whose ancestors had built a vast palace called Cecil House on the same stretch of land.
Victor Keegan is a former leader writer for the Guardian and now the author of LondonMyLondon.co.uk. and a book of poems of the same name. He also took the photo of 80 The Strand. His Lost London series began here and will continue next week.