Travel writer Nigel Heath enjoys a ‘landmark’ weekend in London.
There is an amazing Edwardian building commanding a prime south bank position beside the River Thames right in the heart of London and once a source of irritation for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Imagine yourself standing in one of its magnificent fine oak panelled reception rooms on the that day back in 1922 when king George V opened this fine baroque style building designed by Ralph Knott and built in Portland stone.
Now imagine yourself gazing down on this mighty six storey edifice, almost opposite the
Houses of Parliament, with the a bird’s eye view and 21st century perspective.
You are, of course, in a pod on the famous London Eye and the building below you is the London County Hall, formerly seat of the powerful Labour controlled Greater London
Council led by Ken Livingstone until ‘Maggie’ dissolved it back in 1986.
Today part of this fabulous building is home to the five star London Marriott County Hall which I and my wife Jenny have just visited as part of celebrations to mark a multi million pound upgrade to further enhance its facilities.
The hotel is an easy ride from Paddington to The Westminster tube station, close to the Westminster Pier passenger terminal, awash with Thames pleasure cruisers and step- on- step off ferries.
Gazing over the embankment wall, one cannot help but be impressed by the sheer length and scale of the former landmark County Hall building immediately in from of you across the water.
But as we strolled, bags in hand, across Westminster Bridge amid the jostling crowds of tourists and listening to the haunting sounds of a busking Scotsman’s pipes, we began wondering where the hotel was.
Clearly there were no telltale Marriott logos on the face of this enormous building because they would be totally out of keeping but where exactly did we have to go?
All was suddenly revealed as we reached the end of the bridge where steps, simply heaving with people, lead down to the famous embankment path.
There ahead of us, just a little further along the road on the left we saw an immediately recognisable long red Marriott pendant suspended on the side of the building.
This led us along a commanding arched entrance way and across a spacious inner courtyard to the hotel entrance where a uniformed porter came forward to take our luggage.
We checked in and went straight back out and down to the embankment to join the moving tide of tourists and holidaymakers of all ages and nationalities enjoying the early Saturday afternoon sunshine.
Just past the queues waiting patiently for seats on the London Eye we came across the first of the free shows one can stop and watch all along this popular section of the path.
There were jugglers, escape artists, singers and many more plus crowded open air restaurants and bars all along the way between The Eye and the famous Globe Theatre.
By 1.30pm we were getting hungry after our early morning train journey from Newport and escaped to the roof garden restaurant and bar on top of the National Theatre which is just a little out of the main stream and quiet at this time.
We returned to the hotel around 4pm, having been treated to a totally unexpected fly past by the Red Arrows to mark the end of London’s Gay Pride Week, and chilled out until the start of the media show around and dinner.
The Marriott team have done their best to incorporate the yesteryear fabric of the
building into the hotel by exposing all the lovely parquet flooring, hidden for years under miles of carpeting, and restoring many of the magnificent oak panelled rooms and library for use as public and dining areas or as conference venues.
They have also quite cleverly linked the building historically to its immediate surroundings with the use of feature wallpaper made up of Penguin book covers because the publishers Random House are based in The City of Westminster.
They have also named their steakhouse and bar after James Gillray, the famous 18th and early 19th Century political and social satirist because, of course, the building was for 64 years the headquarters of local government in London.
I found this particularly amusing as I wondered just what Gillray might have made of the relationship between the strongly Labour controlled LCC and Mrs Thatcher’s reforming Tory government.
Before leaving The London Marriott County Hall we made the very most of the following day with a Thames River trip and morning sunday service in St Paul’s Cathedral.
For more information on the hotel call 0207 928 5200 or visit LondonMarriottCountyHall.co.uk