A History of Hotels in London

Whether it’s a weekend shopping trip to Belgravia, or a quick afternoon tea at the Ritz, hotels in London are steeped in history and tradition, and, despite the city’s reputation for high prices, there’s something available for every budget.

Even the grandest Georgian townhouse could be the most modest hostel inside, and the plain, even demure buildings of the past century might house the costliest exercise in five-stare hoteliery.

The hotel as we know it is a relatively recent phenomenon.  Prior to the 19th Century, ‘lodging houses’  or ‘coaching inns’ were the norm, and served the needs of a limited tourist market perfectly well. Coaching Inns provided facilities for horses and carriages, and even offered wealthy passers-through the chance to switch their tired team of nags with a fresh set.

These inns served the needs of the wealthy until the age of mass tourism dawned with the advent of the locomotive. Just as the rail network was gathering steam, Penny Magazine published what is now an interesting insight into the number of hotels in London in 1837.

As of April that year, there were just 396 inns, hotels and taverns. Of these, 34 were private guest houses, and ‘Palace Inns’ – that’s ‘a fancy hotel’ to you and me – numbered around 30. Nearly all were located in the modern-day West End. Compare that with the 1300-odd B&Bs and hotels in London today, and you can see that the last century and a half has been boom-time for the industry.

Much of that boom didn’t occur until the inter-war period, although the growing railway network had been laying the foundations for a massive expansion in tourism since the mid-eighteenth century. After World War II, hotels in London became increasingly popular as the city grew more expensive to live in. Between 1970 and 1985, the number of visitors to the capital increased by 50%.

During the 80s and 90s, luxury chain hotels sprang up in disused office blocks. Simultaneously, the budget hotel market was meeting a growing demand for travelers from all over the world who had taken advantage of budget airlines to satisfy their curiosity about one of the most famous cities on earth. Major international events like the Olympics have only served to fuel the market for hotels in London to suit all budgets.

The last player to enter was the internet, which made a final-act ditch to revolutionize the way we book hotels. Prior to sites like LondonTown.com popping up, the best you could do by way of research was ringing round a handful of places, clutching only a pen, pad and a yellow pages to reassure yourself you were being thorough.

Now, with an abundance of photos, user ratings and reviews at your disposal, comparing hotels in London is easy. It has made the industry more competitive, with a number of sites (including the aforementioned LondonTown.com) offering significant discounts on hotels, both plush and plain.