The wraps are off

The extension is newly revealed, and newly rejuvenated. To celebrate, here’s just the briefest of histories, starting in the upper Jurassic period. But don’t worry, I’ll skip a bit...

Hurrah! That spindly copse of silver birch saplings that sprouted on the crest of Hardman Street a few years back (oh, ok then, the forest of scaffolding. Have you no poetry in your soul?) has finally been chopped down. Yellow jackets and all.

And what lies beneath? Something ancient, and something modern. Something primordial even. Well, the Portland stone took a mere 150 million years to get here. Which is something to think about when you’re waiting for a taxi outside the Phil. Kind of puts things in perspective.

But before I tell you where we’re going, perhaps it’s good to know how we got here.

Before the newly buffed-up extension, back in 1850 there was a church. The lovely, handsome, Greek-columned St Mary’s Chapel of the School for the Indigent Blind. And there it sat, alongside the school it served for 80 glorious years. But that wasn’t the start of its story. Because, as churches go, St Mary’s was something of a moveable feast.

It was built in 1819 alongside Lime Street station but, to make way for the station’s extension, it was physically transported. Brick by brick it went, up to its new Hardman Street home. Back then, even churches had to give way for the 18:20 from Adlestrop.

So what are the chances of a church having to make way for two extensions? Sadly, that’s the case for poor St Mary’s. But it wasn’t to be second time lucky. Because, to make way for an extension for the School for the Blind, the church was demolished in 1930.

And that’s the building you can see, scaffolding-free, right now.

With a courteous nod to its past, the new extension was cloaked in Doric column-styled grooves, soaring from street to sky. Architects Charles Anthony Minoprio and Hugh Greville Spencely loved a bit of Classical – the rose motifs and reliefs along both its Hardman and Hope elevations are echoes of the Beaux-Arts period of French Classicism. Strangely, you don’t see much of that in Crawley new town, another of their commissions.

If you’ve a minute take a look at the series of five relief panels etched into that creamy Portland stone, illustrating the school’s brilliant curriculum – brush making, Braille, basket weaving, piano tuning and knitting. Why wasn’t our school this much fun? And, come to think of it, should Hope Street Hotel launch basket weaving Wednesdays?

I like this beautiful extension. And it too will be home to five wonderful things. New rooms, a little jewel-box of a cinema, a courtyard spa, a members’ room and a rather lovely event space and terraces with spectacular views.

No brush-making annexe. At least, not yet. But in this city, nothing stays still for very long...

COMING SOON...

When two hotel buildings are joined in matrimony, it’s really important that no man, woman or wedding party pulls them asunder. It’s not been easy. The gradients of the city around these parts have given owner Dave Brewitt and his team some head-scratching engineering challenges, as Tetris-like, they devised a way for disjointed floors to meet, awkward angles to align, and spaces to make sense.

So come back, and I’ll tell you all about it.