Looking back at one of Peterborough’s Great hotels

The Great Northern is, with the Bull in Westgate, one of the city’s two great historical hotels.

Monday, 11th November 2019, 7:00 am
A picture of the hotel taken in 1923 when a night's stay would have cost £1
A picture of the hotel taken in 1923 when a night's stay would have cost £1

Today, Looking Back features a selection of images from throughout its history.

The Great Northern Hotel opened on April 1, 1852 at a cost of £2,500. It was designed by architect Henry Goddard and, during its early life, its ownership was linked with that of the nearby railway.

At first, it was Great Northern Railway (GNR) policy to put the management of its hotels out to tender, so staff were employed by the manager rather than the train company.

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Hunt Cyclists Battalion gathered outside the hotel before leaving for war

The hotel’s archive gives a fascinating insight into life there in the 1930s.

There is a record of information given by Laura Beken, a chambermaid, who started working there in 1935 when she was 25.

Her normal working day ran from 6am until 10pm, with two hours off. Unmarried staff at the hotel lived in, with women accommodated above the kitchen – a popular spot as it was always warm in winter.

Chambermaids had to buy their own uniforms, which consisted of a blue dress for the mornings and a black one for the afternoons.

The Great Northern Hotel taxi rank

Wages were 10 shillings a week, including accommodation and meals – the staff had the pick of whatever was left on the hotel menu.

In the late 1930s only the bathrooms had radiators. The front rooms were for single use and were too small to have fireplaces. In winter they could be freezing cold and guests were provided with hot water bottles.

Laura worked at the hotel until it closed on the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939.

It was closed to the public during the war and occupied by staff from the railway company’s King’s Cross office.

Probably taken in the 1930s this shows the hotel in the background.

During the war the two main bedroom wings are thought to have been reserved for VIPs, possibly those forced to stay in order to avoid going to London during the blitz.

The hotel re-opened in November 1949 after having had some repairs carried out.

It was put up for sale in 1982 by British Rail, which was de-nationalising parts of its non-railway empire.

After a number of owners, the latest chapter of the hotel’s life started in 1993, when Peterborough businessman and millionaire Peter Boizot bought it and lived there for several years before selling it in 2009.

A drawing of the Sexton Barns which were demolished to make way for the hotel
Peter Boizot in the gallery at the Great Northern hotel
Great Northern hotel staff from the 1920s