Above: Exterior of the hotel as approached from Caxton Street.
St Ermin’s Hotel, in Caxton Street, is a four-star hotel standing adjacent to St James’s Park underground station. The horse-shoe shaped mansion block was built in 1887–89 to the designs of E T Hall (1851–1923). Mansion blocks (high-status, serviced apartments) were first seen in Victoria Street in the 1850s and still remain a feature of the area today.
St Ermin’s Mansions was typical in both plan and elevation. Hall employed the fashionable red-brick Queen Anne style for the exterior and grouped the apartments around a courtyard which functioned both as a carriageway and garden for the residents. Four entrances led off the courtyard into the apartments (the two entrances in the side wings still exist in their original form to this day). By 1894 the building appears to have been extended along Broadway as far as St Ermin’s Hill.
Above: Main lobby inside the hotel.
In 1896 the building was purchased with the intention of converting it into a hotel and by 1899 the change of use was complete. The new owners embarked on a major refurbishment programme, undertaken by the theatre architect J P Briggs (1869–1944), providing a spectacular sequence of public reception rooms with very rich plasterwork.
The medieval City of Westminster grew up along the approach roads to Westminster Abbey, including Tothill Street and its continuation was named Petty France, from the French wool merchants who had settled in the street. Just south of Tothill Street was the Great Almonry, dating from the 13th century and from where alms were distributed.
The site of the hotel itself, west of the Almonry, was then occupied by a chapel dedicated to St Ermin. Both the Almonry and that chapel appear to have been demolished by the 16th century and no trace of either now remains. Nevertheless, the network of alleys and paths that developed around such institutions over the course of the medieval period developed into the irregular streets that still pattern the area around the hotel today.
The hotel is unusual in having a Division Bell which sounds within the public areas of the building. The bell is used in the immediate neighbourhood of Parliament to signal that a division (or vote) is about to take place. Members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords have eight minutes to get to their chosen Division Lobby to vote for or against a resolution in Parliament. As some Members may be in nearby offices, restaurants, pubs or shops, some of these have their own division bells connected to those in the Houses of Parliament.