The Berkeley Hotel London or just called The Berkeley is one of the top iconic luxury five-star hotels in UK’s capital. However, it has a very humble origin. It started as a simple coffee house in the corner of Piccadilly on Berkeley Street called the Gloucester Coffee House. This was the base for the drivers of the mail coaches travelling to and from the West Country and for this reason it got the name.
Directly it has nothing to do with the Berkeley family in Gloucestershire or the town there. However, indirectly it has as Admiral John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton built a magnificent mansion called the Berkeley House.
The street next to the Berkeley House was named Berkeley Street and was connecting Piccadilly to the square behind the estate. The town square was called Berkeley Square.
Eventually, the Berkeley House was sold three generations later by John Berkeley, 3rd Baron Berkeley of Stratton to William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Devonshire in 1696. A fire during refurbishment destroyed the Berkeley House and it was renamed to Devonshire House of being rebuilt.
Berkeley Street and Berkeley Square have kept their names.
The Gloucester Coffee House was established in the 1700s and started soon to expand offering accommodation to the travellers mainly from and to London, using the mail coach services.
Railways soon replaced the mail coaches as primary travel facilities for the public. Gloucester Coffee House was officially renamed as The Berkeley Hotel in the year of 1897. It became the capital’s high-society hotspot trusted by debutantes’ parents to watch over their daughters.
Richard D’Oyly Carte from the D’Olyly Carte Opera Company bought the The Berkeley in 1900. His company produced short comic operas for evening entertainments. After substantial success with ‘Trial by Jury’ Richard had a syndicate to compose full Gilbert and Sullivan works with ‘The Sorcerer’ in the year of 1877 and ‘H.MS. Pinafore’ in 1878. Pinafore became an international success. He formed a new partnership with the composer Sullivan and the dramatist Gilbert. The new company was called D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.
Richard had the Savoy Theatre on the Strand in London built in 1881. The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company created the next ten operas by Gilbert and Sullivan operas and numerous other companion pieces and operas performed at the Savoy Theatre. In addition, the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company also organised show tours through Britain, in New York and other places, often performing several productions at the same time.
D’Oyly Carte built next to the Savoy Theatre the Savoy Hotel in London in 1889. This was the first step into the hotel industry. He hired as the manager César Ritz, who later founded The Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly. The hotel became such a great success under the capable management of Ritz that Richard purchased other luxury hotels including the Clardige’s in 1894, the restaurant Simpon’s-in-the-Strand, the Berkeley Hotel on Piccadilly in 1900, and the Grand Hotel in Rome.
Helen Lenoir, Richard’s assistant, became his wife in the year of 1888. She managed the company after Richard’s death in 1901 until she passed away in 1913. The company had transformed into an all year-round touring and repertory company.
Rupert D’Oyly Carte, Richard’s son, inherited the family business. He was born on 3rd November 1876 and became known as theatre owner and impresario and hotel owner. After the World War I he rejuvenated the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and rebuild the Savoy Theatre in 1929. He became the chairman of the hotel group in 1903 at the young age of 27.
Back to The Berkeley, the D’Oyly Carte family remained in control for the next century. The Berkeley became one of the first luxury London hotels with air conditioning in the 1920s, and double-glazing windows in the 1930s. The Italian Ferraro, the maître d’hôtel of the Berkeley, was an institution of London sometimes dodgy nightlife in the 1930s. Ferrero was mentioned in several novels of the period, such as Dennis Wheatley’s ‘Three Inquisitive People’ and in the West End Chronicles: 300 Years of Glamour and Excess in the Heart of London by Ed Glinert, first published in 2007.
The Berkeley Hotel moved Wilton Place in Knightsbridge in 1972. It contains London only rooftop swimming pool in a hotel as part of the health club and spa. In the winter it transforms into a forest-themed cinema. Guests are warmed up with hot water bottles and down-feather Moncler blankets.
The Savoy Group, with The Savoy, The Claridge’s, The Berkeley, The Connaught, The Savoy Theatre and The Simpson-in-the-Strand was sold to Irish property magnate Quinlan’s investment vehicle Quinlan Private in the year of 2005. With the following sale of The Savoy Group was split up and the small hotel empire built by D’Oyly Carte family came to an end. The Savoy Hotel, The-Simpson-in-the-Strand and Savoy Theatre were sold off. The remaining parts with the The Berkeley, The Connaught and The Clardige’s Hotels were renamed as the Maybourne Hotel Group. Another major stakeholder was another Irish tycoon Patrick McKillen owning 36% of the shares.
The financial crisis in 2007 and 2008 greatly affected Quinlan and McKillen. Additional investors such as the billionaire brothers Barclay, owner of The Ritz Hotel in London, stepped in to offset GBP 660 million of outstanding depts. Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay expanded their interests to a minority stake of the Maybourne Hotel Group. A court battle followed between Barclay brothers and McKillen, who received backup by a US PE fund with excellent relationships to the Qatari Sovereign Wealth Fund. Due to the on-going distress of Quinlan Private and McKillen since the financial crisis well-known parties became involved:
- Quinlan Private (backing the Barclay brothers against Patrick McKillen)
- Barclay Brothers
- US Private Equity Fund Colony Capital (backing Patrick McKillen) (Co-owner of Miramax and Fairmont Raffles Hotels together with Qatari Sovereign Wealth Fund)
- Qatar Sovereign Wealth Fund
- Green Family
The court case was ruled in favour of the Barclay billionaires and the gain control of 64% stake including Quinlin’s share holdings. Patrick McKillen sold his 36.23% to the Constellation Hotel Group, a division of the Qatari Southern Wealth Fund. The Qatari investment vehicle bought the other 28.36% from the Barclay and 35.41% from the Derek Quinlin. The battle over some of London’s most iconic luxury hotels has finally come to an end with British ownership completely lost to the Middle East.