With all those elegant, wafting figures and sleek vintage cars, it could easily be Nice, or St Tropez, or some other glamorous Côte d’Azur resort. In fact, it’s Scarborough in 1936.
This is the original architect’s drawing for the extension to the Royal Hotel, which was the brainwave of then owner Tom Laughton. It was recently donated to Scarborough Museums Trust by Paul Johnson, son of the architect Harry Johnson.
Tom Laughton, the brother of movie star Charles, owned two hotels in Scarborough – the Royal and the now long-gone Pavilion, opposite the Railway Station. The Royal, though, was closer to Tom’s heart. The Pavilion was the family business – the Royal was his project, although he owned it jointly with Charles.
In his books Pavilions by the Sea – recommended reading for anyone with an interest in Scarborough’s history, or the Laughtons – he describes how the two brothers bought the Royal in 1935.
“It was a strange hotel, built in the early nineteenth century, one of the first large hotels to be built in the north of England. Many years ago it had been fashionable and successful, but now it was run down, dilapidated, and doing very little business.”
Tom waxes lyrical about the skills of his inherited French head chef, Chef Tognoli. “He made good soufflés, including a wonderful fish soufflé made from the flesh of Dover sole pounded in a mortar, and served with lobster sauce. He distilled his own liqueurs and used them to flavor water and biscuit ices; but best of all he made delicious consommé… a rich golden colour with the most delicious aroma, and the flavor matched the aroma.”
Chef Tognoli’s consommé was apparently much appreciated by Winston Churchill when he spent five days at the Royal in 1937. Perhaps Tom’s careful laying in of ‘a supply of Pol Roger champagne, and a particularly good Fine Champagne Cognac’ contributed to the great leader’s snoring through Neville Chamberlain’s oration to the Conservative Conference on the final night of his stay.
When Tom decided to transform the Royal in 1936, he turned to his friend Harry Johnson: “I knew by experience [he] was ready to assimilate my ideas.”
The upgrade increased the hotel’s sleeping capacity from 180 to 260, and enlarged many public spaces to reflect that increase. The interiors were spectacular. A full account can be found in Pavilions by the Sea, but here’s Tom’s description of artist John Armstrong’s curtains in the ballroom: “…beautiful linen curtains in cerulean blue, on which were printed a line of coloured flags that ran from floor to ceiling.”
This drawing is now part of the Scarborough Collections. For further information please contact Karen Snowden, Head of Collections, on 01723 384506, or Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org