Bill's at a milestone of a wonderful life

DURING his career William (Bill) Larbalestier went from office boy to general manager and along the way met a legendary politician.

As he approaches another milestone, his 100th birthday, he spoke to reporter Paul Derrick about his many achievements.

A SIGNED photograph of Winston Churchill sits on a table in William Larbalestier’s home. It was given to him when the British icon stayed at the Grand Hotel under his management.

It documents just one of Mr Larbalestier’s many experiences during his long and remarkable life.

Mr Larbalestier was born on April 27 1907 in London, where he attended St Andrews Church School and was “top of the class” when he left aged 14.

He got a job in the city of London in the head office of a firm, Spiers and Pond, which owned a number of hotels throughout England and were suppliers to hotels and clubs in the West End of London.

Mr Larbalestier, of Barmoor Close in Scalby, said: “I was the tea boy doing run around jobs, carrying books and so on.”

Aged just 15, he asked for a better job and was transferred to the gen-eral manager’s office, where he had “greater responsibility”.

Two years later he went to work at one of the firm’s outside branches in Victoria Station, London, and was still doing office work such as gauging staff and paying wages.

When he was 21-years-old, he married his wife Alice Gertrude in a registry office in London.

By then he had moved from Victoria Station back to the general manager’s office and was promoted as manager of Farringdon Street Station Restaurant.

Mr Larbalestier, said: “It had a licence, which enabled it to serve drinks at unusual hours according to the requirements of the meat market. Often enough, West-Enders used to come in to enjoy the extra hours.”

He then became assistant manager at Chiltern Court restaurant in Baker Street, a large restaurant and banqueting hall, which had been erected in a block of flats over Baker Street station.

He said: “I was probably the only Englishman employed. I had a lot of responsibility there.

“It did a great number of functions and serviced the flats so that you could have a meal prepared in the restaurant and served in the flats. It was high class catering.”

The restaurant had “extensive banqueting facilities” and quite often had the “best bands of the day”, which performed at the dinners and dances.

Having not yet worked in one of the company’s hotels, he requested a transfer and was sent to Manchester to become deputy manager of the Victoria Hotel.

It had 500 bedrooms and was a “very busy” commercial hotel, which was destroyed in the Blitz during the Second World War.

At the time of Dunkirk, he enlisted with the Manchester regiment and was commissioned in the same year after an interview at the war office to be transferred to the newly formed army catering corps.

After a year, he was sent to join the Burma Command and transferred to the Royal Indian Army Service Corps.

In late 1945, he was demobbed and his old company called him back to take charge of a hotel in London where he stayed for a year.

Mr Larbalestier was then transferred north to Scarborough to open the Grand Hotel as a four-star hotel.

When Winston Churchill stayed at the Grand for a Conservative party conference, the manager was at the hotel door step to welcome him.

During his visit, the hotel was “full of celebrities” as other cabinet members stayed there.

Mr Larbalestier remembers visiting the politician while he was in bed.

He said: “A candle was always burning by his bedside so that he could complete the speeches from his bed and relight his cigar if it went out.

“He had a pretty big staff with him. His secretaries made sure that all his written notes were taken to the boiler house and disposed of.”

Before Churchill left, a secretary brought him the signed picture, which he displays in his living room.

He said: “In 1970 we were taken over by several groups and I was promoted as general manager to manage the hotel section of Spiers and Pond, my old company.”

When he was made general manager, his company bought the Royal Hotel in Scarborough.

He retired and with his wife moved back to Scarborough to take on a catering and hotel consultancy.

One of the things he is “quite proud of” is building and opening the Viking Hotel in York in 1968 for his company Express Dairy, which bought Spiers and Pond in 1963.

When in consultancy, he also opened the Learmonth hotel in Scotland and fully retired in about 1980.

His wife died in 1989 and he has three children, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Soon he will celebrate his 100th birthday, another landmark achievement, and he is “looking forward” to having his family with him at the Royal when 40 people will enjoy dinner, dance and stay the night on April 28.

When asked what life has taught him, he said: “Hotel management gives one a wonderful life.

“There’s hours and hours of hard work and worry but its compen-sation is giving all and sundry a great welcome from the time they arrive and while they’re under one’s care.”