Echoes of time linger over Westminster City, the stunning architecture of its historic buildings emerging above the Thames as if preserved in a time capsule. The celebrated London Marriott County Hall overlooking the south bank of the Thames with its immense palatial columns and façade give it a demeanor of both strength and influence in keeping with its role as the historic seat and stronghold of the London County Council.
The rippled river, a distinguished passageway exploited by the Romans, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans alike, though not one of them with a hint of good thoughts, is where during the construction of the County Hall, a 38-foot Roman boat, circa 296 CE, was found buried in the muddy banks, a refining cleansing omen for the indefatigable Thames.
From the outside terrace of the six-story London Marriott County Hall located near the foot of Westminster Bridge, visitors soak in the view of shredded clouds gilded with saffron brilliance that hover above the river boats riding low in the water like sluggish ants just awakened from a deep sleep, while tour vessels crowned with camera-laden visitors move to and fro. The police boat like a toy removed from a bath tub slips pass as indifferent pigeons in chirring flight ruffle their wings.
Renowned throughout Europe, County Hall has been greeting guests since 1922 when King George V and Queen Mary first waved their batons to mark its grand opening as the London County Council headquarters. Designed with a Portland stone facade, floors of teak and oak, heavy bronze doors, and elaborate paneling in the floor-to-ceiling English Renaissance style, the County Hall inspired a grand reawakening on the South Bank.
The Edwardian Baroque-style edifice quickly became a symbol of London government comparable to the palace of Westminster. In World War II, the already historical monument was hit by a German bomb, yet in true stiff upper lip fashion continued greeting the notables of the era, including Heads of State and Winston Churchill cigar dangling.
Serving for 60 years as the headquarters of the Metropolitan government in London, County Hall was purchased by Marriott in 1998, and then carefully retained the significant exterior and ambiance of the building, preserving much of the original flooring, the wide corridors, Block Belgian Marble fireplaces, and wood paneled chambers. The building was skillfully decorated with art deco detailing, notable black and white photos, Coats of Arms, and glorious large format paintings depicting the building’s original era.
A London Spectacle
The architects back in the day cleverly used its prime location to accentuate the building’s splendor and design. The 206-room hotel with 12 exclusive suites, seven boasting private balconies, represents the ultimate in five-star retreats and offers the best views in London, if not all of England.
The suites embrace 180-degree vistas of London’s cityscape, encompassing the busy Thames, The Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Bridge, The London Eye, Golden Jubilee Bridge, and the Jubilee Walkway. The suites were planned for those on the road who appreciate good taste and comfort and are a favorite among Cunard transatlantic cruisers. High thread-count bedding, loos with early 20th century style mosaic flooring, walls decorated with London maps from the era of the building’s infancy, and a large orange armchair, a tribute to the orange and red leather upholstered seating used in the London Council Chambers, are in place.
Dining with a View
Respected Chef Jamie Welch from South Hampton oversees County Hall’s popular Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar. Welch partnered with O’Shea’s, a farm in Northern England producing organic, pasture-fed, Aberdeen Angus beef aged for a minimum of 35 days, and Spatchcock Chicken, prepared with a glaze of honey and mustard. The extensive menu also lists a Vegetable Patch Vegan entrée, and for starters offers an appetizing roasted garlic soup, scallop and lime ceviche, and garden-fresh smoked asparagus.
Afternoon High Tea in the Library is a Marriott County Hall tradition served by a collection of attractive and articulate ladies from Spain, High Tea is an elegant refined service that includes a selection of twelve teas, French Champagne, London-cured salmon, freshly baked scones with County Hall strawberry jam, pastries, and cakes. The romantic setting is a County Hall exclusive every afternoon while beyond the Thames, Westminster City awaits.
Stepping out into the heart of Westminster, clouds are often hanging low over the Thames while drivers with great skills negotiate the narrow streets designed for horse and carriages. Occasional buskers playing Chopin on weather-worn violins bring an aura of romance and elegance to the city streets. With its roots in the 11th century, Westminster has England’s greatest variety of architecture and an abundance of buildings with historical significance including Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London dating back to the time of the Norman conquest of 1066. Surprisingly, Westminster is also home to more than 100 green spaces, as well as Whitehall Gardens, just steps from Marriott’s County Hall.
When You Go
The Victorians struggled with traffic congestion in 1897 and Westminster and London are continuing the pattern. For an intriguing overview, hook up with Golden Tours and their Hop-On Hop-Off open-top buses, or use the world’s finest cab drivers who have no need for GPS and can often even sing a little Sinatra.