Since 1865 a hotel has stood proudly on this site. Originally built in 1861 by local architect Augustus Livesay, Southsea House was first constructed as a large private home for Sir John and Lady Morris. The house was situated in an almost identical position to the front half of the existing hotel but was at that time surrounded by woodland – Stone Woods – and the Royal Albert Yacht Club.
In the latter part of the 19th Century, around 1865 during a boom in construction and tourism around Southsea, the house was converted into a hotel by William Kemp Junior. The Queens Hotel became one of the first hotels in Portsmouth, others at the time included Portland Hotel (1847) and The Royal Beach (1866). It was a grand building, focusing on leisure and relaxation for the upper classes, with suites and staff for guests and access to the private garden with the views across Southsea Common and the Solent still enjoyed by guests today.
At around 4:20 am on Sunday 8th December 1901 the Palmerston road fire point was informed of a fire at the Queens Hotel. Aided by prevailing winds the fire swept through the building and by morning had completely gutted and destroyed everything but the two outer walls which faced Osborne Road and Clarence Parade. The scene that morning was one of total destruction; the shell of the building was left standing around the prominent tower and the large window openings framed the charred wreck of the once ornate structure. On Wednesday the 11th, with the building deemed safe, an investigation began and the remains of the two missing chambermaids were discovered. They had become trapped in the basement when falling rubble and bent ironwork had blocked their escape.
After the fire, the old structure was cleared and in early 1902 plans were submitted by hotel owner G. H. King for a new hotel covering an identical footprint of the old. The New Queens Hotel was to be a much grander purpose-built hotel with rooms for 63 guests and 33 staff, designed by London based architect Thomas William Cutler.
The hotel that stands to this day was built in the Edwardian Baroque style which had been growing increasingly popular as a style for public buildings across the British Empire after 1901.
T.W. Cutlers’ designs for the hotel consisted of only the front half of the building we know today; the Lobby, Libbys, Dukes and Princess rooms are all the visitors of the Queen’s before 1910 would have seen. The main entrance to the hotel would have been on Osborne Road, beneath the ornate carved detailing of the hotel’s name with the two female figures topping the pillars each side of the doors. What is currently used as the main entrance was the second terrace, with stairs that led down to the larger landscaped garden which wrapped around the two sides of the hotel. The designs were grand and lavish, with no expense spared. It was designed to really make a statement, incorporating carved columns, engravings, and details that still exist today, such as the marble pillars supporting the impressive painted-glass dome and the maritime paintings below. These features demonstrate the level of grandeur and luxury invested in the hotel at the time and give an indication of the type of guest that would have stayed.
Portsmouth principle hotel and Southsea’s crowning jewel opened its doors once more on May 19th, 1904 to grand fanfare and public celebration, being described by the Portsmouth News as a ‘Residential Palace which is certainly a credit to the town’.
The hotel’s popularity grew within its new grander building and in 1909 it was decided the building would be extended to accommodate more guests. Sadly the original architect T.W. Cutler passed away in 1909 and so the established London practice Sir Arthur Blomfield and Sons were hired to take on the extension work. The new designs saw the hotel almost double in size but continued to use Cutlers’ style to preserve the overall language of the building, while making slight adjustments and modifications to enable Blomfield and Sons put their own ‘stamp’ on the building. This means that many people today cannot tell the difference between the two halves of the building. There is, however, several small clues hidden around the hotel that hint at the history of the structure. The hotel’s extension was completed in 1910.
It has also hosted a number of famous guests over the years. These include former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the actor and comedian Rowan Atkinson (who filmed two episodes of Mr. Bean in Portsmouth in 1992, including one in the hotel itself – with Mr. Bean in room 426) and, more recently, the actress Joan Collins, who filmed scenes for her movie The Time of Their Lives in the Elizabeth Ballroom. Other notable guests include, General Eisenhower, Beatrix Potter and King George V and Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother.
Over the years the hotel has changed ownership several times and as fashions and styles have changed many of the original features have been lost or covered through the various makeovers she has seen.
2018 sees the renaissance of the Queens, a multi-million pound restoration and redevelopment has begun, with the Elizabeth Ballroom completed in May, the restoration of the grand lobby in progress and the bedroom upgrading underway. A re-launch of the brand in the summer marks a major point for this building’s history as it sets to be restored to its former glory. Celebrating its 115th anniversary in 2018, the Queens Hotel has continued to remain a local landmark in Portsmouth since its reconstruction in 1903. Its prominent location on the corner of Southsea Common coupled with its standout design, makes the hotel a key feature of Southsea’s urban landscape and a building that is loved by so many.