The Grand Hotel was an important building that was host to many social events in Whitehaven, for decades. Unfortunately, in January 1940, the building came to a dramatic and unfortunate end.
The hotel was located in a convenient position, in front of Bransty railway station, today an unattractive petrol station stands on the site. Because of its location, the hotel became an ideal base for passengers using the railway. Guests could arrive and depart the hotel, quickly via a footbridge, which connected the hotel to the station.
Construction of the Grand Hotel began on the 26th September, 1846, when the first stone was laid. The hotel was built in the Lombardian style of architecture, and was originally called the Lonsdale Hotel, named after the Earl of Lonsdale due to his generosity in the funding of the building project. Hugh Todhunter of Whitehaven carried out the construction of the hotel.
The hotel was constructed over an area covering 6,000 square feet, and boasted 80 rooms, a large public coffee room and one of the finest ballrooms in the north of England. The hotel was badly affected by the Great Depression, having been built in an age before electric and plumbing. it was unable to move with the times – jugs of hot water had to be brought to rooms for washing purposes.
In 1901, the hotel was described as “one of the largest and most magnificent buildings of the kind in the north of England” and was “a great ornament to the town and harbour.”
On the 21st January 1940, the building was destroyed after it dramatically caught fire. Flames were observed shooting from the second and third floor windows. Locals were eager to witness the ongoing events, but were kept back by the local constabulary. It was a sub zero night when the hotel caught fire. Local fire-fighters struggled to battle the fire with the freezing temperatures. Water from their fire hoses rapidly turned to ice, and the firemen continually had to move their arms and legs to maintain movement because of frozen clothing. Sadly, their battle was in vain.
The Grand was reduced to smouldering ruins. She was demolished the following year, in 1941.
Miraculously, there was only one casualty of the blaze, a Miss Ellen Taylor, aged 25, from Workington, who had been to a Saturday-night dance in the town and missed her last train home. Her remains were discovered on the first floor of the four-storey landmark building which had caught fire and become a towering inferno. There were other occupants of the hotel, mainly staff and only one other guest, a Mr F Shadbolt who escaped. Two firemen were also hurt in the incident.