The Friends of the Midland Hotel


About the Friends Group

A Short History

By the mid-1990s the Midland Hotel, once the jewel of the promenade, had become noticeably very shabby - the fabric was desperately in need of repair and little or no money was being spent on the building. By the time of Les Whittingham's death in 1998 the Midland was in a poor state and rapidly deteriorating - rotting windows, peeling paintwork, leaking roof, etc, all testimony to years of neglect. Even starring roles in ITV's Poirot and in Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island had failed to arrest its sad decline.

Against this background, a group of concerned people met at the hotel in April 1999 to form the 'Friends of the Midland Hotel', with the aim of trying to help preserve the building and to raise awareness of its architectural importance both locally and nationally. A committee was appointed and held its first meeting later that month. It discussed possible membership fees, the production of a newsletter and ways in which the hotel's plight could be disseminated to a wider audience. Further meetings ensued - a constitution was drawn up and the first newsletter (called Seahorse) was issued in July to thirty 'Friends'.

By this time the Midland was on the market with potential buyers coming and going. Membership was gradually increasing (63 by March 2000) and contact had been made with John Miller of Heritage Trust for the North West to see if he could help. In June 2000 the 'Friends' organised a very successful weekend at the Midland with several events and a buffet dinner. The group's first AGM was held in December where it was announced that the FOMH and HTFNW had obtained a grant for a feasibility study with a view to the possible grant-aided purchase of the Midland. However, over the previous few months the state of the building had worsened considerably, sufficiently so for English Heritage to include it in the most serious category on its Buildings at Risk register.

Not long afterwards, the Midland was bought by a company called Kalber Leisure with the intention of turning it into a 5* 1930's-themed luxury hotel. Their plans involved dramatic alterations, including an unsympathetic extension which the 'Friends' believed would destroy the integrity of architect Oliver Hill's original concept for the building. Fortunately, Kalber's grandiose scheme founded through financial impropriety but the resultant publicity brought the 'Friends' many new members.

Once again the Midland was put up for sale but was in such a dilapidated state that several possible buyers were discouraged. Due to poor security the hotel became the target for vandals who broke into the building and caused extensive damage to the interior. The valuable works of art were at serious risk. The 'Friends' actively campaigned for the Council to compulsory purchase the building and turn it over to a charitable trust such as HTFNW which would be able to access building grants, lottery funding, etc, and safeguard the Midland's future. Certain councillors had other ideas and were recommending that the bulldozers should be sent in!

Almost at the eleventh hour, the Manchester based development company Urban Splash came in to buy the hotel, a move which delighted the 'Friends' who were aware of their record and reputation for rescuing buildings in trouble. Since then the 'Friends' have established a good relationship with Urban Splash and were extremely pleased with their plans for the restoration of the hotel, realising the need for certain changes in order to make the Midland a viable economic proposition for the 21st century. Bill Maynard, Paul Jones and Kieran Gardiner from Urban Splash have all spoken at recent AGMs and during restoration work organised tours of the building to keep members up-to-date with progress.

Although the hotel is now in safe hands, membership of the 'Friends' continues to grow and is now over 500 not only throughout Britain but also across the Channel and as far away as New Zealand - an indication of the high regard in which the Midland Hotel is held.  In recent years the 'Friends' have produced limited editions of Midland mugs, a calendar and commemorative plates which have all sold well, and intend to bring out further items of Midland memorabilia in the future.

During its ten year existence the FOMH has actively campaigned for the hotel's future, especially its chairwoman Sue Thompson who has given (apart from huge amounts of her time) numerous radio interviews and appeared on TV programmes such as ITV's Derelict Discoveries, as well as helping with the research for an episode of BBC 2's Coast - all to promote the Midland Hotel.

While the focus of the FOMH has changed since the purchase of the hotel by Urban Splash, there is still a role for such a group. It might have been relieved of the worry about saving the building for posterity but it can still play a part in helping to ensure the Midland's success in the future - and it will always be there if needed.

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