The building that housed Winston Churchill’s war offices at the heart of London is due to open as a luxury hotel, after a six-year transformation by one of Britain’s richest families at the head of Indian conglomerate, the Hinduja Group. The hotel’s debut has been delayed more than once, most recently due to licensing difficulties. It is now set for summer 2023.
Co-chairman of the group Gopichand P. Hinduja has described the project as “my greatest legacy to London for future generations to enjoy.” His daughter-in-law Shalini Hinduja has overseen the interior design. The development features painstakingly restored period features, such as hand-laid mosaic floors, oak panelling, chandeliers, and an epic sweeping marble staircase.
As well as 81 one-off rooms and 39 suites in what will be London’s first Raffles-branded hotel, there are “85 unique private residences, nine exciting restaurants, three iconic bars, Guerlain’s first London Spa and active wellness by Pillar Wellbeing.” One of the apartments has reportedly been sold already for over £40 million.
The Old War Rooms or “OWO” site is part of an historic landmark known as the Palace of Whitehall, which is synonymous with the UK’s seat of power. Once a former home and playground to the monarchy, including notorious serial beheader of wives, King Henry VIII, it suffered devastating fires at the end of the 17th century. Redeveloped in a Baroque style in 1906, with over 1000 rooms linked by a vast network of corridors, it formed a bespoke premises for the administration of the British Army. It is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Edwardian architecture.
There has been controversy over the sale of the building and subsequent granting of planning permission for a scheme which fails in its duty to provide social housing. Geoff Barraclough, a local councillor not involved in the planning application in 2017 told the Guardian: “According to Westminster council’s own policies, the Old War Office should have provided almost 8,000 square metres of affordable housing, enough for 98 flats.” The Hinduja Group offered a compensatory payment of £10 million, falling £29.6 million short of the supposed penalty required. There are between 400 and 500 people living rough in the capital and over 55,000 people living in temporary accommodation, according to government data.
Meanwhile, guests who stay in the new 5-star hotel when it finally opens will rub shoulders with the ghosts of some of the UK’s most notable figures. As Secretary of State for War from 1919- 1921, Churchill had a grand suite of offices here. [Nearby you can still visit his Second World War bunker and nerve centre of the UK’s war effort.]
Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Mansfield Cummings, better known as the inspiration for “M” in James Bond also worked there, as did the controversial archaeologist, diplomat, military officer and writer T.E. Lawrence, or “Lawrence of Arabia.”