According to a clue she left in a hotel room on 11. January 2007, Harry Potter author J K Rowling finished the last lines of her last Harry Potter book at The Balmoral, in Scotland's capital city Edinburgh. Soon after the startled staff discovered in room 652 that the famous author had autographed and scribbled a note in black marker on a bust of the Greek god Hermes in her suite with the phrase:
"JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room on 11th Jan 2007."(Hermes is also the name of character Percy Weasley's pet owl in the series.) One worker snapped the message on a mobile phone camera. And a hotel source said: “We couldn’t believe it when we saw it." “We get celebrities in the Balmoral all the time and they often sign autographs for fans — but no one has left one behind on an ornament before.” The Balmoral refused to comment on the message. But the writer’s representative confirmed she had been penning the novel at the hotel, a Select Member of The Most Famous Hotels in the World".
Old habits die hard. As the 1990's opened the Edinburgh Balmoral emerged from the scaffolding chrysalis which wrapped up the North British, but will be a long time before local people forget to call it the "NB". The harsh fact is that the new name was not chosen for the sake of local people any more than the old one was. Thousands of visitors arriving in Edinburgh from all over the world will not think twice about it: they are looking for somewhere comfortable and recognisably Scottish right in the centre of the capital city. The new name marked a change of identity and, with a fascinating twist of fate, the ten story building at the east end of Princess Street once more became the flagship of a growing business empire. The hotel reopened with a pioneering spirit which echoed the original opening of the North British almost 90 years ago. Then it was a curiously low-key affair. On Wednesday 15 October 1902 a small advertisement appeared on the front page of the Scotsman: "North British Station Hotel This hotel in direct communication with Waverley Station is now open F.T. Burcher, hotel manager" That was all. On the Edinburgh Stock Market North British Railway shares dropped 1s 3d and two days later rose by 17s 6d. Otherwise the city does not seem to have paid undue attention to its precocious new landmark, the only residential building ever erected on the south side of Princes Street. The Lord Provost's Committee had even turned down the architect's request for a marquee in front of the entrance hall. But that hardly mattered. The opening of the hotel was advertised not only in the Scotsman but in newspapers and journals across Europe and beyond. The North British Hotel was a vanguard for the railway company which built it, a surrogate for the grand station they had never been permitted to erect in the sensitive site between the Old and New Town. The name itself symbolises such driving ambition. The term "North British" was a curious snobbery left over from the early days of the union which bound Scotland and England into a United Kingdom. The "best" families had headed notepaper marking their address at North Britain, not Scotland, and in choosing the name the railway company deliberately selected their clientele, seeing Edinburgh not just as a provincial capital but as the centre of a much larger world. You can see that extraordinary sense of confidence and competition in the building itself. Now it has been restored to the original golden sandstone it is a bold ebullient place, bursting with towers and balconies and topped with a crown. A pugnacious building firmly planting a mixture of European styles - French Renaissance, Dutch dormers - right in the middle of the Scottish capital where, when it opened, cows were still milked in the closes of the old High Street just a few yards across the North Bridge. With the paradoxical juxtaposition of progress, the poor died of cholera in overcrowded slums within a sniffing distance of the palatial bathrooms of the grand cosmopolitan hotel. But the North British was a sign of the future heralded by the railways, the newly opened Forth Bridge and the electric lights switched on in Princess Street just seven years earlier. Growing prosperity was celebrated in the number of important organisations which liked to be seen celebrating at the North British Hotel. While international celebrities arrived at Waverley Station, local VIPs went in through the front door. Anyone who was anyone automatically went to the hotel which could cope with dinner for 450. The Cockburn Association, which had been horrified by the general bad taste of the building, came to accept it as a "friendly monster". The North British clock acted as a focal point for generations of the hurrying public and by tradition was kept a few minutes fast to give them time to catch their trains. As a railway hotel the North British settled down for a long comfortable reputation of being taken for granted: part of the city scenery. To see how deep the hotel roots lie in Waverely Station you have only to stand at Platform 19 where trains leave on the hour for Kings Cross, London. The journey time has almost halved - from eight hours to four-and-a-half - steam has given way to electricity and trains now compete with aircraft and the motor car rather than (as yet anyway) a rival railway service. But in the arches of the station wall you can still see the place where trains delivered coat to feed the insatiable boilers of the hotel. In return, from the same standpoint the boilers pumped steam to start the heaters of the sleeper carriages. The railway brought people and provisions and the hotel fed and watered the trains in a partnership of mutual dependence which was to last 80 years. View from North British Hotel from the tower looking North-East Long before the North British Railway Company began blasting into the wall of rock behind Waverley Station, however, a warning was issued to shareholders. "Large hotel traffic does not mean profit", wrote D. Hill Murray to the Evening News in 1885, "the hotel will be constructed in most sumptuous manner regardless of cost to shareholders". Besides, he pointed out, "The Caledonian have a much better site and they will follow suit". Both statements proved to be prophetic. No expense was spared in creating the new hotel and it would be a long time before the flow of 40,000 visitors each year even covered the costs of running a construction which devoured coal and coke by up to 200 tons a month. But Mr Murray had missed the real point. The North British Station Hotel was never intended to be merely a hotel, it was to be a monument to the railway company, the grand eye-catching "station" they had never been permitted to build above ground. It would be their equivalent of the St Pancras or York Central Station that the ancient laws of Edinburgh had never allowed them to build in the sensitive Waverley site within view of the powerful Governor and Directors of the Bank of Scotland on the Mound. Every time a signal box or office reared its ugly head 30 feet above ground level the Bank ordered it to be removed. View from North British Hotel from the tower looking west along Princess Street So the hotel, strategically situated out of the Bank's firing line, was a physical and political achievement. What's more the NBR beat the Caledonian to it - the rival hotel opened at the other end of Princess Street in 1903 and even now the sense of rivalry lingers, a legacy of fierce competition between two railway companies who sometimes literally shoved each other off the line in the determination to get there first. George Wieland was the man who saw the potential of a hotel in Princess Street. An NBR company secretary who "retired" to the board in 1890, Wieland threw himself into developing what was then called Waverley Station Hotel - not just for the capital of Scotland but as the centre of a European network. Hence the advertisements placed not only in the Scotsman, but in the Daily Telegraph, London, the New York Herald, Figaro in Paris and Cavio in Eqypt. Hence the grand tour of the best hotels in Europe before the architect W. Hamilton Beattie even submitted his first linen-bound, water-coloured plans to Edinburgh Corporation. First Wieland went to see the Metropole Hotel in Brighton then, in 1895, led his hotel committee on a grand tour of the great hotels of Europe. After staying at the Hamburgher Hof in Hamburg, the Central, Savoy and Bristol in Berlin, the Imperial and Bristol in Vienna, the Hotel Hungaria and the Royal in Budapest as well others in Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels, the committee reported back "no improvement on hotels in this country" and kitchens far inferior to the newest in Edinburgh. What Wieland learned from the tour, however, was the importance of grand banqueting halls to bring winter business. Generations of Edinburgh civic receptions, balls and weddings have proved him right. As Mr Murray had feared the hotel was to be a sumptuous place, but he could not have predicated the enormous range of expenses - from lighting (and winding) the clock to advertising in railway carriages. There were some economies: Professor Barr from Glasgow University designed the electrical system so that only one light at a time would go on in the bedrooms no matter how many switches were pressed. The Caledonian was always breathing down Wieland's neck. He set himself a four year task of stocking the hotel cellars with the best of champagne, hocks, ports and whiskey, reporting regularly to the committee on his progress with the ever present goal that "30,000 to 40,000 quarts of champagne are said to be used annually in the Caledonian Company's Central Station in Glasgow". Ironically for both Caledonian and North British Railway Companies by far the greatest publicity went to the opening of a different building. The City Hospital, opened by King Edward VII in May 1903, was a great symbol of progress in a city where, no more than five minutes walk from the North British, people lived in squalor and died from disease. Almost half the city population lived in two room flats and were lucky if they shared a water closet on the stair landing. But the North British with 300 bedrooms, 52 bathrooms and 70 lavatories and a constant circulation of fresh air was aimed instead at wealthy landed families who were constantly on the move between summer and winter residences, taking whole households as they went. Hotel porters in red jackets met guests off the train and took them by lift direct from station booking hall to a reception desk in the basement of the hotel. Another lift whisked them up to the entrance hall, the Palm Court and beyond to the bedrooms. For guests: bedrooms furnished in mahogany, leather and crimson moquette. For their servants: walnut upholstered in hair and hardcloth. The soothing rhythms of Edwardian society are recorded in old hotel leaflets and leather bound statements of accounts. In a world of well-ordered priorities the bill for plants and flowers exceeded that for gas, travelling salesmen were entertained in the "Commercial" lounge and billiards and smoking rooms were placed at a discreet distance to avoid discomfort to ladies. The minutiae listed in the inventory of furnishings is awesome, from japanned dishes to catch drips from fire hydrants to bath thermometers in lacquered cases, from satin bed covers to white cotton gloves for staff, from pincushions to a silver burnishing machine. And for whose use were the 24 enameled spittoons? Not surprisingly years passed before the hotel and grill room made a profit, despite enough visitors to keep busy two reception desks, But the year before the Great War, from £63,084 4s 7d of "business done" and gross profit of £38,641 18d 10d, the hotel recorded net profit of £7,766 4s 6d. In those gilded days guests sat down to menus written entirely in French. On 13 Juillet 1913 the choice included Omelette Paysanne, Qurtier d'Agneau Roti and Pouding à la Semoule. The hotel and railway enjoyed a golden age which was to last until the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1922 the North British Railway Company became part of the London and North eastern Railway Company and the menus show a stylish modern self-confidence. The hotel bottled and blended its own whisky, wine and port. "It was a glittering place", says Jackie Monteith who started as apprentice chef in 1938 at the age of 14. But he returned to a subtly different place after the Second World War. From 1947 the railways were nationalised, the hotel staff became members of the National Union of Railwaymen and the promise of travel was opened to a winder public. The first transatlantic flights landed at Prestwich in 1946, Edinburgh airport opened a new runway in 1970 and as the other side of the world came closer to the city Jackie Monteith remembers a subtle reaction in the hotel kitchen: pineapple replaced peas beside the baked ham. But the railway connection continued - until the 1980s the kitchens of the hotel were still baking bread and butchering meat for the dining cars below - and ironically even lorry loads by road had to be delivered via Waverley. The grand old British Transport Hotels were linked with a bond of camaraderie which tied places as different as Turnberry, Leeds and London and still survives their separation from British Rail. Jack Maguire, general manager of the North British from 1979 to 1983, guided the hotel from BTH to its first non-railway owner. Now retired he still meets old friends at the BTH Members Club which bears the motto: "Times change and we with time, but not in ways of friendship". While praising the excellence of BTH training and service Maguire recalls the disadvantage of a central ownership which could never afford to maintain its property. The North British was a very faded "grand old lady" when British Rail sold it in 1983. An era had ended but for the first time in years there was hope of restoring the building to its original splendour. With some differences. A swimming pool now occupies the second basement where guests once arrived at the station entrance. Direct communication to Waverley has been sealed off. As Jack Maguire puts it with beautiful simplicity: "The umbilical chord has been cut". But the hotel has always led a double life. When it looked down it saw the railway. When it looked up it surveyed the city. Cosmopolitan and very much part of home, for the greater part of the 20th century the North British Hotel has been firmly fixed as a city institution. Over the years a regular galaxy of film and sports stars, princesses and politicians, have posed for photographs by the hotel pillars on Princess Street. Elizabeth Taylor in cloche hat and dark glasses walked among American visitors in the North British reception hall and no-one spotted she was there. The lobby of a luxury hotel is a fascinatingly bustling place where stars may shine or remain unseen if they prefer. Miss Taylor was quite likely to be outnumbered by guests of thoroughly down to earth organisations from the Scottish Rugby Union, the Chiropodists, High Constables or the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce. More sensitive international celebrities were ushered discreetly in through the Waverley Steps entrance, but even as they did so local people by the hundred would swing in through the revolving door at the front for balls, banquets and business breakfasts. Jack Maquire says, "Anyone who was anyone living in Edinburgh or visiting the city came to the North British". The hotel has always been ready to do that bit extra for its guests. In the 1960's an Eastern potentate took over the elegant second floor and had it rearranged so that he could sleep on cushions on the floor with armed guards along the corridors. A mysterious visitor during the Second World War, however, got less favoured treatment. He aroused the suspicions of the head cashier and was arrested as a German spy. There seems no truth in the legend that a secret passage once connected hotel with Holyrood Palace, the Royal Family's home in Edinburgh ("that would be one hell of a passage" observes Maquire). But for many years until Holyrood accommodation was extended the NB entertained the annual overflow of Royal visitors to the Palace. Jackie Monteith, sauce chef until 1987, remembers the Queen Mother's liking for plain roast lamb for lunch, while the old Princess Royal had her own special dessert: fingers of Madeira cake dipped in egg white rolled in sugar and toasted under the grill. By the time the hotel closed for refurbishment in 1988 it had become so much part of city life that an interesting group of people met to mark the occasion with a grand breakfast, promising to celebrate the reopening in the same way. Interesting because in 1902 members of that same vigilant conservation group, the Cockburn Association, were horrified at the way the new hotel completely dominated its surroundings. "Any appreciation of its architecture is neutralised by the sense of disproportion which its height and breadth conveys", was the society's comment at the time. Other critics commented on its aggressive bulk, the bulbous clock tower, "standing at the hinge of Old and New Towns it is coarse and obstructive at once". But times change and familiarity breeds affection. Now the Cockburn Association campaigns for the hotel to become a listed building (if nothing else, it will protect the site from uglier beasts such as the King James Shopping Centre across the road or the destruction which the university wreaked in the elegant terraces of George Square in the 1960s). As David Daiches, one of the city's historians, puts it: the hotel is "so familiar a part of the Edinburgh townscape that like the Scott Monument of 1840-46 it is accepted almost as a natural feature". Thanks to George Wieland and the North British Railway Company the "monster" was put in precisely the right place to dominate not only the skyline at that end of town, but the social calendar of generations of civic groups. Robert Louis Stevenson called that corner of North Bridge the windiest spot in town, "the high altar in this northern temple of winds". But for anyone arriving by train the NB was the obvious place to stay. For many years anyone entertaining in style had only three choices: North British, Caledonian and The George. And even when the boom of new hotels began in the late 1970s there was still nowhere to compete with the sheer enormity of the banqueting and ball rooms. Indeed, when the hotel's closure for refurbishment coincided with Edinburgh's turn to host the biennial dinner of the Institute of Bankers in Scotland, the Edinburgh bankers were forced to hire a room in Glasgow to feast their guests. and Pop Stars stayed at the N.B. Paul and Linda McCartney It was the obvious place for the annual dinner and dance for all kinds of people, from the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club who in 1985 drank their 77th toast to the memory of Sir Walter with (Lord) Jo Grimmond in the chair and "Longe de Porc Suedoise" on the menu, to the Master Builders Association of Edinburgh and District, who the following year chalked up their 105th annual dinner with a main course of "Roastit ashet O'Bufe wi Wyandour sauce, Ayrshire Tatties an inther Fruits o' the Soil". When Beatrice Rankin married Scottish golf champion Alexander Flockart in September 1949 there was no question about the choice for a reception with 300 guests. "It was the obvious place to go", she says, "The rooms were always lovely there. I remember going to the High Constables' and the Dentists' balls for many years". Besides, her father William Rankin, city fruit and flower merchant, had business connections in the old fruitmarket nearby. Staff who worked in the hotel then still remember the display of flowers decorating the dining room and tables for Beatrice's wedding. In a city just beginning to emerge from the gloom of the Second World War the wedding must have been a brilliant splash of colour. A grand hotel inevitably exists in a social vacuum of its own creation: great events in the outside world may register only as subtle changes in the day's menu. Bob Cunningham, hotel butcher from 1928 until 1959, remembers the disgust of the kitchen staff when boiled tripe appeared on the lunch menu in 1946, a small concession to the post-war austerity reigning beyond the hotel's substantial walls. But a building as big as the NB could not fail to make a mark on the local economy too. In 1913 for example the hotel paid just under £1,000 rates and taxes which included contributions to the police rate, poor rate, water rate and "Inhabited House Duty". Local stores were contracted to supply the formidable inventory of furnishings and fittings and the newly established workshops of the Royal Blind Asylum had regular work manufacturing all kinds of basket ware from lines bins to luncheon hampers. Wages were low - in 1938 Jackie Monteith earned twice as much packing eggs for a farmer as he did cracking them for the head chef at the NB. But the hotel offered a trade, good training and plenty of secure employment: while Edinburgh Corporation weekly debated the problems of unemployment in the early years of this century, the hotel provided work for 300-400 staff at peak times. Times change but not always as much as we think. In the 1990s more people live longer and some live better than they did when the NB first opened. Then Edinburgh people feared tuberculosis; now it is heart disease. The overcrowding and squalor of the old time has changed to a different kind of deprivation among the new housing estates on the outskirts of town, away from the obvious tourist route. When "Butcher" Cunningham started work in the NB kitchen, his home, Corstorphine, was a farming village and he came to the hotel by train. Now the outlying "villages" and "towns" of Leith, Newhaven, Colinton, Corstorphone, are part of the urban sprawl of Edinburgh and people come to work by car (if they can find somewhere to park) or bus. The cable cars which took hotel guests along Princes Street gave way to buses 30 years later. But although the city seems a much more congested place the population has remained surprisingly much the same: from 413,008 in 1901 to 433,200 in 1989. The difference is the vast turnover of tourists who now come all year round. By the time the hotel closed in 1988 there were more than two million visitors absorbed by the city that year - 1.27 million from the UK, and just over half a million from overseas. That means four times as many people as the resident population to be housed, fed, entertained and transported. No wonder new hotels have sprouted at every corner. The newly restored NB with 200 bedrooms still holds the trump card of those enormous function rooms. To the loyal customers of the old days are added the new growing trade of business parties. When the hotel first opened in Edinburgh had its own Stock Exchange - now Charlotte Square is an international centre attracting business from Japan, America and Europe. The links with the railway were severed in the early 1980s - not a happy decade for the hotel as its ownership changed rapidly in an extended game of company take-overs. The start of the 1990s, however, brought again the prospect of a settled future under the ownership of a company with a similar vision of the hotel and its place to that created by its founders at the start of the century. Balmoral International Hotels, a new company based in Edinburgh, bought the North British with the intention of making is a flagship for an international hotel group with luxury hotels in strategic cities in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America. It is an ambition of which the directors of the North British Railway Company would have approved. History has an off way of repeating itself. The New Edinburgh Balmoral has a style and appearance very close to the spirit of the building which took its triumphant place on the Edinburgh skyline as the century began - indeed it deliberately evokes the Edwardian era which has become a symbol of timeless comfort and security the world over: tea may be taken in the Palm Court whatever is happening in the real world outside. Very deeply rooted in local history the Edinburgh Balmoral will compete with the best hotels anywhere in the world just as George Wieland intended when he led the "Waverley Station Hotel Committee" on a grand tour across Europe all those years ago. The name may have changed but the sense of identity has turned full circle.
The most recent one: J K Rowling
According to a clue she left in a hotel room on 11. January 2007, Harry Potter author J K Rowling finished the last lines of her last Harry Potter book at The Balmoral, in Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh. Soon after the startled staff discovered in room 652 that the famous author had autographed and scribbled a note in black marker on a bust of the Greek god Hermes in her suite with the phrase: “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room on 11th Jan 2007.”(Hermes is also the name of character Percy Weasley’s pet owl in the series.) One worker snapped the message on a mobile phone camera. And a hotel source said: “We couldn’t believe it when we saw it.” “We get celebrities in the Balmoral all the time and they often sign autographs for fans — but no one has left one behind on an ornament before.” The Balmoral refused to comment on the message. But the writer’s representative confirmed she had been penning the novel at the hotel, a Select Member of The Most Famous Hotels in the World”.

Mrs Debbie Taylor

Managed by: Rocco Forte Collection
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Country: Scotland
City: Edinburgh
Opening date: 1902

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General Manager Ivan Artolli
Concierge: Joseph Winders


1, Princes Street
EH2 2EQ Scotland, Edinburgh

Tel: +44 131 556 2414
Fax: +44 131 557 3747

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