Back: Oxford’s No.1
By Adrian Mourby
The Randolph in Oxford was built in 1866 and is one of those hotels - like Chateau Frontenac in Quebec and Gstaad's Palace - that is as much a symbol of the city it serves as a hotel.
Last year a dramatic fire that caused flames to leap through the roof of this neoGothic masterpiece, the flagship hotel of the Macdonald group, horrified Oxford citizens and tourists alike. The hotel, which stands between several university colleges, the world famous Ashmolean Museum, and the Oxford Playhouse, occupies the most inconvenient junction in Oxford for a major incident to take place. The city ground to a halt on 17 April 2015 while flames were brought under control. The fire ended around 8pm and, remarkably, a performance at the Playhouse went ahead that evening.
The hotel, with all the aplomb expected of such a grand dame, quickly managed to rehouse all its guests that evening, and as soon as the building had been checked over, it re-opened under towering scaffolding. Remarkably very little damage was done to the glorious neo-Gothic staircase and nothing to the Morse Bar and the drawing room where afternoon tea continued to be served beneath oil paintings of Oxford life donated by Osbert Lancaster.
One section of the mansard roofing - considered outrageously French in 1866 - had to be completely rebuilt. While this was going on, the bedrooms below were refurbished and there was a updating of the dining room with its heraldic shields of Oxford colleges (a few new ones have now been added). At the same time the hotel took advantage of the damage to create a new and expanded Cartoon Bar on the ground floor. This has just opened, as of the beginning of May 2016, and will specialise in gins and champagnes.
The new Randolph looks much as it always did, which is what one wants of a great historic hotel but it's just a little more twenty-first century now in the food and beverage areas. Most importantly the hotel is now restored to full working order. It's good to have the old girl back.