Frederick Gordon "The Napoleon of the Hotel World" was the title bestowed upon him as the founder and Chairman of Gordon Hotels, "The best brain the industry produced in the 19th Century."
A large part of modern Stanmore owes its existence to the personal enterprise just one man, Frederick Gordon the world's greatest hotelier.
Frederick was born on 22 July 1835 in Ross on Wye in Herefordshire. His father had travelled there in the early 1830's working as a decorator who specialized in fine dining rooms. He later took the position of manager in some of those rooms, and moved into the catering business.
Frederick decided to become a solicitor and after he qualified set up a business in Gracechurch Street in the City of London. In 1864 he married Emily Warman in Chigwell Essex, and set up home there. In 1869 his wife died of pneumonia leaving him with two small children. This became a turning point in Frederick's life and he threw himself into politics, after some furious lobbying he managed to get elected onto the City of London Common Council for the Bishopsgate ward. He married again, a lady called Harriet Phillips who bore him eight sons and a daughter. Frederick’s father and brother in law were both in the catering business so Frederick himself decided to try his hand at catering.
His first venture was a chop house in great tower street in London, then he opened a dining room in Gracechurch Street. A year later and in 1868 he leased Crosby hall in Bishopsgate, a former home of Richard III and opened it as a restaurant. In 1874 he opened another restaurant at the former Holborn casino.
A member the Frederick Hotels Company Limited
His next venture was the building of the Grand hotel in Trafalgar square which opened in 1881 and turned out to be a roaring success despite predictions to the contrary. After the success of the Grand he started work on a new hotel The First Avenue in Holborn, which opened in 1883 soon followed by The Metropole at the corner of Northumberland Avenue. As well as London hotels Gordon soon owned The Burlington Eastbourne, The Metropole Brighton, The Royal Pier hotel on the Isle of Wight, The Metropole Cannes, and The Metropole Monte Carlo. On the 15 may 1890 he formed the "Gordon Hotels Company limited" and also became chairman of "The Frederick Hotels Company Limited". Between the two companies they acquired another 14 hotels for their portfolio.
Frederick Gordon had an idea that his guests might like to stay in a country mansion instead of a London hotel so in 1882 he bought Bentley Priory and converted it from an old mansion to a hotel. The Priory opened as a hotel on 6 June 1885. Coaches were provided for guests from Harrow station (Now called Harrow & Wealdstone) and also a coach service from London. Neither of these solutions was ideal so Gordon decided to extend the railway from Harrow Station through to Stanmore. This idea would not only benefit Frederick’s hotel but also the village of Great Stanmore.
Authorization for the line was obtained by an act of parliament dated 25 June 1886 and the Harrow and Stanmore Railway Company was incorporated in to the same act with Frederick as Chairman and Charles Edward Keyser, founder and chairman of the Colne Valley Water Company and local resident of Warren House as a director.
The capital to be raised was £60,000 in shares of £10 each. The original route was from Wealdstone station up to Belmont and then follows what is now Kenton lane past the "Duck in the pond" pub and up to Bamford's Corner (now Brockhurst's corner) to a terminus on the west side of Green Lane. The money was not forthcoming so a shorter route was agreed. This would go around the other side of Bell Mount and terminate at Church lane Stanmore. This revised route was authorized by another act of parliament dated 28 June 1888. The capital to be raised was £36,000 and Frederick Gordon provided 9/10 of the money himself. The additional capital was raised by the issue of debentures. Gordon already owned most of the land that the track would pass through but the rest was purchased and work began. The contract was given to Charles Braddock of Southport and London in June 1889. Braddock submitted the lowest of four tenders at £29,670. The first sod was cut by Mrs Gordon at the site of the terminus on 27 July 1889 The line was opened on Thursday 18th December to traffic.
Gordon never gained a penny from his railway enterprise, but instead gained satisfaction from the gratitude of the Great Stanmore resident’s for their railway service. Frederick was however more successful with his hotel business and made an estimated £2 million, an enormous sum at the end of the 19th century. He also dominated the west African gold market and was director of companies as diverse as Ashanti Goldfields, Apollinaris and Johannis (the mineral water company now owned by Coca Cola), Guest, Keen and Nettlefoldes (The British multinational automotive and aerospace components company now known as GKN), Maple & Co (one of the largest and most successful British furniture retailers and cabinet makers of the Victorian era), Pears soap and Bovril.
Bentley Priory wasn't the success that Frederick thought it was going to be so he decided to make it the family home and live in Stanmore. He also built some large houses and cottages near to Stanmore station and soon there was a considerable residential development around the terminus.
Gordon also laid out, Stanmore Golf course together with his close friend Thomas Blackwell they turned it into a private club with lawns, tennis courts and erected 'The Pavilion' which forms the basis of the present Club, on what was then the Stanmore Park estate including Bell Mount. The Stanmore golf Club was founded in 1893
The global hotel trade was going through a rough patch but Gordon Hotels however remained sound, although Frederick was not so lucky. In the autumn of 1903 he fell ill and was advised by his doctors to recuperate at his Hotel Metropole in Cannes. On 22 March 1904 he went to see the opera at Monte Carlo and suffered a fatal heart attack.
"The Napoleon of the Hotel" world as he was described received obituary notices in both the local and national press.
His body was brought back to Great Stanmore and he is buried in the family grave at St. Johns churchyard; his wife died a year later on 27 June 1905
From 1908 to 1924 Frederick’s former home of Bentley priory became a private boarding school for girls. In 1926 the mansion and about 40 acres of the estate were sold to the Air Ministry for about £25,000 the remaining 240 acres were sold to a syndicate who used part of the land for building and the Middlesex county council bought 90 acres for inclusion in the green belt.
The Gordon Hotels chain continued in business and in 1963 became part of Grand Metropolitan Hotels. In 1997 Grand Met merged with Guinness plc to form Diageo.
So if you are fortunate enough to stay in one of the worlds many Metropole Hotels, just remember it was started by a self made man from Stanmore who had a dream.