There is nothing to indicate that it is a hotel. We could be outside a private house or an exclusive club. Still, we ring the bell and the door is buzzed open and even before we mount the short flight of steps we are blown away by the décor. We are in for a night of eccentric romance at Batty Langley’s.
There are statues, pillars, and carriage lamps and beyond, a long room, the walls and panelling of which are painted in a very Georgian shade of silvery celadon green. First though, we pause to admire the pair of life-sized oil paintings flanking the entrance. They purport to represent Mrs Langley and Bartholomew (known as Batty) Langley Esquire, the famous garden and architectural designer who in the eighteenth century wrote pattern books which were extremely influential both here and in America. We say ‘purport’ because the fellow on our left is handsome and quite unlike depictions of the rather chubby B.L we’ve come across before. Still, they are beautiful paintings and they set the scene for what proves to be a delightful experience in the Most Grand Taste….
We make out way across the thick wool carpet which tones exactly with the soft green walls to the reception area where we receive a warm welcome. We are swiftly shown to our room, or rather suite, the Peter Merzean and provided with a tray of tea (extra Brownie points for china cups and real milk.) All the 29 rooms of varying sizes are named after local characters, many connected with the famous Spitalfields silk industry ( Peter Mezean was a throwster i.e. someone who transformed raw silk into yarn) but also including courtesans, pick pockets, prostitutes and members of the aristocracy.
Our suite is a delight. As well as a huge comfortable-looking bed there are sumptuous silk curtains looped back with swags, a mahogany Carton House desk with secret compartments, folding mirrors beneath a Batty Langley-style pediment which nattily conceals the television. In the cosy sitting room the mini bar and television are similarly encased in an antique cupboard. The bathroom contains a marble bath, an old fashioned pull-plug loo with copper piping (which squawks loudly when pulled!) a wash basin in a decorative washstand and plenty of scented toiletries. There is also a state of the art walk-in power shower with additional side jets (handy for those who don’t want to wet their hair).
Every detail throughout is perfect, the taps, loo roll holders – even the wardrobe is lined with toile de jouey fabric! It is all so well done that much to Dennis’ amusement I get so excited that I go around sketching – something I have never done before in our long career of assessing hotel rooms.
Although we are loathed to abandon all this luxurious comfort, Spitalfields beckons and we set off for a stroll. Here there is so much to enjoy- streets of elegant eighteenth century Huguenot weaver’s houses, lovely old shops like Verde and Gold in Brushfield Street, the spacious covered market, trendy boutiques, ( it is the place to buy shoes, there are dozens of independent shoe shops…) the curry houses of Brick Lane and lots of street art to say nothing of dozens of cafes where you can sit and watch the very diverse inhabitants pass by. We head for a favourite of ours, The Town House at 5 Fournier Street where tea and cakes are served in the basement kitchen of an antique shop and gallery.
On the way back, almost next door to Batty Langley’s we pass what we consider one of the most interesting attractions in the whole of London, The Dennis Severs House. Dennis was an American, who having bought this dilapidated eighteenth century house decided to live there without electricity or mod cons just as if he were still in the eighteenth century. He carried this further by creating what he called A Still Life Drama, imagining a resident family of Huguenot weavers and then inviting members of the public to step into their lives. During the candlelit visit we took a while back, it was as if these previous occupants had just left the room, their meal half eaten, and the smell of the food still in the air. They could sometimes be heard but were always just out of sight…. It was a totally magical experience and it is to the credit of some determined people that that the house is still open although Dennis Severs died in 1999.
Back at Batty Langley’s we have time to take in some of the public rooms. We love The Parlour with its rich red upholstery and plum coloured panelled walls and also The Library with its Victorian lantern ceiling but it is the elegant Tapestry Room with its own exquisite little courtyard garden that we find most romantic. We relax with a drink from the well-stocked honesty bar (Bravo! Both Hendricks and Sipsmith gins) after which we are lucky enough be shown a few more of the rooms.
We see the one single room – originally a housekeeper’s cupboard but now a small but perfect abode for a singleton and at the other end of the scale we take a peep into the super-sumptuous Earl of Bolinbroke’s Suite which is painted throughout in a striking light navy blue colour and consists of four rooms with a private rooftop terrace, a magnificent marble bath (which had to be craned in while the roof was off) and a massive decorated bed fit for a Venetian Doge.
We also learn some interesting facts about creation of the hotel: that every wall and staircase has a fireproof core to comply with fire regulations, that almost all the pieces of furniture, which we had assumed were very good repro, are on the contrary, genuine antiques bought at auction and then restored and in some cases remodelled by a workshop in the west country. Many of these pieces lean towards the gothic and provide a subtle nod to Batty Langley whose most famous book was Gothic Architecture, improved by Rules and Proportions.
Our stay is all too short but we enjoy every minute of it and so can thoroughly recommend Batty Langley’s for a wonderfully comfortable, interesting and romantic break.
Rooms are priced according to size and range from approximately £300 -£1,000+ per night.
12 Folgate Street
London E1 6BX
Tel 0207377 4390
The Dennis Severs House
The Town House
5 Fournier St, London E1 6QE
020 7247 4745