In the heart of the West End, there are many quiet pockets, unknown to almost all but taxi drivers who traverse them with expert knowledge, and arrive triumphantly thereby at Park Lane, Berkeley Square, or South Audley Street.
If you turn off on an unpretentious street from the Park, and turn left and right once or twice, you will find yourself in a quiet street with Bertram’s Hotel on the right-hand side. Bertram’s Hotel has been there a long time. During the war, houses were demolished on the right of it, and a little farther down on the left of it, but Bertram’s itself remained unscathed. Naturally it could not escape being, as house agents would say, scratched, bruised, and marked, but by the expenditure of only a reasonable amount of money it was restored to its original condition. By 1955 it looked precisely as it had looked in 1939-dignified, unostentatious, and quietly expensive.
Such was Bertram’s, patronized over a long stretch of
years by the higher echelons of the clergy, dowager ladies of the aristocracy up from the country, girls on their way home for the holidays from expensive finishing schools. (“So few places where a girl can stay alone in London but of course it is quite all right at Bertram’s. We have stayed there for years.”)
There had, of course, been many other hotels on the model of Bertram’s. Some still existed, but nearly all had felt the wind of change. They had had necessarily to modernize themselves, to cater for a different clientele. Bertram’s, too, had had to change, but it had been done so cleverly that it was not at all apparent at the first casual glance.
Outside the steps that led up to the big swing doors stood what at first sight appeared to be no less than a field marshal. Gold braid and medal ribbons adorned a broad and manly chest. His deportment was perfect. He received you with tender concern as you emerged with rheumatic difficulty from a taxi or a car, guided you carefully up the steps and piloted you through the silently swinging doorway.
Inside, if this was the first time you had visited Bertram’s, you felt, almost with alarm, that you had reentered a vanished world. Time had gone back. You were in Edwardian England once more.
There was, of course, central heating, but it was not apparent. As there had always been, in the big central lounge, there were two magnificent coal fires; beside them big brass coal scuttles shone in the way they used to shine when Edwardian housemaids polished them, and they were filled with exactly the right-sized lumps of coal. There was a general appearance of rich red velvet and plushy coziness. The armchairs were not of this time and age. They were well above the level of the floor, so that rheumatic old ladies had not to struggle in an undignified manner in order to get to their feet. The seats of the chairs did not, as in so many modern high-priced armchairs, stop halfway between the thigh and the knee, thereby inflicting agony on those suffering from arthritis and sciatica; and they were not all of a pattern. There were straight backs and reclining backs, different widths to accommodate the slender and the obese. People of almost any dimension could find a comfortable chair at Bertram’s.
Since it was now the tea hour, the lounge hall was full. Not that the lounge hall was the only place where you could have tea.