Hotel with parade of shops and domestic accommodation, c.1897 by William Theobalds.
Reason for Listing
* Architectural interest: an extravagant display of street architecture in the 'Old English' style, forming a skilfully-composed and well-preserved group on a prominent town-centre site;
* Planning interest: an unusually ambitious example of a planned commercial cluster incorporating hotel, retail and residential uses.
The Imperial Hotel with its associated ranges was built c.1897 to the designs of the London architect William Theobalds. The site lay immediately opposite the original entrance to Henley railway station, whose opening in 1857 triggered the development of this area of the town; the station was rebuilt 50 metres further south in 1985. The hotel is one of Henley's principal landmarks, and its scale and architectural exuberance reflect the town's popularity as a riverside resort in the late C19 and early C20.
Red brick with decorative timber framing; clay tile roof.
The Imperial Hotel forms the centrepiece to a curving range of nine buildings, comprising Nos. 15-41 (odd) Station Road. The hotel building is of double width, and has a central hallway and stair flanked by the former bar and lounge, with a large function room behind and bedrooms on the upper floors. The flanking ranges have shops on their ground floor and domestic accommodation above.
The hotel and its two flanking ranges form a picturesquely rambling composition on a prominent corner site. The style is a richly ornamented Domestic Revival in the 'Old English' manner of Richard Norman Shaw, with much 'Jacobethan' ornament and decorative half-timbering contrasting with the bright red brick of the main structure. The hotel itself is taller and wider than its companion buildings, rising to four storeys beneath a broad triangular gable with decorative barge-boards and timber framing, crowned by a terracotta dragon finial; the gable is flanked by two massive ridged brick chimney stacks, and its upper section is jettied out over an oriel on the floor below . The first floor has two polygonal bays faced with terracotta bas-relief panels depicting grotesque figures; between these is a balcony framed by arches supported on shaped balusters. The ground floor also has polygonal bays flanking the central entrance. The latter is deeply recessed within a porch framed by massive scroll-topped piers clad in grey granite and larvikite, the right-hand pier bearing the architect's name. The porch recess has a grey marble dado, a guilloche frieze and a wrought-iron scrollwork panel bearing the name of the hotel. A flight of steps leads up to the main doors, which are of oak with bevelled glass panels and raised and fluted pilasters to the outer sections. There is a smaller hatch to the right, presumably for off sales.
The flanking ranges each comprise five units, with taller gabled bays of three storeys alternating with lower two-and-a-half-storey elements. As with the central block, there is much decorative timberwork and an array of tall ridged stacks. The upper floors of the gabled bays are jettied out on curved sandstone brackets over projecting oriels. The far left-hand unit, No. 15, returns to Queen Street and has a corner cupola topped with a weathervane. The ground-floor shop-fronts mostly survive, though some have been altered; they have curved transoms with small square lights above and panelled stall-risers below. The doors have shaped glazed openings and scrollwork decoration, and the flanking piers are faced in purple glazed brick. The rear elevations of both the hotel and the outer ranges are of plain red brick without ornament.
The hotel entrance opens into a lobby area with a mosaic floor and a guilloche frieze, from which doors with heavily moulded architraves open left and right into the bar and what was presumably once the lounge (both areas much altered, with some walls knocked through). Steps and an archway lead through to the principal stair, of elaborately carved mahogany with twisted balusters and huge tapering newels crowned by acanthus-leaf finials. Behind is a large room running the full width of the building, once presumably a dining room or ballroom, with pilastered walls and a deeply coved ceiling; an archway to the rear must once have opened into a conservatory, now demolished. The upper floor interiors are utilitarian and extensively altered, as are those of the outer ranges, which renders these parts of the interior not of special interest.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.