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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 December 2007, 12:13 GMT
Millions of memories at the Savoy
By Sarah Bell
BBC News

An Art Deco jewel by the river, the Savoy has been attracting the great, the good and the infamous since its first guests arrived in 1889.

A model 160 grand piano by Grotroan-Steinmeg expected to fetch 2,000-3,000
Frank Sinatra allegedly tinkled the ivories during one of his stays

From royalty to Hollywood greats, artists, politicians and even the odd murderer - if you visited the capital, you stayed on the Strand.

And it seems for many, the world-famous hotel is not just a collection of bedrooms, but embodies the social history of modern London.

Staff were called as witnesses at Oscar Wilde's trial, Claude Monet painted views of the Thames from its windows and its chef invented the Peach Melba.

It remained open during both World Wars, and in 1941 Noel Coward stood in for a bandmaster who was knocked off his feet when a bomb dropped on the Embankment.

But it is personal memories which are driving collectors to spend 30 on a catalogue and browse round the 3,000 items being sold in its grand auction.

From honeymoons to weddings and special afternoon teas, the Savoy has hosted millions of moments which remain in peoples' memories.

Blaze of publicity

One browser, James Tuten, who has been visiting the hotel for 40 years, was taking one last look before it undergoes a 100m refurbishment.

A look back at a life of luxury

He and his wife Judith even had a quick twirl in the ballroom while no-one was looking.

He explains what makes the Savoy so special: "It almost reflects the history in London. It really is a beacon, everything seems to gravitate here."

The Savoy made an impact from the moment it opened in a blaze of publicity - and light - as the hotel was one of the first public buildings in Britain to be lit by electricity.

It had its own power company which supplied electricity to part of the Strand.

The brainchild of theatrical impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte, it was also the first London hotel to have electric lifts, which were imported from America.

The first part of the hotel was built in Edwardian style, with Art Deco interiors added with a new extension in the early 1900s, before the style became widely popular.

"One of our directors once said the Savoy was always up-to-date, and if possible just a little bit ahead," the Savoy's archivist, Susan Scott says.

'Elegance and style'

Now the hotel has closed its doors to undergo a restoration which promises to honour its heritage.

It could be argued the restoration is a little overdue, with some browsers saying the items on sale were very worn and would need repair.

One of the chandeliers in the Thames Foyer
Marilyn Monroe
Charlie Chaplin
Winston Churchill
Marlene Dietrich

In fact, one lamp sporting a lot tag in the ladies' lavatory was scorched by years of lighting people up as they powdered their noses.

So what is so special about a hotel which makes people want to grab its fixtures and fittings, even if they are worn?

"The Savoy occupies a unique place in hotel history and set a benchmark for the hotels which followed," she says.

"It became the by-word for elegance and style and became the absolute pinnacle of the social scene in London," she says.

In its heyday, visitors to London would come and sit in one of the bars and be guaranteed to see the great and the good.

"From that auspicious start it could only get better. I have never met anyone who has been here and not had a wonderful time.

"I cannot imagine another hotel which means so much to so many people."

A look at some of the items up for auction

Weldon to take up Savoy residence
13 Sep 02 |  Entertainment
The Savoy is sold for 520m
07 Apr 98 |  Business

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