The history of Oxford's most famous hotel The Randolph - renovated following a devastating fire - has been celebrated in a new book.

Macdonald RandolphThe hotel was built by William Wilkinson, and named after the Rev Dr Francis Randolph, the 18th-century cleric who was a chief benefactor of the Ashmolean

By Richard Lofthouse

There can be few members of Oxford University who didn’t at some point take their parents to the Randolph. Situated on the corner of Magdalen Street and Beaumont Street, ‘Oxford’s finest hotel’ has always declared itself to each new generation of students.

Following a terrible fire in 2015, the hotel’s owner, Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, completed a careful restoration in time to celebrate the 150th birthday celebration. A party duly took place on 24 November, an occasion for putting on Victorian glad rags. The evening was particularly heartfelt, however, on account of the restoration, which cost £6.5 million and which has effectively spruced the place up, not to a ghastly modernity, but (relief!) to the original, Victorian formula.The Bandits Band performing at the Randolph Hotel, Oxford, November 1935 The Bandits Band performing at the Randolph in November 1935 

The fire happened on April 17th, 2015. It started with a chef flambéing a beef stroganoff in the kitchen. When the pan caught fire, the flames leapt upwards setting the roof and front gable ablaze. Fourteen fire engines and seventy fire fighters battled the blaze. Although only five per cent of the hotel was damaged, the roof had to be completely replaced, and a new champagne bar built.

Hotel General Manager Michael Grange says that approximately 235 tradesmen worked pretty much non-stop for almost a year, and that their goal was to restore and replace, meticulously, rather than to change the property. 

This is probably as it should be. Alumni returning to Oxford will find the property enduringly familiar, its magnificent dining room still decorated with college shields, as if boasting its University credentials.Randolph AcanthusThe new 90-seat Acanthus restaurant as part of the £6.5m refurbishment

The hotel still hosts what was once called the ‘Milk Round’, and parents who want to take afternoon tea with scones and clotted cream in the Drawing Room, or drink in the Morse Bar, can do so.

The hotel has for sale a freshly published pamphlet history of the property, The Macdonald Randolph Hotel, (by KT and Martin Bruce). It will continue to be better known as merely, ‘The Randolph,’ without the addition of the name of the man behind the Aberdeenshire-based owner and largest private hotel group in the UK, Donald Macdonald’s Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, which bought the property from Forte Heritage Hotels Group in 2001. Randolph AcanthusThe Grade-II listed building has been sympathetically restored to its Victorian Gothic glory

On an adjacent note, the hotel’s name led generations of tourists (and not a few students), all misinformed by their guides, to recall Sir Winston Churchill’s father. In fact, the property was built in 1864 and named after Revd. Dr. Francis Randolph, the eighteenth century cleric and benefactor of the Ashmolean Museum.

In this connection as so many others, the hotel has unofficially serviced the University, just as the University has unofficially populated it with countless prestigious guests, among them Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, none of whom were drawn to Oxford for its shopping. Randolph AcanthusThe imposing hotel stands in central Oxford on the south side of Beaumont Street, at the corner with Magdalen Street

In fact, the hotel originated from a predicament that anyone who has slept in a bad college guest bed will relate to. It was the prospective visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Oxford in 1866 that led to the construction of the hotel two years earlier. Oxford had nowhere of sufficient grandeur to accommodate them and their entourage. 

 

A book, 150: Macdonald Randolph Hotel: An Oxford institution since 1866, is on sale at the hotel.

Images:  Macdonald Randolph Hotel, Oxford University Images

Comments

By Stephi Kortis-Kondi
on

I am so glad that Randolph is in use again. It means a lot to me.

By Stephen Scott
on

There are limits to nostalgia. Yes,-- the Randolph is large and well-located, but through the years I've preferred the Mitre and the Eastgate, and now the Old Parsonage. Worth finding online, and reading, reviews of the Randolph's food, in particular their English breakfasts,-- notably Giles Coren's on the Randolph's English breakfasts (in The Times, and reported in the Oxford Mail, 16 Oct 2016.). "He claimed the £21.50 dish was 'unfit for consumption in all but the grisliest prisons', rating both the hotel's breakfast and service zero. ... "This, truly, was the worst thing I have ever been served in any establishment of any kind ever, anywhere in the world" ... . I hope that the renovation is matched by a revolution in their dining room.

By John Edwards
on

From my time as an undergraduate (1957 to 1960, Worcester) I seem to recall an occasional very unofficial entertainment - a drunken mob "storming The Randolph". Can anyone confirm this?

By Christopher Wain
on

The first sentence is a bit sweeping! We didn't all have that sort of money! The old joke used to be that OUCA took its speakers to the Randolph, the OULS took theirs to the Town & Gown Restaurant, and the Labour Club took theirs to the Welsh Pony! I can't say whether it was true for the last of these (I suspect not!), but I did indeed go to the Town & Gown when Alan Beith came down in 1974! Like Stephen Scott I have always preferred the Mitre, which I think has a much nicer atmosphere.

By Jim D
on

My visits to the Randolph have always been delightful.

Without exception the food has been either quite good or even delicious.

The service has been outstanding, and highly personalized. I was trapped in Oxford several years ago during a blizzard. Near the end I was one of just two or three guests in the hotel. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. On the morning I left, they set up a delicious breakfast for me in the bar, along with carry-out for the car ride to Heathrow--and they DID THIS AT NO CHARGE as a gift for my custom.

I wish the Randolph another century--or more--of good service to Oxford and to its guests.

By Jon Brown
on

"Situated on the corner of St Giles and Broad Street..."
Err...no it isn't!
(The correct location is given in one of the picture captions lower down, but this is an embarrassing error - and only two lines in!)

[The digital editor responds: Thank you for pointing this out, Jon. The correction has now been made.]

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