Victorian London - Houses and Housing - Hotels - character of, 1850s

The American definition of a hotel is a building covering several acres of ground, in height, any number of stories above six. The interior of which is arranged and conducted with every consideration for the comfort and convenience of guests. Magnificent rooms for reading and writing, containing books and papers from every part of the world. Bar-rooms with marble floors and counters, stained glass windows and costly furniture. Dining and supper rooms, in which a thousand persons can sit; the tables covered with as many dishes as ever appeared at a coronation dinner. If in the North an awkward, stepping-on-your-toes, officious Irish waiter behind every chair; if in the South a pleasant looking, fat, merry, bowing and scraping used-to-the-business darkey, occupying the same position. Bed-rooms perfect; sheets immaculate; a place in which to retire perfectly assured that you will not be awakened by an invisible bed-fellow asserting priority of possession, and that in a manner so sharp as not to be disregarded. Everything all over the house in perfect order; not a particle of dust, a broom, or a bucket to be seen, so that the only wonder is, when is the work done; who does it! and how!
    The English definition is as contrary to this as it is possible to imagine. The building is not higher than three stories, and not over twenty or thirty feet broad by seventy-five deep. Go to the house at or after dark and it is as hard to gain admission as it is to the pyramids of Egypt.  Go in the daytime, knock at the door; an impudent English youth in knee breeches, powdered hair and white cravat opens it, and shows you to the proprietor's room, allowing you to carry your baggage until he is certain that you are about to become an inmate of the house for a time; he is then as servilely polite as before he was impudent. Bar-rooms, reading-rooms, dining rooms and supper rooms are all combined in one designated the "parlor". Established in the parlor you find English papers in abundance. If it is meal time order whatever you desire, you can have it, provided it happens to be in the house. They seem always to be "just out" of everything called for, and a breakfast or supper generally includes only "heggs hand bacon," very good bread and butter, and generally miserable coffee. Pay for your meals as you get them - even if you baord in the house a month. At bed time, shown to a wretchedly uncomfortable room; board partitions all round, cracks in them wide enough to allow one, without his assistance or desire, to see all the mysteries of his male or female neighbor's dressing apparatus, and to hear all secrets. Get into bed, sheets been used by unknown visitors for at least a week before your arrival, and presently discover the soul-harrowing presence of "legions" - not of angels but - of tormenting imps. Enter the parlor at nine o'clock in the morning it is all shut up, not a paper brought in, nor yet swept, and if it should be in the winter time not a fire made. Of hotels making some pretensions to elegance there are about fifteen. But of these, the best, in comparison with the American hotels is insignificant. Lower class hotels - taverns - beer shops - and gin palaces are numberless . . . . . Wealthy gentlemen residing any length of time in London, if unaccompanied by ladies and possessing an influential friend, can find a comfortable alternative by joining a club and making their abode at the club house.

W. O'Daniel, Ins and Outs of London, 1859