Cromwell hotel reclaims its rightful place in Stevenage Old Town's heritage with impressive refurbishment
PUBLISHED: 18:12 14 October 2017 | UPDATED: 18:12 14 October 2017
Danny Loo Photography 2017
The history of Stevenage’s Cromwell Hotel may be somewhat murky and lost in the mists of time, but that just makes it all the more intriguing.
The High Street hotel and inn has been transformed by its new owners Distinct Group with its fascinating history very much to the fore.
Partition walls have been demolished and old features given a new lease of life so that the pub now once again stands proudly as a symbol of the Stevenage of times gone by.
The earliest roots of the hotel are hard to trace. It seems there were early buildings on the site that pre-date the current structure at 25 to 27 High Street.
One of these seems to have dated as far back as 1667 as a foundation stone – purportedly from that date – still adorns the fireplace in the Cromwell’s bar.
Certainly there were farmhouses on the site and part of the current building probably dates to the mid 18th century. It remained a private house until the early 20th century, but was officially given a licence as a hotel in 1929 when it became the Central Commercial and Family Hotel.
Much has been made of the building’s possible links to the civil war, but this is questionable. It relies on the fact that Cromwell’s right-hand man John Thurloe owned land in Stevenage and possibly owned the farmhouse at the site. As Cromwell’s head of intelligence, he was a powerful and controversial figure. It is even possible that Cromwell visited him there. As for the rumour that there are tunnels under the hotel which were used as hideouts in the civil war – we will leave that to your imagination.
The civil war link has however been brought to the fore with new portraits in the bar and restaurant areas – which has now been renamed the Rump & Wade. They include such notable figures as Charles I and II, Nell Gwyn and Oliver Cromwell himself, and have been stylishly reproduced giving the rooms the stately air of an art gallery.
The grand fireplace inscribed with the date 1667 has also been refurbished and has been used as part of a comfortable seating area.
Wooden panels lining some walls and corridors may not be original, but offer a period feel.
Finally the hotel’s historic 1930s clock has been given a much-needed refurb and, after being stuck at 3.15 for as long as anyone can remember, is now looking swish and telling the time once again.
The Cromwell was owned by a French family in the 1920s and 1930s, and became well established.
During the Second World War it was reportedly used as a billet for Canadian pilots, and the famous orchestral conductor Sir Henry Wood frequently stayed there before his death in Hitchin in 1944.
In 1963, an episode of cult television series The Saint was filmed there and its lead actor Roger Moore was a guest.
There was an extensive refurb in the 1960s which gave the hotel the distinctive look most Stevenage people will still remember from attending numerous weddings, christenings and funerals there.
The 1990s and 2000s saw it enter a disruptive period of rapidly changing owners before the current firm bought it and began to give it some much-needed money and attention.
Manager Dean Thompson is rightly proud and enthusiastic about how the venue is helping to revive the historic heart of the Old Town.
He told the Comet: “We’re just trying to become part of the community again. A lot of hotel chains would have said this kind of thing is an unnecessary expense, but we want it to look good and want people to enjoy the building.”
Assistant manager Stuart Hamilton added: “The Cromwell is a fantastic historical hotel and has been an integral part of the town for 90 years.
“It was an important stopping point in the hey day of travel along the Great North Road in the 1920s and 1930s, and is a marvellous place to stay.
“It’s exciting that it’s once again becoming an integral feature of the Old Town and it’s great the company is putting the investment in to bring the Cromwell back to its former glory.”
For more about the hotel, visit cromwellstevenage.co.uk.