Savoy, Westminster

A compact precinct situated south of the Strand and west of Lancaster Place

Savoy statue

In 1245 Hen­ry III grant­ed this place to his wife’s uncle, Peter, Count of Savoy, who built him­self a palace here. After the count left in 1263 the Savoy Palace became the res­i­dence of Eleanor of Castile, wife of Prince Edward – who became Edward I in 1272. The palace was lat­er giv­en to Queen Eleanor’s sec­ond son, Edmund of Lan­cast­er. In the lat­ter part of the 14th cen­tu­ry it was the res­i­dence of John of Gaunt, who vir­tu­al­ly ruled Eng­land from here for sev­er­al years.

Most of the orig­i­nal build­ings were destroyed by Wat Tyler’s fol­low­ers dur­ing the Peas­ants’ Revolt in 1381, but Hen­ry VII bequeathed funds for the recon­struc­tion of the palace as a home for the poor, which was named St John’s Hos­pi­tal. It became a mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal, then a bar­racks under Charles II.

A chapel was built with­in the Savoy precinct in 1505-12 and, after the destruc­tion of St Mary le Strand by Edward Sey­mour, it became known as St Mary le Savoy. The chapel remains an impor­tant part of the Savoy estate, the Duchy of Lancaster’s prin­ci­pal Lon­don land­hold­ing. Mem­bers of the pub­lic are wel­come to attend ser­vices in what is now the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy.

In the late 17th cen­tu­ry the Savoy precinct became a noto­ri­ous place of sanc­tu­ary for des­per­a­does and out­laws, who were nick­named ‘Savo­yards’ – a term orig­i­nal­ly applied to natives of Savoy in France. (Lat­er, the word was used for per­form­ers in, or devo­tees of, the Savoy operas – see below.)

Except for the chapel, the old Savoy build­ings were demol­ished with the con­struc­tion of John Rennie’s Water­loo Bridge, which was com­plet­ed in 1831.

Hidden London: Savoy Court by David Hallam Jones
Savoy Court

In 1881 the impre­sario Richard D’Oyly Carte built the Savoy The­atre to stage his pro­duc­tions of the Gilbert and Sul­li­van operettas. It opened with Patience, which trans­ferred from anoth­er the­atre, and the first orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion here was Iolan­the in 1882. The the­atre is now part of the Ambas­sador group and presents mod­ern, musi­cal-based pro­duc­tions.

The suc­cess of the Savoy operas enabled D’Oyly Carte to com­mis­sion the con­struc­tion of the Savoy hotel, on the site of the for­mer Savoy Palace. Its first man­ag­er was César Ritz (who went on to found the Ritz hotel) and its first chef was Auguste Escoffi­er, who cre­at­ed the Peach Mel­ba here in hon­our of Dame Nel­lie Melba’s vis­it in 1892.

In 1898 the Savoy acquired Simpson’s‑in-the-Strand, which had evolved from a chess club and cof­fee house into London’s best-known restau­rant for tra­di­tion­al British fare, espe­cial­ly a roast beef din­ner.

The restau­ran­t’s orig­i­nal build­ings were demol­ished when the Strand was widened in 1903 and Simpson’s was rebuilt as part of the com­plex linked to the hotel.

In 1923 the BBC estab­lished its first stu­dios in an office block on Savoy Hill. The build­ing, which is now called Savoy Hill House, remained the BBC’s head­quar­ters until 1932.

A con­sor­tium head­ed by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bought the Savoy hotel in 2005 and award­ed the man­age­ment con­tract to Fair­mont Hotels and Resorts. In Decem­ber 2007 the hotel closed in order to under­go a lav­ish restora­tion that took almost three years to com­plete. Some of the Savoy’s his­toric mem­o­ra­bil­ia are now on dis­play in a small muse­um space locat­ed left of the entrance to the Amer­i­can Bar.

Arnold Bennett’s Imperial Palace (1930), his last and longest novel, is set in the Savoy hotel.

The hotel features as the place of punishment of ‘Godolphin Horne’, the subject of one of Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children (1907) and a well-born child who is beset by the sin of pride: “So now Godolphin is the Boy / Who blacks the Boots at the Savoy.”

Postal district: WC2
Further reading: Siobhan Doran, Savoy: The Restoration, Dewi Lewis, 2011
* The picture of Savoy Court on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright David Hallam-Jones, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence. The photo of the stainless steel sign over Savoy Court (at the top of the page, with the sculpture of Count Peter of Savoy) is courtesy of the conservators and restorers Hare & Humphreys.