Stroud ditches 'Imperial' in £2m hotel makeover
By Simon Hacker | 27th March 2023
Once a handsome landmark for passengers alighting in Stroud, the Imperial Hotel, a coaching inn built in 1863 but shut down in 2020, will see a £2m construction and renovation project begin in the next few days – and not without some controversy.
The long-awaited work will be the culmination of a plan for Simon Berg of London-based S2 Estates for the town to live up to a Sunday Times award from March 2021.
That award crowned Stroud as the best place to live in the UK, but that month, Ian Mean, writing for Business and Innovation magazine, visited and branded the railway station, opposite the Imperial, as "a disgrace" adding "overall, everything else looks like a bomb site."
Undaunted, and possibly inspired by the £30m nearby investment Dransfield Properties has been making in the town's retail future, S2 Estates purchased the hotel designed by famed architect Benjamin Bucknall, the following July for £1,092,000.
Early plans for cosmetic changes to the hotel, where Laurie Lee was a regular drinker and a young Princess Elizabeth dined in 1950, were initially withdrawn, final proposals coming in the wake of the property being listed. The Imperial was one of six UK building to receive such protection during the late Queen's platinum jubilee celebrations.
In their final approval, Stroud planners accepted the bid to drop some front windows to floor level and introduce new signage, as well as make various alterations inside that include en suite additions and knocking the bar through to add connecting space.
Many Stroud residents, however, have voiced dismay at the owner's plan to change the hotel's original name and re-name it 'The Stroud'.
A Thai restaurant until it closed in 2020 and formerly a Berni Inn where, in 1973, you could dine on rump steak for £1.04 and wash it down with a glass of Beaujolais for £1.37, many locals treasure memories of the hotel and are choking on an intended name change. One reacted on social media: "What's original about calling it The Stroud?" while another asked, "Why can't the original sign stay? It's cultural vandalism."
Addressing local reaction, planning officers told the council: "Overall, there would be slight harm to the significance of the listed building through the external works, but this would be outweighed by the public benefits of bringing the building into good use.
"The application states that the existing signage high up on the station elevation will be removed, even though shown on the proposed plans. The large gold 'Imperial Hotel' sign has a mid-century kitsch appeal, and its removal would be regrettable, however, it would not be reasonable to retain it in the event of the renaming of the hotel. The replacement signage would be dealt with under a new application."
Stroud Town Council has meanwhile voiced disappointment that the work, on a now-listed building, cannot include the addition, depriving the future hotel of status as an accessible building.
Developers aim to have the hotel operational by September.
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