Robert Fleming established Flemings Hotel in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, when over 6 million visitors came to London to see the event and required overnight accommodation.
A brief timeline
He was born in 1820 to William Fleming, a shoemaker from Devon. He entered private service at an early age and rose in position to become valet for the Marquis of Angelsey, working at their grand London home Uxbridge House at No. 1 Old Burlington Street in Mayfair. It was also known as No. 7 Burlington Gardens and is now the Abercrombie and Fitch store.
In 1854 he married Mary Lamb, that on their marriage certificate has Robert listed as a Hotelkeeper residing at 10 Half Moon Street. The 1841 census records Mary and Robert working as junior domestic servants in the same household of the Marquis. Mary subsequently moved from Uxbridge House and is recorded in the 1851 census as Housekeeper to her brother-in-law whilst Robert had risen to valet position, the Marquis' personal assistant and a senior position in his household.
As live-in servants, both Robert and Mary would have saved a large proportion of their earnings. For Robert, in particular, working in a senior position for a high-ranking aristocrat, this would have meant being paid a very high salary for the time. It would have been sufficient for him to acquire No. 10 Half Moon Street in1851, leave the service of the Marquis, and capitalise on the influx of visitors to the Great Exhibition.
By 1855 Robert and Mary had expanded the premises and were described as running a 'Private Hotel' at Nos. 9and 10 Half Moon Street. Their combined resources, skills and experience made a formidable team in a business targeted at serving the aristocracy and London's gentry.
Flemings Hotel has expanded over the years and now caters to clients from all over the world. However, it remains true to the same service ethos and standards originally defined by the founder Robert Fleming.
Half Moon Street and English Literature
Half Moon Street was developed in 1730 and took its name from the Half Moon alehouse that once stood on the East side of the street at the corner with Piccadilly. From the late18th century onwards, most of the houses on the street let 'apartments'. Indeed at the time, elite masculine privileges had sustained a highly developed housing market for wealthy men. Letting rooms in bachelor chambers in prestigious residential areas like Mayfair forged independent urban lives before marriage. From the early 19th century, such accommodation was supplemented by the development of apartment houses and residential hotels like Flemings. Initially built as individual family properties, middle-class men's demand for decent accommodation meant the large terraced houses were quickly subdivided, as was the case with the proliferation of "private apartments and bachelor apartments" in Half Moon Street.
The street perhaps has had greater prominence in fiction than reality, but it has been home to some of the most enduring talents in English literature who resided on Half Moon Street in these apartments. Writers have found the essence of elegant Mayfair encapsulated in the street's location, and taking a trip down this literary memory lane promises meetings with some of history's most fascinating fictional characters. It is not only the writers of fiction who have been taken with this Mayfair address. James Boswell dwelt in the street in 1768, having taken lodgings at 'Mr Russel's, Upholsters'. Boswell is the author of the definitive biography of Samuel Johnson. Boswell's 'Life of Johnson' is the unsurpassed standard of biographical writing in the English language. Samuel Johnson compiled the first dictionary, and Boswell's biography lives up to the towering statue of the man it details, displaying an unrivalled authority on its subject.
William Hazlitt lived at No.40 Half Moon street from 1827 - 1829. Hazlitt was an English writer, drama and literary critic, painter, social commentator, and philosopher. He is now considered one of the greatest critics and essayists in the history of the English language, placed in the Company of Samuel Johnson and George Orwell.
Frances (Fanny) Burney, also known as Madame D'Arblay, lived at No 1 Half Moon Street from 1828 until 1837.Born in 1752, she was a talented, gifted, and largely self-taught writer. She should go down in history as a woman of tremendous courage, having written the earliest known patient's perspective of a mastectomy - in her case, performed without anaesthetic. This operation was carried out in Paris in 1811. Burney painfully composed a detailed narrative of her illness and operation for her family and friends in England during the months that followed.
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen,MC, lived at 40 Half Moon Street in 1918. He was a soldier and one of the leading poets of the First World War. His shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his friend and mentor Siegfried Sassoon and stood in stark contrast both to the public perception of war at the time and to the confidently patriotic verse written by earlier war poets such as Rupert Brooke.
Of particular note is the American author Henry James who resided at No 7 Half Moon Street in 1868 when he first arrived in London. James was one of the major novelists of the late19th and early 20th centuries whose works deal primarily with the impact of Europe and its society on Americans. After initially looking at some 'dingy' lodgings, James had practical recourse to the beneficent Charles Elliot Norton, a family friend. The latter had come to England with his family from America the previous summer. Norton was an American author, social critic, and professor of art. He was a progressive social reformer and a liberal activist whom many of his contemporaries considered the most cultivated man in the United States. Norton had a peculiar genius for friendship, and whilst James knew no one in London, Norton knew everyone. Immediately helping him with the lodging problem, he put him in touch with someone who put him in touch with an "old servant of some old genteel family - who lets out floors on Half Moon Street to gentlemen". He was immediately comfortable and waited on with obsequious punctuality.
Richard Branson also has a connection with Half Moon Street. According to his website, "Speaking of fitting names, Virgin Galactic's address in London was No.6 Half Moon Street...We named the road which leads up to the Spaceport America - Half Moon Street too."
Half Moon Street, though is famous for its fictional residents; Algernon Moncreiff from Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest; the scene is the morning room pf Algernon's flat on Half Moon Street, and the room is luxuriously and artistically furnished; and PG Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster, who had an apartment there where he was looked after by the unflappable and faithful 'Gentleman's Gentleman' Jeeves.
Although Half Moon Street is now one of London's most luxurious addresses, back in the 1880's Victorian London was a much more colourful and bohemian place where many 'confirmed bachelors' lived and socialised. The Gannon Apartments at 14 Half Moon Street were one of half a dozen bachelor apartments' in Victorian-era Half Moon Street which provided accommodation for young single male tenants living in London seeking to advance their careers and fortunes. The Gannon Apartments were popular with young men-about-town as they were directly adjacent to Flemings Hotel at No. 10, run by Robert Fleming, and which at the time also had a tavern that Wilde often frequented. All of Wilde's real-life experiences in and around Half Moon Street contributed to this, his most comedy play, 'The Importance of Being Earnest.
To complete a thorough exploration of Half Moon Street made famous by British authors, consideration should be made of Flemings Hotel as the inspiration of Agatha Christie in her book At Bertram's Hotel. In it, Christie created a mystery: She gave tantalising descriptions of everyone's idea of the quintessential London hotel- "dignified, unostentatious, and quietly expensive" - but omitted the specifics that would enable readers to identify the particular hotel serving as the model. Two hotels in Mayfair - Brown's or Flemings - may have been used. However, one unimpeachable authority supports Flemings as the more likely model. Before publication, Agatha changed Bertram's manager's name because it was too close to that of the real one at Flemings. Edmund Cork, Christie's agent, told Agatha that he had changed Crescent Street to Square Street to disguise further Flemings on Half Moon Street where Robert Fleming, a Scot, opened a small private hotel at No. 10. The hotel currently compromises Nos 7 to 12 Half Moon street and six townhouses at the rear in Clarges Street. Extensively modernised, until very recently, Flemings retained enough of its character to seem a convincing model for Bertram's.