The present Council offices in King Edwards Square were originally built as “The Royal Hotel”. With the arrival of the railway in Sutton in 1862 a group of businessmen who had promoted the railway set up the Royal Hotel Company, speculating that Sutton would become a popular resort like Buxton or Leamington Spa, and needed a grand hotel to accommodate wealthy visitors. Of the Directors, only Thomas Chavasse was from Sutton, the others, Payn, Lucy, Gwyther and Elwell, were financiers from Edgbaston and Handsworth. The luxurious hotel opened in May 1865, two years later than the hoped-for 1863, which is the date still to be seen picked out in darker bricks on the side of the building.
A newspaper report of the opening described the hotel, with its “domestic offices” in the basement; there was a spacious entrance hall on the ground floor, ladies and gents coffee rooms, a smoking room, a billiard room, a sitting room and a dining room, all “most handsomely fitted up”. On the first floor were a number of suites consisting of sitting room and bedroom, with a piano in each sitting room, as well as single rooms and bathrooms; there were more bedrooms on the second floor. The tower housed an observatory giving commanding views. The writer approved of the design, by the Birmingham architect Mr. E. Holmes, in an adaptation of the Early English style.
The same newspaper included an advertisement placed by the manager, J. J. Short - board and lodging cost ten shillings per day, dinner from four shillings. “A TABLE D’HOTE is established to be served at half past five p.m., for the accommodation of parties leaving Birmingham by the 4.20 p.m. train who can return as late as 9.45 p.m. thus affording Gentlemen an opportunity of enjoying an excellent repast on terms and in style not hitherto attempted in the Midland District”.
An inaugural dinner was held on the fourth of May, recorded by Sarah Holbeche in her Diary “The Directors’ Dinner - a few favoured individuals invited”. Miss Holbeche was critical of the hotel project, believing it was far too costly and badly planned, and an interference in Sutton affairs by Birmingham men. She records in the diary entry for December 18 1864 that the company purchased Mr. Genders’ property on High Street with tea rooms at the back for £1400, “all to be pulled down”, and the following February she notes that a new road to the hotel is under construction on the site (now King Edwards Square), remarking that the company had only lately realised that they had “no means of getting carriages to the door” On March 26 1865“Heard the Bell at the Hotel, The Royal Hotel!!! May its clapper tell the tale I fear of failure, alas! I think for the shareholders.”
Miss Holbeche noted on December 2nd 1865 “the anticipated failure of the Royal Hotel; it had a short run”. Soon news of the unpaid bills leaked out, a month later there was a meeting “to arrange the consequences of the Great Swindle” and on January 24th it was agreed that the company would pay ten shillings in the pound to the creditors, being £13,000 in debt. The Hotel was put up for sale by auction, and the Diary notes “28th March - Grand stir among the directors - £4,000 bid for what cost £21,000”. Sarah Holbeche’s final comment on the failure: “indeed, who could have expected it? Everybody who could say 2+2 are 4”.