James Bond movies were filmed there – now it’s being turned into Raffles London luxury hotel
- The Old War Office (The OWO) in London’s Whitehall is the site of the newest Raffles hotel, Raffles London. The hotel will open around the start of 2023
- The 120-room luxury hotel will take advantage of the important historical building’s grand features, and will boast 11 restaurants and bars, and a spa
The instructions were to arrive at “the Spies Entrance” in Whitehall at six o’clock sharp.
The intriguing missive was not an assignation with M or Moneypenny but an invitation to take a “first look” at Raffles London at The OWO (The Old War Office) – the first British outpost of the Singapore-based hotel brand – part of the Accor group – and part-owned by Indian conglomerate the Hinduja Group.
Completed in 1906, the building was the centre of operations through two world wars and home to the British secret service. Lawrence of Arabia had a desk here and James Bond creator Ian Fleming was a regular visitor.
It’s no coincidence that scenes in several Bond films were shot at The OWO. In Skyfall (2012), Daniel Craig’s 007 stands on top of the building looking moodily over the rooftops.
As it turns out, the Spies Entrance, formerly frequented by agents, is discreetly positioned at the back of the building and is now the access for the Raffles’ luxury apartments. The main hotel entry is on Whitehall itself, the road running between the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square that gives its name to the wider area.
While the Edwardian Baroque facade of this vast building is currently hidden behind hoardings, once inside, the sheer scale of the place is immediately apparent. And although the transformation into a 120-room luxury hotel is still in progress, what’s already visible are the restored original features, such as oak-panelled walls, grand fireplaces and cornicing on the high ceilings.
In the entrance hall is an impressive marble staircase on which successive statesman have stepped.
Overhead is a balcony from which Winston Churchill would address staff, says Raffles London managing director Philippe Leboeuf, a recruit from the Mandarin Oriental Group.
On the upper floors, the mosaic-laid corridors – some 3km (2 miles) of them – were once abuzz with messenger boys running.
The former secretary of state’s office – which at different times was occupied by Lord Kitchener, David Lloyd George, Churchill and John Profumo – is being turned into a suite. The space overlooks Horse Guards Parade, the historic Horse Guards military headquarters and The Household Cavalry Museum.
We’re also shown inside one of the turrets facing Whitehall, with its huge, curved glass windows – a spectacular space for a guest room. In the middle portion of the hotel, overlooking a large courtyard, The Poppy suite will occupy three storeys.
New additions to the building include four subterranean floors that will house a spa and health club – including a swimming pool, gym, yoga studio, sauna and steam room.
Raffles at The OWO is expected to open sometime between December 2022 and March 2023. The hotel will be open several days a year for tours, making the building and its history accessible to the public – as well as guests – for the first time.