Ref NoMS 618
TitleRecords of Arden and Cobden Hotels Public Limited Company, formerly Arden and Cobden Hotels Limited, formerly the Birmingham Coffee House Company Limited, formerly the Birmingham Artisans' Club House Company Limited
Date1876 - 1997
LevelCollection
Extent1.67
FormatCubic metres
Physical DescriptionThis collection consists primarily of volumes with a small quantity of paper records and photographs. Some of the bound newspaper cuttings have become brittle and must be handled with care.
AccessStatusOpen
AdminHistoryThe coffee house movement in Birmingham emerged in large part as a progressive social improvement scheme directed at combating the damaging social affects of alcoholism and drunkenness prevalent in late Victorian England. In addition to addressing social disorder among the working classes, coffee houses also offered investors, including many prominent social reformers, a potentially lucrative and morally upright business venture that was to have a lasting impact on Birmingham.

While Birmingham had been at the forefront of a number of progressive social movements, the construction of coffee and cocoa houses came relatively late to the city. Arguably, the catalyst for the movement in Birmingham was Simon Short, who had opened successful coffee houses in Bristol and Liverpool. The social impetus behind the movement appealed to many of Birmingham’s civic leaders, particularly to philanthropist Albert Wright. On 31 July 1875 the Birmingham Artisans’ Club House Company Limited was created. Among the company’s early members were Joseph Chamberlain, Arthur Albright, Frank Schadhorst, James Whateley, Joel Cadbury, Alfred Wright, William Cook, M. J. Hart, W. H. Hart, William White, Rev. J. T. Butlin, H. A. Barnard and R. F. Martineau.

The Birmingham Artisans’ Club House Company did not initially involve itself in coffee and cocoa houses. Its first two establishments, the St. George’s Club on Smith Street and Bordesley House on Watery Lane, offered rooms for reading, debating and smoking. There were modest dining facilities as well as beds for the night at a small charge. It can be surmised that the earliest incarnation of the Birmingham Coffee House Company Mutual Improvement Society, a forum for debate and discussion of contemporary political and social issues, came into being during this period.

In 1877 Simon Short was invited to Birmingham to help lead an expansion of the Company into coffee and cocoa houses. On 07 June 1877 the Birmingham Artisans’ Club House Company Ltd. was renamed the Birmingham Coffee House Company Limited to reflect its new direction. While the majority of board members remained through this transition, Arthur Albright, Frank Schadhorst and James Whatley left their positions. At the same time, support for the Company emerged from the Non-Conformist community who were keen to embrace the temperance influenced coffee house programme. William White led the board as chairman, a position he was to hold until his death in 1900.

Under Short’s leadership the Birmingham Coffee House Company rapidly expanded its operations. The first coffee house was opened on Coleshill Road. Simon Short’s son, Samuel Edward Short, was brought in to manage this new establishment. During the first fifteen months the Company five further coffee houses. The Company looked for street corner properties to maximize their visibility. Initial leases for properties were on a short term basis. However, the success of many of the early coffee houses led to the acquisition of longer leases. Samuel Short’s tenure with the Company was to prove a long one. He was appointed to the board in 1909 and to chairman in 1916. He held this post until his death in 1935.

Financial returns alone did not provide an adequate measure for the success of Birmingham’s coffee houses. While financial concerns became more prominent over time, some coffee houses were kept open while running at a loss to ensure their continual generation of social benefits. During the early years of the Company a number of coffee houses failed to remain viable, in part due to their own success. It was a common practice for landlords to raise rents to such a level that hitherto profitable establishments lost their leases and were forced to reopen elsewhere.

In 1881 the board of the Birmingham Coffee House Company decided to invest in the construction of a new hotel and café on Corporation Street. The site was leased in May 1881 with a further expansion in 1883 when William Ross, who owned adjacent property on Cherry Street, sold his interest to the Company for £5,000. These properties became the site of the original Cobden Hotel.

The Cobden Hotel opened in 1883. The guest of honour at the opening ceremony was progressive M.P. and temperance supporter, John Bright. It was likely to have been Bright who suggested that the hotel be named after his late friend, Richard Cobden who had been an energetic advocate for the repeal of the Corn Laws during the 1840s.

The original Cobden Hotel was a rather Spartan establishment. The first vacuum cleaner was introduced in 1936 and the first en suite television in 1955 shortly before its closure. The lease on the Cobden ran to 1959. Following the Second World War there was some hope this lease could be extended. However this did not occur and the property firm, Wilkinson and Randall sold the lease to Harrods for development as a new Rackhams department store. A phased closure of the Cobden occurred between April 1959 and June 1959. Furnishings were transferred to a new site on the Hagley Road that would soon become the new Cobden Hotel. On 05 June 1959 the original Cobden Hotel closed its doors. Its demolition followed shortly thereafter.

The evening the old Cobden Hotel closed the new Cobden Hotel opened. The loss of the lease on the Cherry Hill and Corporation Street site had led the Company to enter into negotiations with the Calthorpe Estate for suitable property on the Hagley Road. A group of small leaseholds were acquired to form the core of the new Cobden Hotel. The original sixty bedrooms were later supplemented by the addition of the Calthorpe Wing and a further 110 bedrooms.

Under the leadership of William White the Birmingham Coffee House Company continued to expand its operations. The success of the original Cobden Hotel led the board to approve funds for the acquisition of property for a second hotel. In January 1896 the directors leased a piece of land next to the King Edward VI Grammar School in New Street. This was to be the site for the new ‘Hen and Chickens’ shop, hotel and coffee house. The name selected was a familiar one to Birmingham in that ‘Hen and Chickens’ inns and hotels had been in existence off and on since the 1740s. J.A. Chatwin was appointed architect on the new project and James Moffat and Company the builders.

The Hen and Chickens opened its doors on 24 May 1898. Like its cousin, the Cobden Hotel, the Hen and Chickens was remodelled and improved over the years to incorporate additional bedrooms and modern amenities. Major works were completed in 1938, the same year the board decided to change the name of the hotel from the Hen and Chickens to the Arden Hotel. This decision was made partly due to the fact that ‘Hen and Chickens’ sounded too much like a pub. Further expansion after the war left the Arden with over one hundred bedrooms, a milk bar, called the Wimpy Bar and conference facilities. Due to the loss of leases the Arden began to lose capacity, with thirty-four rooms going in 1970. By 1972 the Arden Hotel was closed and in March 1973 the building was completely demolished.

In 1939 the board of directors at the Birmingham Coffee House Company decided to alter the name of the company to more accurately reflect the function of the business. The old name was dropped in favour of Arden and Cobden Hotels Limited, later Arden and Cobden Hotels Public Limited Company. This change occurred shortly before the appointment of Henry Donald Moffat to the chairmanship of the company. Both Moffat’s father, William, and his grandfather James has been involved in the company for many years. James Moffat had been an active supporter, though not a member, of the Birmingham Artisans’ Club House Company. William Moffat had been on the board of directors since 1928. Henry Donald Moffat joined the board in 1936 and was appointed managing director in 1942 and later chairman. He remained in this post until his retirement in the mid-1980s.

Shortly after being appointed managing director, Moffat and the board began to consider further expansion of the company’s hotel interests. This was partly due to uncertainly over the extension of the lease on the Cobden Hotel and partly due to a shortage of city hotel capacity ahead of the annual British Industries Fair held in Castle Bromwich. A site was chosen on the Hagley Road (near the site later chosen for the new Cobden Hotel but separate from the Calthorpe Estate) and remains in use to this day.

The Norfolk Hotel opened in 1948 with forty-five bedrooms. Nearby properties were purchased when possible to allow for further development. By 1956 the Norfolk had been expanded to 86 rooms. On 16 March 1956 the Lord Mayor, Alderman A. Lumis Gibson inaugurated a further extension of the Norfolk. A four-story addition was added leaving the Norfolk with 130 bedrooms by completion in 1961. Another forty-four rooms were added during the 1970s.

In 1986 the Norfolk and Cobden Hotels applied for and were granted liquor licenses, ending the venerable temperance tradition that had been established at the founding of the Birmingham Coffee House Company in 1877. The Norfolk Hotel has previously allowed alcohol at weddings, providing it was supplied by guests.

In 1985 businessman Henry Edwards made a bid to purchase Arden and Cobden Hotels PLC. The bid was successful and H. Donald Moffat, having sold his interest in the company, announced his retirement. Under the new name Friendly Hotels PLC, the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1986. In 1994 the US based Choice Hotels International acquired the company as a franchise. At this time the Norfolk Hotel was renamed the Comfort Inn, Edgbaston. In August 2001 the company name changed from Friendly Hotels PLC to C.H.E. Group PLC. In June 2005 the company name changed again to C.H.E. Hotels Group PLC. In August 2007 the name was changed to The Real Hotel Company PLC. The Norfolk Hotel was sold in 2002. The new Cobden Hotel was sold to Cobden Hotels Limited in 2009. The company went into administration in 2009.
ArrangementMS 618 - Records of Arden and Cobden Public Limited Company and its predecessors

MS 618/1 - Corporate records
MS 618/1/1 - Executive minute books
MS 618/1/2 - Directors' minute books
MS 618/1/3 - Certificates of incorporation
MS 618/1/4 - Company purchase and sale records
MS 618/1/5 - Annual and general meeting records

MS 618/2 - Share records
MS 618/2/1 - Dividend books
MS 618/2/2 - Shareholder registers
MS 618/2/3 - Transfer registers
MS 618/2/4 - Annual list, summary and returns registers
MS 618/2/5 - Application and allotment records
Ms 618/2/6 - Notices to shareholders

MS 618/3 - Internal administration (no records at this time)

MS 618/4 - Accounting and financial records
MS 618/4/1 - Annual reports and balance sheets
MS 618/4/2 - General cash books
MS 618/4/3 - General trading account books
MS 618/4/4 - Purchase journals
MS 618/4/5 - Purchase ledgers
MS 618/4/6 - Sales books
MS 618/4/7 - Sales ledger
MS 618/4/8 - Employee and special account records
MS 618/4/9 - Cheque payments book
MS 618/4/10 - Cash received book

MS 618/5 - Legal (no records at this time)

MS 618/6 - Operational records
MS 618/6/1 - Records of the Visiting Committee of the Birmingham Coffee House Company Ltd.

MS 618/7 - Marketing, public relations and celebrations
MS 618/7/1 - Newspaper cuttings and scrapbooks
MS 618/7/2 - Arden and Cobden Hotels Ltd. centenary celebration papers
MS 618/7/3 - Photographs
MS 618/7/4 - Records pertaining to the official opening of the Calthorpe Wing of the new Cobden Hotel
MS 618/7/5 - Menus and advertising material
MS 618/7/6 - Press releases and correspondence
MS 618/7/7 - Material pertaining to the retirement of Henry Donald Moffat

MS 618/8 - Staff and employment records (no records at this time)

MS 618/9 - Premises and property records
MS 618/9/1 - Property valuations
MS 618/9/2 - Birmingham Coffee House Company Ltd. log book

MS 618/10 - Records of related organizations
MS 618/10/1 - Records of the Birmingham Coffee House Company Mutual Improvement Society

MS 618/11 - Other
MS 618/11/1 - Hotel fixtures and objects
MS 618/11/2 - Histories of the Company and the Birmingham coffee house movement
MS 618/11/3 - Personal correspondence
CreatorNameArden and Cobden Hotels Public Limited Company and predecessor firms Arden and Cobden Hotels Limited., the Birmingham Coffee House Company Limited and the Birmingham Artisans' Club House Company Limited.
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