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Another London mystery solved: why do cars drive on the right at the Savoy Hotel?

Posted at 11:00 am, April 28, 2012 in Secret London
London Mysteries

Each week we solve one of London’s great mysteries (as submitted by you, the reader). This week,  Lucy Still from Stoke Newington asked: “I passed the Savoy hotel the other day and noticed that cars were driving up to its entrance on the right hand side of the road. Is this just a case of one rule for the rich?”

Well Lucy…

You’ve pretty much nailed it. For more than a hundred years, vehicles of the horse-drawn or mechanical kind have entered and left ‘Savoy Court’, the private thoroughfare that leads up to the hotel’s front doors, on the right-hand side of the street. It is the only road in the UK where this is the case, special dispensation to do so being granted by legislation thus avoiding a contravention of British traffic regulations.

We spoke to the Savoy Hotel’s archivist Susan Scott to find out why their little road insists on breaking the rules. ‘I have heard any number of reasons to explain the anomaly over the years, each possibly more ludicrous than the previous,’ says Scott, who adds that the most common assumption is that it’s to please visiting Americans. ‘Sadly the real reason is entirely prosaic. It is to prevent cars dropping off or picking up people at the Savoy Theatre (which is next to the hotel on the Strand) from blocking the hotel’s entrance.’

An Act of Parliament was passed in 1902 allowing carriages and cars to enter Savoy Court on the right. Even if there was a queue of cars for the theatre, cars and taxis for the hotel could cut directly past all of that,’ says Scott, who says that the turn of the century and into the 1920s was a ‘golden age’ for both establishments. There were other benefits to having the cars approach the hotel on the right-hand side. Ladies would traditionally sit behind their chauffeur, and so female film stars and dignitaries could exit their car in style – their door being opened immediately by their driver, who didn’t need to walk around the vehicle – allowing them to sweep from the car straight into the building. Oh, what it is to be rich and famous…  Clare Considine

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