Michelin is celebrating this week the centenary of the opening of Michelin House in Chelsea. This year also marks the hundredth anniversary of the publication of the first Michelin Guide to the British Isles.
Michelin House was originally designed as a headquarters and depot building for the French tyre company's UK operations. Its extravagant architecture won it Grade II listing in 1969, and in 1985 it was sold to Sir Terence Conran and Paul Hamlyn who adapted it to its present uses as a restaurant, shop (The Conran Shop) and offices. Many of the building's original features, such as its distinctive mosaic floor, were retained, and copies were commissioned of the three large distinctive stained glass windows featuring Bibendum, the Michelin Man, which had adorned the building when it was opened. The originals were removed for safe-keeping at the beginning of the second world war but were subsequently lost.
The opening of Michelin House was celebrated with a dinner on 20th January 1911 for dignitaries such as the French ambassador and the president of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders; the event will be repeated this week for the successors of many the original participants. In connection with the centenary, Michelin has also been trying to recover the building's original stained glass windows – an information campaign and a confidential amnesty hotline have produced a number of leads, one suggesting that the windows may have got as far as Australia. A broad selection of historic Michelin-branded items is currently on display at The Conran Shop at Michelin House; many of these objects, which are keenly sought by collectors, feature the figure of Bibendum, one of the most famous and longest-established corporate symbols in the world.
The first Michelin Guide to the British Isles was issued to customers without charge but the publication became a commercial venture in 1920. It fell into abeyance in the Thirties but was revived in 1974; the emphasis of the original guide on technical information for motorists gave way to the company's now famous system of restaurant recommendations, including the awarding of the first Michelin stars to UK establishments – 25 in the first year - by the company's demanding anonymous inspectors.