THE proprietor of the Windsor Hotel, Glasgow, is a native of Rudolstadt on the Saale, and after an excellent general education in the High School or Gymnasium of the town, began his career by serving an apprenticeship as a cook in the castle of the reigning Princes of Schwartzburg-Rudolstadt there.
In 1868 he left Germany, and obtained a post in the famous Lord Warden Hotel at Dover. Thence, in the same winter, he became chef in the Royal Marine Hotel at Hastings, and in 1869 he went to London to occupy the same post at the Oriental Restaurant. Next, in 1872, he removed to Edinburgh, to be chef at the Balmoral Hotel, in Princes Street. His brother, the late Mr. E. W. Thiem, at the same time became manager of the house, and the efficiency and energy of the two soon brought the hotel into a position of the first importance in the city.
After four years at the Balmoral, Mr. Thiem acquired Dejay's Hotel in Princes Street, rechristened it the Windsor, and forthwith proceeded to make it famous for comfort and good cooking. So well were his abilities recognized that for many years he was entrusted with the catering for most of the great political banquets for which Edinburgh was then famous. Among these was the great banquet to the Right Hon. A. J. Balfour in the Waverley Market in 1889, at which a seven-course dinner was served to no fewer than two thousand five hundred guests. In 1878 the late Earl of Rosslyn appointed him purveyor to the Lord High Commissioner at Holyrood, during the sitting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and so satisfactorily was the work done, that the arrangement was continued for twenty years, under no fewer than seven Lord High Commissioners.
At the same time he found time to take some part in public affairs. He acted upon the committee of Edinburgh International Exhibition of 1890, and for a number of years was a member of the High Constables' Society, rising to be captain of his ward.
In 1890 Mr. Thiem made his next important move by becoming tenant of Maclean's Hotel in St. Vincent Street, Glasgow. The house, building, and furnishing had originally cost some £80,000, but the opening of the great railway station hotels had drawn away its custom, and it had fallen upon evil days. Mr. Thiem, however, changed its name to the Windsor, purchased it in 1895 for £20,000, redecorated and refurnished it, introducing electric light, and very soon it became known and took a place as one of the best hotels in the country.
At the same time he took up another enterprise. He became a leading promoter of the succession of great panoramas which were for some successive seasons a chief sight of the city of Glasgow. Bannockburn, Trafalgar, Waterloo, and Omdurman appeared and drew crowds in turn, and Trafalgar was also shown at the Naval Exhibition in London.
An illness in 1897, which threatened serious results, induced Mr. Thiem to sell his Edinburgh hotel and resign the Holyrood appointment, but in the following year, with restored health he plunged into another huge enterprise by the purchase of Peebles Hydropathic. That establishment also had fallen on evil days. It had originally cost between £80,000 and £90,060, but had already ruined several companies when the mortgagees induced Mr. Thiem to take it off their hands at about £22,000. Forthwith, however, under its new management, like the Edinburgh and Glasgow hotels, it began to prosper again. With its baths remodelled on the newest system of the German spas, it soon became one of the places of most fashionable vogue in Scotland, and an addition had to be built at a cost of £12,000.
The great disaster of Mr. Thiem's life occurred in 1905. Peebles Hydropathic had just been floated as a limited liability company, and in three days the transfer and settlement were to take place, when in the evening, while the visitors were at dinner, fire broke out, and before morning the great house was a heap of ruins. In this emergency Mr. Thiem offered to take over the whole responsibility and return all the company subscriptions. The shareholders, however, would not allow this, and on Mr. Thiem agreeing to pay the yearly interest on the preference shares the company went on; the hydropathic was rebuilt with all the latest improvements at a cost of some £75,000, and it is now probably one of the most complete establishments of the kind in Europe. It was reopened with much eclat in March, 1907, and with Mr. Thiem as managing director, has begun a new career of prosperity.
In addition to his other activities Mr. Thiem has done much to improve the position of the Scottish waiter, and has taken the lead in establishing a society for the purpose, of which he is chairman. He was also elected chairman of the West of Scotland Hotel-keepers' and Restaurateurs' Association in 1894, and he has been a strong supporter of the German Church, both in Edinburgh and in Glasgow. He is further an accomplished linguist, and is the joint-author of several standard foreign works on cookery. One of these contains recipes in three languages for no fewer than 37.000 dishes. When, in 1895, he paid a visit to his native town in the Thuringian Forest, he received the compliment of a public dinner by the Municipality. Mr. Thiem has also received from the German Emperor the Prussian Order of the Crown in recognition of his interest in natives of Germany in Glasgow.
While Mr. Thiem is a naturalised British subject, his wife is English, and alike by her and by his sons and daughters he receives most efficient help in the conduct of his somewhat exacting business.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)