The Official Holiday Guide – Steve Brown

Local estate agent, auctioneer and now writer Steve Brown is ‘Woolacombe born and bred’, representing the third generation of one of the oldest ‘boarding house’ families in the village. In his first book, he relates with warmth and humour the fun and trauma of growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s in what was then a fledgling resort. 

Further information on how to obtain a copy of Steve’s book please email him directly at 

 The ‘Official Holiday Guide’

I turn to my collection of ‘Woolacombe & Mortehoe ‘ Official Holiday Guides’ and particularly the 1956 edition. This black & white publication leads with a charming photograph of a lady of at least late-middle age, complete with the obligatory swimming cap securely buckled under her chin, and we are told on page 21 that ‘The front cover of this publication is an actual photograph taken at Woolacombe of a visitor enjoying surf riding and it is interesting to note that surfboards can be hired locally’. (Surely that will never catch on?) Aficionados might well confirm that the surfboard in question could well be an early 1950’s ‘Baron’ Watts plywood model available from Mr Yeo’s kiosk next door to the Chemist (pictured below), or from the various hotels, their name painted boldly on the top.

71 Bert

A prominent advertisement by British Railways advises visitors to ‘Travel to Mortehoe & Woolacombe by Rail’, and that ‘Refreshment Car Express operate daily from London (Paddington and Waterloo), the latter service including the famous Atlantic Coast Express’.

Atlantic Coast Express - Old Photo Editpic_1978-1434

So what would attract the 1950’s visitor to ‘The Holiday Maker’s paradise where the war Gulf Stream flows into Britain’s most perfect bay?’

Firstly, we are advised that ‘For a family man a fortnight in this part of Devon is the best possible annual investment he can make. Concrete promenades, amusement arcades etc. will not be found here, yet for those requiring the evening contrast of bright lights, theatres and cinemas it is only twenty minutes by bus or car to Illfracombe.’

Interestingly, the article continues ‘For those who care to consult authoritative records it will be seen that (Woolacombe) enjoys considerably higher temperatures….’ and ‘The average rainfall is much less than elsewhere.’ Apparently, ‘While many resorts make a similar claim, few can substantiate it.’


A bold claim indeed and one could sympathies with a disappointed holidaymaker today had he or she been seduced into booking after reading:

…the warm tropical waters bring summer conditions to this fortunate part of England weeks earlier than districts elsewhere.

Thankfully ‘Spring visitors frequently express amazement at the beautiful weather in April and May.’

Turning to the hotels on display, 6 to 11 guineas per person would purchase a week’s ‘board residence’ in a small private hotel, and there was certainly a wide choice. So how does each one set its store to attracting the visitor in this competitive market?

The ‘spring interior mattress’ would seem to be the major carrot to dangle in front of the 1956 holidaymaker. Most establishments proudly offer this facility, but the Rockham Bay hotel goes one better as the beds ‘….encourage one to rise later than one planned’ – although hopefully not too late to enjoy the ‘good Devonshire food and farm produce’ offered for breakfast. This latter is a recurring theme as many establishments offer ‘Devonshire cream served daily’ and ‘own produce and poultry’ – doubtless a reference to this post war period when all such households were encouraged to keep their own fowl. As ever, the preoccupation with food continues, with many hotels majoring on ‘picnic lunches and packed teas’.


The  ‘newest and most modern hotel’ is the claim of The Headlands, having been built in the 1930s, and this is proved by a three-figure phone number as opposed to the two digits with which everyone else had to be content. The Pandora, meanwhile, which may well contest the ‘newest’ claim, tempts the visitor with ‘electric lights throughout’ and separate tables’ obviously trying to combat the Watersmeet with electric fires in all bedrooms’ and the Whin Bay – ‘bedside lamps’. Phew!

As ever, we must leave it to The Narracoot to trump them all with a singular word ‘ TELEVISION’

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