The Worth family lived in Woolacombe, Frederick, Derek’s father, worked at the Woolacombe Bay Hotel during the second world war, as their own house had been taken over by the army when Woolacombe was used as a training base for the American Army. The family had rooms in an annexe of the hotel, whilst their belongings were stored at nearby Watermouth Castle.
A wonderful feature in the BBC’s WW2 People’s War by ‘Woolacombe Girl’, recalls the family and how “Mr Worth proudly brought his son in his newley acquired Pilots Wings to talk to the young men soon to follow in his footsteps. Derek was always popular and highly regarded by his peers”.
Sadly in 1941 during a training excerise in Scotland, Derek would die in a terrible accident. The news was reported on the 27th November 1941 in the North Devon Journal:
Death of Sub-Lieut Derek Worth
Woolacombe Parent’s Sad Bereavement.
“The parishoners of Mortehoe and Woolacombe extend sympathy in fullest measure to Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Worth of Devonia, Woolacombe in the loss through death of their only son Sub-Lieut Derek Worth of the Fleet Air Army, who gave his life in his country service. He was aged 21.”
His funeral a few weeks later conducted at Woolacombe’s parish church was attended by the entire village and included a detachement of the Home Guard, Naval Air Arm, Special Police and regular forces.
In 1887 an event took place in Mortehoe that would be later reported in the press as ‘The Strange Proceedings at Mortehoe’, it would be a case that would end at the House of Commons and receive national press.
On the land where Ada’s Terrace now stands, opposite the Methodist Church, there used to be a small chapel and burial ground. This was owned at one time by Mr. T. Smith of Duckpool Farm, Mortehoe, the land having been given to his sister Mrs. M. Irwin of Dukes Cottage. It was she who had the chapel built, with the ground later being used for family graves. These can be seen in the far corner of the opposite picture. The land and chapel would later go on to be inherited by Mrs Irwin’s daughter, Mrs Agnes Coad, on the death of her mother.
Whilst in the ownership of Mrs Coad, it was discovered that the leasehold to the land was actually held by the Chichester Estate, and duly Mr and Mrs Coad tried to buy the land on which their chapel and graveyard were located.
In what became a very nasty dispute, the Chichester’s bailiffs decided that the Chichester Estate should have total possession of the land and what stood upon it, which in turn meant the chapel and the graves would have to removed. The shocking events that followed this, resulted in a case being taken to the House of Commons and later reported in the national press:
“It was reported by Mr and Mrs Coad that on the discovery that the leasehold belonged to the Chichester’s, that an agreement had been made many years previously between Mr. T. Smith and Sir Bruce Chichester, whereby Mr Smith exchanged some of his land for some of that belonging to Sir Chichester.
This land included that which the chapel and burial ground were sited, however as no paperwork verified this, Mr and Mrs Coad who had since inherited the chapel made attempt to buy or rent it from Miss Chichester. The bailiffs for the Chichester’s refused these offers, and concluded that ‘the chapel must be pulled down for aesthetic reasons, and the buried must be dug up.”
A few days before Christmas an undertaker left Barnstaple at midnight with three coffins, arriving at the burial ground at two o’clock in the morning.When opening one of the graves, where a son and daughter lay, they found one of the new coffins was not large enough and after taking up the corpse, it had to be put back again into the existing grave. The other two bodies were carried to the parish churchyard, and left, above ground for two days before being buried.
In a report prepared for the House of Commons, Mr Coad’s statement read as follows:
“This is how it was done ; the bones of my dear wife’s mother were picked up and put into a bucket, and thus brought from the tomb. The coffins of my dear son and daughter were taken up, and then was found that one of the new coffins brought in at midnight from Barnstaple was not large enough, and the dear girl’s corpse was put back into the grave again.”
The House of Commons ruled that permission had been given to do this, in what was a heated argument, the disagreement was played out in the National Press for some time afterwards
The Chichester family had a strong and important connection with Woolacombe and Mortehoe. The family owned much of the North Devon Coastline including their home at Arlington Estate. Woolacombe beach and the surrounding land was owned by the Chichester family for over 800 years and was later sold to family friends or donated to the National Trust. Whislt the Manor of Mortehoe was bought by the Chichester’s on the 20th April 1618 from Hugh and Arthur Pollard for £600.
The family had many links to Woolaombe and Mortehoe, including their ‘Mortehoe Clothing Club’ set up Lady Chichester, the development and opening of Woolacombe School, the building of St Sabinus Church and the donation of Potters Hill and Morte Point to name just a few.
Annual Distribution of Clothes
Mortehoe Clothing Club was set up by Lady Chichester. On being asked about the club a local villager said “It is like this, if me or any of us poor folks put in a shilling a month and then the lady put in a sixpence to our shilling. Yes ‘tis a great help for us that have got families and never could have any clothes otherwise. I have bought up nine of my twelve and I can assure you I have had enough to do.
The village treated it as a festival. “As Lady Chichester’s carriage approached, cannon were fired and the church bell set ringing. All the women belonging to the club and all the village school children met the carriage about a mile outside of Mortehoe and followed the procession, carrying evergreen branches along with flags and banners. Twenty sturdy mechanics then took the carriage horses out of their harnesses and physically hauled the carriage to the Chichester Arms public house in the village, on the way the passed under four arches stretched across the road, profusely decorated with evergreens and banners bearing suitable inscriptions.
A little later the actual distribution of the clothing took place ‘when all the demonstrations of rejoicing were renewed with still great hilarity. The village cannons were again discharged with ‘seven musketeers’ adding their well sustained volleys to the heavier metal, and a brass band from Braunton marched around the village playing as they went.
The clothing was given out in a room in the public house along with tea and cake for all the club members. Lady Chichester, also gave every woman half a pound of tea ‘to keep Christmas at home’.
The distribution of clothes over, the members of the club formed into sets of four and began dancing the ‘Brixham Reel’. This was an impromptu forerunner of what was to come later the same day. Over the door of the club house had been hung a notice ‘Lady Chichester invited the members of Mortehoe Clothing Club to meet her at Woolacombe this evening at eight o’clock at the ball’ The ball was held in the manor house which had been tastefully decorated and was lit by several chandelier’s.
St Sabinus Church
The original church of St Sabinus, was located where the current Church car park is now situated and was known as the Iron Church. Prior to the building of the new church, worshippers attended services in a club room lent to them by the late Dowager, Lady Chichester of Arlington.
The Iron Church was considered cold in the winter and insufferably hot in the summer, it soon became too crowded, and overflowed during the busier months as many visitors to the area would use the church. It was deemed time to build a new church on this site.
The new church was funded by Lady Chichester who gave the land for the building of the church. The foundation stone of the the new church was laid by Miss Chichester, the event was attended by a large number of residents, visitors and church goers.
In 1916 the key to the school was presented to Miss Rosalie Chichester during the grand opening ceremony. The event was reported locally:
“The new County Council School, which was opened amid general rejoicings. It was quite in accordance with the fitness of things that the ceremony should have been performed by Miss Chichester, of Arlington Court, inasmuch as it is to this noble hearted lady that Woolacombe is indebted for the magnificent site on which the School stands. To the generosity of Miss Chichester, indeed beautiful Woolacombe owes largely the facts of its rapid development of late years; and it was only natural that in recognition thereof the warmest of tributes should have been paid to her in Saturday’s proceedings.”
Amid rousing cheers Miss Chichester proceed to unlock the main door at the Woolacombe end of the School, and the company they adjourned to the adjoining large classroom.
Potters Hill and Morte Point
Miss Rosalie Chichester gifted Potters Hill to the National Trust to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The gift of some 30 acres of land was given in 1935 and has only been revealed by the placing at the entrance to the ground of a granite block bearing an inscription recording that the land had been handed over as a gift. No official ceremony marked the placing of the stone.
Previously Lady Chichester gifted the headland of Morte Point to the National Trust, totalling some 180 acres of land.
Sunday 9th December saw a great turnout for the first Santa Stroll to be held on Woolacombe Beach. Well done to everyone who came along to support and take part in this fundraising event.
An evening of readings and songs performed by Woolacombe School Choir, Anchors Away and the Village Choir. The songs and readings reflected a range of emotions, and a reflection of wartime.
Held in St Sabinus Church which had been decorated by the Flower Festival
A beautiful and emotional evening. Further information will be in the WMV December magazine.
Well done to all involved into making it such a lovely evening.
The Woolacombe Bay Hotel was constructed in 1887, and was initially called the “Shakespeare Hotel”, before it was renamed the Woolacombe Bay. Photographs of the Hotel under construction show, at the time, it was surrounded by empty fields for some distance, highlighting just how small Woolacombe was before the late 1800’s and how speculative these developments were.
In 1894 one guest of the hotel describes it as a “handsome commodious hotel, run on first-class lines, with water certified by Dr. Blyth, the famous Devonshire analyst, now residing in London; all the latest sanitary arrangements, designed by Barlow, of London, and carried out by Hubber, of Exeter ; and appointments making it a fit home for a prince.”
Early pictures show that many parts of the existing building have retained their original features. The hotel has enjoyed a long and colourful history, and much of its traditional charm still remains today. In 1895, Rosalie Chichester of Arlington Court granted tenancy of The Woolacombe Bay Hotel to Arnold Perret, who bought the tenancy in 1899.
The Woolacombe Bay Hotel was sold to Cheltenham Brewery in 1932, and over the following nine years an extensive programme of renovation transformed the building. The original core of the building is of four storeys, with wings of three storeys. Constructed in a Tudor Revival style, the upper sections have mock timber framing while the lower portions are of exposed red brick. Balconies and bays, alongside a cupola and, on the older portions, chimney stacks add to the character of the building.
This work resulted in the Hotel appearing much as it does today and added several notable features – including the ballroom, which showcased the first sprung floor in the West Country. The hotel also retains large grounds facing towards the beach, with its own swimming pool and tennis courts, as well as a private path leading down towards the beach near the old Lifeboat House. In 2013 the swimming pool was renovated creating the Bay Lido
John Phillips was a young boy living behind the hotel in the 1930’s. He remembers the waiters in their long tailed morning suits and the chefs in their hats of varying heights according to their status! The Hotel had a Boiler House which housed four huge boilers – one was for central heating, two for the hot water and the other provided steam to the kitchen. Supervised by three men, they were not always attentive and consequently guests often went without hot water and the kitchen steam!
The gardens of the hotel were completely enclosed and supplied a lot of produce and flowers for the hotel, it was also where the young local boys ended up playing football, much to the annoyance of the gardener, Mr Tom Sollis!
In 1935 Miss Crowhurst was the new manager of the hotel and by 1939 the hotel had been enlarged to accommodate up to 180 residents, reflecting the increased number of tourists wishing to stay in Woolacombe in the heyday of British seaside resorts. It was at this time that war was announced and the British army commandeered the hotel. It became home to the 4th County of London Yeomanry, who were based in Woolacombe to protect from invasion.
When the London Yeomanry arrived at the hotel John remembers three tanks rumbling past their house in Rosalie Terrace en route to Cowlers garage, which was located just behind the hotel.
In 1943 the British Army left Woolacombe to make way for the American Army where they set up their Assault Training Centre Headquarters. Woolacombe Beach was used for amphibious infantry landing practice involving hundreds of small boats, the long flat beach and the surrounding landscape were thought to sufficiently resemble Normandy as to make this realistic training environment.
The training for the Normandy landings on D-Day saw Woolacombe taken over by the Americans with huge camps, and those who were in the area at the time will remember how much better off the Americans were, as the British had been short of the good things in life for some time.
Some Americans and locals are still in touch today and a stone memorial was erected on Greensward in Woolacombe in 1992 to commemorate those who were here during the war. The soldiers remained in residence until the end of the war in May 1945 and the Woolacombe Bay Hotel was bought by Mr Bertie Johnson.
The hotel was bought by the Lancaster family in 1978 and ran successfully by Roy and Rosemary until the year 2000, when their daughter Sally returned and took over the reins. Over the last 18 years Sally has taken the hotel to a new dimension, combining old world grandeur with new cutting edge design. In 2010 the hotel was awarded four stars by the AA which is reflected by its outstanding bedrooms, bathrooms, spa, food, facilities and of course the most personal service in the area!
In 2017 the hotel was Winner of ‘Best Hotel’ at the North Devon Food, Drink & Tourism Awards 2017 offering a timelessly elegant yet friendly and relaxed place to stay.
If you want more infomration abut the hotel or to make a booking please visit their website”