Author Archives: woolacombemortehoevoice

WW1 Centenary Conert

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

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”

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Plastic Free Woolacombe

Plastic is big news and has been so ever since viewers saw the BBC’s Blue Planet II and were shocked at how much plastic was in our oceans. 

We were already alerted to the problem posed by plastics when supermarkets started charging for their carrier bags. But Blue Planet bought those concerns into sharp focus and told us we simply have to do more to protect the oceans, their inhabitants and our planet. 

It is believed that up to eight million objects enter our seas on a daily basis, with up to two-thirds of those objects coming from litter left on beaches or washed down in our rivers. That debris chokes our seas and damages the fish, mammals and birds that either consume it or become entangled in it. The Marine Conservations Society found that rubbish washing up on UK beaches increases year on year; it was up 10% in 2017. 

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) list many shocking stories on their website about the damage done by plastics when they enter the sea. In one case a whale had to be put down after being found malnourished off the coast of Norway. An autopsy showed 30 plastic bags and other packaging in its stomach and intestines. 

Read more

Woolacombe Weavers – 1938 North Devon Journal

The girl weavers of Woolacombe find their craft slimming.

 “Weaving exercises so many muscles,” explained grey-eyed brunette Miss R. Woollan. 

“You are always moving legs and arms. Glade here almost fades away when we are working at full winter pressure.” 

She had nodded at her partner, Eton-cropped, curly haired Miss Glade. The partners met at Reading University. The speaker was studying design there, hoping later to take a job in London; Miss Glade was doing craft work. When the latter went to Woolacombe, Miss Woollan joined her for  holidays. That was ten years ago, she stayed to become partner in the little weaving business that her friend had just opened.

Now the friends run their own little bungalow. Together they plan the budgeting, Miss Glade gardens while her friend rides on the golden sands for that is Miss Woollan’s chief hobby. From June until September they open their little shop, doing their weaving in the early mornings and evenings. When Woolacombe’s population shrinks from several thousand to something like 800 they give the whole of their time to work in their bungalow studio.

Miss Woollan is the “dressmaker.” She fashions skirts and designs colour schemes as well. Jumpers are knitted to match these skirts. Four or five local girls knit for the partners, and some of the work is sent as far afield as Yorkshire. Several knitters work without patterns. Miss Woollan sends them a sketch; back comes the complete jumper days later.

People are no longer content to go forth in shapeless tweeds and woollens, I learned from Miss Woollan. “Tweeds are sent away for pressing and shrinking, because the modern wearer will not tolerate skits that go baggy.” She told me. “ There are some women of course, who insist on buying their tweed just as it comes from the loom. They like the smell of it, but three weeks wear shows their folly. 

It soon loses all shape.” Riding coats and house coats, these are popular new ideas with the buyers of hand woven tweeds.  “The things people demanded ten years ago they would not look at today,” stressed Miss Woollan. 

“Women have a far better sense of colour and design now.”

She is no advocate of vegetable dyes. “ We have tried them, but it is impossible to repeat dyes exactly, and people dislike buying something and finding they cannot match it later on,” she continued. “ We use ordinary wool for our weaving and Scottish oil thread for the weft (cross thread).

Local girls are slow to take interest in weaving. It was the only women’s craft I could discover in Woolacombe. Why I imagined you’d have long waiting lists of would be students,” I exclaimed incredulously. Miss Glade smiled. “People here live for the summer visitors,” she told me. “When the season closes, they want a rest and a holiday. After the New Year, they ‘spring clean’ against the next summer.

Even the weavers forgo summer holidays for the visitors sake. They usually manage a few days at Christmas, they told me in contended chorus. Then they tour the country in their baby car. “ We never miss the British Industries Fair of course, “ they added. That is where they find new ideas for the next season.


On May 8th 1945 Nazi Germany surrendered and the Second World War in Europe came to an end. With the fighting over, there was no longer a requirement for hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers to be stationed abroad. This left military planners with another complex problem: how to get those soldiers back home. 

The logistical operation to bring British soldiers back home was a huge one, especially given the state of the roads and railways in Europe. With shipping also tied up, bringing the troops home by air was an option that had to be considered. This led to ‘Operation Dodge’ being instigated, part of which which involved an airlift of soldiers from the 8th Army, which had fought in North Africa.  

The biggest problem facing planners was a lack of civilian air transport. However, there were huge fleets of bombers available, as they no longer had to fulfil their design purpose.  Some of these aircraft were operated from the RAF station at Dunkeswell in Devon. 

The airfield at Dunkeswell, close to Honiton, was opened in 1943, during the Second World War, as RAF Dunkeswell. The station was originally planned as a RAF Fighter Command, then a RAF Coastal Command airfield, but was transferred for use by American units.

On 16th December 1945 an RAF Lancaster, with a crew of seven, took off from RAF Dunkeswell and headed toward Egypt. Unfortunately, while the aircraft was over Ilfracombe, one of its engines caught fire. The pilot decided to feather the engine, a procedure that involves shutting it down and turning the propeller blades to create minimal air resistance and thus less drag.

With three working engines the Lancaster carried on towards its destination. But then a second engine developed problems, resulting in the decision to turn the aircraft around and head for home. The engine problems resulted in the aircraft gradually losing height and when it was over Lee Bay it became obvious to the crew that a forced landing was going to be necessary. 

The Lancaster came down in Borough Valley, close to Borough Farm. The pilot was killed in the crash, but the other six crew members survived, even though some were seriously injured. Farm workers Thomas Huxtable and Cecil Marsh were among the first people on the scene, helping to pull the surviving six crew members from the wreckage.

One of the aircrew to be seriously injured was Warrant Officer Lawrence Moore, the co-pilot. The extent of his injuries resulted in him losing a leg and being hospitalised for three years. Following his recovery, he remained in contact with the people who had helped save his life and returned to the crash site several times. 

Mortehoe Heritage Museum have a collection of photographs and audio recollections from those who witnessesed the crash to the memoirs of Lawnrece Moore when he returned to the site some years late with his wife. More can be found online or by visiting the museum.


The Grange, Mortehoe

Mr Thomas founded the Grange as a Ministers Seaside Home, he would be the first warden of the home, visiting The Grange whenever he could, but leaving the day to day running to a husband and wife team of housekeepers. 

The aim of The Grange, was to provide rest and recreation for ministers and their wives of all denominations, who with their stipends so very low, could not possibly have afforded it themselves. 

In The Grange’s visitor’ book are many interesting comments by ministers of numerous denominations. Loud is their praise of the comfort and friendly atmosphere offered at Th Grange. This is a typical entry written in 1885 by a Mr Kick: “I came to The Grange broken in health with nervous prostration, so that I could walk scarcely any distance.

I return to my home comparatively well. It has been the privilege of me and my dear wife to have the company of the generous and loving founder of the house with us, whose genial presence has contributed largely to my restoration. The home comforts of The Grange, together with the grandly wild scenery, the bracing air, and last but not least the religious association make The Grange a very land of Beulah.”

In 1901 Rev. Thomas sadly passed away, the friends from the Church at Redland Park decided that the best memorial would be to form a more secure financial system for the ministers who stayed at The Grange.

They noted that The Grange had been the outcome of Mr. Thomas’s loving desire to help and serve his brethren, and was the object of his unceasing care as a warden. 

A memorial window was also added to the Wesleyan Church in Mortehoe. 

The Grange during it’s time was also famed for it hydrangeas, which were frequently documented in the press. In September 1912, it is said that “The Grange, Mortehoe, has an exceptionally fine specimen of hydrangea, declared by visitors to be the finest in England. This year it has been one mass of blooms, over fifteen hundred having been counted on it. 

Visitors wishing to visit them were asked to contact Mr Fred Miles, the head gardener.

More recently The Grange became a large holiday let, catering for large groups, now up for sale it is described as an imposing detached Victorian property with sea views.

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The Watersmeet Hotel

The Watersmeet Hotel

by Sue Hill, Barricane Books

Find this lovely, gracious hotel at the far end of Woolacombe’s Esplanade, facing due south, with its grounds running down to Combesgate Beach. It occupies an unrivalled location, open to the south to Baggy Point and Hartland Point beyond, with some views westwards to Lundy on the horizon and glorious sunsets.

Strictly speaking the hotel is in Mortehoe, for it is on that side of the stream that flows down through the Combesgate Valley from Twitchen, emptying out onto the beach below.  On the ‘Woolacombe’ side of the stream and adjoining Combesgate Green, is a small public garden area known as ‘Cowler’s Garden’ – including many large ‘gunnera’ – a plant resembling giant rhubarb.  Charles Cowler, proprietor of Cowler’s Garage, was Head of the Home Guard during the Second World War; he was also the choirmaster of Woolacombe’s St. Sabinus’ Church for more than forty years.

From the western side of the hotel’s front lawn, a path and private steps lead down to Combesgate Beach.  Old maps name the area between it and Grunta Beach as ‘Grunta Pool’. At one time there was a gate across the road at this ‘Watersmeet corner’, dividing the two villages.  Also, the clifftop road was deemed to be unsafe and in 1925 a new road was built further away.

The story of the Watersmeet Hotel started shortly before the First World War with a very astute lady, Adelaide Chugg, nee Huxtable, who had married a gentleman farmer, John Chugg, from West Down.  With the farm business failing, Mrs Chugg, having seen that wonderful south-facing spot at the bottom of Mortehoe hill, sold the farm and had the hotel built.  Her grand-children remembered that they were tasked to carry hundreds of stones up from the beach to make a drive, and rocks for the garden.   

The years between the First and Second World Wars were highly successful for the hotel, and members of Adelaide’s family visited for all the holidays – Easter, Summer and Christmas.  Dockings, the chauffeur, would meet the train and drive them to the hotel in the family’s car.  At Easter the children were sent up into the hills to fill baskets with primroses, which were put in large bowls on the big oak chests along the hotel’s hallway.  

A small hotel brochure from the time included this verse:

Rest and comfort, peace and pleasure

Ozone borne on every wave,

All that heart and mind can wish for,

All that appetite can crave;

Wild and rugged rocky passes.

Hills that tire yet ever please;

Scenery beyond description – 

Sands of gold, and silv’ry seas –

If you seek this combination,

Feel resigned through rain or shine?

Trust yourself to north-east sheltered

Rock- and sea-girt “WATERSMEET.”

Before WWII the kitchen had been renovated, and a huge Aga stove installed.  A new wing was built on the east-facing side – this being the ballroom and additional bedrooms above. Then everything changed when WWII broke out, and when the Americans arrived in 1943, Mrs. Chugg quickly arranged for a girls’ independent school, Bartrum Gables from Broadstairs in Kent, to occupy the hotel. Members of her family moved a few yards away to two houses they also owned. They were all to see thousands of English and American troops take over nearly all the hotels and practice the invasion of France on the beaches and sea-craft.  It was an amazing sight.

The Chugg family sold the hotel in 1948 and since then it has been extended to include, for instance, the Pavilion Restaurant and an indoor swimming pool. It is now a luxury 4* hotel.

However, the story of Adelaide Chugg carries on to this day with her great-grand-daughters and other members of her family continuing to visit Mortehoe and Woolacombe.

The stories of evacuees continue to fascinate me and I have accounts from pupils at other schools, all of which are part of the overall jigsaw of life in Woolacombe and Mortehoe in the years of the Second World War.  Please email me at if you would like to read more.

Some memories follow from one ex-Bartrum Gables pupil, written in 1993:

“I remember the summer when some of us stopped at school here for safety during the summer holiday. For eight weeks rules were kept to a minimum and we had a lovely time searching the rockpools, which in those days, were teeming with little shrimps which we fed to the many-coloured sea anenomes.  I also learnt to surf with a wooden belly-board.  

One week, my parents came to stay for a few days.  I was so excited that I climbed out of a downstairs window to greet them and was caught by our Headmistress, Miss Crittall (we called her Critts).  She was a very large lady and seemed enormous to me.  I was scared of her.  Her sister, Miss Olive, was a slimmer, gentler version who seemed to wear olive-green a lot.  She taught us Divinity – a sort of R.E.

One of our teachers left to get married and to go and live on Lundy which we thought very romantic and adventurous. I remember the beauty of a storm out at sea, watching the sheet lightening from our dormitory window. Lots of rabbits used to play on the grass and I enjoyed watching them too.  I remember, too, spray from the waves forming balls and blowing all over the road and into our faces when the weather was windy and wild.

Our War effort was collecting a special seaweed at low tide and putting it into sacks, as it was used for penicillin to grow on.

Our matron was a kind lady called Mrs. Clarke who used to kiss us goodnight and maybe made up a little for our parents who lived so far away.

Now, so many years later, it is good to see Woolacombe and Mortehoe so unspoilt and to have a happy holiday in “my old school”.

Visit Barricane Books website

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