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”