Remembering seaside town's legendary 'grand old dames'
PUBLISHED: 11:29 17 April 2018 | UPDATED: 12:40 18 April 2018
The history of Cromer's hotels is rich and fascinating. RON JACKSON, 87, who now lives in King's Lynn, writes about his many years living and working in the town and visiting its marvellous places to stay.
Of the various places in which I have worked and lived, I suppose Cromer is the place that I look back on with the greatest affection.
Aged 17 I went to work in Cromer having been accepted by Limmers Estate Agents as an articled clerk, an elevated position which required me to light the office fires each morning. Fortunately, I also spent time out of the office, visiting a wide range of properties, preparing inventories, schedules of condition and inspections. Looking back, I think it was a unique experience and a privilege.
In 1863 Clement Scott, the influential writer for the Daily Telegraph wrote: “Cromer is perhaps the prettiest watering place on the east coast”. But after a time he found the routine rather dull, discovered Sidestrand and gave it the name of ‘Poppyland’.
With the coming of the railways in 1887 and Scott’s popularising of the area, Cromer rapidly became the ‘in’ place for fashionable society to frequent. In consequence, great ornate Victorian hotels were built in prime locations to accommodate the aristocratic and even royal visitors who flocked to the area.
Cromer and Overstrand developed rapidly and, in addition to the hotels, prestigious houses were built by the landed gentry who brought their families for the season. Overstrand became known as ‘the village of millionaires’.
The tides of war
But the growth did not please Scott who wrote in 1890 that Cromer was no longer the place he had written of only a few years earlier.
Cromer’s popularity continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s with many titled and royal visitors until the outbreak of the Second World War when tourism stopped and Cromer was taken over by the military.
The empty hotels offered ready-made barracks, accommodating thousands of military personnel who cared little for the fine surroundings they occupied.
By the time I came on the scene, the soldiers had gone, leaving behind hundreds of ravaged rooms, which, before being handed back to their owners, had to be restored to an approximation of their original condition.
Having the free run of these huge premises was something of a thrill and I can still ‘see’ the interiors of what were the premier hotels of north Norfolk.
A changed landscape
In the summer season of 1948 several hotels opened their doors.
Looking back, it must have been a disaster, as, coupled with a wet summer, the anticipated return of visitors just didn’t happen.
The Overstrand Court Hotel stood close to the cliff edge and even closer when in the late 1940s high tides scoured the unprotected cliffs creating a cliff fall about the size of a football pitch.
Overlooking the fall was a small bungalow and next to that was the hotel. The hotel opened, then closed. Adjoining it a new attraction, Bubbles Bar, was opened but it caught fire, and spread to the hotel causing irreparable damage.
The hotel was demolished and after more cliff falls the road itself closed.
Newhaven Court had played host to the rich and famous, including European royals, such as our own Prince Philip as a teenager in the 1930s.
It was famous for its covered tennis courts and seemed to flourish for a time, possibly due to the fact that Cromer was, and still is, home to national tennis tournaments.
At some time the courts burned down and the hotel struggled, it changed hands and closed. In the early 1960s vandals or a faulty electrical circuit created a fire which destroyed the place.
Other hotels’ fortunes
The Grand Hotel and the Cliftonville Hotel, both standing on the seafront at Cromer, somehow seemed to survive for a time. The Cliftonville prospered in a sort of time warp and fortunately today it still exists.
The Royal Links Hotel, standing high above the town adjacent to the golf club, had a separate ballroom down by the Overstrand Road.
In its heyday had been the host to royalty but it never did re-open. I recall standing all alone in the massive hallway looking up its great central staircase circling up four or five floors.
It was breathtaking, a bit like the Marie Celeste, eerie in its vast emptiness.
Mr Jackson’s story will be continued in next week’s Enjoy Cromer More pages of the North Norfolk News.