About the Grand Old Dame

Steeped in history – Let us tell you a little more about us.

Built in 1865

The Falmouth Hotel, known as the ‘Grande Dame of Falmouth’, first opened in 1865 as Isambard Kingdom Brunel expanded the Great Western Railway into Cornwall. Its castle-like Victorian architecture, spacious interiors, fantastic seafront location and award-winning food has ensured its place as one of Cornwall’s best known hotels. Every great hotel has a vast fund of stories to tell. Its guests add up to a mini-Who’s Who of the great and the good, the famous and the fascinating, the triumphant and, occasionally, the tragic. Its staff play an equally important role in creating and maintaining an identity that is truly unique, constituting a small community in its own right. A great hotel assumes a life and personality all of its own and in so doing directly contributes to, as well as reflects, the march of history.  Whilst the Falmouth Hotel might not be mentioned in the same breath as its bigger brethren of the world’s elite, there is no doubt that it has long since qualified for the string of superlatives that describe any truly distinctive hotel. As befits the dominant feature of the Cornish resort’s
breathtaking seafront, The Falmouth Hotel has played a pivotal part in the dramatic growth since
the mid-19th Century of the town after which it is named. In the process, it has “seen it all.” To re-phrase an old newspaper slogan, all human life is and has been here. Behind its imposing facade, The Falmouth Hotel has played host to royalty, military
supremos, famous authors, film and pop stars, sporting icons plus a Prime Minister or two. It has witnessed drama, romance and tragedy. Occasionally, it has even had to fight for its own survival. Through it all, The Falmouth Hotel has retained a character and sense of style that welcome you into “another world” the moment you walk through its doors. That world, now as ever, is one of Victorian grandeur, spacious comfort and devout personal service – an ageless style and atmosphere
that afford a wondrous sense of escape, retaining its appeal in a more informal age. Embraced by such a world, it is not so difficult to imagine the time when such qualities were prevalent, not rare, and to appreciate the guiding principles and aspirations of the Falmouth’s founding fathers. For The Falmouth Hotel has stood tall and proud in its unrivaled position,
commanding superb views of this historic town, since 1865. Then, with the rest of the seafront still a patchwork of green fields and paths, the hotel was an oasis for the English gentry.

How It All Began

Falmouth is a comparatively young town, having been granted its charter as recently a.s 1661. The nearby towns of Penryn, Helston and Truro were already well established and far more important and prosperous, when Sir Walter Raleigh visited Smithick, as Falmouth was then known, in the early 17th Century and urged its development as a township. The inhabitants of its neighbouring towns petitioned King James I against such development, fearing it would prove detrimental to their own trade. The matter was referred to the Lords of the Council, who determined in favour of Falmouth, and in 1652 Peter Killigrew, son of Sir John, obtained a weekly market from the Parliament of the day. Three years after the granting of Falmouth’s charter, an Act of Parliament was passed by which Falmouth became a separate parish. The Killigrew family built inns, quays and landing stages which boosted the town’s prosperity, unleashing exciting business potential that would steer Falmouth successfully through the next two centuries. Indeed, by the time a Post Office Packet Station was opened in 1688, the town was truly thriving and entering what has been described as its “golden age.” From the early 18th Century to the mid-19th Century, Falmouth was the leading Packet Station, with ships sailing regularly to Spain, Portugal, the West Indies and the Americas. The eventual loss of the Packet service in 1850 triggered a general decline in Falmouth’s trade and an increasingly bleak outlook. But for the foresight of some influential townsfolk, Falmouth’s decline might have been permanent. With its superb geographical position and boasting the world’s third biggest natural harbour, its assets were recognised as offering the potential for a ship repair base, with deep water wharves and dry docks. The Falmouth Docks Company was formed and, having acquired a suitable site, began building the docks in 1859. This same group of far-sighted businessmen had already created the Cornwall Railway Company. Work was underway to build a line that would eventually join up with the Great Western Railway at Plymouth and thereby link Cornwall to the national network. This would reduce the journey time from London to a modest ten hours. As the final stages of the railway approached Falmouth, attention turned to the potential numbers of visitors, mostly wealthy, who could now feasibly be attracted to the town. With its mild climate and the natural beauty of Falmouth Bay, the town was poised to become a favourite holiday resort of the gentry. Another company – The Falmouth Hotel Company (Limited) – was quickly formed to build a large and well-appointed hotel.

Built in 1881

History of the Grand Hotel The Grand Hotel first opened in Torquay in 1881, in response to the Great Western Railway’s expansion into the South West. Its striking Victorian architecture, elegant interiors, fantastic seafront location and also award-winning food has earned it pride of place as Torquay’s landmark hotel for over 130 years. During that time, The Grand has witnessed many historical events and has played its own role over the years. In 1926, it was one of the first hotels in the UK to install central heating. During World War Two, the hotel was requisitioned by the Royal Air Force. Behind the wallpaper in the rooms on the fourth floor, there are messages and dates that some of the aircrews scribbled on the walls. The restaurant was used as one large dormitory, each crewman was given a pillow and blanket, and requested to find his own bed. The Grand reopened as a hotel in 1946. Corbyn beach, right in front of the hotel was once the site of a late medieval harbour and this maritime tradition has continued, with the more recent development of Torquay Marina (a 10 minute stroll along the seafront from The Grand), and regular large ships and Royal Navy vessels anchoring further out in the bay.

Ahead of the Times

Torquay is something of a Georgian and Victorian gem, beautiful architecture, elegant parks, and impressive public edifices.  With an appreciation of the finer aspects of life and had the capability and resources to implement grand schemes.  Torquay and The Grand Hotel was part of Great Western Railway’s vision. The arrival of long-distance train travel fuelled the development of Torquay and The Grand Hotel was part of Great Western Railway’s vision to cater for visitors to Torquay. So it’s no accident that there is a discrete little railway station a few hundred yards behind the hotel allowing travellers from London and further afield to hop on the train and then several hours later arrive at the hotel on the seafront with little fuss, what an absolute revolution this must have been for people used to travel by coach and horse. In 1926, The Grand Hotel one of the first hotels in the UK to install central heating. Today we tend to take for granted living indoors at a comfortable even temperature. In winter especially, central heating has really changed our lives quite dramatically. Without it, people had to spend hours carting coal about, lighting fires and keeping fires going. Commercial exploitation of central heating systems for private houses didn’t really start until the1920ss. At first it was only installed in luxury houses.

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Famous Faces

The Falmouth Hotel has played host to a long list of famous names – royalty, pop and film stars, authors, great “political figures and sporting icons.

Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, stayed at the Falmouth and in more recent years the Duke of Edinburgh and Lord Boothby have both been guests- as has an aunt of ex-King Farouk of Egypt. Anna Neagle and Herbert Wilcox spent their honeymoon here and other show business folk staying
at the Falmouth have included Elsie Randolph, Vera Lynn and Bernie Winters.

One of the most fascinating of all the hotel’s links with fame came about in its earlier years – with the first known picture letter by Beatrix Potter being written here.

Beatrix Potter

For two or three weeks every spring, the Potter family would go away on holiday. While she was away, Beatrix would send picture letters to the young children she knew. The first of these was written when she was 25 and was sent to Noel Moore, the eldest son of her former governess, Annie Moore. In 1885, Annie left in order to marry a civil engineer. The first of their eight children, Noel, was born on Christmas Eve, 1887, and Beatrix’s very first picture letter was penned to him from The Falmouth Hotel on March 11, 1892, when he was four and she was 25. Beatrix’s letter to Noel was illustrated, in the fashion that was to become her trade mark, with sketches at appropriate stages of the text -a train after the word “puff-puff,” for instance, together with boats, sailing ships, and animals as required. “I have come a very long way in a puff-puff,” she wrote, ” to a place in Cornwall, where it is very hot and there are palm trees in the gardens and camellias and rhododendrons in flower which are very pretty. “We are living in a big house close to the sea. We go on the harbour in a steam boat and see ever so many big ships. Yesterday we went across the water to a pretty little village where the fishermen live. I saw them catching crabs in a basket cage which they let down into the sea with some meat
in it and then the crabs go in to eat the meat and cannot get out. ” . . . This (illustration) is a pussy I saw looking for fish. These are two little dogs that live in the hotel, and two tame seagulls, and a great many cocks and hens in the garden. I am going today to a place called The Lizard, so I have no time to draw any more pictures, and I remain yours affectionately, Beatrix Potter.

Simon Le Bon

Simon Le Bon, lead singer with the group Duran Duran, was feted at The Falmouth Hotel after a horrifying brush with death at sea in 1984. The keel fell off his yacht Drum and he was stranded on the upturned boat for an agonising period before being rescued by a helicopter from the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose. He eventually arrived at The Falmouth Hotel “literally half-drowned,” as Graham Fields puts it, and besieged by the media and adoring, screaming fans lining the hotel drive. Simon’s prime concern was to get over to Culdrose to thank his rescuers. “It was the moment when I looked into the eyes of death. It was the most dangerous situation I’ve been in,”  The Notorious singer spoke with emotion about the work of helicopter rescue crews after watching, for the first time, the film footage of his dramatic sea rescue. “It was very frightening,” he said. “It initiated in me a real feeling of warmth and support for the air sea rescue service. “He added: “I feel I owe them so much.” “I realise that these are guys who face extraordinary danger on a daily basis, who go out and put their lives at risk, to help ordinary people to live.”  He agreed to hold a press conference in the hotel. Trouble was, the press did not want to let him go – and he ended up being “rescued” again, this time through a back window at the hotel and into a waiting van laid on by the hotel to whisk him to Culdrose! Simon stayed at The Falmouth Hotel for several days. “He did goodness only knows how many TV and radio interviews,” recalls Graham Fields. “Some of them were live, being broadcast to countries all over the world. He never refused a request for an autograph and was a very easy-going sort of fellow. He chatted with all the guests and joined in with the children putting on the lawns.

 

Agatha Christie

The Grand has a unique association with the much-loved author, as the place where she spent her honeymoon in 1914. In the same fashion, The Grand Hotel has a bedroom suite named after her. The Agatha Christie suite can comfortably accommodate up to 5 people; it consists of a double bedroom, a twin bedroom, a lounge which has a sofa bed, and a spacious bathroom. Visit the English Riviera Tourism website, to learn more about The Grand Hotels Special Agatha Christie.

Rolling Stones

For five days the Stones used the Grand Hotel as a base. Originally, they were going to stay at the Queens Hotel but, on police advice, this was changed to The Grand. The idea was that a hotel further from the town centre could be kept secret from fans. This worked until the last concert at the Town Hall, where security had been provided by “burly boxers” from the Torbay Amateur Boxing Club. These were the days before security had to be vetted and certificated. Fortunately the Bay’s boxers weren’t anything like the Hell’s Angels hired as security at the disastrous Stones’ appearance five years later at the Altamont Festival which ended the counterculture dream of peace and love…

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