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Douglas Bay Hotel - 1894


At the other end of the social scale to the holiday camps was the Douglas Bay Hotel. This was built for Mr. Samuel Horatio Marsden by Frederick Callow. Marsden also had the Grand Hotel in Victoria Street, Douglas, and was a wholesale wine and spirits merchant with premises at 42, Duke St. and at 1, Fort St., Douglas. His business interests included entertainments at Douglas Head.

The original plans of the hotel, by William John Rennison, an architect of 11, Hill Street in Douglas, were based on suggestions made by Marsden and provided for a two storey building without a tower, but fortunately for posterity, Marsden had second thoughts on the design and in the words of a report on the hotel's opening, published in the Isle of Man Times and General Advertiser of 7th. August 1894, he "..determined to make a fuller use of the magnificent site by giving the hotel more lofty proportions..". To this end he commissioned the local architect Mr. E. Forrest who "..designed the tower and third storey, which lend dignity to the building, and make it a pre-eminently striking feature in the landscape of the bay..".

The first public intimation that the hotel was nearing completion appeared in a report of 12th. May and this stated that the "..newly-erected hotel which will form henceforth one of the conspicuous landmarks of the bay...will be opened shortly. It will be even more conspicuous when night sets in than in the day, for it will be illuminated by the electric light.." which the nearby tramway's generator was able to supply. The hotel was indeed the first on the Island to have this facility. On 28th July 1894 Mr. Marsden "..respectfully announces that this hotel is now open to the inspection of visitors and residents..".

The Isle of Man Times described the hotel as being "..formed of three wings. Of the two principal wings, one forms the eastern front, immediately overlooking the bay and the other has a southern aspect, and is the front which the hotel presents to those who view it from Douglas valley. The other wing, which runs inland, is devoted to culinary purposes and to accommodation of the servants...Externally the building is of local stone - a large proportion quarried on the site - finished with cement, and with quoins and dressings of red brick from the Ballanard brickworks...The central tower, octagon in plan, and with both covered and open balconies commanding views in every direction, is of brick throughout..". As befitted a wine merchant, there was a nine feet high cellar beneath the building.

Internally, the flooring was of tongue and grooved pitch pine and this timber, in polished form, together with mahogany and carved oak was used extensively in the public rooms. The main staircase was described as "..spacious, and its woodwork massive, but effective in design, the newels being of mahogany, turned and carved with hand rail to match.." and the windows of the staircase were of stained glass.

One of the Bay Hotel's earliest functions took place on 29th. September 1894 when it catered for the National Institute of Journalists. It was reported that "..It is impossible to speak too highly of the excellence of the repast...There was a profusion of viands, the cooking was perfect, while the service could not have been bettered...Mr Marsden has erected one of the finest hotels in the realm..".

An early example of the hotel's quest for custom was an advertisement which appeared in The Isle of Man Times of 22nd June 1895 in connection with the Douglas Bay Regatta of that year. These events, designed to promote tourism and organised by the old original Douglas Bay Yacht Club, were sponsored by public subscription and attracted entrants from throughout the United Kingdom.  The notice read -  "Douglas Bay Regatta.  Douglas Bay Hotel.  The Best View of the Course to be taken by the Yachts in the Douglas Bay Regatta, on Monday and Tuesday next, can be had from the above Hotel.  A SUPERIOR LUNCHEON WILL BE SERVED 12.30 TO 3. PM EACH DAY."

Initially the hotel had about sixty rooms and an extra wing was added in 1897 and it was officially listed as having 100 rooms. An advertisement in the Official Board of Advertising Guide for 1896 proclaimed its facilities to include the "..Grandest Position. In its own grounds. Electric light throughout. Golf Links adjoin. All bedrooms on first and second floors..". In 1899 its advertising stated that it was for "..Families and Gentlemen.." and went on to point out that all bedrooms faced the sea and that it was the only hotel away from the noise and bustle of the town. It recorded also that "..The Douglas Bay Howstrake Golf Links, 18 hole course, and covering 77 acres, now belong to the Hotel..".

Mr. Marsden and the Douglas Bay Hotel featured in the evidence given in the trial which followed the collapse of Dumbell's Bank in 1900. It was stated that there was an indebtedness to the Bank on a loan of £10,800. secured against 2,500 shares of £5 each in the Hotel Company, which were said to be worthless, and that "..there are three mortgages and debentures before..".

In 1903 the Hotel's advertisement read "..Standing in an Unrivalled Position in its own Grounds on the Northern Headland, overlooking the beautiful Bay of Douglas..". Its tariff was from 10/6d per day and its "..Cuisine and Wines perfect..". It also claimed to have "..Sanitary arrangements of the most modern character..". In the 1907 Advertising Guide it was proclaimed to be "..The Premier Hotel of the Isle..", and listed amongst its attractions, "..Golf Links under control of hotel within easy distance..". The hotel offered its guests concessionary rates on the golf links reducing, for example, the seasonal rate from one guinea to 10/6d, and a daily rate reduced from 1/6d to 1/-.

Following the collapse of Dumbell's bank the hotel came under the control of the bank's liquidators and in July 1906 it was offered for sale by auction. It was stated that the hotel had a profit of £796 in 1904 and of £1,188 in 1905. It was said to stand in four acres of land and to have seventy rooms. The auctioneer "..drew attention to the uninterrupted view and the fine situation of the property and mentioned that some years ago (before the bank failure) £34,000 had been refused by Mr Marsden for the hotel and it had cost that gentleman £32,000..". He asked for a bid of £12,000 but the best that was offered was £8,000 and the property remained unsold. The hotel was to carry on trading under the control of its liquidators for a further fourteen years.

By 1919 the hotel's daily charge had increased to 12/6d - 15/6d, and, in that year, Black's Guide commented that the "..Douglas Bay a new house which has taken a first class rank..". Also in 1919 there was the announcement that the hotel was to be sold by public auction by order of the liquidator of The Douglas Bay Hotel Co. Ltd. The auction was held on 2nd September and the bidding started at £5,000. However, the highest bid was for only £10,300, which was reported as being £2,000 less than the amount unsuccessfully offered about seven years previously, and the property was withdrawn.

In May 1920 The Examiner recorded that "..we understand that the Douglas Bay Hotel has been sold to a Liverpool syndicate who intend forming a company to take it over..". This sale was confirmed in February 1921 when a question was asked in Tynwald in connection with the uncompleted liquidation of Dumbell's Bank and it was stated that "..a great deal of delay had been experienced in getting rid of the Douglas Bay Hotel but it had now been sold and there was available for distribution about £17,000..". In March 1922 a license for the hotel was granted to the newly-formed company, Carlton Hotels (I.O.M.) Ltd.

In September 1930 a sad little episode occurred when two baboons escaped from their show cages at Onchan Head. One was shot at the fairground and the other was discovered in a bedroom at the Hotel and received a similar fate.

By early 1936 the hotel had new owners. In March of that year the Examiner recorded "..Mary and William Orton formerly licensees of Adelphi Hotel, Douglas, and of The Eagle Hotel, Port Erin and now proprietors of the Douglas Bay Hotel..". In the 1937 Guide Mrs M Orton was listed as the hotel's proprietress but it was to change hands again before that summer tourist season began.

Carlo and Eva Raineri owned the Alexandra Hotel on the Queen's Promenade in Douglas and over the years gradually bought adjacent properties, as they became available, and extended the Alexandra into one of the largest hotels on the seafront. In the Spring of 1937, Hotel Alexandra Ltd. acquired the Douglas Bay Hotel from Mrs. Orton and the Douglas Licensing Court approved the transfer of the license on 8th July of that year.

The Alexandra continued under the management of Mr & Mrs Raineri and the Douglas Bay was advertised as being under the management and supervision of Carlo Raineri and his son Leslie. Both hotels used a similar format in the Tourist Board Guides of the time and incorporated a logo of crossed flags bearing the hotel names with the slogan "The Standards of Excellence. Run by Raineri's, expert caterers of continental repute". The Alexandra could accommodate 400 guests and the Douglas Bay over 200 and so the Raineri family was a major force on the tourist scene.

The Douglas Bay advertised as having "..Indisputably the finest position in Douglas...bathed in sunshine from dawn to sunset. Enchanting views over the whole of Douglas promenade and the sea. Added to this the hotel stands in its own extensive grounds....while the famous Port Jack Bathing Beach is just below your bedroom window..". In addition to outdoor facilities such as deck tennis, putting, croquet, clock golf and badminton, "...or such informal games as suit the mood of the moment..", the hotel had dancing daily to its own resident orchestra, Gala Nights, cabarets and organised beach, dance and theatre parties for its guests. It was claimed that "..within the hotel everything is precise with that perfection due to years of experience..". And in 1938 all this was on offer from 8/6d a day!

The Raineris had barely three seasons in the hotel when war was declared in September 1939. Little was known of any wartime role for the Douglas Bay Hotel although it was reputed to have been used, for a time, to accommodate around 250 survivors from the Dunkirk evacuation and to have served as a billet for army personnel stationed on the Island. It was also rumoured to have been a military convalescent centre. It was not until 1995 that the true character of its wartime use came to be known. What must have been the best kept secret ever to involve the Island was revealed by two former members of  the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the forerunner of the Women's Royal Army Corps. These ladies had been part of a section known as War Office "Y" Group and trained at the Douglas Bay Hotel to intercept and transcribe coded German radio signals. This data was sent off the Island and was decoded by one of the "Enigma" mechanical decoding machines which, unknownst to the Germans, had been captured intact. The fact that Britain was able to decode these signals, and to know in advance of enemy intentions, particularly as regards their submarines, was to prove a decisive factor in the battle of the Atlantic.

After the war The Douglas Bay Hotel resumed its place amongst the premier hotels of the Island. It was deservedly popular and, on a postcard of August 1957, a young lady staying at the hotel wrote that she was "..having a lovely time. Staying at the Hotel on the view. The scenery is beautiful from top of the cliff at the front of the Hotel. The weather is not too good, but there is plenty of entertainment in the Hotel itself..".

As well as catering to their own guests, many of the large hotels at that period provided entertainment and drinking facilities to non-residents and at the Douglas Bay Hotel this additional custom was provided by their Texas Bar. This began as a music lounge bar whose organist took to wearing a cowboy hat. In due course he was joined by other musicians who also began to dress in cowboy style and the Western theme was adopted by the management and the decor of the bar was changed to match. The Texas Bar was at times, such as Glasgow Fair Week, to become over popular and gained a certain notoriety.

The Douglas Bay Hotel was probably unique in having its own post box, red painted in the style of official post office boxes. However, it had no posting slot and was probably used by the hotel to contain outgoing mail to be collected by the Electric Railway. The box was set into the wall near the electric tram line. Its date is not known but it was discernible on a aerial view post card of 1957.

Although as late as October 1985 planning consent was given for a covered swimming pool at the hotel and this was erected along the frontage with the King Edward Road, the decline in tourism forced a sale of the hotel and its prestigious headland site. Demolition of the hotel started in the Autumn of 1988 and during the course of this work, in the afternoon of 3rd November, a fire broke out which spread quickly through the building, leaving it a gutted shell. With the demolition of the hotel, Onchan Head lost what had been described in 1894 as " of the conspicuous land marks of the bay..".

Temporary use was made of this prime site as a depot dealing with rubbish skips. Then, in April 1994 the owners, Milton Properties who had owned the site since 1988, put forward plans to erect a 60,000 square feet office complex on the site. Approval was given in 1996.