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Howstrake
Hotel Majestic - 1922

 

View Park Mansion was built in 1893 in its own spacious grounds above Onchan Harbour for Mr John Smith MacAndrew. It passed into the hands of a Mr. Prestwich, who, at the turn of the century also leased the Howstrake golf course. The mansion was acquired by William James Grant and his wife Emma Eliza Grant in 1920 with the intention of enlarging it and converting it into an hotel. Originally, it had been intended to call the proposed new hotel the Howstrake Hotel. However, at about this time, the Howstrake Estate company was developing the Howstrake farmhouse on Harbour Road into an hotel, and they used the name, more logically, for their new hotel.

The architect of the project was James Du Puy Kay and at the Licensing court in March 1922 it became known that the new hotel was to be called The Hotel Majestic and that it would be opened at Whitsuntide. The Examiner of 24th March 1922 described the new premises as having "..95 bedrooms and much lounge and smokeroom accommodation, a large glass-covered tearoom overlooking the bay, a ballroom measuring 1,380 square feet, and it had ten acres...laid out in flower gardens, tennis courts and croquet lawns, and a swimming bath to be completed later..". The cost was put as probably running to £50,000 and it was emphasised that it would be purely a residential hotel. It was not intended to cater to the general public. The application for the license was opposed by the Manx Temperance Federation and their suggestion that "..it would be a good experiment to try running the place without a license.." was countered by the argument "..that the suggestion would carry more force if...[the Federation]...had ever set up a place of this size and character on temperance lines..". The license was granted in the name of a Mr. Harry Grant.

On 23rd June 1922 the Examiner printed an article under the headline of "Palatial Structure at Onchan" and announced the opening of the new hotel on 1st July. It was reported that the owners had constructed the hotel "..in an attempt to remedy an obvious failing in the efforts of Douglas to cater for its visitors..", and that "..people in search of rest and quiet on holiday have either passed the Island over or have alternatively gone to the South of it, to Port St Mary or Port Erin. These places fill most of the requirements of the visitor, but there is the defect of being too far away from Douglas..", where, it was admitted, entertainments could be found at The Palace, Gaiety Theatre and Villa Marina to "..break the quiet routine..". The Examiner added that "..The Hotel Majestic is going to fill this breach..".

In making this apparent condemnation of Douglas as a holiday resort, the Examiner's reporter had chosen to ignore that each year hundreds of thousands of happy holiday-makers thronged the promenades of the Island's capital and their presence gave the lie to his gloomy attitude. A description of the new hotel continued - "Acquiring the old mansion from Mr Prestwich, the place has been transformed and a large new portion added to it. The lay-out of the place is splendid, and the fittings and furnishings for which Harrods Ltd., Manchester, are responsible, are the best guarantee of the excellence of the internal part of the hotel. There is a very fine ballroom laid with parquetry blocks...The corridor runs right through the centre of the hotel and on each side are rooms, lounges etc. for the comfort of the guests. A pretty glass-covered balcony enables the visitor to enjoy the benefits of sunshine to the full. Afternoon teas will be served here whilst on an oppressive day the guests may retreat to a cooler lounge..The house is fully licensed and is fitted with a commodious bar..The dining room is a spacious, cheery room, overlooking the gardens and sea. The kitchen arrangements are really fine, and there should be no cause for complaint regarding cold viands or slow service..On the whole the place may be favourably compared with modern hydros such as the one at Cleveleys, and its erection should lead to the attracting of a new class of visitor to Douglas, and the Island, not only in the season but during the winter months for the place is an ideal retreat at any period of the year..".

An advertisement in 1924 described it as "Manxland's Newest and Finest Hotel" with 150 bedrooms and boasted "..Perfect Sanitary Arrangements. Hot and Cold Water laid to every Bedroom. Electric Light Throughout. Beautiful Lounges, Magnificent Ball Room, Billiards Room..". The grounds were laid out as "Charming Garden Walks", eight tennis courts both hard and grass, putting greens, clock golf and a bowling green. A garage with an inspection pit acknowledged the arrival of the motorised tourist.

The appearance of the original three gabled mansion house was retained externally and a flat-roofed extension was built to the West and on an old photograph this appears to have been built in brick with dressed stone to match the earlier structure. Another extension was added on the Eastern side, in the shape of three sections of a cross, two of which ran at a rightangle, from North to South, to the original mansion. Again, this addition was flatroofed. The seaward gable of this extension featured a handsome projecting balcony, supported by four carved and pierced timber corbels. Four timber pillars supported a roof-covering above the balcony. This cruciform extension to the East is clearly visible in an aerial photograph which appeared in the 1934 Guide issued by the Publicity Board.

The transformation from Mansion House to hotel appears to have been sympathetically carried out and retained the period appearance of the property to a significant degree. Parapets along the roofs of the extensions, in a similar style to those on the Mansion House, helped to create a sense of unity between the old and the new. Undoubtedly, the Majestic was a very fine hotel both in position and appearance and its facilities, which included its own courtesy coach with uniformed staff to convey guests to and from the piers, were the match of any other establishment on the Island.

In October 1927 William James Grant and his wife conveyed the property to a limited company, The Hotel Majestic Ltd., and by 1929 it was apparent that the hotel had problems. In November of that year an execution was issued against the hotel company, and against William James Grant and a James Grant, for £4,500, in favour of a Frank Shorrock in respect of three mortgages to him granted between 1923 and 1925. Additionally, there were three other mortgages, one dated 27th December 1920 for £4,000. to Mrs Rebecca Prestwich, another of August 1921 for £10,000. to The Isle of Man Banking Company, and a third, of April 1922 for £3,000. to a Thomas Holden and Frank Shorrock jointly.

In March 1930 the property was sold by Coroner's auction for £21,500., the purchaser being Mr Shorrock and his wife Marie, of Myrtle Bank, Victoria Road, Douglas. Under the terms of the auction, it was agreed that the mortgages totalling £17,000., to Mrs Prestwich, the bank, and to Holden and Shorrock, plus accrued interest of £1,233., would remain in being and thus Mr Shorrock had to find only £3,267. in cash to complete the purchase. A new company, The Majestic Hotel (1930) Ltd. was formed in May 1930 with a share capital of £20,000 and the property was sold to the new company by the Shorrock's for £28,500., the purchase price being made up of an allocation of £10,000 in shares, £14,000 outstanding in mortgages to Mrs Prestwich and The Isle of Man Bank, and a cash payment of £4,500. The hotel company gave a Mortgage Debenture to the Bank on 30th May 1930.

Again, the hotel was dogged by financial problems. In October 1933 the Isle of Man Bank appointed a Receiver and in August 1934 the property was conveyed to the Bank. The purchase price was £18,500 which was sufficient to cover Mrs Prestwich's mortgage of £4,000. and the mortgage to the Bank for £10,000. together with a further £3,500. due to the Bank under their debenture.

In the Autumn of 1934 it was rumoured that the Majestic Hotel was about to change hands once more. The Examiner of 12th October 1934 carried a headline announcing "..Hotel Majestic - Big Development Scheme.." which was followed by a news item which appeared to be part hearsay and part conjecture but in the event proved to have some foundation. This article announced that "..the hotel, which we gather has recently been purchased by Messrs. Hawtree and Thomson who control amusement entertainments in London and Blackpool..", was to be extended at a cost of about £70,000. The news item listed the improvements as an increase of 52 in the number of bedrooms, a large swimming pool to be built, the provision of tennis courts and bowling greens, a glass solarium with an "electric sun", medicinal baths and sun bathing lawns and it was hoped that these would be ready by the season of 1935.

It was later to transpire that Manx Hotels Ltd., a company incorporated in October 1934, were the new owners and the property was conveyed to them by the Bank in January 1935. The price was £18,500. Charles Hawtree was the Managing Director and William Thompson a director of the hotel's new proprietors.

The fine outdoor swimming pool did materialise and was constructed during the Winter of 1934/35. Previously, all that the hotel's entries in the Guides could offer in this respect was that, as in 1934, sea bathing could be had in the vicinity, probably at Port Jack although possibly also at Onchan Harbour. However, it was to become clear that the other improvements mentioned by the Examiner in October 1934 were not entirely journalistic speculation. The 1935 Guide entry featured an artist's impression which depicted, on the hotel's Western side, a narrow, single storey extension, connecting with a large circular structure, surmounted by a domed roof, and this may have been the proposed solarium. These additional buildings never materialised. The drawing also showed an outdoor pool described as "..Floodlighted Bathing Pool - Sea Water - 125 X 100 Feet..". The pool was in use during the Summer of 1935 and this is confirmed by the testimony given at a civil action brought by a young lady who had bathed in the pool, had a drink, or two, at the Quarter Deck bar and had later sustained injuries in the hotel grounds. It is also significant that by 1935 the hotel name had become the Majestic Lido Hotel. Of the features shown in the artist's impression, only the pool had come to fruition. There was. of course, no Trades Descriptions Act in those days!

On the South side of the hotel was a driveway and beyond this lay the swimming pool. Originally, the driveway had been buttressed by a stretch of dry stone walling in an unusual herring bone pattern made up of horizontal courses of slabs and with the space between these courses filled with slabs set at forty-five degrees, alternately to left and right in each course. In front of the buttress and to a height almost level with the road above had been built a reinforced concrete deck. On this deck, which was furnished with tables and chairs and sun umbrellas, a kiosk-like structure sold drinks. Staircases led down to changing rooms beneath the deck at pool level, where timber boarding and rows of lockers formed a rear wall and concealed the dry stone walling. The pool shelved gradually to a maximum depth of 9 feet at its southernmost edge where a springboard was installed. An evergreen shrubbery provided shelter from the sea breezes for the pool and its sunbathing lawns. The water for the pool was pumped up from the sea, more than a hundred feet below. The remains of the pump house may be seen at the foot of the cliffs within a couple of hundred yards from the sewer outfall pipe!

In September 1935 The Examiner published a further impression of proposed extensions and these were built during the Winter of 1935/36. These works completed the external appearance of the hotel as it now stands. Accompanying text stated the work had begun on the extensions which would be completed by the start of the 1936 season, and the hotel "..will be easily the largest in the Island with accommodation for 315 guests which is practically double the number which could be accommodated when the property was acquired by its present owners, Manx Hotels Ltd., less than a year ago..". Passenger lifts were to be installed and a revolving door provided at the front entrance. Mr R.H. Cain of Athol Street Douglas was the architect of the new extensions, but the building works, apart from structural steel, were carried out by the hotel company's own works department of which Mr. Albert V. Hawtree was the Works Manager. It was the intention to complete the extension in what was described as "..Tudor style..". Externally, the main change to the appearance of the buildings was that the cruciform shape of the Eastern wing was to be converted into a rectangular shaped block with a square tower in its centre. The fine balcony overlooking the sea was extended by means of stark steel girders. From a visual point of view, this extension was the start of what Prof. Kornwolf described in his book on Baillie Scott as an "..architectural night-mare..".

A postcard entitled the "Majestic Hotel and Lido, Douglas I.O.M." which depicts the hotel, after the construction of the swimmimg pool in 1934-35, clearly shows that both the brickwork and Bath stone quoins of the Mansion House of 1893 remained in their original state. The 1922 extensions, built in a similar style to the mansion house, were also unaltered. However, the 1935-36 extensions appeared to be in cement render. Eventually the whole of the exterior of the building was to be in white painted cement render and this change probably took place in post-war renovations.

The hotel carried on with its normal Winter program of functions during the course of the work and this included Whist Drives and dancing to the resident orchestra, (admission 2/6d), with dining and a cold buffet available. Licensing extensions until midnight were a usual feature. The Christmas and New Year festivities included a cabaret, dancing and the "Talkies" together with attractive events for the children. Over 100 guests stayed at the hotel during the Christmas 1935 period.

In October 1935 the Fort Anne Hotel on Douglas Head was placed on the market by order of the receiver for the debenture holder, and within twelve months of their acquisition of the Majestic Hotel, Manx Hotels Ltd. had bought this property at auction for £26,250. In 1936 and 1937 both the Majestic Lido and the Fort Anne hotels ran their advertisements in the Guide on the same page and there were arrangements under which the residents of one could use the facilities of the other.

During the Autumn of 1936 approval was sought to further improvements at the Majestic in the shape of an enlarged dining room and the installation of central heating. This was unsuccessfully opposed by the Manx Temperance Federation on the grounds that drinking facilities would be thereby increased. It seems to have been the policy of the Federation at that time to oppose all proposals of whatever nature where licensed premises were concerned.

The 1937 Guide advertisement for the Majestic Lido Hotel claimed 200 bedrooms, of which 62 had their own baths, and its tariff was from 12/6d to 21/-, fully inclusive, per day. By 1937 the hotel was increasingly catering for non-residents. The bathing pool was open to the general public for 1/-, (spectators 6d). During the Summer months a Dinner Dance was held every evening in The Edward Restaurant, admission 4/6d, or 2/6d for dancing only, and coaches left from, and returned to, the Jubilee Clock in Douglas, free of charge, by way of the Promenades. The additional 2/- charge for a meal appears remarkable value but its provision might have been to conform with licensing laws in connection with extensions of drinking facilities to midnight. Onchan, although a growing centre both of tourism and of population, had been penalised until 1936 in that its bars had to close at ten in the evening whereas the four Island towns, and Port Erin and Port St Mary, were permitted to remain open, during the season, for an extra hour. Although there were proposals that only the Howstrake Hotel, the Douglas Bay Hotel and the Majestic Lido should benefit by the new regulation, it was finally agreed that it should apply to the whole village district.

And so, under the ownership of Manx Hotels Ltd., the Majestic appears to have prospered until the outbreak of war when the hotel was commandeered and became a Military Hospital for the duration of the hostilities.

A new company, Majestic Hotel (Isle of Man) Ltd. was formed in August 1947 with a capital of £55,000. and in the following December acquired the property for £40,000. from Manx Hotels. The property changed hands again in February 1951 when it was acquired by The Hon. Henry Rogers Broughton, a retired army Major from Norwich for £59,000. However, this sale excluded a part of the hotel grounds which approximated to the additional plot of land of three acres which Mr McAndrew had bought in 1893 on the Eastern boundary of his mansion house. This parcel of land was sold in April 1955 for £4,500. and , from 1954, was to be built on as the initial development of Majestic Drive.

After the war ended, and in common with other large hotels on the Island, the Majestic held regular dances open, as were its licensed bars, to the general public. Older Manx residents will remember the "La Tonnelle" ballroom, the tables of which were equipped with telephones. Numbers were displayed on the shades of the table lamps and could be used to "Dial a Dance" with an occupant of another table. In the Onchan Guide of 1958 the Majestic advertised dancing and cabaret nightly "..in the Famous LA TONNELLE BALLROOM with a Telephone on each Table..". In 1962 the advertisement in the Onchan Guide added that La Tonnelle was "..The only ballroom in the British Isles with a Telephone on each Table to ring HIM or HER to dance..". This novelty had its origin in the 'Phone Bars in Germany in the 1930s and became popular in America in the 1960s. The idea reached London in 1988 when a branch of Caspers was opened in Hanover Square. The Majestic also had a "Parisian Night Club" and cabaret which featured a Latin American band but this attraction was for residents only.

Yet another company, Majestic Hotel (1958) Ltd, was formed to run the undertaking. The new company negotiated a lease on the Howstrake golf links from Mr L.L. Corkill's company Howstrake Estate (1937) Ltd. Under the terms of the lease, the hotel was able to offer its guests the facilities of the adjacent golf course, although without precluding the members of the golf club from continuing to use the links. For three years from 1959 to 1961 the hotel advertised under the name of the MAJESTIC GOLF LINKS HOTEL. By 1962 the open air bathing pool was being promoted as the  "Lovely Blue Lagoon SWIM POOL and SUN TRAP".

In 1964 the hotel was acquired by Mr Basil Jackson's company, Rex Hotels Ltd., and the lease of the golf links was transferred to the new company. Mr Jackson had ambitions to change the name of the club to the Majestic Golf Club, to reduce the number of holes to nine, and to use the Majestic gate lodge, within the hotel grounds, as a club house in place of the club's headquarters on Harbour Road. The proposals were opposed by the golf club and by Mr Corkill, who owned the land, and did not materialise. Mr Jackson lived at Far End House on the King Edward Road and his daughter, Alex, was a noted swimmer. She was a finalist in the 100 metres in the 1968 Olympics and won a bronze medal for the Isle of Man in the Commonwealth games in 1970 in the ladies' 220 yards freestyle race. It would be interesting to assume that she used the Majestic pool for training sessions.

 

The ownership of the hotel passed to Mr C.B. Bellamy and The Examiner of 21st May 1971 printed an advertising feature entitled "The New Look Majestic Lido Hotel" in which it was stated that "..The Isle of Man's largest residential hotel, the Majestic at Onchan, has been undergoing further and extensive improvements and has now re-opened its doors as one of the best equipped conference hotels. This year the Majestic Hotel will not be closing at the end of the season - it is to remain open for functions of all kinds and it can offer a unique service in that the hotel can cater for two functions at the same time. The dining room is the largest hotel dining room in the Isle of Man and it is capable of seating with comfort 450 persons at one sitting. The ball-room at the other end of the hotel, and with a separate outside entrance, normally seats 350 persons around the spacious dance floor, but this number can be doubled when occasion demands. The owner and managing director of the hotel is Mr C.B. Bellamy..who has risen to the challenge and succeeded in putting this beautifully situated hotel with its panoramic views of Douglas Bay, firmly on the map".

At around this time, the Island's visiting industry was beginning to feel the effect of competition from package holidays to warmer climes. To help counter this loss to Manx tourism, attention turned to the promotion of the Island as a conference centre. It was this potential market that the Majestic hoped to tap as an extra source of revenue. The Examiner noted that "..later this year [1971] the Majestic will be the headquarters for the Bridge Convention and for the International Six Days' Motor-cycle Trial. The hotel will remain open in October for delegates attending the Rotary Conference". Mr Bellamy commented that "..We are reasonably happy with bookings for this season..".

The number of rooms at the Majestic, if the various newspaper reports and advertisements over the years are to be believed, seemed to vary considerably. Following the 1971 refurbishments it was claimed that "..one third of the 140 guest bedrooms have had bath rooms installed..". In the 1937 Guide the hotel claimed 200 rooms of which 62 had en suite bathrooms.

The hotel also attracted a large share of the market for wedding receptions, club dinners and other functions and a memorable example of this occurred on 7th March 1974 when over 200 guests attended an 150th. Anniversary Dinner of the R.N.L.I. which was held there.

An advertisement in the Onchan Guide for 1972/73 read - "The Glorious  MAJESTIC HOTEL  KING EDWARD ROAD : ONCHAN - OVERLOOKING DOUGLAS BAY   A Continental type Holiday with enjoyment for all ages!  Situated in 8 acres of Gardens facing the Sea  150 Bedrooms (50 with Private Bathroom)  Terms from £3 per Day inclusive of full board... The following FREE to Residents...".  The advertisement then listed the - "Delightful Blue Lagoon Swim Pool - Hard Tennis Courts - Table Tennis, Games Room - Dance and Cabaret in Ballroom (except Sundays) early June to early September - Night Club 11.30 to 2.00 for Dancing and Cabaret - Conference Facilities". Whilst the attractions and facilities available at the Majestic, and the cost of a holiday there, were competitive with some of the Spanish resorts of the period, nowhere in our northern latitudes could offer the almost guaranteed sunshine of the Mediterranean. A postcard of THE MAJESTIC LIDO HOTEL, printed during the 1950s, had views of its Hungarian Restaurant, the Solarium, its well appointed lounge and the splendid swimming pool, attractively furnished with colourful sun umbrellas. It looked inviting. But, in August 1956, the senders had written, "..the weather is terrible. It's rained practically every day since we've been here. The sun shone for two hours on Tuesday & that's the lot. We're both a bit fed up with it...".

During the Winter of 1983/84 refurbishment of parts of the interior of the hotel was carried out. Unfortunately, vandals left some water taps running and sections of the building suffered damage. This was rectified in time for the 1984 season and the Summer Cabaret was announced as commencing towards the end of April in the Night Club and Lounge Bar. During the Summer of that year planning applications were announced for a proposal to make a fuller use of the site. This consisted of plans to construct 52 self-catering holiday apartments, in seven blocks, on the Douglas side of the hotel buildings and swimming pool. The original application was in the name of Tudor Homes Ltd. but on review the applicant was changed to Majestic Hotel Apartments Ltd. Objections were lodged by residents of Majestic Drive but on review, in October 1984, consent to the project was upheld. The development did not, however, come to fruition.

As tourism gradually declined, the Majestic, and many other once popular and thriving establishments went into recession. For the season of 1986, the hotel was increasingly seeking its trade from non-residents. Following refurbishments to its lounges and bars a varied and extensive program of attractions was available in the La Tonnelle ballroom and in the lounge. These included a pianist, vocalists, Wylie McDowell's "Song and Dance Show", an organist, and ballroom dancing was held on four days each week. A film was screened each Thursday and the Tudor Bar was equipped with large-screen television. Good value bar lunches were available and the swimming pool could be used, for a charge, by non-residents. The hotel advertised that it even had a helicopter landing pad! Plans were announced to hold afternoon tea dances and garden parties. But it was all to no avail and The Majestic finally closed in 1987. Amongst its last guests were groups of German tourists on packaged coach tours.

The building was later used as an auction room but meanwhile various planning applications were made to demolish it and to build up to 130 apartments on the site. These met with opposition both from the Onchan Commissioners and from local residents and failed to obtain approval on the grounds of the housing density involved and the height of the buildings proposed. An application made in early 1991 involved blocks of up to seven storeys in height on the seaward side of the site.

Two traces of its former glories remain. Over the main door there is a coat-of-arms style triangular panel dating from the original Mansion House built for Mr MacAndrew in 1893, and the four timber balcony corbels on the seaward side of the Eastern wing have survived from about 1921.