Vintage Views: Walpole Bay Hotel
Style columnist Siobhan Maroney heads to the romantically vintage Walpole Bay Hotel in Margate
Hello, you incredible lot, I hope you’ve had the most epic summer. I’m going to jump straight into this issue’s style feature, the Walpole Bay Hotel.
If you haven’t heard of the Walpole Bay, firstly, I recommend you read on and, secondly, organise a trip there. It is like no other place you have ever visited; it has all the quirks, all the vintage feels (including a 1927 trellis gated Otis lift) and the interiors are to die for.
I’d go just to admire their loos, you’ll see what I mean. Loved by fashion photographers, artists and musicians alike... did I mention that Paloma Faith recently shot there? It’s a place that if you get it, you’ll fall in love with it. I, like the rest of my friends, go for the interiors, the cream tea (an absolute must), oh and to get our weekly dose of Jane (who owns the hotel alongside her husband Peter). We love her and after reading this you will, too.
So, go on Jane, tell me all about you and Peter
“Peter and I fell in love when our eyes met through the school bus window. He attended Chatham Technical School for Boys and I was a pupil at Rochester Grammar School for Girls – this was the early 60s.
“We were not allowed to court each other, his parents thought I was a flibertigibbet and would lead him a merry dance, and my parents had aspirations of me being the first woman prime minister. My parents didn’t think Peter was good enough for me and vice versa… so we would secretly come down to Margate to be together. We were as poor as church mice, so we’d bring a picnic with us and travel down on the cheap day return train from the Medway Towns. Once we arrived in Margate we’d do our courting on Walpole Bay beach – we loved the tidal pool, the largest in England, the wonderful sandy beaches and the sunsets… they’re to die for!
“Our route to the beach would always involve a walk past the Walpole Bay Hotel, a beautiful 1914 building, always full of well-to-do happy people having the most wonderful time on their holiday. It was a rich vibrant scene that left a lasting lifelong impression on us. We were like two little Oliver Twists with our noses against the pane viewing how the other half lived. We still regularly visited Walpole Bay, even after we got married and had our children in the 1970s. It was our ‘special place’. However, we never had the temerity to enter the Walpole Bay Hotel itself – it just wasn’t for people like us.”
Wow, so how did you go from admiring the Walpole Bay Hotel from afar to it being yours?
“Well, we continued to visit the beach throughout the 1980s and each time we did the Walpole Bay Hotel looked quieter and sadder. Of course, all the well-to-do clients were now flying abroad for their holidays. Then in 1989 it seemed to close down completely. It looked so forlorn and sad. We so wished that we could save the Walpole and restore her to her former glory, just how we remembered her from our early life, but we were in no financial position to do so.
“We were an ordinary 2.4 family living and working mainly on the Isle of Grain. I was a cashier working in Grain power station and a youth leader for the village, Peter was a carpenter repairing intricate roofs in Millionaires’ Row in London. In 1994 we overheard a conversation that the Walpole was being auctioned off, there were talks of it being demolished and flats built on the site. At this moment we were determined to realise our long-held ambition and by whatever means necessary rescue it.
“We sold everything we owned and our friends Alan and Janet lent us the rest of the money we needed for the deposit. We had written a brilliant business plan that said ‘Don’t invest in this building, it needs lots of work. Don’t invest in this business as there are no trading figures as yet… but DO invest in us’. And guess what! NatWest Bank offered us a commercial mortgage subject to survey.
“We put tenants in our little house, gave up our jobs and solicitors were holding every penny we could garner from anywhere towards the deposit and legal fees. Then a letter came withdrawing our mortgage offer – the survey had come back condemning the Walpole hotel as beyond economical repair and we were advised that neither of us had enough business experience to make it financially viable. The bottom fell out of our world. We did not know what to do, our dream had ended before it had even begun.
“After this had happened, we came down to see David, who was the grandson of the original builder of the Walpole hotel. We explained what had happened and asked him to facilitate the return of our deposit. He asked to read the letter from the bank – he then looked at us and said: ‘This is ridiculous, if anyone is going to get Walpole up and running again, it will be you two’. So he gave us the Walpole hotel for five years to see if we really could. Within four years we managed we get it back up and running and had our mortgage accepted.”
What a story, it restores your faith in humanity that a complete stranger did this. It was obviously meant to be from the very beginning. Tell us all about the Walpole Bay Hotel now and what is to come
“We are now famous for our cream teas and Sunday lunches, with resident pianist Nick Capocci. We are so fortunate to have become a destination in our own right with our Museum of Serendipity and our Napery Gallery of textile art. The Walpole Bay is fast becoming known as a unique location for photographers and filmmakers; we have more than 100 locations under one roof here and some really quirky props, too. Paloma Faith recently had a shoot here and absolutely loved it.
“When this issue goes to print, we will have opened The Walpole Kitchen under head chef Ross Summers, which we are extremely excited about. From September our rooms will feature Haeckels products, a company based round the corner and loved worldwide. We are also so proud to announce that towards the end of the year we will be hosting the Turner Prize. Walpole is also hosting A Turner Fringe Festival during that period which anyone can enter so that everyone can feel included in this upswell of creativity in our wonderful historic town.”
Thank you so much, Jane, for telling me all about the Walpole Bay Hotel and for letting us have a look round. We truly love it and you.