Imagine this scene. Just over a hundred years ago, a small group of men stand on the cliffs close to Lizard Point, top hats silhouetted against the bright sky, frock coats fluttering in the light breeze. They gaze down at the Atlantic waves crashing on the rocks below, a vista of wild natural beauty. Agreement is reached, a decision made. This will be the perfect place for a new Hotel in Cornwall.
Tourism was just beginning in Cornwall. The first tourists were rich people. There was none of the mass movement of holiday makers that there is today. A number of Hotels in Cornwall and Devon were under construction around the coast to accommodate wealthy and discerning guests. The Housel Bay, developed by a group of substantial, local business people was one of these. Keen to extol the virtues of Cornwall and The Lizard in particular they planned to benefit from the increasing number of tourists who were beginning to come to the county.
The Directors commissioned a well known local architect, Silvanus Trevail, to design the new hotel. In 1894, shortly after the hotel was opened, he was to become Mayor of Truro. Trevail designed many of the “more modern buildings and Hotels in Cornwall”. He was widely travelled in Europe and the Americas and was celebrated ‘as far afield as London, Sydney and Paris’.
Plans were laid, designs approved. The hotel was, in the words of the original builder, Mr. Carkeek, ‘positively carved out of the rock – for the stone with which it was built came from the hill on which it stood and was carved and formed upon the spot’. Down the narrow roads of the Lizard were transported Cornish slate, wood, glass and the many other materials needed to build Housel Bay Hotel.
In 1930 there was a dramatic cliff rescue near Housel Bay. One of the guests, a Miss Johnson, slipped and fell down a nearby cliff. She was caught on the ledge for some hours while villagers and hotel staff tried to rescue her. Eventually she was helped to safety, bruised but otherwise unhurt. A diary entry by one of the guests at the time has a cryptic comment about the event. It says “Many of the local villagers were standing on the beach below watching the rescue. As the young lady was pulled to safety a collective sigh went up from the assembled people. It may have been a relief that she was finally safe but I suspect a secondary factor was that many of those below had an interesting view of the lady’s petticoats!”
The hotel went through a fairly quiet period during the run up to the Second World War although there was much excitement as the airship Hindenburg was seen sailing above the hotel in 1936.
In the early 1940’s Housel Bay was requisitioned for a while. It was used as a billet for army troops and later, for RAF personnel.
During the period 1978 to 1985 the hotel became, yet again, something of a haven for military personnel, with many occupants from RNAS Culdrose staying on a semi-permanent basis, during the buildup to the Falklands Crisis.
In 2004 the present owners, Alfred & Iona Mesropians, bought the Housel Bay. They have invested much time and money in bringing the hotel back to its former high standards and thanks to a highly professional kitchen brigade the hotel restaurant once again enjoys a good reputation for the variety and quality of its home-produced food.
The Housel Bay has, in just a hundred years, had a fascinating and chequered history and we have no doubt that the next hundred years will be just as interesting and colourful.