The History of the Royal Glen Hotel
It was circa 1700 that the Royal Glen was built by a Mr King, of Bath. It was then a modest farmhouse with a dairy, outhouses, a hay loft and a well that still exists in the centre of the house. It was first known as King's Cottage, taking the name of the owner.
Many other names followed, Woolbrook Cottage, Woolbrook Glen, and finally as The Royal Glen.
It was quoted by a speaker to the local National Trust Group, on a talk about Sidmouth's old houses that the Glen might have been built with a royal Duke in mind, which of course it was not. However, the house was converted from the original into Regency splendour with delightful castellated pediments, tent-roofed verandah and Gothic casements complete with painted drip moulds. The inside was as charming, with the elegant and graceful drawing room. It has a regal presence and today the Royal Coat of Arms is proudly shown with the commemorated plaque above the Gothicised porch.
Today the royal coat of arms is proudly shown at the front of the building: made of wood, it was at first thought that these arms would have been installed in the 1930s as pictures at this time show it in place. However during a renovation in 1995 it was found to have an inscription on the back which reads J.R.Anderson, carver, 1879. It bears many features of the Royal Arms - the lion on the left facing the unicorn on the right, a smaller lion top centre seated on top of a sovereign helmetand the shield at the centre showing the three lions of England, the harp of Ireland and the lion of Scotland. The first motto is that of the Order of the Garter reading Honi Soit qui Mal y Pens (which is old French meaning evil to him who evil thinks), Dieu et Mon Droit belonging to the sovereign translates as God and my right, and lastly the right hand shield shows the Prince of Wales' feathers and his motto Ich Dien (I serve).
Above the Front Porch is the commemorative plaque erected to celebrate Queen Victoris's diamond jubilee. There are 2 photographs in the hotel of the local townspeople marking the occasion.
In 1775 the house was part of the Manor estates and when in 1817, it was purchased by Major General Edward Baynes, he added considerably to the grounds, made several general improvements and changed the name to "Woolbrook Cottage" or sometimes known as "Woolbrook Glen.
At the time of the Duke and Duchess of Kent's tragic stay, there would possibly have been 15 rooms. The Duchess occupied boudoirs on first and second floors, the Kent Room opposite the drawing room and room 23, with room 15 the Royal nursery adjoining. Room 15 has a plaque bearing the inscription 'This room was occupied by her most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria 1819-1820.
So how did the Kents come to be in Sidmouth? Victoria's father, born in 1767 was Edward Augustus, the fourth son of King George III. Full of self importance and extravagant, he went into the army at 17 but his career was erratic and in 1802 he was recalled after troops mutinied under his command. For the last 15 years of his life he was in retirement and constantly in debt. When he was in his 50s, with the line of succesion to the throne looking decidedly weak, a wife was chosen for him. Maria Louisa Victoria was 32 and the widow of the Prince of Leningen, but not wealthy. Her brothers were Leopold King of Belgium and the Duke of Saxe-Coburg who was the father of Prince Albert. They decided to live in Germany thinking it would be less expensive, but when the Duchess became pregnant the Duke insisted that the child should be born in England. They returned with very little money but the Duke's oldest brother George, who was then Prince Regent due to George III's insanity, was hostile and angry, refusing any approaches to public money.
By the autumn of 1819 lack of money made it impossible for them to live in London, so to escape his creditors the Duke looked for an out of the way place. He consulted his old tutor the Bishop of Salisbury who suggested Sidmouth as being both healthy and remote. The royal party arrived quietly at Sidmouth on December 24th, coming to Woolbrook Cottage where the accommodation was much smaller than that to which they were accustomed. Their identity soon became known to the townspeople who watched with interest the royal baby being carried about the grounds for her daily airing. The Duke was reported as saying "take care of her, she may yet be Queen of England". Another story is that of the princess being narrowly missed by a shot which came through her nursery window (marked today by a coloured pane of glass). The Duke died after a short feverish illness on January 23rd 1820.
His body lay in state for a short time at Woolbrook Cottage and was seen by a great number of people in the neighbourhood where he had become popular. His brother-in-law King Leopold paid the local debts so that the coffin could be removed. The coffin, 7ft long and weighing more than a ton, was taken to Windsor.
The Baynes family occupied the house until early 1856. In October of the same year, it was the honour of Mr and Mrs George Alexander to show the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) the apartments of his grandparents and mother, Queen Victoria.
Another change, now the house is called the Glen and is an orphanage, but in 1883, it was bought and managed as a boarding house, by the Misses Culverwell and first advertised as such in the Sidmouth Directory of 1887.
When in 1926, Mrs Annie Webber and daughter purchased the Glen and carried on the boarding house, daughter Dora by marrying into the Culverwell family enables us to advertise the fact that the Glen has been managed by a member of the family for just over one hundred years.
After many years of successful boarding house keeping then Mrs Webber retired and Dora became a house-wife. Daughter Jane (a Mrs Martin) progressively took over its management. Now the Glen had become the "Royal Glen" and in 1938 despite the threat of a second world war, Mrs Martin added five rooms to each floor. When the war came the hotel was a convalescence home for the RAF.
Mrs Martin remarried and the hotel was jointly managed with her husband Mr Harold Crane until 1958, they then retired, and Mr Orson Crane with his wife Jean came into the business. The following year rooms were converted and the first private bathrooms installed. More building and modern facilities followed, always to be in harmony with the distinguished old house and a determination to preserve the Royal Glen's traditions and atmosphere so beautifully maintained earlier on by Mrs Jane Crane.
It was apparent that more dining room space was needed. After many years of thought as to where this space could be found, it seemed that excavation was the only answer. Thankfully Mr Orson Crane had the eye and mind of an architect. Only during the previous years the cellars had been dug out to make his apartments bigger (although opinions differed as to the possibility). Eventually, the plans were passed for the much needed dining room and Autumn 1967 arrived with the diggers. After 18 feet had been excavated the so called 'Cranes Crater' took shape. Weather hampered the work and water had to be pumped out constantly before work could be resumed. Spring 1968 the new dining-room was completed and opened for Easter. The oval design was unusual and much admired also a Bar was incorporated. Disaster did come in July with heavy rains and the Glen road culverts were blocked and the dining-room flooded.
More accommodation was in demand and plans again kept being put forward but opposition was bitter. The Royal Glen being Sidmouth's only grade 1 listed building, one could understand the concern but the proposed extension showed crenellations like the original building but the Department of the Environment held the view that such extensions should not match but contrast. By February 1976 the battle was over. Another major excavation and again a challenge.
By 1976 the adjoining new wing looked as if it had been there always. The completion having coincided with H.M. Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, it seemed fitting for it to be named the Jubilee Wing. The rooms of the 'Royal Glen' all have names, Princess's room, Edward, Andrew, Charles, Anne, Woolbrook 1 and 2 etc. Kitchens had to be enlarged with space taken from the garden, and the Bar moved upstairs to the original dining-room making a really spacious lounge Bar, the beautifully designed screen having pride of place.
A further extension of existing dining-room was made, concealed under the terrace.
During the early 1980s It was decided to purchase another Hotel in the area, and the Torbay Hotel was acquired. This hotel overlooked the cricket field and had superb views, an old Regency house converted into a hotel from three houses. It would appear another challenge for the Crane family. Their eldest daughter Hilary having just qualified in Hotel Catering and Management at Oxford Polytechnic College appeared most eager to follow in the family's footsteps and supervised there with her husband Mr. Martin Caldwell, who also helped manage, making the Culinary side his forte. The hotel remained in the family ownership until 1994.
It would appear that Orson and Jean Crane are more than fortunate to be endowed with two daughters interested in making hotel life their careers, younger daughter Vivienne successfully completed three years at the same College and gained her HND diploma and then travelled around the world to gain experience.
Mention must be made of the wine cellar of the hotel which was cleverly constructed from a store tunnel which led from the kitchens to the outside. It is admirable for keeping the hotel's fine range of wines in ideal conditions.
In December 1986, planning permission was at last obtained for a Swimming Pool to be built and a dream realised by the hotel's owner Mr Orson Crane. This unique heated pool 30ft by 20ft built under the existing car park was another interesting engineering feat, involving digging deep and putting back on top again! This modern facility is much appreciated by guests of all ages. We were very honoured to have Olympic Medalist Sarah Hardcastle to open the pool formally.
During 1992 Sidmouth was featured on TSW Television. This production was based on David Young's book 'Cobblestones, Cottages and Castles'. David had much enthusiasm for the South West countryside, unusual buildings and older houses. Sidmouth was on the first of a series of six programmes and much of the Royal Glen Hotel was shown, including the beautiful drawing room and many of the bedrooms.
Staff and guests spent a festive evening seeing out the old year and welcoming in the new Millennium. 1999 also saw the completion of the 'Clifton Walkway' organised by the Sidmouth Millennium Walkway Group. The new walkway enables everyone to stroll from the west end of the promenade to Jacob's Ladder. This was funded by contributions from Sidmouth hotels and the entire community.
2001 brings us up to the Centenary of Queen Victoria's death, to commemorate the event there are exhibitions and houses listed as having royal connections, (open to the public) and those where Her Majesty resided. The Royal Glen is proud to be one of the latter. 2003 Jean Crane is filmed with Punella Scales in her production 'Looking for Victoria' televised in 2 parts.
Mr & Mrs Crane take more of a back seat, and leave the general running of The Royal Glen to Hilary and Vivienne.
2005 to 2007
Has seen major refurbishing and renovation in the fabric of the building, with new hand made wooden windows, conforming to grade 1 listing criteria, Kitchen areas to keep pace with new standards in health and safety; bathrooms and soft furnishings to measure up to visitors discerning attitudes to fabrics and furnishings, and lastly but not least importantly, up to date improvements in fire safety, which we have worked closely with our local area Officer, and has been a mammoth task this winter. All the while at the forefront of our minds is to keep those parts of the Glen that make it unique, its own Gothicised style of a period country cottage surrounded in memorabilia and history. The Royal Glen is filmed on BBC Timewatch production The Young Victoria presented by historian Kate Williams.
A platform lift is installed, which provides those who find the staircases at the Glen difficult to negotiate far more variety in their choice of rooms. Space taken by the lift made a complete re build of the kitchen obligatory.
2009 The garage was demolished opening up the view of the wing.
2010 Three new rooms are built on the second floor of the wing. This has aesthetically completed the building, only regaining, bedspaces that have been lost over time due to enlargening rooms and those taken by the lift. These rooms have a more modern feel to them, which gives Guests more choice between the historical and the contemporary.
2011 New Boiler installed and underfloor heating introduced into the restaurant. Reception comes out of the cupboard, now a smart reception area to welcome Guests. New locks on all bedrooms incorporating the secure card system.
2012/2013 The beautiful 'tented' veranda is refurbished to its grade 1 listing criteria, major roof works, and the whole of the south facing elevation is replastered and window frames replaced.
All the while at the forefront of our minds is to keep those parts of the Glen that make it unique, its own Gothicised style of period country cottage surrounded in memorabilia and history.