Writer and local historian Douglas d’Enno has kindly made available to The Saltdean Zone the following article which originally appeared in the July 2006 edition of Picture Postcard Monthly.
At that time he wrote ‘Brighton’s biggest hotel is now in its second year of closure – and gradual deterioration. There are attractive plans to redevelop the Grade 2 listed structure and it is hoped these will come to fruition, sooner rather than later’
Saltdean’s Ocean Hotel and Lido both opened in 1938 and marked the peak of the collaboration between Charles W Neville (developer of the coastal communities of Peacehaven, Saltdean, and parts of Rottingdean between the wars and after) and his architect, Richard W H Jones.
Readers of the article by David Benson in April 2003 Picture Postcard Monthly, and indeed many readers up and down the country, will be astounded at the similarity between the Ocean and Morecambe’s Midland Hotel. Oliver Hill’s grand creation was opened exactly five years before Richard Jones’s. Blatant imitation or the strangest of coincidences? We do not know for certain.
There had been rapid development of Saltdean by the estate company in the decade before the Hotel opened. The suburb/resort had 802 dwellings in March 1938 compared with 103 in December 1931. The Hotel, with over 400 bedrooms, would henceforth cater for visitors to the district on a grand scale. Ample details of the facilities available were provided on the reverse of the colour advertisement card featured here.
SINGLE ROOM WITH BREAKFAST 7/6 or INCLUSIVE TERMS FROM 3 1/2 GNS. WEEKLY. A superb pre-war advertising and publicity card showing the hotel from the air. It is a coloured version of a drawing which appeared as a black & white illustration in promotional literature and predated the building’s opening to the public since it states on the reverse ‘It is hoped to open the doors of the Hotel to visitors on July 1st 1938’. The official opening ceremony took place three weeks later. A full description is given of all the facilities on offer at ‘the most modern seaside hotel in Britain’, with inclusive terms from three and a half guineas (£3.67). The Ocean Garage at top right was used after the war as a petrol station, motor work shops and other light industrial purposes. It was demolished in 1985
In a splendid publicity brochure, the promoters and artist enthusiastically portrayed this new venture in superlative terms. Idealised illustrations portrayed the wide entrance hall, the restaurant with its lofty ceilings and sea views, the roof gardens and the luxurious ballroom – with its resident dance orchestra – whose sprung floor accommodated ‘a company of 300 dancers in comfort’.
In Signpost, an early motorist’s hotel guide by WG McMinnies, there is a fine aerial photo of the hotel surrounded by a network of (then) sparsely built-up roads.
The Ocean was, the author enthused, “wizard”, and he “spent hours studying the marvellous place and its visitors. Such a happy, healthy looking lot of folks dressed for riding, bathing, tennis, etc.”
The Ocean Garage shown at the top right of the aerial promotional card initially provided 150 underground parking places at street level and staff accommodation on the first floor. The unique building was made entirely of reinforced concrete and accentuated the ‘ocean liner’ concept embodied in the hotel proper (whose design is said to have been inspired by the Queen Mary).
First opening 1938
The Hotel’s formal opening ceremony was held on 23rd July 1938 in the form of a dinner given by the directors to some 400 invited guests. Charles Neville, Chairman of Ocean Hotels Ltd, had no less a person at his side than the Queen’s brother, the Earl of Glamis, who was a co-director of the company.
But the life of this splendid palace, in its first incarnation at least, would be short.
War with Germany came the following year, and with it inevitable changes of use, described in more detail in my book The Saltdean Story (1985). Only recently, I uncovered fascinating insights into the hotel’s use as a centre for the ATS, which I wrote up as Bitter Memories of ‘B’ Company. (reproduced on The Saltdean Zone as Wartime Muddle at the Ocean Hotel )
The establishment was then taken over by the National Fire Service and officially opened as a training college on 10th October 1941. In that capacity it played a vital role in home defence – a chapter of its history being actively and capably researched by Michael Kernan QFSM, Archivist at the Fire Service College, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire.
The Garage was used as an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) base and an agricultural machinery and repair shop; the complex subsequently comprising, in peacetime, a petrol station, motor workshops and light industrial units. As it lay east of Saltdean’s main thoroughfare, Longridge Avenue, it was outside the Brighton area. As mentioned, it was demolished in the mid-1980s, and sheltered accommodation today occupies the site.
Re-opening and final closure 1953 – 2005
Billy Butlin took over the Ocean in 1952, paying a bargain (his word) quarter of a million for it. It was re- opened as a holiday centre on 2nd May 1953 and run by the company until 1972, when it was taken over by the Rank Organisation. They sold out in 1998 to the Grand Leisure Hotel Group and the building became the Grand Ocean Hotel until final closure on 1st January 2005.
In 2006 Douglas wrote that ‘The project to convert the derelict and vandalised building into up to 320 flats, respecting the original design and structure as far as possible, is currently in the hands of two Birmingham-based companies: JG (Brighton) Ltd and Jowitt Associates. Architects for the development are the London firm of Rolfe Judd, London.
Discussions and consultations with the local council have been protracted, but progress is reportedly being made. Redevelopment of the Ocean Hotel, as has happened with her ‘twin’ in the North-West, would be a relief to Saltdean’s residents and provide an unusual and interesting home for an influx of residents who will doubtless be fascinated by its history.’
Another early ‘official’ promotional card, with the steps to the diving board artistically framed. The caption reads: ‘the coloured tiled swimming pool of the Ocean Hotel, Saltdean, Brighton’. The same image, with swimmers on the raft instead of the standing girl, was produced at a later date by prolific local postcard publisher A W Wardell. The text on the reverse proclaims ‘a new and wonderful hotel on the South Coast’ and urges recipients of the card to write for an illustrated brochure with full particulars. The features mentioned include first-class cuisine, licensed premises with an American bar, the most comfortable box spring beds, indoor sports and the children’s nursery and paddling pool. The full-size pool depicted here was covered in 1986 and was open for some years to non-residents.
Written and addressed but not postally used, this sharp 1960s John Hinde card (ref 3TH78) is one of the more interesting views of the hotel frontage, (it also features on a ‘Butlinland’ biscuit-tin with a number of John Hinde views of other Butlin establishments). The Hotel’s garden was well-maintained and attractive in the early years, and the large, colourful Chinese lanterns which decorated the grounds may be seen on a number of cards by various publishers. The redcoat relaxing on the grass has been identified by ex-redcoat/entertainment manager Lynda Noon as Charlie Casey (who in 2006 was still active and successful in the entertainment business as ‘Charlie the Clown’). The writer of the card remarked “Beds are very good here but it’s quite different to chalets and camps”
During the Butlin era (1953-1972), the company issued a number of excellent studies of its guests enjoying themselves in different parts of the complex. This animated sepia image, ‘The Swimming Pool’, published by Butlin’s Photographic Services Ltd, was designated B 156 and was postally used on 23rd October 1956. The sender reports: “Pam and I have just been in … just like getting into a block of ice”
This sepia postcard by Shoesmith & Etheridge of Hastings suffered severe creasing in the post but has been digitally restored. It is valuable as a visual record of the pool, terraces and residential blocks viewed from a high vantage point. The photographer was facing west, making the card the reverse of the Hamilton one. The coast road from Brighton may be seen in the far distance, with a turning near the Lido. The suburb as depicted is still relatively sparsely-developed, although the open space on the right-hand side of the picture continues to be parkland, known as The Oval. Card reference 10,089 and postally used on what appears to read 31.5.1956
An excellent pre-war card showing the exact location of the Hotel in relation to surrounding housing and also depicting the Lido, the other major achievement in Saltdean of the Ocean’s architect, Richard W H Jones. It was opened in the same year as the Hotel – 1938. The road at bottom right is the coast road from Brighton. At top right, the Ocean Garage is under construction. Card published by Hamilton of Brighton and numbered 2481
A Topaz Series card featuring The Midland Hotel in Morecambe. Designed by Oliver Hill, it was built in 1933 – five years before Richard Jones’ Ocean Hotel in Saltdean.
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