6th August 2019
Andrew Brownsword Hotels has announced that the site of the Royal Clarence Hotel is to be put up for sale.
Following extensive damage to the property caused by the fire of 28 October 2016, which started in a neighbouring building but spread throughout the Royal Clarence, significant works have been completed to protect and restore the site’s historic fabric, and as enabling works are concluded it will now be offered for sale.
Andrew Brownsword, owner, comments:
“We are deeply saddened to announce the intended sale of the site of the Royal Clarence Hotel, but after many months of work and following extensive investment made, we have explored every avenue and have come to the conclusion that our group is unable to deliver a new hotel, as we had so hoped to do. We stand with the people of Exeter that this is such an important area of the city and so have made the very difficult decision that it is now time to seek new owners for the site, in order that the rebuild can progress”.
Andrew continues: “The extensive recovery and preparation work that has been completed at the site means it now offers an excellent opportunity for the next stage of development and I have had to concede that this will be realised by others. It was always my vision to deliver a new hotel at the level of luxury and quality as others within our group, however, the financial and resource investment made in the demolition, historic restoration and enabling works has been significant and this has meant that it is regretfully unviable for us to develop the level of hotel that we had envisaged. This has been a heart-breaking decision for us to take, but, alongside the residents of Exeter, we want to see this corner of Cathedral Yard resorted to its former glory. We believe that selling the site now to a group that operates to a different business model to ours, will enable them to start building, unencumbered by all of the challenges and costs already overcome by us, and is the only way we can conclude to make the rebuild happen quickly and viably. We thank all the people of Exeter for the patience and support that we have been shown since the night of the fire”.
Work undertaken at the site since the fire has included initial demolition of damaged structures, followed by excavation and archaeological work to save as many historic features of the Grade II listed building as possible. Extensive ground works have been completed to strengthen the foundations of the site in order to maintain and restore the remaining historic fabric. Above ground masonry and structural repairs have also been completed to surviving historic fabric allowing for integration in the reconstruction of the building. Archaeologists have provided a watching brief during this process with all finds being documented and stored in controlled conditions. Planning permissions are also granted for the rebuild.
A short piece on its long history...
Built by William Mackworth Praed in 1769 as the Assembly Rooms, the ABode Exeter, formally the Royal Clarence Hotel, is credited as being the first hotel in England. On 7th September 1770, an advert appeared using the word hôtel for the first time, published by the landlord, Frenchman Pierre Berlon. The hotel was eventually named after the Duchess of Clarence (Queen Adelaide), wife of the future King William IV, who stayed there in July 1827.
During the age of the stage coach, Exeter’s inns and hotels would compete for business by ensuring they were the terminus for prestigious services and the Royal Clarence Hotel was no exception, offering its clientele the Royal Bath and the London Mail services.
Photograph taken 1850 - 1920 © Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive ref: OP07287
In 1916, the Royal Clarence Hotel opened a cocktail bar, the Zodiac Bar, and during 1939, exotic drinks such as Tugboat Annie, the Corpse Reviver and Gloom Chaser were concocted to cheer up Exonians heading into the Second World War. Cocktail bars were becoming popular at this time and it was the talent of Mr ‘Ginger’ Wood, who invented the Gloom Chaser, that made the bar a success with a range of 51 different cocktails. The bar was later named the Bishop Bar before closing in the 1980’s.
The building next to the hotel was established as Exeter’s first bank in July 1769 and became part of the hotel in 1906, originally as Dellers Café. During the Second World War the hotel welcomed celebrity guests including Clark Gable and Gary Cooper serving in the US air force.
The property continued to thrive as a hotel throughout the 20th century and was acquired by the Brownsword family to become part of ABode Hotels in 2003.