The Watergate Bay Hotel history is short, but varied, at times its existence being in doubt. Just 120 years ago there was nothing on the site, it was simply the northern end of Watergate Bay, which starts at Porth by Trevelgue Head – and the dip in the landscape where the hotel stands was the most accessible part of the 2 mile long sandy bay. The Cornish name was Porth Tregoryan, meaning cove at Coryan’s farm.
The Watergate Hotel was opened in 1900, hoping to cater for railway tourists that were expected to arrive on the Padstow Bedruthan & Mawgan Railway line, which would probably also extend to Newquay – a line that was never constructed. Prior to this it was just farmland, not a small and ancient hamlet as you might imagine.
The 1901 Census shows three members of staff living at Watergate Bay Hotel, Trevarrian. Ida Glasse, 30 and single, was the Manageress; Grace Bunt, 60 and single was the Cook/servant; John Bernard, 60 and a widower, was a waiter. As the Census was taken on 31 March the Hotel would have just been getting ready to open for the summer.
In 1902 Black’s Guide to Cornwall carried an advert for the Hotel:
“WATERGATE BAY HOTEL. NEAR NEWQUAY, CORNWALL. ATLANTIC Ozone. Finest Sands on North Coast. South aspect. Rugged Cliffs. Charming Drives. Myriads of Sea Fowl. Unrivalled for position and climate. Especially suitable for family parties. Inclusive terms on application to the Manageress. Telegraphic and Postal Address— Watergate Bay Hotel, St. Columb Minor, R.S.O. OBAN, N.B. all Trains and Steamers and conveys Visitors free.”
An advert placed in 1903 described the Hotel with the words:
“WATERGATE BAY HOTEL, VALE OF LANHERNE, near NEWQUAY, CORNWALL. First-class Family Hotel, furnished by Maple & Co. Splendidly situated, facing the Atlantic. Riviera climate, …”
In 1904 an advert said:
The Watergate Bay Hotel, Near NEWQUAY, CORNWALL. First-Class Family Hotel, furnished by MAPLE & CO., Ltd. Facing the Atlantic, South Aspect, Sheltered Position. Riviera Climate, Mild but Bracing. Grand Cliff and Inland Scenery.
Maple & Co were mentioned in adverts as they were the suppliers of furnishings for palaces and Kings around the world at the time. It was a mark of quality. The Watergate Bay Hotel was certainly built to a very high spec and they were advertising extensively, at home and internationally, to travellers who wouldn’t compromise on comfort.
In 1907 a writer described it as: “I came out at a breezy place called Watergate Bay, with a few houses and a large hotel. The hotel was not yet open for the summer, but wanderers could obtain refreshments. ” Days in Cornwall, 1907.
On the next Census, taken on 2 April 1911, the hotel was still called the Watergate Bay Hotel, but written down as “Watergate Bay Hotel, St Columb Minor”, listing four servants: Romana de Lazeu, 33 and single, hotel book-keeper; Gertrude Carter, 23 and single, barmaid; Elsie Jenner, 17 and single, cook; William Harris, 18 and single, hotel pantryman. None of these four were locals, having come from Madrid/Spain, Sidmouth/Devon, Brighton/Sussex, London?Middlesex respectively.
In 1913 Cornwall County Council agreed to buy the Hotel.
In September/October 1915, Radclyffe Hall stayed at the Hotel. It was mentioned in her book “The Well of Loneliness”, written in 1928 and was again mentioned in the biography “The Trials of Radclyffe Hall”, by Diana Souhami. In which it is written: “In late September she took both her and Una to the Watergate Bay Hotel, near Newquay, Cornwall.”
The Hotel was described in the 1928 Great Western Railway (Great Britain) Guide as
“Watergate Bay Hotel is in one of the most charming positions in the Cornish Riviera, and within 20 yards of the Atlantic Ocean. Magnificent views of Cliffs, Sands and Ocean from Hotel Grounds. Within easy walking distance of Newquay, St Mawgan, Bedruthan Steps, the famous Vale of Lanherne, Carnanton Woods, and many other places of interest. Fishing, Shooting. Two miles of firm sands for Bathing, Riding and Walking. The great charm of this Hotel is being situated on the West Coast. 90 per cent of the winds are from the sea, and the average rainfall for 10 years was only 33 inches, one of the lowest in England. Open all year and special attention given to heating Hotel and comfort of visitors during the Winter.”
The Hotel was requisitioned during WW2, as an RAF Officers’ Mess first, then converted to be married quarters. After the war the Watergate Bay Hotel was simply a hotel in an out of the way place, receiving few visitors.
In 1955 Francis Frith, travelling photographer, added photos of Watergate Bay, including the hotel, to his collection.
In June 1956 the stream at Watergate was dug out, enabling the river to be piped underground by the start of 1959, improving the usability of the area just above the beach for parking.
During the 1960s it declined further and fell into disrepair. In 1967 Mr & Mrs Ashworth bought the shabby and unloved hotel for £20,000 and converted it into self-contained flats. Four years later, in 1971, they converted the flats back into a hotel and extended it. From that date the Hotel catered for the typical family holiday market; those seeking a bucket and spade style holiday and closing during the winter months.
In 1999 Will Ashworth, son of John and Mary, bought the beach shop and cafe and developed the Extreme Academy Sports business and The Beach Hut – where previously there had been a shabby, but charming, old fashioned beach cafe (Will … if you ever read this … I loved that cafe, really miss it!)
In 2001, with the newly regenerated and growing Newquay, Cornwall, airport right on its doorstep, it was perfectly positioned to reinvent itself and target the new, wealthier market of people who wanted some luxury. In 2004 John and Mary Ashworth retired, handing over the reins to their son Will Ashworth.
The Hotel underwent an £8 million redevelopment and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant opened on the site in 2006. The Hotel employs 150 full-time staff.
There’s been a lot of further development on the Hotel site, including a whole new “village” of accommodation, built from 2011-2013.
The Watergate Bay Hotel is now a multi-million pound turnover success story, catering for a wealthier set who can fly direct from London to Newquay, Cornwall airport and be at the hotel within 10 minutes of landing – and with the on-site facilities built up over the last 10 years there’s no need for them to venture further afield if they simply want to switch off and relax.
The Watergate Bay Hotel views itself as “A Ski Resort on a Beach”.
Find out more about visiting this beach: Watergate Bay
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Image © David Long