Hotel Stories

Historic Connections

British history permeates the walls of the Best Western Royal Beach Hotel from hosting the Beatles to doing its duty as a makeshift hospital in WW1
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The amount of history that permeates the walls of the Best Western Royal Beach Hotel is staggering. Historic figures have passed through its doors and the building itself has existed in many guises over the years…

It’s late afternoon and the sun is sinking into the sea, flaring the shingle shore into bright bronze. Across the hazy, flat waters of the Solent, the Isle of Wight is a long line of soft blue. A figure walks alone to the waterline, stands and stares. One look at this remarkable view at sunset and you can understand why the Victorians thought this stretch of Southsea an ideal site for a handsome, 130-bedroom mansion house hotel.

After opening in 1866, the Royal Beach Mansions Hotel quickly became a high society hub; this was a home from home for the great and good who’d arrive to promenade the seafront and the grand South Parade Pier outside. With records lost in a fire, no one can be exactly sure of how it gained its royal prefix, but the suspicion is that Queen Victoria herself lunched in the grand dining room on occasion. Certainly the Astors had a suite here before John Jacob Astor was lost in the sinking of Titanic. A more lasting connection to that ill-fated ship is the hotel’s impressive 1911 chandeliers still hanging in the dining room and bar. Said to be exact replicas of the ones onboard Titanic, they are one of many maritime features that run through the hotel.

As well as doing its duty as a makeshift hospital for veterans in the First World War, the Royal Beach Hotel leapt into action again in 1941, hosting a Royal Observer Corps lookout post on its roof to watch for the Luftwaffe.The same year George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, visited for lunch. Although hard to imagine today, if you’d looked out of any of the hotel’s front windows in the early summer of 1944 you’d have seen an incredible armada of vessels choking the Solent in preparation for D-Day. The pier opposite was an embarkation point for tens of thousands of troops on June 5th, many of whom set sail for Normandy with the hotel’s towering silhouette one of their last sights of home.

But by the 1950s and 60s, the rich and famous were descending on the hotel again; entertainers followed in the footsteps of acts like Laurel & Hardy, taking rooms for entire seasons. Most famously The Beatles stayed three times while playing venues like the Guildhall and Savoy Ballroom next door. In November 1963 the band was holed up at the hotel for three days while Paul McCartney battled flu that eventually forced the cancellation of their show. Nobody can be exactly sure which room they stayed in, but an old porter once revealed it was 109, confiding that he’d had to remove a gaggle of girls he found hammering on the door. Rumour is that while Paul lay bed-bound, George, John and Ringo donned disguises and hit the town.

Walls can’t talk, but if they could, there’d be no lines more fitting for this hotel than those Lennon would write just two years later:
All these places have their moments, with lovers and friends I still can recall. Some are dead and some are living; in my life, I’ve loved them all.
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