THE ROCK HOUSE & ROYAL PIER HOTEL: a history
In 1869 all Clevedon was wild with excitement at the completion of its handsome new Pier. Steamships were expected to bring large numbers of visitors, swelling an already steady stream of tourists coming to the town by rail. For this reason, many townspeople had a strong financial interest in the success of the Pier, flocking to buy shares when they were offered to the public in early 1867. Mrs. Ellen Perry, hotel keeper of the Rock House, situated at the water’s edge almost at the feet of the structure, was one of these.
The old Rock House Hotel.
The Rock House had been built in about 1823 by Thomas Hollyman. It was described by the Bristol Mirror as being "delightfully situated on a singularly romantic and beautiful part of that most fashionable watering place, Clevedon, close to the water's edge, commanding extensive sea and land views, unannoyed by noisome mud". Almost immediately nicknamed "The Ship Aground", it served tea and refreshments. Its attractions were extolled in a letter from a member of the local Miles family who wrote, "We went to the sea side near Clevedon where we took dinner and tea at an inn lately built in the rocks. It is called the Ship Aground. It is the most romantic situation I ever beheld. After we had taken tea we went on the water. The gentlemen of our party each took an instrument of music so that we had quite a concert. It so charmed the surrounding villagers that in less than half an hour the rocks were covered with spectators". The building was extended in 1830 and changed hands several times but by 1863 Mr. and Mrs. Perry were running it. By 1866, following the death of her husband, Mrs. Perry was sole proprietor.
The earliest illustration of the new Rock House & Pier Hotel, showing a proposed
extra wing, which was never built, on the left-hand side of the building.
Although it was a successful lodging house, the Rock House must by now have seemed inadequate to attract the expected crowds visiting the Pier and in early October 1868 Mrs. Perry submitted plans for new buildings to the Local Board of Health. A fortnight later the plans were approved and the hotel was completed towards the end of 1869. It incorporated a portion of the old Rock House, which can clearly be seen at the back of the hotel on the upstream side. Apart from a few complaints about the exposed situation of the lavatories (she was requested "to adopt some means of preventing the people using the Pier from seeing the people going to and fro from the privies"), and some initial problems with the drains, the new hotel flourished.
A view of the Pier Hotel in 1871, two years after its opening
Mrs. Perry was clearly a woman of sense and vision for she hired as her architect Hans Price, who designed the Pier's toll house as well as its turnstiles, gates and railings. She thus ensured that the hotel was stylistically of a piece with the Pier buildings and would therefore be seen as an integral part of the whole complex.
She called it “Rock House & Royal Pier Hotel” and had its name proudly emblazoned in splendid, rusticated, stone-cut lettering above the main entrance and across the back of the building. Apart from the 1932 addition of the "Marine Hill Sun Lounge" with its pretty art-deco stained glass on the seaward side, Mrs. Perry’s hotel is remarkably unchanged. It is a major component of the unspoilt seafront conservation area and with the Toll House forms a unique and harmonious entrance group to the most beautiful Pier in Britain.
A mid 20th century view of the Toll House and the Hotel, looking as it did