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History of The Cliff Hotel

History of The Cliff Hotel 1898 – 1998

A day of celebration

The Cliff Hotel, Gorleston on Sea is one the grandest hotels Norfolk has ever seen. It was a day of great celebration when the doors first opened on July 23rd, 1898 with a lavish banquet and rousing music from the band of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.

Built at a cost of £25,000 (Now worth more than £2.6 million) the hotel was the brainchild of Mr Skipper of Norwich. With its fairytale turrets, the handsome building represented the height of luxury in late Victorian England, boasting 139 bedrooms and its own stable block. Just a year after it was opened the Prince of Wales paid a visit.

An early brochure says: ‘The Hotel standing in its own spacious ground, and has been built with a view to providing every possible comfort’ Single bedrooms were available for 20p per day, equivalent to about £22 in 2013. A sitting room could be had for 35p (£38) and your servants could be accommodated for s2d6, about £13 now. “The Hotel omnibus (at a moderate charge) will meet any train on receipt of a Post Card to the Manager.” Says the brochure.

The postal service for guests at the turn of the century was first class. Letters were delivered to the hotel at 8:30 am, 12 noon, 3:15 pm and 7 pm. And anyone wishing to contact the guests at the Cliff by the new telephone system had simply to ask for the number ‘Gorleston 9’.

Grenfell of Labrador

One of the Cliff Hotel’s most distinguished residents was Dr Wilfred Grenfell who lived here for several years in the 1890s. As a result of his pioneering, sometimes heroic, medical and social work for the people of Newfoundland, Canada, he became known as Grenfell of Labrador.

He was the first doctor appointed to the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, serving ships on the Dogger Bank where he tended to the medical needs of about 2,000 local fishermen.

Grenfell put out of business the notorious ‘grog ships’ which followed the fleets with overpriced spirits and tobacco before joining a hospital ship bound for Labrador. Travelling by dog team across Newfoundland he organised the building of hospitals, first aid posts and children’s homes and encouraged people to grow vegetables to combat disease. On one journey he and his dog sledge were plunged into freezing water through ice broken up by bad weather. He crawled onto an ice pan where he killed and skinned three dogs, using their coats to keep him warm. He and the remaining dogs were rescued by fishermen the following day.

A Night of Destruction

Disaster struck The Cliff on Boxing Day 1915 when a devastating fire fanned by a south-westerly gale razed the hotel to the ground. The building that had dominated the area’s skyline for just 17 years was reduced to a charred shell.

The destruction happened at the height of the First World War. Earlier in the year poison gas was making its deadly presence felt in the Allied trenches at Ypres and Zeppelins were inflicting their first bombing raids on England.

It was not enemy action that reduced the Cliff Hotel to a smoking ruin, however, but a nighttime fire thought to have started in one of the bedrooms. The local fire brigade was unable to help and even the efforts of the tug George Jewson, serving as a fireboat, were to no avail. High winds sent the flames racing through the building.

The only part of the hotel to be spared was its annexe – the older buildings, once private houses, that form the heart of today’s Cliff Hotel. The site of the fire-ravaged building is now occupied by flats.

The Hotel Today

The hotel looks very different from how it did only a short while ago. In the past two years, it’s seen a number of refurbishments and spectacular addition. All guest bedrooms have been completely remodelled, giving them a luxurious modern look and feel. The bar has been brought back into the present with the addition of some modern features and is now a local favourite with its direct connection to the terrace. The sleek wood and glass feature boasts views over Gorleston’s beach and Great Yarmouth’s bustling port, giving guests a lovely place to enjoy food or drink in the sea-breeze – rain or shine! Our most recent refurbishment was to our Music Room which has been bought back to life, with a new modern bar, stunning decor and now features 9 HDTV screens.