< UNITED KINGDOM | TORQUAY: The Imperial Torquay
The magnificent 19th Century Victorian four-star hotel commands a cliff top position, overlooking Torbay and the beautiful Devon coast. A historic property, built in the town’s Victorian period, the hotel is a reminder of why this part of Devon became known as the English Riviera. The hotel offers breath taking sea views, plus a host of leisure facilities, making it the perfect setting for a traditional seaside holiday combined with contemporary comfort and attentive service.
The foundation stone of the hotel was laid on 28th March 1864 on the site of the Royal Hotel plus two nearby villas. The hotel only settled on its name in May 1866 when the first advertisements
were due to appear in the national newspapers and “Imperial” was a popular name for Victorian seaside hotels. The Imperial opened in November 1866 with Mr Thomas Webb, formerly of the Royal Hotel,
as proprietor and Mr J W White as his manager.
Among the hotel’s many selling points were stables, an “experienced Chef” and ensuite bedrooms, as well as proximity to the ‘Baths, the Club and Beacon Hill’. Fortunately the hotel was an immediate success. In 1870, within four years of opening, a new wing, with 40 extra bedrooms, a table d’hote restaurant, and a smoking room, was under construction to the north of the original villa.
That same year Queen Sophie of the Netherlands came to stay. The following year her good friend Napoleon III, recently dethroned as Emperor of the French, came to recuperate in the company of his son, the Prince Imperial. Word soon spread that this was a suitable place for European royalty. The Esterházy Prince Nikolaus III was a guest at the Imperial, as was Prince John of Liechtenstein, the second-longest reigning monarch in Europe after Louis XIV of France. Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria’s favourite prime minister was a frequent visitor.
In 1878, the Prince of Wales came to visit Dean Stanley, the leading theologian of his day, who was staying at the hotel. Prince Albert Victor and Prince George (later George V) who were being schooled nearby at Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth joined their father for tea at the Imperial. The royal party was rowed ashore from their yacht to steps that led up directly to the hotel. Subsequently Mr Webb applied to have these renamed the Prince of Wales’ Steps, and so they remain to this day.
Having made an impressive start, the Imperial strove continuously to remain ahead of its rivals. In 1898 electric lighting was installed in the smoking and billiard rooms of the Jubilee Wing. In 1912 a brand-new motor garage was built so that the Imperial could become one of the headquarters of the Royal Automobile Club in Torquay. This was one of the many initiatives of Mr C. W. Hore who was general manager 1910-39. Mr Hore also opened a bungalow hotel in the grounds for guests who wanted privacy and informality. A sun lounge and ballroom (now the Palm Court Lounge) were added in 1935, and in 1938 the hotel gave its first live broadcast using a five-piece band brought in from the Welsh resort of Rhyl. Such “palm court” roadcasts put the Imperial in the same league as the Waldorf and Savoy hotels in London.
After World War II the wealthy British developed a taste for holidaying abroad and the seaside was no longer considered so essential for an aristocrat’s good health. In 1950 Michael Chapman (manager 1939-1965) went to America and came back with a number of ideas for changing the way the hotel operated and how it looked. A startling innovation was the Marine Restaurant (now the Regatta Restaurant) which, with its 12-foot picture windows leaning outwards at an alarming 80 degrees, opened in June 1952 and made the Imperial a talking point again. The modernisation process had begun.
In 1956, a sundeck lounge was added and in 1961 the dining room was not just extended but bedrooms built underneath it, another remarkable innovation. One of the issues that increasingly concerned Michael Chapman was the fact that all the hotel’s stages of development were distinctly visible; the original Italianate villa of 1866, the Jubilee Wing of 1871, the Sun Lounge of 1938, the Marine Restaurant of 1952 and other smaller additions too, each recognisable of its time. So a daring scheme was initiated to encase the whole hotel with stucco and white panelling and give it uniformity.
Between 1965 and 1969 the exterior of the Imperial was completely transformed, while its various interiors remained of their time. In 1969, the now very modern looking Imperial Hotel was sold by Torquay Hotel Company to the Trust House group, which shortly afterwards became Trust House Forte. After a number of other owners, the Imperial became a member of The Hotel Collection in 2014 and was purchased by Andrew Brownsword Hotels in 2016.
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