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Cleethorpes’ Lost Iconic Landmark – The Clee Park Hotel

Standing on the corner of Grimsby Road, looking straight down Park Street is perhaps not a view you would call very inspiring.

Today this once beloved site is occupied by a car park, but in another lifetime a favourite, traditional, Victorian landmark stood here. It was called The Clee Park Hotel.

This handsome hotel, with its beautiful high spire, quickly became a landmark on it’s corner site. It was built for Messrs Hewitt Brothers and was opened for the first time on Monday evening, 25th August 1890. At the grand opening, it is reported that a dozen local, notable gentlemen, sat down to dinner in the hotel, in honour of the occasion.

Architect, Mr E. W. Farebrother, designed the appearance of this grand structure. It is worth noting that he also designed the Municipal Cemetery Lodge in Scartho, which is now a Grade Two listed building.

The excellence of the hotel’s construction spoke equally well for the good workmanship of ‘Messrs Thompson and Son’ of Louth, the contractors. This outstanding architecture was seen as a landmark for all entering Cleethorpes.

Clee Park Hotel, now Ramston’s Car Park.

Clee Park Hotel, now Ramston’s Car Park.

The neighbouring land was known as ‘Clee Park Gardens’, home to its very own pavilion and bordered with trees. Next to the gardens was an area for the newly formed football club, Grimsby Town FC, marked with a flagpole. This was situated approximately where Daubney Street and Grimsby Road’s Tesco Express currently stand. However the lease for the land expired in 1889. As a result, it wasn’t long before it was rapidly developed with orderly streets of terrace houses for Grimsby’s workers, while shops soon appeared on the same side of the road.

A favourable local, The Clee Park Hotel was used by generations of the community living in the area. It boasted a large, almost circular bar, a snug nicknamed the Bible Class and a host of characters.

One such person was William Hill, who was a major luminary in the town’s commercial formation when he became the proprietor of the Clee Park Hotel and who lived the last few years of his life in the building.

It all began for Mr Hill in 1876 at the age of 22 when he married Miss Hall, daughter of a small-time ginger beer brewer. He worked several years for his father-in-law, Robert Hall, in a small 42ft deep shed on King Edward Street in Grimsby. It was just big enough to house 30 ginger beer boxes, a hand generator, an old grey horse and a solitary rulley (a basic cart).

Developing specialist skills in the creation of herb beer, hot bitter ale and the firm’s locally famous ginger beer, William had bigger business ideas in the form of fizz drinks. He designed his own factory building in 1886 on Hamilton Street, Grimsby, adding an extravagant villa for himself at the end of road using decorative brickwork from Thomas Chapman’s brick pit (now Chapman’s Pond). The house still currently fronts the Grimsby and Cleethorpes border on Park Street, which can be identified by Mr Hill’s intertwined initials – WH – and the date, high in the gable and behind it, the slim finger of the factory chimney still marks the sight of the factory.

Hill considered that prosperity could perhaps be enhanced with membership of the local Freemasons and joined the Pelham Pillar Lodge, eventually becoming Master.

His name was further (and constantly) in the public eye when he became a member of the Grimsby Town Council. He was further an important member of St John’s Church on Cleethorpes Road, Grimsby.

However, the rapid developed of the Grimsby area denied Mr and Mrs Hill their view across the country and the couple eventually looked further down the road towards Cleethorpes and became the owner of Clee Park Hotel, a great landmark for the district of ‘New Cleethorpes’ and installed his father-in-law to run it.

He then bought a substantial house on the corner of Suggitt’s Lane from a fish merchant and magistrate called James Meadows. Hill altered the building dramatically and it was said to be the finest house in the district of ‘New Cleethorpes’. It was called ‘Sunnyside’.

Hill favoured ‘New Cleethorpes’ so much that he transferred his allegiance to the resort, resigned his seat on the Grimsby council, joined Cleethorpes UDC… and maintained a pigeon loft in Tiverton Street, Cleethorpes.

Alas, William Hill was not given the opportunity to live in his new Sunnyside home and its future was never secured.

It was completed by April 1901 but Mr Hill, although only 47, was worn out by his many endeavours and died in his room at the Clee Park Hotel, where he had lain on his sickbed for eight weeks.

His widow was to stay at the hotel but her father, Robert Hall who ran the facility, died in 1905 and so the license was passed to George Richard Sylvester, whom she eventually married.

Only a few years later, they left the licensing trade and went to live in Hogsthorpe where Mr Sylvester had bought a farm. She died there soon after Christmas 1922 and was brought back to Cleethorpes to be buried with her first husband. Sylvester died just five months later.

Clee Park Hotel viewed from Park Street

Clee Park Hotel viewed from Park Street

William Hill’s son, Robert, held the licence for Clee Park Hotel when his mother and Sylvester left. Before and after the 1914-18 war, like his father before him, Robert represented the Humber Ward on the Grimsby Council, adding the license to his tally when the incumbent, Fred Taylor, died aged 36 in 1901. He also, at that time, ran ‘William Hill and Son Ltd’ as managing director.

In his spare time, Robert had great skill as a sportsman and became Grimsby’s first amateur billiards champion in an exciting match at the Cyclists Club in 1915 when, after trailing, he won by a solitary point.

From then onwards, his name (and his son’s) was synonymous with billiards and snooker. He also went on to present several cups and awards in the two towns.

Robert went on to give his Grimsby brew international fame, by entering them in the brewers’ national exhibition in London and winning top prizes on three consecutive occasions.

In the mid 1920s – and although the firm had already invested in two ‘new-fangled’ lorries, he bought two farms where he bred the horses, which pulled the firm’s several drays.

In March 1927, there was the most appalling disaster at the Clee Park Hotel where the Hills still lived.

His wife, Edith Annie, had gone to bed when, in the early hours, her husband heard her calling him. Robert found her a mass of flames. A chair nearby had caught fire by a candle and her nightdress had been set ablaze from head to foot.

Dr John Nixon arrived within 15 minutes, but Edith was terribly burned and died in her bed at the Clee Park Hotel during midday. She was 51 years old at the time.

The inquest was held on the premises, which was not the first time the Clee Park Hotel had witnessed a Coroner’s Court.

After that, Robert went to live at Sunnyside where he died, age 58, in 1933.

The business passed to his only son, William, known to all as Billy. He had started work at his grandfather’s factory as a lad and knew the business thoroughly. The plant was further improved under his directorship, until it eventually turned out 20,000 bottles of assorted fizzy drinks a day.

On his father’s death, he sold the farms – and with them the horses – and had a new hotel built – which became known as Darley’s.

Billy Hill’s wife was also an active director. Together they lived in the house that Billy’s grandfather had built in Park Street. They had no children, but piloted a very thriving business and continued to do so throughout the war. Their premises escaping serious damage, although bombs fell close by.

During the Second World War, staff working at the Clee Park Hotel would slept in the building during night shifts incase of a fire. Six staff in total had to be on duty every night and they all slept under the very long and huge kitchen table or at least tried to, in-between air raid warning sirens. The Managers at this time were Mr and Mrs Stan Stannard. Mr Stannard always had faith in our country winning the war, as he would put bottles of spirits away out of his monthly stock ready for the big victory day. When the day of peace arrived, soldiers brought out a piano from the kitchen and everyone sat singing in an orderly manner. Stan brought all his bottles of spirits out, which was drunk up in four hours. They then had to close shortly thereafter for the evening, as there were no beer left either.

Some time later, another famous local tale recounted the plight of a man who spent so much time drinking at the pub, that his wife took drastic action. She turned up one night with his dinner on a plate, which she banged down in front of him. He, without batting an eyelid, picked up the knife and fork and said, “Any salt and pepper, pet?”

Fund raising events held at the hotel assisted many people during the war. One strange but interesting fund raising event was when an exceptionally large hen’s egg was auctioned, so as to raise money for the Red Cross Prisoners of War. The sale of the egg raised a considerable sum (at least £107), as it was also auctioned at the Fishermans Arms and the Cliff Hotel!

Mr Hill, last of the line, died in the late 1960’s and his wife followed a few years later.

Plans for demolishing the Clee Park Hotel landmark, provoked uproar among regulars. A 700- name petition was collected at the pub within a week and handed to the Development and Planning Committee by Liberal Democrat Cleethorpes Councillor, Mrs Margaret Smith. However it is reported that the Conservative Council leader at the time, Mr Doug Leam, said “Cleethorpes is grossly over- pubbed – just look at the seafront and Market Place on a Friday night. This is a chance to get rid of one”.

It is reported that the Cleethorpes Borough Council considered taking the matter to the Secretary of State for Environment to get it declared as a listed building. However there were fears that, if the application were lost, Cleethorpes would be forced to pay compensation. Eventually the Council gave permission for the demolishing work after engineers allegedly said the damage to the building was beyond repair.

After nearly 100 years of standing, the building was finally demolished in 1990 when the owners at the time, Bass North Brewers, decided it would be uneconomic to spend the £470,000 necessary to repair basic structural damage.

The Clee Park Hotel was accused, tried and found guilt of being “just not economically viable for us at the moment to carry out all the work the needs doing”, according to a Bass North spokeswomen.

Execution of the building was the sentence of the court and what a mockery it all makes of Thomas Hewitt’s words at the dinner of the grand opening on August 25th 1890 when the Clee Park Hotel was opened.

“There will soon be little left of the Clee Park Pleasure Grounds, except the Clee Park Hotel” he remarked. We can now amend his remarks to read, “There is now nothing left at all of the Clee Park Pleasure Grounds, not even the Clee Park Hotel”.

Last drinks were called on Sunday 22nd July 1990 and the life drained from the building just 34 days short of its centenary. Scaffolding moved onto the Clee Park Hotel on Monday 13th August 1990 as a precautionary measure, and demolition began Wednesday 15th August 1990.

The 10,000 square foot site remained vacant for 10 years with applicants such as ‘Co-op Funeral Services’ attempting to develop a funeral home on the spot, but these plans did not go ahead.

In the year 2000, local businessman Mr Dudley Ramsden purchased the site of the former Clee Park Hotel, with the intention of building a new three-corner shop but opted eventually to turn it into a carpark for the benefit of the superstore.

It is perhaps a shame, that we are not able miraculously to ‘Tardis’ ourselves back to see the original Hotel. All we are left with are the drawings and pictures of this magnificent Cleethorpe landmark, which sadly the officials of the time were unable to save for the benefit of future generations.

Let us hope that current officialdom is able to take a far better attitude with our present day building heritage.