Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A Hotelier's memories: 1. The Countess

 Friend of Fairlynch Iris Ansell, who helps in the Museum’s Costume Department, recalls some memorable moments from her time as proprietor of Southlands Hotel

The former Southlands Hotel on Budleigh Salterton’s Marine Parade

After several years running what my husband called a ‘bucket & spade hotel’ - everybody in and everybody out on a Saturday change-over - we felt it time for a change ourselves.

In the late 70s, we came to Budleigh Salterton, which we loved at first sight, and I still do to this day. We bought a different kind of establishment, open all the year, and requiring a different kind of staffing levels, with chefs and commis chefs. All required handling with kid gloves, but that is another story.

The guests, however, were delightful. Some more than others. The ‘Countess’ was, I think, my favourite.

I had a phone call one spring morning from the Tourist Information Office, asking if I had a sea-facing room for the ‘Countess’ for a few days. She duly arrived, draped in an assortment of flowing garments and a large hat adorned with cabbage roses. She was the perfect guest, ate very little, out all day, and retired to her room directly after dinner.

One day, the Coastguards arrived, along with the police, asking who was flashing morse code from a front bedroom window. It was the ‘Countess’, reliving her days with the resistance forces during the war, when she was based on the north coast of France.

Another morning, she appeared with a pillow case (off her bed) filled with items she had picked up around the hotel i.e. ashtrays, vases, ornaments etc, saying it was ‘Christmas time’, and going from table to table dishing out ‘presents’. I followed behind, collecting them up again.

Her little holiday was cut short when her son arrived, the police having contacted him about his mother. She had escaped from a nursing home in Kent, hiring a taxi to bring her to Devon, where she had spent holidays as a child.

She presented me with a huge bunch of daffodils, and with lots of hugs and kisses we waved her off. Other guests in the hotel said she had made their holiday.  The daffodils, I discovered, she had picked from a house along the sea front, very early in the morning. When they woke up the owners pulled back their curtains to find every one of their daffodils gone. 

The flowers were adorning the residents’ lounge. I’m afraid I didn’t tell them.

Southlands Hotel as it is today, transformed into apartments as Marine Court 
Image credits: Fairlynch Museum 

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