The Opening of the Royal William Hotel

By Laurie A. Cooksey

On Wednesday, 31st October 1894, the new Royal William Hotel, situated opposite the recently built golf club house on the Camber road, was happily opened with and inaugural dinner. The hotel had been constructed on the site of what was affectionately known as “The Billy”, a wooden weatherboard shack which had been built around 1807 to provide liquid refreshment for the fishermen of Rye Harbour, but had been destroyed by fire in 1893.

Designed by architect Charles Smith and built by George Huggitt for Messrs. Chapman Brothers, the new hotel featured separate entrances to the “main hotel and private bar” and a commodious general bar, and a very pleasant golfers’ and general sitting room on the ground floor, along with the kitchen and landlord’s room. A feature of the new hotel was the breadth of the windows, admitting plenty of light and affording “plenty of view”, being so situate as to sweep the surrounding country. On the first floor there was a “splendid sitting room with a big bow window commanding the links and a long side window overlooking Camber and inland”, together with three bedrooms. The best bedroom had a bow window to the links, and a little one towards Rye, no. 2 bedroom being similarly arranged, and no. 3 was a “bachelors bedroom” with a good view inland. The second floor had three further bedrooms, one of which would be for let, and above these, the flat roof was surrounded by a balustrade and provided with seats which, no doubt, would be much appreciated in fine weather, offering a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. The sanitary arrangements throughout the hotel were described as being “thoroughly efficient”.

The dinner was “a remarkably good one” and those present agreed that the creature comforts of the new hotel would be above criticism. After the Queen had been honoured, Mr. W. Carless proposed the toast “Prosperity to Camber-on-Sea and the Golf Club” and described the area as being unrivalled for coast scenery and sea air”. He did not know whether they intended to form a seaside resort of any great extent, but he hoped in the immediate future to see “a long line of villas, or rather a village of bungalows where gentlemen and ladies can enjoy the game of golf, and also take advantage of the excellent sands for bathing and recreation”. The club house and the new hotel had become accomplished facts in eleven months, and now, if they only put their shoulders to the wheel, they would make the club a complete success and, he hoped, necessitate the enlargement of that hotel, which he hoped would be a great and paying success.

The Rev. J. Lockington Bates (rector of Iden and founder member of Rye Golf Club) in reply said that he thought they would soon have a thriving village there – Battham Town – or Camber-on-Sea. With regard to the Golf Club, they already had 220 gentlemen and 30 lady members, and he would be very disappointed if they did not add a hundred next year. They might safely take it that each member was worth £10 per year to the neighbourhood, so that between £4,000 and £5,000 a year was spent in the neighbourhood. They had an excellent course and splendid air and anyone who came there would, he was sure, go home as he always did, very much the better for a visit to Camber.

Mr. William Dawes proposed “Success to the new Royal William Hotel”, associating with the toast the names of Messrs. Chapman Brothers. He said they owed a debt of gratitude to the old shanty that had been ignominiously and inreverently (sic) dubbed “The Billy” and some regretted that it was now no more, but the regret was entirely wiped out when they saw that, Phoenix-like, that a new hotel had risen in its place. It was with great energy and pluck the owners had built up that edifice and their determination and pluck was most encouraging to the promoters of the links and, if that repast was a sample, those that came down to witness the golf or enjoy the attractions of Camber might be sure of a good welcome and good entertainment at that hotel which was entirely due to the enterprise of Messrs. Chapman. Mr. Chapman acknowledged the toast saying that he and his brother little expected such support from the people of Rye, and they took the kindly feeling of the goodly company as an omen of that success which they would always try hard to deserve.

Mr. R. P. Burra, responding to the toast to “The Mayor”, referred to the many things that had been done to open up Camber, saying that is was by the determination of a few that great things had been carried out. Messrs. Hebrey, Battam and others had done much, Mr. Bates and a few others had promoted those links, and the brothers Chapman had built that new hotel, and he concluded by hoping that a few would not approach with equal determination the question of a new road to Broadwater. (3)

The Sussex Express & County Herald reporting on the inaugural dinner on Saturday 3rd November 1984 wrote”….this hotel is now fully furnished in comfortable style, and that Mr. Terry, the new landlord, has already given evidence of his complete fitness for the position of Host, the whole of the appointments being of the most pleasant and inviting character, and the assiduous attention of Mr. and Mrs. Terry and their staff warranting the emphatic opinion that all who patronise the new Royal William will find their comfort and convenience carefully studied”.

Even though the new road bridge over the River Rother had appreciably shortened the road distance between Rye and Camber, it was still a 20 minute coach drive via East Guldeford and the circuitous Camber road, and it was clear that to encourage the continued growth of Camber-on-Sea, a more efficient and speedy means of transport was necessary. This was to materialise as the Rye & Camber Tramway that would be up and running in less than nine months’ time.


(1) Sussex Express & County Herald Sat 15.9.94.

(2) Mr. John Battam of East Guldeford had done much to encourage the opening up of the area around Camber.

(3) Sussex Expess & County Herald, Saturday 3.11.1894. Broadwater refers to the stream of that name that is crossed by the road between East Guldeford and Camber, just short of the right angled bend on the present short dual-carriageway section.

“Rye’s Own” August 2000

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