Many thanks to Joe Pinnington for allowing me to republish his interesting article about Hoylake, the Royal Liverpool Golf Club and the old Royal Hotel:
“What a ghastly building” retorted Peter Alliss as he walked in the direction of the 18th tee. He made this remark during the week of the Open championship in 1956.I accept that time does play tricks with the memory, and appreciating I was only 10 years old at the time, I am still convinced he uttered those words about The Royal Hotel.
In truth it was a ghastly building. Within a year it was to be razed to the ground and the housing complex we see today would rise from its ashes. But the history of the building, ah what a history.
It was the first Clubhouse of The Liverpool Golf Club in 1869 (the Royal followed in 1871).
The parties they had, the revelries and friendship, the characters from the local community! If ever a building had witnessed life this was it. But how on earth was this relic of the past situated in such a place? I shall endeavour to unravel the secrets of this pre Victorian pile.
In 1792 Sir John Stanley built the hotel, hoping to attract holiday makers to the new fad of sea bathing, which had become most popular on the South coast of England. His reason for choosing this location, apart from owning the land, was that we were in the middle of the Napoleonic wars and Hoylake was thought less likely to witness conflict from advancing hostile foreigners.
The roads in the early nineteenth century “were of frightful ruggedness”, according to Anna Seward of Litchfield who experienced the journey from Parkgate. However she must have enjoyed her stay as she returned 3 years later.
The setting in those far off days was spectacular. A long lawn sloping down to the sea, a sea uncontaminated and most suitable for bathing. This was the setting JMW. Turner the great artist used as inspiration for his sunsets. Oh! And what sunsets. Witness them for yourself. They’re still there.
The bliss of those long summer days was interrupted somewhat by the introduction of a golf links on the warren, a warren sometimes used as a horse racing track. The golfers were a determined lot; progress was swift. How they negotiated the agreement with the landlord John Ball Senior (father of the great Golfer) is not recorded but a room was set aside for the members. I believe it is best to quote from Guy Farrer’s wonderful book about the club published in 1933.
The first mention was on 3rd July 1869 when “The Secretary was authorised to get boxes made for storing clubs and have them placed round the room engaged at the Royal Hotel, according to plans and estimates”.
In the picture of the Hotel, the Clubroom is the one to the right of the porch. The members used the dining room for meals. There was obviously a conflict between these wealthy Liverpool merchants and the local fishermen. A working relationship was established probably helped by the reverence and adoration the Blue jerseyed fishermen held for the golfing skills of Johnny Ball. “The greatest Roman of them all”.
The club now established, “there was great fun in the musical evenings in the bar parlour of the Royal Hotel. Bar parlour sounds quite ominous, but I never remember seeing a man in it who could not talk straight, nor walk straight out of it-and some of the golfers had great voices.
A certain RW (Pendulum) Brown sang the Farmers Boy whilst Thosper (Thomas Owen Potter) The Hon. Secretary, conducted with a beautiful ivory baton. Now the Captains Wand of Office.
Matches were arranged for large sums of money during these evenings. John Ball Senior the owner of the hotel made his universal challenge “me and my son will play any two” a challenge that was seldom accepted.
On one occasion the afore mentioned Pendulum Brown backed himself to play the five holes round the out of bounds field, ”the Circus” in certain figures at dead of night. Not only did he win his bet but accomplished those holes in fewer strokes than he took the next day in broad daylight.
Alec Sinclair was a great humorist and George Dunlop was regarded as the best of after-dinner speech makers. Both Alec Sinclair and George Dunlop became Captains of the Club. As for dear old Pendulum he did not make the Captaincy. Perhaps something can be read into his nick name that is all I can presume.
From the long sloping lawn, members for a wager would play a shot over the Hotel onto the Home green (now the 17th) to see who could hit it closest to the flag. Legend has it that Harold Hilton was an expert at such a challenge, but more on that subject at a later date.
John Ball senior was not impressed with this activity, as the less skilful member would thin the ball into the Hotel. He did not hold back from reprimanding the offender.
When Johnny Ball won the Open in 1890 he was not only the first Englishman but also the first amateur to win the championship. On his way home by train word spread that there was a large welcoming party at Hoylake station. Some members were waiting for him together with a great gathering of the local fishermen who had a cart minus the horse ready to ride him home. Johnny, who loathed attention, alighted from the train before it arrived at Hoylake and walked home to The Royal Hotel along the shore. Climbing up the long lawn he was met by his father who proudly ushered him into the Hotel. One can presume that Johnny did not carry the Claret Jug but packed it in his suit case. With the benefit hindsight and a little imagination one can say that the first sight of the Claret Jug outside Scotland was in the Royal Hotel, where it remained for 12 months. Two years later Harold Hilton won the Open, again. I presume the Claret Jug was on display in the Royal Hotel.
An agreement was eventually signed in 1879 between Mr.John Ball and the Club and an extension was built. A single storey that can be seen at the far end of the building. The sum of £50 per annum was charged. In return the club stipulated their requirements including that “Mr Ball shall provide one thoroughly competent, efficient man servant to attend to the wants and requirements of the members of the said club”. Rather strong language but with the Victorians there was little chance of misunderstanding them. In the plan attached one will notice that there was no particular interest in washing facilities.
This agreement lasted for fifteen years but when the lease had expired and the Club had grown to such dimensions, further expansion was necessary, and a move was considered. The move to the present clubhouse took place in 1895. At the same time the lease of the links was also re negotiated with Lord Stanley. He must have been a busy man as he was at this time Governor General of Canada. As a by the by he gave his name to the Stanley Cup, the Ice Hockey competition still played for in North America.
This was one of the major events in the Club’s history. Was the move a natural progression? Was it forced by the demands of John Ball Senior?
There is little doubt that the Club was expanding and a move would inevitably take place. However John Ball Senior was a hard man. He also had a great ally in Thomas Owen Potter who lived at the Hotel and of course was the Honorary Secretary up until the move.
Were his demands over zealous or was it a case of just pushing the members a little too hard? We shall probably never know.
The Hotel still had another 60 years of trading. John Ball Senior died in 1902. His son Johnny the great golfer and daughter Elizabeth took charge but Elizabeth died in 1913 and Johnny married his house keeper Nellie and went to live in Wales.
The Royal Hotel very nearly housed Royalty. In 1929 King George V was strongly advised to spend more time by the sea due to an asthmatic condition. Hoylake was recommended but the Court at the time thought that Bognor in Sussex would be better suited for its proximity to London, consequently it was awarded the suffix of Regis. Pity, What an address; The Royal Hotel, Hoylake Regis. Marvellous. Eh?
The Hotel survived as a public house, selling fine draught Ale and from all reports was open all hours. Ken Cranston the senior former England Cricket captain told me that in the forties players would climb under the fence at the 17th and nip into the Hotel for a pint of draught beer. The club only sold bottled beer at the time.
Between the Bar and the lounge Bar was a huge fire servicing both rooms. A great Arch housed the fireplace. It was about five feet high and one could see through to the other room. For a wager the more daring customer would dive through the flames and somersault into the other room often interrupting a conversation as he fell to ground. Picking himself up he made his apologies. Explained that to accomplish the bet he had to make the return journey and promptly disappeared through the flames once more and out of sight.
Haunted? Was the Royal Hotel haunted? Well of course it was. In the years before the hotel closed, a number of the staff reported that a man dressed in a Brown Norfolk Jacket, Knickerbockers and a tweed cap had been seen walking down the corridor from the hall to the ballroom, and then vanish. When mounting the main staircase of the present clubhouse cast an eye upwards and see for yourself if there is a resemblance with the portrait of John Ball.
I am only grateful that the place was knocked down before I started calling at the Green Lodge a number of years later! Or am I?
We must be grateful that the club had a natural home to walk into. Without that perhaps the club with all the travelling difficulties would not have flourished so quickly. What effects would that have had on the development of the game in England?
One final thought. On that summer evening when you are playing to the 17th green, look over the houses to your right in the direction of the sea, witness for yourself the setting sun, gently disappearing over the sloping lawn of the Royal Hotel.