This photograph of the Royal Spa Hotel were taken Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume in the summer of 1939.
WIGHT LIVINGLIKE a missing tooth, Shanklin’s Spa site has been a gap in the seafront for decades.
Shanklin Esplanade once boasted one of the best hotels on the Island — the Royal Spa — the site of which was, until recently, marketed by the IW Council for showpiece development.
It wanted a new icon to rise, phoenix-like, from the old Spa ashes in the shadow of Shanklin’s cliff lift. But, as the development bubble steadily deflates that looks increasingly unlikely, at least in the immediate future.
Built in the 1870s, the Royal Spa was the classiest of Victorian joints. It hosted European royalty, the famous, the great and the not so good right up to the outbreak of war in 1939.
But it was destined not to be a survivor of that conflict, as it was bombed to oblivion in 1940.
Its ruined shell was, at least, used to get our own back on the bombers, forming a top secret terminal for PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean), pumping fuel for the subsequent D-Day landings that brought war to its conclusion.
Now, historian, author and former Shanklin resident, Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume, is writing a book about the historic building, drawing on his personal recollections of the family’s favourite hotel.
"My parents started visiting the Island in the mid-1920s," says Arthur, who now lives, in retirement, in Guildford.
"They always stayed at the Royal Spa, which had a prime position on the Esplanade immediately opposite the entrance to the old pier, which is also now sadly gone.
"We were regular annual visitors right up to 1939 and we always had the same rooms in the centre block of the hotel overlooking the winter garden with its huge grapevine.
"My father was a musician and was usually asked to play the piano in that vast conservatory furnished, in those days, with the latest fashionable Lloyd Loom tables and chairs."
Arthur moved to Shanklin after the war, living first in Green Lane and later at Rose Mead in Lake, where he continued to lament what the once proud Esplanade had become.
"By that time it was a terrible mess and, soon afterwards, the remains of the Royal Spa were cleared and the site became a car park.
"It was then that I first realised that Shanklin — indeed the whole Island — had lost a building of immense historic value. Somebody, I thought, ought to write a history of the place — before it was too late."
So, now, a good few decades later, Arthur has taken up the challenge to produce an historic account.
He is well qualified to tackle the task, having been a prolific author for the past half century.
His many published books include those on music and aviation as well as a history of the Middlesex village in which he spent his early years.
"My father was also a keen amateur photographer and, fortunately, I took many photographs when I was a small boy but, as ever, very rarely the right ones to attract the historian’s attention," he said.
"What I really need is help from anybody who recalls the hotel, who worked there or was in any way involved with it.
"I also need photographs, in particular internal views showing the public rooms, such as the winter garden and its famed spa baths.
"I recall that on the left just inside the door was a grotto which dispensed the chalybeate (iron-infused) spring water. A second grotto provided a further source in the winter garden itself, while, outside in the road, a small alcove in the hotel’s esplanade wall allowed the public access to a free trickle.
"A singular feature of the dining room was the meal menus. Every menu was different and comprised a finely printed colour picture of some exotic tropical scene, beneath which the details of the meal would be typed."
The Spa was widely promoted as being Shanklin’s premier hotel and its illustrious clientele included European royalty and aristocrats, ironically German archdukes among them, and an endless list of the rich and famous. When the Ord-Hume family stayed there in the early 1930s, the then-famed Polish pianist Moriz Rosenthal (1862-1946) was one of the guests.
Arthur has spent most of his life collecting photographs and other ephemera on the Island in general and Shanklin in particular.
He is already very grateful for the help he has had from Chris Warder, of the Shanklin and District History Society, and the Public Records Office, too.
But what he really wants is to tap the resource of ordinary people who may have private, unseen, material — especially showing the hotel at the start of the war, and the Esplanade, at the end of conflict.
In particular, he wants recollections that will bring those yellowing photographs and the old, special hotel back to life.