The iconic Royal Clifton Hotel in Southport has welcomed many thousands of visitors over the years, from generations of families to some of the world’s biggest celebrities.
Famous names who have stayed at the grand Victorian era hotel include Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby, Dame Shirley Bassey and professional golfer Jack Nicklaus.
It’s been hugely popular with many Sandgrounders too – whether working at the Royal Clifton, enjoying a wedding reception, a fundraising ball, a school leaving do, a Southport’s Got Talent final, or any number of other events.
A traditional Victorian Hotel, the Royal Clifton was originally designed by Thomas Withnell, a Southport-based architect who designed several important buildings within the newly developing town of Southport.
The Royal Clifton Hotel is actually four separate but now conjoined buildings, stuccoed and of three stories.
The original Royal Hotel – it later merged with the Clifton Hotel next door – dates 1853-1854 and was subsequently extended in 1865.
It was first registered as Grade II Listed on 15th November 1972
A large glazed canopy, porte cochere, is to the main entrance; whilst a more modest canopy is to the ex Clifton hotel, originally two houses, which merged with the Royal in 1977.
The historical evolution has seen the Royal built as its own entity, and subsequently higher demand has led to its extension.
Next door, the Clifton Hotel was originally created by two homes being merged together. Subsequently, in 1977, the two buildings adjoined as one building only, linked via a short corridor.
The Grand Hotel was in a perfect position when it was built, with sweeping views across the coast. The sea was much closer in during those days!
Its creation was followed by other grand hotels in Southport town centre during the Victorian era.
They included the Grade II Listed Scarisbrick Hotel on Lord Street which was built 1890-91 by JE Sanders and the Prince Of Wales Hotel Hotel on Lord Street which dates back to 1876-7, by E Kenrick.
Three years ago the future of the 120-bedroom hotel was uncertain as it closed its doors during the pandemic and was put up for sale.
There was lots of interest from a number of parties, but it was eventually bought by Britannia Hotel Group.
The company already owns the Prince of Wales Hotel, the Scarisbrick Hotel and Pontins holiday park in Southport.
The company says it wants to return the building to its “original splendour” and has just submitted a planning application to add 10 new en-suite bedrooms to the ground floor as part of the renovation.
In the plans, drawn up by Prestwich Design Group, said: “The hotel during the previous ownership has witnessed the turmoil generated by the coronavirus pandemic and the consequent lack of investment necessary for the constant maintenance of a building of this size and architectural relevance.
“Disused and neglected, for several years, it has gradually started falling into disrepair.
“When the Royal Clifton hotel was purchased by Britannia Hotel Group, an assessment was carried out to start conducting a campaign of investment to help restore the hotel and gradually bring the building to its original splendour.
“Since the coronavirus pandemic started the world almost stopped, hotels are one of those businesses which have paid the worst price.
“The Royal Clifton Hotel is now progressively overseeing a conspicuous campaign of investment, following the recent purchase by the Britannia Hotels Group.”
Among the documents submitted by Britannia Hotel Group is Heritage Statement prepared by Daniel Noblett of Built Heritage Consultants Bowland Surveyors Ltd | Built Heritage Consultants Author.
In the report, he said: “Southport is mostly a Victorian creation, prior to the arrival of the 19th century Southport was a small collection of fishing huts scattered in and around the sand dunes along with small hamlets.
“The first villas and the first hotel dated from c.1798. They were built South of Churchtown in South Hawes beside a small creeping brook called the Nile. The name Southport was invented at about this time. During the Victorian period development began on the Lord Street area first (1824) and later the promenade itself beginning in 1834.
“Southport was largely developed as a retreat for the upper classes from nearby industrial towns, however like many northwest seaside resorts Southport suffered in the early to mid-C20 following the decline in industry across the northwest. Southport has changed immeasurably since its heyday with the loss of the Winter Gardens complex in 1933, the tram (1934) and most of the buildings that once lined the southeast side of the southern end of Lord Street in the early 20th century.
“However, an organic switch from a high-class Victorian holiday bathing resort to a ‘day tripper’ style town along with increased residency has developed and has allowed Southport to remain popular rather than suffering further decay as is evident in other similar coastal towns.
“The hotel was founded upon virgin ground to the northern, central edge of the established area of the town in 1853-4 on the then seafront by Thomas Withnell.
“The building was extended around 10 years later in 1865 by Blackwell, Son and Booth adding a similar-sized adjoining block to the north with a central bay with a conical roof and and bay either side with pointed windows etc.
“The blocks to the north that once formed the separate Clifton Hotel are likely late C19 also and are far simpler in their styling than the neighbouring Royal Hotel.
“The building has been much altered over the years with the addition of canted bays to the front elevation of the original hotel along with a canopy over the front door entrance likely in the late C19 or early C20. The original hotel was also extended to the rear c.1920.
“By 1928 the Royal Hotel had become adjoined to the buildings on Coronation Walk. In recent years an octagonal conservatory has been added to the southwest corner of the building. “Presently, the original portion of the hotel building is used as such however the remainder (majority) of the building is disused following functional obsolescence and has been much neglected in the latter C20 and is awaiting refurbishment.”
The original hotel building and the 1865 addition were listed in 1972, five years prior to its conjoining with the neighbouring Clifton Hotel in 1977.