Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Woodlands Hotel, Sidmouth, Devon

Having often passed this hotel whilst on the bus into Sidmouth, I couldn't help but think that it's the epitome of the 'gingerbread' Cottage Orne. Octagonal roof tiles, ornate roof ridge, gothicky windows and the most twirly, twiddly-bit Baroque-style carved bargeboards and finials above the gabled casement windows...the stuff that fairy tales are made of! For many years the bargeboards were painted pink, but now they are blue-grey to match the tiles. A little less sugar-coating and a little more 'Grimm's Fairy Tales' maybe! ;)

Having occasion to walk up the road one day, I couldn't help but take a few photos. What amazed me, when I began to hunt for information, is the amount of history attached to the building. However, I'll keep it mostly architecturally related, as that's the bit that I'm interested in.

Grade II listed, the building as we see it today is the result of alterations at the beginning of the 19th century, turning it into a Cottage Orne seaside home for the owner Lord Gwydir in 1815. However, it's origins go back a very long way indeed. Although, it's interesting to note that the building of seaside cottages was due to the Napoleonic Wars, as the middle and upper classes were no longer able to visit the continent. Sidmouth proved to be popular in this respect, and much of the architecture in the town has remained intact.

The original name of the property was Old Hayes and can be seen on a 13th century map. Many East Devon farmsteads, and indeed family names, were suffixed or sometimes prefixed by the word 'Hayes', 'Hays', 'Hayne' and other similar words; this being the Mediaeval English word for a pastoral enclosure or hay meadow. One of the few buildings in the area dating from the 1200s, this was therefore probably a farmhouse originally.

During excavations in 1971, an ancient tunnel was discovered beneath the garden. The stonework was thought at the time that it could be Roman, although more likely to be Mediaeval. Including a chamber containing a well, it was once the source of fresh water for the household. This fits in nicely with the Mediaeval hypothosis, as there are Mediaeval water passages beneath the nearby city of Exeter.

There is some uncertainty about the history of this particular building.  A 1520 date stone was discovered during alterations in the 19th century, and may have related to the Manor House, the title of which was granted by Elizabeth I in 1598. Whether this was the actual building, or the farmhouse belonging to the estate, is unsure. The old farmhouse may have evolved to become the Manor House, or demolished and a new house built. However, behind the 1817 fireplace, there is a much older open fireplace belonging to the manor.

During alterations by Lord Gwydir a new suite of reception rooms was built overlooking the garden, and additions included barrel ceilings, new staircase with landing, replacement of interior doors and mouldings, as well as the Gothic headed casements...all in the Regency style. He renamed the house Woodland Cottage.

Sold in 1921, it was leased to be run as an hotel, which it has remained ever since.

A few more photos, along with these, can be viewed in the Photo Gallery album.

Recent Photos