This book is a record of the meetings and goings-on of the Old Beach Hotel between 1918 and 1947. The Hotel was once a popular holiday destination for Londoners and other inland folk who used to come to Littlehampton, since overseas travel was too costly at the time. In fact, in the 1920s, Littlehampton’s slogan became ‘The Children’s Paradise’ due to the enormous amount of holiday activities available in the town, including a Butlins resort for a brief period, just a mile away from the town.
This month marks the book's centenary. The hotel established this ‘Minutes Book’ one hundred years ago, which remained in use for the following 30 years.
The records over this period reveal a lot about the changing nature of Littlehampton, giving an insight into life in a small coastal town between 1918 and 1947. They highlight the decline of the British Empire post-1945, as the UK had become nearly bankrupt due to two consecutive World Wars.
One particular entry details the devastating impact of war on the hotel as a business, one year after the start of the Second World War.
Saturday 19th October, 1940, 11am. Chairman of the Hotel, Mr. A. Ward, recounts the previous year:
"The War was then in it's early stages and a cautious proceedure was to be adopted; before this principle had time to be closely followed came the collapse of Holland, Belgium and finally France. You are cognisant of the sudden confusion that was general everywhere- business at the Hotel in consequence dropped over 50%, visitors left, cancellations were recieved and immediate steps had to be taken by me to reduce staff [...] The front was closed, also the Common, Forts took the place of Shelters on the Esplande and it was obvious, with six or seven people in the Hotel, this side of the business would have to close down."
"Then the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards were quartered in the Town and the Officers billeted at the Hotel, many of whom took meals, and their residence is the one bright spot in these unhappy times at the Hotel."
The hotel was closed as a business shortly after, leaving it's contents needing to be sold on or stored elsewhere. The chairman notes that the stock of wines were a source of considerable responsibility.
"Invasion we are told was iminent and in this exposed position in a building so vulnerable I deemed it necessary to make an instant descision to remove the same (except a small stock retained for the bar) and in 48 hours the whole stock was taken to St. Olave's Wine Vaults, Minories, London."
It is all easy to imagine the scale of the impact that the war had on businesses and homes alike across the country. This must have been harder still in recovery from the First World War, which also marks its centenary later this year.
Littlehampton Museum's centenary programme continues with Caring for Veterans, opening on 9th June, with more exhibitions to follow throughout the year.