Fishing, Theatricals & Fascinating Guests!
The Kings Arms Hotel in Castle Street, Christchurch, is a Grade II Listed building. The oldest part was built in the 18th century on the site of an 17th century inn. The larger part of the hotel was built in 1800 and opened by Mr & Mrs Thomas Humby in 1803. It is fabulously situated opposite the Norman “Constable’s House” and The Kings Arms Bowling Green and close to both Christchurch Quay and the town centre. In this blog, I have focused on the years 1914 to 1939. During this period, the hotel was noted for its excellent fishing and favoured by the theatrical profession; it was also the preferred local venue for auction sales, annual society dinners and wedding receptions. And in September 1939, it had some rather intriguing guests!
On New Year’s Day of 1914, the Leeds Mercury reported “the capture of a gigantic chub of 8 lb 4 oz” just before Christmas of 1913. The “huge fish” was caught by Mr G. F. Smith, of Putney in part of the Avon River, described as “the water attached to The King’s Arms Hotel“. Six years later, in January 1920, The King’s Arms was being advertised in The Era and The Stage as “An Ideal retreat for members of [the] Theatrical Profession desiring rest and comfort, combined with good fare”. Once again, the hotel was recommended for “excellent fishing”.
Right from the early 19th century, The King’s Arms Hotel was the place to hold local auction sales of land and property as well as of household, commercial and agricultural goods. In 1923, the Hampshire Advertiser carried an advertisement for one of its regular auction sales, which was to be held on 27th June by order of the Executors of Peter Derham Esq. The property for sale was a marine residence known as “The Bungalow” at Mudeford, set in two and a half acres of “Attractive Grounds…With tennis lawn, flower and kitchen gardens and paddock.” The auctioneers were Messrs. Hewitt and Co. of Lymington and Mr Grahame Spencer of Ringwood.
“Borrowed” a Humber Bicycle
In December 1930, William F. J. Coffey of Belle Vue, Old Milton Road, New Milton, an ex-naval man with “a very good discharge character” appeared in court on two counts of theft, the first being a jewellery robbery in Dorchester, the second being the theft of a bicycle from Harold Smith, who had left it in the yard of the Duke of Wellington Inn at Christchurch. Coffey told P. C. Perkins at New Milton that he had “borrowed a Humber bicycle” from the yard man at The King’s Arms. Coffey changed his story in court, saying that there was bicycle belonging to him at the hotel. He and his accomplice in the first theft, were sent to gaol by the Dorchester bench.
Chef Desired Change
On 6th June 1934, an advertisement was placed in the Gloucestershire Echo by the Chef at The King’s Arms; it said that he had thirty-two years experience and was “a first class man” with “highest references, successful record”. He was seeking a new position because he “desire[d] change”.
1939 Snapshot – Management and Staff
A National Register of the population was taken on 29th September 1939 and this records that the Hotel Manager at that date was Sidney Barber, aged 38, who lived at the hotel with his wife, Winifred. There are “open” listings for eight members of staff who were resident at the hotel on that date: head waiter, Stuart Osbourne-Easson; waiter, Alain Ferruci; second chef, Alan Whittle; porter and yard man, Arthur Alfred King; kitchen porter, Edgar Mason; “Pantry Man”, Charles E. McDonald; “Hotel Dispenser”, Kathleen O’Brien; and chambermaid, Ethel Gateley.
1939 Snapshot – Hotel Guests: Military Men
Among the hotel guests on the Register were two electrical draughtsmen, four young physicists and an Army officer, who may all have been working nearby on the same experimental military project at the start of World War II. The two electrical draughtsmen were Herbert Fawcett and Dennis Mettrick. The physicists were: Geoffrey E. F. Fertel, Robert Latham, Albert Ernest Kempton and William S. Elliott. Both Albert Kempton and Robert Latham (possibly also Fertel and Elliott) had been students of Ernest Rutherford and, in around 1937, they had worked with him at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University on the construction of a new type of particle accelerator called a cyclotron.
The Army officer staying at the hotel was Captain (later Brigadier) Alexander Meister Anstruther, who was to become, in 1940, part of “Churchill’s Secret Army”, the Special Operations Executive. He also became a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the Coronation Honours of 1952.
There were various experimental research stations in the vicinity of Christchurch during the Second World War, notably the Military Experimental Engineering Establishment (MEXE), which developed and erected the first prototype Bailey bridge. However, the gentlemen staying at The King’s Arms Hotel were probably attached to the Air Defence Experimental Establishment (ADEE), which had been hastily relocated to Christchurch from Biggin Hill just after war was declared in August 1939. The ADEE, later renamed the Air Defence Research and Development Establishment (ADRDE), was concerned with research into gun sound ranging and acoustics and, since 1936, it had also been carrying out radar research. ADEE developed a radio location system, initially for coastal artillery and later for detection of low-flying aircraft.
1939 Snapshot – Hotel Guests: Yorkshire Bakers
There were two guests at The King’s Arms Hotel, who were well known for a very different reason. They were 62-year-old Mrs Jessie Hagenbach, “Retired Company Director”, and her son Charles Edward Hagenbach, who was a “Doctor and Medical Practitioner”. Jessie was the widow of Swiss-born “Confectioner and Caterer”, Charles August Hagenbach. The Wakefield-based bakers, Charles Hagenbach and Sons, was one of Yorkshire’s biggest bakery businesses with nearly forty shops and restaurants in the county. Charles Edward’s younger brother, Arnold (who died aged 100 in 2005!), took over the business from his father in 1929 and he continued in that role until he sold the business to Allied Bakeries in 1957.
Visit The King’s Arms Hotel to experience a charming piece of Christchurch’s history first-hand.
Contact Steph Woods to commission a History of your House or Hotel: fully researched and referenced, written and illustrated and leather-bound. Read Steph’s other blog posts at Woods for the Trees Blog