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HER Number:MDV500
Name:The Royal Hotel, Bideford


A late 17th century house, enlarged and converted to a hotel in the late 19th century. The building incorporates a late 17th century staircase and two very fine panelled rooms with elaborate plaster work ceilings.


Grid Reference:SS 457 263
Map Sheet:SS42NE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBideford
Ecclesiastical ParishBIDEFORD

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS42NE/13
  • Old Listed Building Ref (I): 375726
  • Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division: SS42NE 29

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • HOTEL (XVII to XIX - 1688 AD to 1900 AD (Between))

Full description

Torridge District Council, Bideford Conservation Area Partnership Scheme. Action Plan for 1996-1999, 4 (Un-published). SDV345901.

The Royal Hotel. Originally a sumptuous house erected in 1688 for the merchant John Davie. It contains a fine late 17th cenutry staircase and some of the finest plaster ceilings in Devon. Other details: Photo.

Blankart, G. P., 1908, Untitled Source, 273, 278 (Monograph). SDV7006.

Sheldon, L., 1937, Devon Inns, 376 (Article in Serial). SDV10197.

Used as a custom house, the inscription "Colonial 1688 House" is built into the masonry across the front. In 1750 it became residence of a wealthy merchant, who built the additional rooms. Charles Kingsley wrote 'Westward Ho' in the library. It became a hotel in 1880. Entrance hall has magnificent staircase leading to a landing onto which open two very fine panelled rooms. Ceilings have elaborate plasterwork. Now a Trust House.

Rogers, W. H. H., 1948, Untitled Source, 77 (Un-published). SDV7311.

French, K. + French, C., 1957, Devonshire Plasterwork, 134 (Article in Serial). SDV4676.

Frieze at Royal Hotel, Bideford, dated 1688, of flowers and fruit in high relief. Other details: Figure 12.

Department of Environment, 1973, Bideford Borough, 6-7 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV7002.

The north end of the hotel is a two storey eight window block, originally the "Colonial Buildings" built in 1688. The front has been altered and a 3-storey addition made in the 19th century. Interior: good three-flight late 17th century staircase. Two first floor rooms with pine panelling and plaster ceilings.

Devon County Council, 1975, Bideford Town Trail, 77 (Article in Monograph). SDV352469.

The Royal Hotel contains the remains of a merchant's house originally built by John Davie in 1688. The front has been altered and a three storey addition was made to it in the 19th century. The interior, however, boasts a late 17th century staircase and two first floor rooms have pine panelling and plaster ceilings. The design of the larger of the two, with its oval wreath design with flowers, fruit and serpents in high relief, is similar to the ceilings at Exeter Custom House and a connection with an Italian school of plasterers has been suggested. It is claimed that Kingsley wrote 'Westward Ho!' here. Here also the chiefs of staff of the armed forces med to plan the Normandy landings of 1944.

Timms, S. C., 1976, The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft, 92 (Report - Survey). SDV341346.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1978 - 1980, SS42NE29 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV6993.

The Royal Hotel
1. The Royal Hotel, Barnstaple Street, Bideford (East of the Water). The north end is a 2-storey, 8 window block, originally "Colonial Buildings" built by John Davie, 1688. The front has been altered and a 3 storey addition made late 19th century. In one of the upper rooms Kingsley wrote 'Westward Ho!'
2. Visited on 17/11/1980. As described above. A plaque on the west face incorrectly dates the building to 1698.

Cherry, B. + Pevsner, N., 1989, The Buildings of England: Devon, 86, 180 (Monograph). SDV325629.

The Royal Hotel Bideford opened in 1888, and incorporates at its north end a remarkable house of 1688; the mansion of the merchant John Davie. Average 19th century stucco exterior. Inside, a splendid late 17th century staircase with turned and carved balusters, 3 flights around a well. Two first floor rooms with bolectian-moulded panelling and plaster ceilings which are among the best in Devon.

Thorp, J., 1990, Town Houses of the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries, 84, 117-128 (Article in Monograph). SDV342471.

The Royal Hotel in Bideford incorporates a house reputedly built in 1688 by the merchant John Davie. It boasts perhaps the finest 17th century inteior in Devon, even better than the surviving contemporary gentry houses. The 'Kingsley Room' has a magnificent ornamental plaster ceiling and is lined with field panelling. The panel over the fireplace is painted with a landscape scene. Other details: Plate 17, page 84.

Thorp, J. R. L., 1990, Wall Painting and Lime Plaster Decoration, 143, 146 (Article in Monograph). SDV344073.

Other details: 7.33.

Department of Environment, 1993, Bideford, 16-18 (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV6992.

House, now hotel. Late 17th century (believed to be 1688); enlarged and converted to an hotel in 1889. Solid rendered walls. Slate roof. Old red-brick chimney with upper courses projecting to from an entablature, on ridge of 17th century range to left. Several late 19th century red-brick chimneys in similar style.
Plan: late 17th century range is one room deep and 3 rooms wide, the middle room forming the stair compartment and original main entrance; on the first floor 2 original closets are taken out of the left side of the left-hand room. Wood's map of 1842 shows a left wing and rear block. In 1889 the New London Inn to the right was joined to the house, rebuilt or enlarged, and the whole converted to a high-class hotel. This added range is 2 rooms wide and 3 rooms deep, the middle room containing entrance-hall and main staircase. The rear block of 1842 was also rebuilt or converted into a domestic range with direct access to the railway platform behind. The courtyard between it and the 17th century house is now occupied by a single-storeyed dining-room with covered-in well. Seventeenth century house 2-storeyed with garret; remainder 3-storeyed. Seventeenth century part is of 8-window range with original entrance in place of fourth ground-storey window from left. Horizontallly-channelled ground storey with moulded plinth; late 19th century keystones with eagles projecting from them. Entablature above, the frieze decorated with circular panels. Upper-storey windows have bolection-moulded architraves and bracketed sills. Parapet designed as a simple entablature. Original entrance has double-doors; each leaf with a flush lower panel built out in shallow pyramidal form; above it a taller enriched panel with round head. In place of third window from right are mid/late 20th century double-doors and canopy, possibly replacing an earlier entrance. Windows in both storeys have 2-paned sashes with margin-panes. One mid/late 20th century dormer-window. Right-hand half of building is closely similar in style: 4 windows wide with 1 window on the splayed corner and 4 on the return front to right. Entablature above second storey with prominent cornice. In the third storey the corner window and the adjoining window on each front are developed into a quasi-octagonal turret with genuinely octagonal steeple. Adjoining windows finished with triangular pediments containing incised royal arms and surmounted by ball-finials on pedestals. One of the Barnstaple Street ground-storey windows is a former doorway, the first-floor entablature built out as a bracketed hood and surmounted by a scrolled ball-finial. Main entrance on return front has pilasters and a low segmental hood on massive brackets. Windows have plain sashes throughout, except in canted bay to right of ground storey in return front; this has barred sashes and top entablature. Rear elevation to former railway platform (now a public path) is 2-storeyed in similar style to the front. Single-storeyed porch with panelled piers. Gable with ball-finial at either end. Large canted bay window to left. Simple 19th century iron railings in front; steps to left have more elaborate baluster-rails inscribed TARDREW & CO. BIDEFORD.
INTERIOR: 17th century range has wooden open-well staircase rising to garret; very heavily-built balustrades with pulvinated closed strings, turned balusters, square newels with flat moulded caps and flower-pendants, flat moulded handrail. Bolection-moulded plaster panels on undersides of flights and landings. Dado with raised bolection-moulded panels, rising to 2 heights on 1st-floor landing; upper panels elsewhere are probably 19th or 20th century . At 1st floor double-doors to each adjacent room: bolection-moulded panels, pulvinated friezes and broken triangular pediments. Kingsley Room to right has raised bolection-moulded panelling of 2 heights in varnished deal with boxed cornice: bolection-moulded wood chimneypiece has overmantel with bolection-moulded panel containing original oil painting of rural scene, hearth with black and white diamond paving-stones and 19th century interior with coloured patterned tiles; bolection-moulded double-doors to right. Kingsley Room also has original moulded plaster ceiling with enriched ribs and hight-relief wired ornaments (birds, serpents, cherubs, masks, cartouches, fruit and foliage); quatrefoil centre panel. Bolection-moulded panelled shutters. Kingsley Bedroom to left is closely similar, but with painted panelling and plain shutters: chimneypiece has no oil painting, but inset is a smaller mid 19th century white marble chimneypiece with contemporary keyhole-shaped iron grate; ceiling has simpler-shaped panels with less enrichments and a smaller range of wired ornaments. Front closet to left also has raised bolection-moulded panelling. 1889 extension has wooden stair in a roughly late 17th century manner; ground-floor public rooms finished in the same style. At rear of ground-floor to left, 3 cells with studded wooden doors and inspection hatches, probably mid 19th century; Wood's map of 1842 calls the 17th century building 'Old Work House'.
The original house is reputed to have been built for John Davie, merchant, mayor in 1688. Its workmanship is of even higher quality than that of the contemporary houses in Bridgeland Street; it contains the best urban plasterwork of its date in Devon, rivalled only by that of the Exeter Customs House. In 1937 Lilian Sheldon described the front as carrying the inscription COLONIAL 1688 HOUSE; a more recent metal plaque reads 'Formerly Colonial Buildings Erected 1698'. Charles Kingsley is traditionally said to have written 'Westward Ho!' in the Kingsley Room, although the local historian, WH Rogers, pours scorn on the idea.

Manning, P. T., 1998, The Royal Hotel, East-The-Water, Bideford (Report - Watching Brief). SDV6999.

Cobbled surface, culvert and drain observed during construction of a lift shaft within the building. Shaft located in an area which was formerly part of an exterior courtyard.

Andrews, L. (Torridge DC), 1998, Untitled Source (Personal Comment). SDV6998.

Cells underneath were used as Bideford gaol.

Rushton, N., 2006, River Torridge Pipeline, Bideford, Devon: Rapid Archaeological Appraisal, 7, 12 (Report - Interim). SDV342463.

Other details: WA 10.

Ordnance Survey, 2012, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV348725.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV10197Article in Serial: Sheldon, L.. 1937. Devon Inns. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 69. A5 Hardback. 376.
SDV325629Monograph: Cherry, B. + Pevsner, N.. 1989. The Buildings of England: Devon. The Buildings of England: Devon. Hardback Volume. 86, 180.
SDV341346Report - Survey: Timms, S. C.. 1976. The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft. Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology Report. A4 Unbound + Digital. 92.
SDV342463Report - Interim: Rushton, N.. 2006. River Torridge Pipeline, Bideford, Devon: Rapid Archaeological Appraisal. Wessex Archaeology Report. 62220.01. A4 Stapled. 7, 12.
SDV342471Article in Monograph: Thorp, J.. 1990. Town Houses of the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries. Devon Building: An Introduction to Local Traditions. Hardback Volume. 84, 117-128.
SDV344073Article in Monograph: Thorp, J. R. L.. 1990. Wall Painting and Lime Plaster Decoration. Devon Building: An Introduction to Local Traditions. Unknown. 143, 146.
SDV345901Un-published: Torridge District Council. Bideford Conservation Area Partnership Scheme. Action Plan for 1996-1999. Torridge District Council Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. 4.
SDV348725Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2012. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #93663 ]
SDV352469Article in Monograph: Devon County Council. 1975. Bideford Town Trail. Devon Town Trails: European Architectural Heritage Year. Paperback Volume. 77.
SDV4676Article in Serial: French, K. + French, C.. 1957. Devonshire Plasterwork. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 89. A5 Hardback. 134.
SDV6992List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1993. Bideford. Historic Houses Register. A4 Comb Bound. 16-18.
SDV6993Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1978 - 1980. SS42NE29. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV6998Personal Comment: Andrews, L. (Torridge DC). 1998. Telephone call to A. M. Dick.
SDV6999Report - Watching Brief: Manning, P. T.. 1998. The Royal Hotel, East-The-Water, Bideford. Exeter Archaeology Report. A4 Single Sheet + Digital.
SDV7002List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: Department of Environment. 1973. Bideford Borough. Historic Houses Register. Website. 6-7.
SDV7006Monograph: Blankart, G. P.. 1908. The Art of the Plasterer. Unknown. 273, 278.
SDV7311Un-published: Rogers, W. H. H.. 1948. Notes on Bideford. 3. Manuscript. 77.

Associated Monuments: none recorded

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV3552 - Watching Brief at The Royal Hotel, East the Water, Bideford
  • EDV4517 - Archaeological Appraisal of River Torridge Pipeline Routes, Bideford, Devon

Date Last Edited:Mar 22 2018 10:12AM