My interest in the history of The Bath Hotel (later known as The Imperial and now OLEA) in Weston-super-Mare first arose because I learned that one of my ancestors, my 4 X Great Grandfather Richard FRY (1780-1855), had built and owned it.
You can learn all about Richard FRY on my more detailed history of his life and times HERE, however, briefly, in around 1808 he was part of a consortium of four entrepreneurs who spotted a village by the sea and considered it to have potential as a tourist destination. They established and built the first hotel in Weston, which is now The Royal Hotel.
In or around 1828, Richard FRY bought a property next to the Hotel which had a large plot of land next to the terraced houses of South Parade. This property became known as Myrtle Cottage and it was both his home and a lodging house. Meanwhile the main Hotel was taken over by John REEVE.
1836 The Bath Hotel Was Built
In 1836, various events seem to have happened. First of all, it seems that The Bath Hotel was built by Richard FRY. The shape of properties shown on the Tithe map below, from approximately 1836, shows that what would later become The Bath Hotel, was built after Myrtle Cottage and the other properties on South Parade. Instead, there appears to be either a gap of land or else a building and development plot, between the terraced properties of South Parade and Myrtle Cottage which is not occupied at the time of the creation of this map.
It seems that Richard FRY built The Bath Hotel, in or around 1836, erecting it right in between Myrtle Cottage and the terraced houses of South Parade as the tallest building on this road. It was initially licensed as an Inn known as The Mason’s Arms. Meanwhile a Mr George WOOKEY had been managing the main Hotel, which was, at this time, known as Reeve’s Hotel. There seems to have been some sort of legal dispute however, because in August 1836, a number of notices appeared in the newspaper.
On Wednesday 10th August 1836, a notice was placed by John Reeve:
It seems that Richard FRY had now built the new inn, Masons’ Arms, on South Parade, and that this was then quickly tenanted to George WOOKEY who had been managing Reeve’s Hotel. John Reeve, the previous occupier seems to have taken the main hotel back over, and George WOOKEY renamed Richard FRY’s establishment as The Bath Hotel.
Just ten days later, an advertisement on Page 4 of the Bristol Mercury, on Saturday 20 August 1836 read:
“BATH HOTEL, South Parade, Weston-super-Mare, Somersetshire. George Wookey has the honour of announcing to the Residents at the above much-frequented Watering Place, its Visitors, and the Public in general, that, since his recent removal from Reeve’s Hotel, he has established himself in very commodious Premises, recently erected on the South Parade by Mr. Richard Fry; (which have hitherto been Licensed as the Masons’ Arms, but which, from, and after the 12 September next, will be known as the BATH HOTEL.) The House has been fitted up with the greatest possible attention, and at a heavy expense, as a Family Hotel; and whilst its sheltered situations and extensive views confer upon it decided advantage, it will be found to contain those comforts, in every respect, which as so essential to the success of an Hotel, or a Boarding and Lodging Establishment. “
This seems to have begin a period of considerable rivalry between the two hotels which has become something of urban folklore in the area.
In an article called “Fortnight in Weston” written some years later, in 1845, it describes The Bath Hotel:
“The Bath Hotel, conducted by Mr. G Wookey, is distinguished by two bow windows, and a balcony and veranda of trellis-work over the door-way; considerable taste has been displayed in the arrangements of the rock, stone and shrubs, which impart a pleasing character to the entrance; the whole having, not only the appearance but the reality of the comforts appertaining to a private mansion.”
The Fry family continued to live in Myrtle Cottage next door, but they retained ownership of the Bath Hotel. George Wookey was most likely named it The Bath Hotel, because he wanted to try to attract wealthy clientele from Bath who were beginning to receive prescriptions from their private doctors to head to the coast for sea air and sea bathing rather than just use the Baths there in town. Later, when George died, the lease was taken over by his wife Mrs WOOKEY.
In the painting above, you can see that what is now The Royal Hotel was, at the time of this picture, Reeve’s Hotel, and to the right of that, you can see Myrtle Cottage and to the right of that, The Bath Hotel, stands taller than all the other properties on South Parade.
Later The Bath Hotel became known as The Imperial Hotel, which was a well-known establishment and pub in Weston for years, and now, in 2020, it has changed again and now it has become a Mediterranean Restaurant named OLEA.
Richard FRY owned The Bath Hotel until his death in 1855. The ‘Hotel Field’ which lay in front of the hotels (the land depicted in the very old painting of the area above which sits in front of the Royal Hotel and the Bath Hotel) was kept clear for sea views and cattle for many years. It was a popular site for traveling entertainment such as circuses, and also the site of the ‘Weston Revels’ for many years. This land is now the site of the Winter Gardens and Pavilion in Weston.
At some point, it’s not clear when, The Bath Hotel’s front facing was re-designed. The original balcony, which was most likely iron work, was removed and the central balcony door was changed to a window. On the ground floor, some stone work was added and extended to the front.
1867 – The Bath Hotel Becomes The Imperial
In 1867, a company was formed to allow for the purchase of both Reeve’s Hotel and The Bath Hotel with the intention to convert The Bath Hotel into a Club House. At some point after this, it became known as The Imperial Hotel.
News Article from 1989
In 1989, under new ownership again, the hotel became a pub, The Imperial, and plans were made to re-open the hotel.
1989 – The Imperial is Refurbished
The Bath Hotel Today
In 2018, the hotel underwent another transformation becoming a Mediterranean Restaurant named OLEA. Smart new railings have restored the frontage to something of it’s former glory. I can’t wait to be able to go and visit and sit inside the building that my ancestor built, and raise a toast in his memory!
Please Let Me Know You’ve Visited
If you have enjoyed reading this post, please leave me a comment below, even just something brief. Family history hunting can be fascinating, but often no one else is interested except the person doing the research, so it’s always really lovely to find out when someone is!