The Story of The Star Hotel
The History of The Star Hotel involves the story of two adjacent houses, both flint faced and both originally built by rich merchants of this seaport town. In the early 17th century Great Yarmouth was a prosperous town, the ravages of the plague, or Black Death, three centuries earlier when 7000 of the townsfolk died, had been finally overcome and the arrival of the Dutch settlers, the revival of the great herring industry and the final completion of the seventh haven all combined to make it truly Great Yarmouth.
The merchants, dealing mainly in fish, grain and wool trade arrived with this new wave of prosperity, and many fine brick and stone houses were built along the quay's and wharf's of the town. Few of these houses survive today but of those that do the present Star Hotel is one.
The story of The Star Hotel must however begin with an adjacent property, demolished in 1935.
William Crowe, a rich merchant and twice bailiff of the town built a house between Rows 62 and 67 facing the river on what is known today as Hall Quay, but then known as the Foreland. This was one of the prime residential areas of the town, near the bridge (one of the main entrances to the town) and in the centre of the two quays, north quay and south quay, the main trading area.
Crowe erected his house in the 16th century and was a member of the Merchants Adventurers of England, a trading company invested by Elizabeth 1 with special privileges. He was proud of his association with the Merchant Adventurers and has the coat of arms of the company carved above the fireplace in the principle room of the house, a room on the first floor, overlooking the river and richly panelled and plastered, more of which we shall say later. Extending into the garden at the rear of the house was a banqueting room, no doubt used to entertain other merchants and conduct business.
William Crowe's son, also named William became a successful upholsterer in London, a trade he combined with money lending. In 1759 this member of the family secured the ownership of nearby Caister Castle from the Paston Family as settlement for a debt.
By the 18th century the house had become the property of Thomas Dawson a merchant and maltster who, on taking possession in 1740,demolished the banqueting room and replaced it with a malt house. The next owner, Robert Wilson was another wealthy corn merchant and when he died the house was passed into the Bradshaw family. An earlier member of this noble family has been President of the high court of justice, which sent Charles 1 to the scaffold in 1649. It was, whilst in ownership of the Bradshaw's that the house turned into the Star Tavern,late in the 18th century. The malt house was converted into stables and a coach house, a necessary facility of any tavern of that period.
Norfolk's great Sailor Nelson visited the town in 1800 after the battle of the Nile and received the freedom of the town at the Wrestlers Inn on Church Plain. While there a local artist by the name of Keymer painted his portrait and subsequently presented it to the Friendly Society who regularly met at the Star. The portrait was placed in a position of honour over the fireplace in the main room, which then became known as the Nelson Room. In 1830 Pigot's Norfolk Directory described the Nelson Room as "beautifully carved in wainscot, now sabled by time but in excellent preservation. There is also some rare and curious tapestry in a sleeping-room, exquisitely wrought in sylvan and forest scenes with birds and animals, coeval with carving of the other apartment. " There were several owners of the Star Tavern over the following hundred years and in 1822 the landlord was William Woolverton.
Although the building was altered, a billiard room and dinning room replaced the stables; the Nelson Room remained virtually intact,attracting visitors from far and wide. Charles Dickens stayed in Yarmouth in 1848 while gathering material for his book David Copperfield and many of the town's buildings have their place in the book including the Star, which becomes the Inn where David and Steerforth stayed.
In the days before the railways linked all the major towns in the country the only mode of transport was the stagecoach. These services left from the principle inns and taverns of the towns and cities winding their way across open and often dangerous country, sometimes-falling victim to the notorious highway robbers that abounded in nineteenth century England. In 1819 the Telegraph Coach and the New Royal Mail Coach left Yarmouth for London every day at 2 pm, the Yarmouth terminus being the Star Tavern. By 1845 the Birmingham Mail was leaving the Star at 4.40 pm to travel to Leicester.
Nineteenth Century Parliamentary elections revolved around the Inns and Taverns of the time and the Star was always the local headquarters of the Tory Party, their opponents the Wiggs, being based at another inn nearby. The Balcony was used on many occasions to address the crowds on the Quay. At the rear of the Star, facing Howard Street was a beer house known as the Star Vaults, owned and run by the same proprietor. It was common in the nineteenth century for a large inn to have a side or rear bar for the general public to use. In October 1930 The Star, owned by the Bayfield Family and run as The Star Hotel, Great Yarmouth Ltd., was sold for £1850.00 to the Postmaster General, to be demolished to make way for an extension to the telephone exchange which occupied the adjacent building to the South. The panelling and ceiling to the Nelson room were removed and sold by auction, brought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where they may be seen to this day. The final drink had been served on Sunday night, 2Ft September 1930,just before 10pm. This may have been the end of the building, but it was not the end of the Star for the licence was transferred to the adjoining property. The name and our story therefore continues.
This adjoining property to the north, known for many years as the Stone House, was another flint faced merchant house, built in 1764 by Anthony Ellys on the site of a much older property. This was a two-story building with large dormers in the roof, the rooms panelled in a similar fashion to the already described Nelson Room of the old Star. The house extended over Row 62 to join its neighbour. Anthony Ellys was major of the town in 1708, the family having an unusual coat of arms, which showed the mermaid holding a comb and mirror. The House passed into the Symonds family was eventually brought by Benjamin Dowson, a corn merchant whose family lived there for the greater part of the nineteenth century. Row 62 became known as Ben DowsonRow.
The Stone House was brought at auction in July 1890 by Thomas Goate, a prominent member of the temperance movement, with the intention of turning it into a hotel. The temperance movement was very strong in the country towards the end of the nineteenth century although in Great Yarmouth it received little support, probably because the nature of a seaport town was not compatible with the ideas of temperance. The auction details described it as " ... most pleasantly situated and conveniently planned with no end 'bf accommodation; is thoroughly antique, the walls of most rooms being panelled, some in dark oak and with antiqued carved mantle -pieces, and is faced with cut flint stones".
There were nine bedrooms in the house and a "bath room fitted with excellent bath in centre of same ", Thomas Goate engaged the services of a prominent local architect, Arthur Hewitt, to draw up plans for the alteration of the house and conversion into a hotel. The top floors were added, giving further Twenty five bedrooms, and the house took on the exterior appearance it retains today. Hewitt was also an architect of the Empire and Gem (now windmill) cinemas on the seafront in the early years of this century.
In 1881 the alterations were finished and it opened as the Cromwell Temperance Hotel. In December 1930 The Star Hotel Great Yarmouth (1930) Ltd, acquired the Cromwell from the then owner, Frank Woolsey, renamed it the New Star Hotel and carried on their business. At the rear were some old cottages in row 61 and two shops facing Howard Street. In 1946 the ownership changed to a company called the Norfolk and Suffolk Hotels Ltd and demolition orders were served on the cottages. In 1949 the hotel, extended and improved after the war, and was sold for £32,250 to Messers Truman Hanbury Buxton and Co Ltd The Star was now described as " The best known licensed house in Great Yarmouth, associated with much of the public life of the town owing to its pleasant and central position ... claimed to be The Star Hotel of Norfolk'.
Thus the hotel has continued, expanding to meet the increasing demands on its service and was taken over by Queens Moat Hotels Ltd in 2001 and under went a refurbishment on behalf of the Elizabeth Hotel group. In November 2009 Elizabeth Hotels administration led to the take over by Brazile Ltd.
In September 2010 The Star Hotel was taken over by Geraldine Thornton and is due to begin a subtle modernisation program.
It is interesting to note the Star Sign shared with Inns through out the county. With its religious origin, dates from the fifteenth century.