The Fight Goes On
The meeting was addressed by John Dover, David Parker, Marcus Dixon, Andrew Townsend, Michael Turner QC, Janet Page, Sue Farrant, Oliver Letwin MP and Daryl Turner.
Michael Turner QC chaired questions from the floor. John Dover, chairman of the group called for a vote which was overwhelmingly in favour of continuing to campaign for The Three Cups to be reopened AS A HOTEL as soon as possible.
More details to follow. In the meantime, here is the text of my speech:
THE HERITAGE PERSPECTIVE
Those of you who have heard me speak before or read my blog will be aware that my involvement with this campaign started with a cup of tea or rather my disappointment at being unable to take afternoon tea at the famous Three Cups Hotel in 2004.
I had read that J.R.R. Tolkien stayed many times at The Three Cups hotel. And so happy were his memories of childhood holidays there that he brought his own children to Lyme Regis to enjoy staying at the hotel, too. I wanted to share something of the charm of that place that he loved so much but I found building dark and the doors padlocked.
I might have just left Lyme Regis six years ago disappointed with the lack of hospitality and imagination of the owners, were it not for the good offices of Bob Speer at the Sanctuary Bookshop and the artist Hugh Dunford Wood who had placed a petition there to sign. Having added my name to that campaign, I was encouraged to start my blog and more cultural and historical connections came to light. I’d like to mention a few of these and draw some conclusions.
The oldest connection is that with Jane Austen and I should confess that my first visit to Lyme in 2000 was due to my wife’s interest in this famous author. It is thought that Miss Austen was familiar with the Old Three Cups, part of which still remains at the Sanctuary Bookshop, and we are fairly certain that she stayed in the rear of the current building when it was connected to what today is Seatree House next door and known in 1804 as Hiscott’s Boarding House.
It is a great honour for The Three Cups Hotel that one of its guests was the poet laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. But it turns out that he was just another cultural tourist – he wanted to see the place where Jane Austen’s heroine fell on the Cobb. One satisfied visitor to Lyme. What a good job he didn’t receive the sort of welcome at The Three Cups which I experienced.
If there is one guest who I would like to have met in the bar of The Three Cups over a pint of beer, it would have been the great writer and political campaigner, G.K. Chesterton. I couldn’t imagine an evening of more witty and stimulating conversation. I have recently been advised by Dale Ahlquist of the American Chesterton Society that the great man actually stayed several times at the Three Cups and wrote two poems while in residence. Here is one of them. (You need to imagine looking down Broad Street where you can see the sea over the roofs of the buildings)
IN the LYME-LIGHT
In the steep street where the sea hangs over the houses,
Hangs with all its fishes like a sky with all its birds,
Are the friends I see and the friend who is far asunder
To whom I send only words.
Late I have found you, said the great Augustine -
Friends of my Faith, you are young with its ancient youth,
But not too late, for I know though I die, these also
Go on and die in the truth.
For I know the steep street goes down, but not to destruction
For it fares though it falls, though it dips out of sight, even then
To a living sky like a sea . . . Good luck to your fishing
O fishers of men.
Other famous names are associated with The Three Cups such as: Hilaire Belloc, Stanley Holloway and James Cagney but few would be as well known today as General Dwight D Eisenhower who visited the hotel to brief senior officers prior to D-Day. Eisenhower, of course, went on to become president of the United States of America. Significantly for us, in his farewell address, he warned against the acquisition of unwarranted influence by business over the councils of government.
So what conclusions would I draw from this brief survey of visitors to the Three Cups in its days as a thriving hotel? Firstly, the famous writers I have mentioned gave us wonderful literature inspired in part by their love of the English countryside and coastline which they came to Lyme Regis to enjoy. And staying in The Three Cups was part of their inspiration. These pleasures should be made available to as many people as possible not just a rich few. Opening The Three Cups again AS A HOTEL would make that possible.
Secondly, I would say that the town of Lyme Regis and Dorset generally have been deprived of a great deal of business and hard cash by the unbusinesslike attitude of the present owners. Some may ask, “Where are all the cultural tourists who want to visit the hotel?” Well, there are hoteliers who say they can make The Three Cups pay as a hotel now. I would also say that there is a powerful thing called advertising but we have seen the opposite - hiding a light under a bushel. Lyme Regis does well from its festivals of the arts, music and even geology but I’m sure that these events are well advertised. If this town could place adverts on the internet and with the literary societies around the world, to say that The Three Cups where Austen, Tennyson, Chesterton and Tolkien stayed is open for business, then we could see extra tourists arriving by the coach load wanting accommodation - and to see the sights connected with these famous artists – and spend money in the town.
I’m sure, like me, visitors would want to experience the interiors of the hotel which would have been familiar to their favourite authors. I don’t want to go into a remodelled building and take tea in a shiny chrome coffee bar, like some air-conditioned bright canteen, in what used to The Three Cups Hotel. I want to relax in an armchair or on a sofa in the same room where the great men and women of English Literature sat, in a HOTEL still providing friendly accommodation in the original authentic surroundings.
Lyme Regis needs The Three Cups Hotel like Stratford upon Avon needs Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Covent Garden needs its Opera House or The Lake District needs Wordsworth’s Cottage and Beatrix Potter’s house.
Lyme Regis should be famous for The Three Cups Hotel as well as The Cobb. There is as much history attached to the hotel as the breakwater and just as much connection with The French Lieutenant’s Woman. But it needs advertising as a welcoming place to stay for visitors not as private dwellings for the rich commuters. (Where are they going to come from in the current economic climate?)
There is so much potential for The Three Cups to be the jewel in the crown of the tourist industry for the whole of Dorset and yet for 20 years this town has suffered a dilapidated eye sore in its midst and a blight on its economy. Now after waiting so long for relief from this economic damage, the people of this area are threatened with the hotel being taken away from them. You would think that in a democracy there would be powers to protect citizens from such harm and loss. But wait, we have elected officials and there are laws which exist to promote the economic, social or environmental well being of an area and its heritage assets. So why has nothing happened? Could it be that some misplaced power exists and persists, some unwarranted influence, to use Eisenhower’s words?
Perhaps we could learn something from Eisenhower’s home country. We needed the help of his army to preserve our democracy in 1944. God forbid that we should have to resort to the sort of armed struggle that this Rebel Harbour saw in the days of the Monmouth Rebellion but there is an important principle at stake here that is worth making a stand for. Is local government going to act in the interests of WE, the people, or is it going to be influenced more by business interests?
I think Lyme Regis and our country as a whole needs the sort of rebellion that started in a harbour in Massachusetts and was encouraged by another famous Lyme resident, and former owner of the Old Three Cups Hotel, Thomas Hollis. (Thomas Hollis was a great benefactor of Lyme Regis and Harvard University or College as it was then.) When I say rebellion, I am referring to The Boston Tea Party of 1773 and the present day Tea Party Movement in America. Please do not be put off by the way the Republican Party is trying to co-opt and subvert the Tea Party Movement, I believe it is a grass roots peaceful campaign by people who believe in democracy and want politicians who will serve them and not big business. It is time for the electorate in the UK to make their elected representatives listen. Democracy is under threat again - at the local level as well as from Europe. We need to use it or lose it.
A cup of tea anyone?