History of The Woodlands Hotel
Did you know that parts of The Woodlands Hotel date back more than 700 years? Famous figures – from Sir Walter Raleigh to Elizabeth Barrett Browning – have owned, stayed in or lived next to this fascinating building. Little wonder then that we are one of the most historic hotels in Sidmouth, Devon. Here’s our history in a nutshell – come and stay with us and find out a whole lot more!
Mysterious tunnels, medieval echoes
As far back as the 13th Century a dwelling sat on the current Woodlands site. In 1971, archaeologists searching beneath the hotel discovered the oldest structures in Sidmouth – a rather spooky network of ancient tunnels and a domed subterranean chamber.
Walter Raleigh, potatoes and Peryam
In 1578 Sir Walter Raleigh – the man who brought tobacco and potatoes to England – owned Woodlands. Raleigh leased the building to Sir William Peryam, a key judge in the trial of Mary Queen of Scots. The manor’s original cellars exist to this day.
Tourist season and the ‘Secret Chapel”
In 1800 the Rev J. Copplestone turned one of the Woodlands barns into a private chapel. You can still see the bell from the landing outside room 17. Around the same time, Sidmouth experienced an influx of high-profile visitors, spurred on by the Prince Regent’s idea of ‘rusticating the seaside’.
Lords and thatches
In 1806 The Lord High Chamberlain, Lord Gwydir, purchased the property. He set about converting the building into a fine thatched cottage. He later had visitors ranging from the Prince Regent (who went on to become the ‘mad’ King George), to the Princess of Wales.
In the mid-1800s, ‘Woodland Cottage’ belonged to Henry Digby – a naval officer who played a key role in the Battle of Trafalgar. He commanded the smallest ship in the fleet, the 64-gun Africa, yet managed to board and demand the surrender of the 134-gun Santissima Trinidad, Spain’s flagship and the largest vessel in the world.
Is there a doctor in the house?
By the turn of the 20th Century, Woodlands had passed through many different owners in quick succession. But in 1909, Dr. Arthur Robin bought the building and turned it into a GP surgery, as well as a family home. Some 12 years later, Woodlands was sold once again – and for the first time started to accept paid guests.
Listed status and present day
The mid-20th century almost saw Woodlands demolished and redeveloped. Thankfully, the building achieved listed status in 1951, making it one of the first listed buildings in the UK.
The connections with legendary English figures such as Sir Walter Raleigh, the Prince Regent and Henry Digby make this one of the most fascinating and characterful hotels in Sidmouth, Devon.
Want to know more? Feel free to get in touch – or come and stay to see lots of the preserved documents, structures and heirlooms from centuries past.