• The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History
  • The Headland - Our History

Our History

The Headland Hotel opened its doors in June 1900. Finished to the highest standards, it was built with the sole purpose of creating the finest hotel in South West England.

The building of the hotel

When work commenced there was immediate opposition from the local fishermen, who claimed the hotel was being built on common land they had used to dry their nets for generations.  Feelings ran high and local workmen were intimidated into stopping work.  One night a group came up from the town and pulled down the foundation walls, burned the scaffolding and threw the foreman's hut into the sea.  The Newquay Riots, as they were known, resulted in several men being fined and all work grinding to a halt.  Two hundred unemployed miners from Redruth were recruited because the locals were unwilling to return to the site, and as the new workers arrived in Newquay, traction engines equipped with steam hoses were used to keep the resentful natives at bay.

The hotel was finished to the highest standards: a DC generator was installed in a remote underground chamber; there were two bathrooms for gentlemen and two for ladies on each floor; every bedroom had a fire place, hot and cold running water, electric light, and an electric service bell. 

The third floor bedrooms, intended for guests' servants were furnished at 30/6d each (£1.52), those on the second floor at 45/- (£2.25), whilst the finest rooms on the first floor were furnished for £5 each. The ground floor has many interesting prints and archives relating to this period.

The Headland opened for business in June 1900. The first manager was dismissed for unexplained stock deficiencies six months later.

Ghosts from the past

During the Second World War, the hotel was requisitioned and became an RAF hospital and on several occasions, guests have reported the harmless ghosts of men in uniforms walking around the corridors late at night. Extensive renovations during the late 1990s may have awoken more ghosts of the past; one sighting was of a woman wearing a maid's uniform disappearing through a wall into the Ladies' Powder Room – spookily, in exactly the same position as where there was once a door.

A royal visit

The Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, whilst training at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, came to the Headland to convalesce after suffering from mumps.  His younger brother Bertie, later King George VI, joined him for company.  The two princes occupied Rooms 102, 103 and 104, all interconnecting at that time. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra stayed at the hotel on several occasions in the first decade of the century.

Between the wars the hotel was very stylish.  The Ballroom was formed in its present position, which had previously been a drawing room and a writing room, and was decorated in black and silver with many mirrors.  Fashionable London orchestras were booked for the summer season and the BBC used to broadcast Palm Court band music regularly.  The Ballroom floor is of the finest quality and is supported by some 2,500 small coil springs under the maple boards. 

There are several access points into which a large key can be inserted to alter the amount of spring the floor gives; 300 people dancing energetically and rhythmically can induce a floor movement of about 2 inches.

During the Second World War the hotel was requisitioned and became an RAF hospital.  From time to time former patients and nursing staff come to see if the hotel is still standing.  On occasions there have been reports of nurses being seen around the hotel.

Ghostly tales...

In 1980 some children, unaware of such stories, told their parents of a lady who had walked through their bedroom in the evening, without using doors, wearing a "long, dark coat without arms and a funny small white hat on her head".  Was she a nurse in uniform perhaps?  A woman wearing a maid’s uniform was also seen recently disappearing through a wall into the Ladies Powder Room, in exactly the same position where a door used to be in the late 1970s.

The Armstrong family

Having sold their cottage and a smaller 40 bedroom hotel, John and Carolyn Armstrong bought the hotel (a public company) in a very run down condition in March 1979. John's family have owned hotels in Newquay for over 100 years. Bedruthan Steps, the new Scarlett eco hotel, Sands Resort, Watergate Bay Hotel and The Nare hotels are in the family currently, along with the Extreme Sports Academy on Watergate Beach.

John and Carolyn arrived without any working capital, and struggled for many years to maintain and improve the building and add essential new facilities.  The boilers had been converted from solid fuel to heavy oil in 1932 and were working at 31% efficiency when they opened for the summer season and they had to go through the whole summer with them. The previous owner had removed dozens of radiators from bedrooms and reduced guest numbers by half to help with this dire problem of little heating and even less hot water. The carpets had no under felt, this was deemed an extravagance by the previous owner, some of the building work after the war was done on such a shoe string with three storeys of chimney breast being held up on single wooden lintels. It should of course be remembered that following the war there was great difficulty in obtaining building materials.

Much work has been undertaken to ensure structural integrity of the building; this has even included the replacement of structural steel in many areas which had been severely corroded by the ingress of salt water over the preceding 100 years.

In 1987 the hotel was listed Grade II by the Department of the Environment as being a building of particular architectural interest.  The site is also designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) being a raised beach containing many interesting fossils.

When the Armstrongs bought The Headland, the core business was the family leisure market from Easter to October. The hotel closed for five months in the winter and only 12 staff were employed for that period. The season has now lengthened and the Headland is now open all year and 100 staff are employed in the summer, and 70-80 in the winter. Guests come from all over the world, for surfing, family holidays, making films, fashion shoots (David Bailey for Italian Vogue), conferences, weddings (the hotel has a civil licence), romantic breaks (including a Blind Date prize) etc.  The BBC Clothes Show used the Terrace, and The Headland was the only privately owned site hosting the Radio One Road Show annually for more than a decade.

The Witches

The most famous film made on location in 1987 at the hotel is “The Witches” by Roald Dahl. Anglelica Houston starred as the Grand High Witch and at that time her boyfriend was Jack Nicolson.  Enormous bouquets of roses would be delivered for her, and the girls on the switchboard would become very excited when he telephoned to speak to her, as there were no mobiles then.

Rowan Atkinson played the hotel manager, and he is very like Mr Bean in real life – rather eccentric. On one occasion he ran a bath, and went to bed without turning the taps off. The flood reached the ground floor from his second floor bedroom and all the equipment (photocopier, electric typewriters etc) in the film’s production office in the first floor bedroom was written off. When the porter first knocked on Mr Atkinson’s door he was told to “go away, I am asleep”. The ballroom scene was filmed in the studios, the special effects of the witch combusting were deemed a bit dangerous. The mice were about the size of Spaniel dogs; they had to be large to fit in all the electronic equipment to make them work, this was before the days of computer animation. Rooms 223, 227 and 205 were used for some of the bedroom scenes. The pram pushed towards the cliff edge was the Armstrongs’ family pram which had been used for Veryan, Morwenna and George. Thousands of guests from all around the world have visited the hotel having seen the film and many wide eyed children look around for the mice.

An award winning hotel

Throughout the years, the staff have been, and continue to be extremely important in the success of the hotel and have received numerous compliments.  In 1992 the hotel was the first company in Cornwall to receive Investors in People for its commitment to developing and training staff, and later in the year, The Headland won Cornwall's first National Training Award.  The English Tourist Board also gave the hotel the Silver England for Excellence Tourism Training Award. The Headland also won the Cornwall Business Challenge competition in 1996, open to all industries.

The company was recognised by the BHA (British Hospitality Association) as a 5 star employer and was the runner-up in the 2000 Excellence through People awards for the 360 degree appraisal scheme which the whole team are invited to participate in. In 2007 Michelle Brown, the HR Manager, won an Acorn Award, which recognises hospitality stars of the future, and the business won a clutch of prizes at the Cornwall Tourism Awards including overall Winner of Winners.  2008 saw the business win the Southern region final of the Coutts Best Family Business competition in the medium sized category. In July 2011 The Headland was delighted to be recognised by Investors In People who awarded the hotel with a Gold Award, following recognition of good practise in supporting the team.  Also in November of the same year, Jude Gallacher, our Executive Housekeeper, was successfully nominated as Housekeeper of the year at The Catey Awards in London. In 2012 the hotel won silver in the Cornwall Tourism Awards and went on to win a silver in the South West Tourism Awards. Our most recent success came in the form of the 2013 Cornish Tourism awards in which both the hotel & the cottages were awarded gold in the respective categories.

Ongoing reinvestment

During the three decades the Armstrongs have owned the hotel, well over £30 million has been re-invested and includes the addition of the following: a completely new roof, three new lifts, resurfacing the tennis courts (twice), installing the indoor pool, landscaping the many sun traps in the grounds, making all bedrooms en suite, continual refurbishment and repainting and now an enormous amount of new technology throughout the building is being installed. Work continues throughout the year, with extensive repairs each spring or autumn, to at least one side of the very exposed exterior necessitating scaffolding from top to bottom – essential in the partially successful attempt to keep the building water tight with winter gales driving in rain horizontally at 90 mph for long periods.  Bedrooms are redecorated on a rolling programme and winter 2009-10 saw a huge refurbishment programme for all of the Fistral Beach bedrooms on all three floors, losing seven rooms in the process of making larger rooms.  Huge walk-in showers were installed, along with under-floor heating, and several stylish free standing baths. 

Planning permission was granted (without one objection, which astounded everyone) in September 2008 for numerous improvements, including an underground car park, a new outdoor swimming pool and an events room planned for the hillside overlooking Fistral Beach.  During winter 2011/12 the indoor pool area was totally renovated and now includes a jet stream and bubble seats in the pool, a Cornish salt steam room, a Swedish sauna and aromatherapy showers.  The Restaurant, front lounges and library were totally redecorated during this time. We are currently working on The Headland Spa which will be unveiled in summer 2013 and will include five new treatment rooms, a VIP suite, hydrotherapy bath and a state-of-the-art gym.  In the meantime Martina and her team are offering treatments in the hotel. The plans can be viewed near the Front Hall, and in total will take six to ten years, with much of the building work planned during the quieter months – we will be having a break from builders though for the next year or two.

Our team of staff

In June 2003 The Headland regained its AA 4 star status to the delight of the directors and employees. Meanwhile the village project of 40 one, two and three bedroom cottages, developed in two phases between 2000 and 2005, has proved to be a very successful venture and achieved VisitBritain’s highest award of 5 stars at the first attempt, and has maintained it since  Gold Award in 2010. The Headland is very proud of its Cornishness and the staff uniforms reflect this, the gold and black ties and scarves worn are made from Cornish national tartan. 

Darryl Reburn arrived in May 2010 as Deputy General Manager and in April 2012, Darryl was appointed as General Manager. He has a wealth of experience in Cornish hotels with the Brend Group and Fowey Hall.  He will be ably assisted by Adam Cornish (who started in August 2004 as a trainee manager) as his deputy, who is well known as our previous Front of House Manager.

The great team of loyal staff, together with the family, are ensuring The Headland strives to be one of the best luxury family hotels with traditional, old fashioned values. 

Relax and enjoy all The Headland has to offer….