Spending a weekend in Hornsea
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 September 2014
Why not smuggle in a weekend in Hornsea?
The seaside town of Hornsea which, despite its official status retains a welcoming village atmosphere, is perfect for a family day out, with a lovely sandy beach, a busy promenade, amusements and attractions.
It has a colourful history of smuggling – a trade which was aided and abetted by the entire town (even the local church offered its vault for the stashing of contraband). But where once there were smugglers seeking shelter, you are now more likely to find day-trippers in search of cosy tea rooms.
The Floral Hall is usually one of their first ports of call. Built by local family firm JK Barr & Sons, this much-loved Hornsea landmark celebrated its 100th anniversary last year.
It has hosted numerous events, shows, concerts and tea dances since opening on July 7th 1913 and, with the addition of a café and stage, established itself as an integral part of Hornsea’s night life.
‘It was established originally as a community venue,’ said Alan Brookes, manager of the Floral Hall. ‘In its early days it was renowned for its afternoon tea dances, where couples would waltz around under our big glass roof, reminiscent of Kew Gardens. There were tennis courts at the front and the sea at the back, and you had to pay to walk on our bit of the prom. It was a bit exclusive in its day.
‘I suppose the Sixties and Seventies marked its real peak, when we had bands like AC/DC, Hot Chocolate, Big Country and Slade playing gigs here. There are rumours that Pink Floyd played here once, but I can’t find any solid proof.’
Unfortunately, however, a dark cloud came over the horizon in 2012, when the owner, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, considered demolishing it to make way for a car park.
‘It hit a bad patch when the Spa at Bridlington first took off,’ said Alan. ‘It was the council’s new baby and it sank all its money and time into it. The Floral Hall was basically left to die.’
This prompted a vociferous demonstration and the establishment of a committee of volunteer directors who now run the venue on behalf of the people of Hornsea.
‘The council agreed to let the steering committee have it for five years with funding for building work and repairs,’ said Alan. ‘After that we have to become self-sufficient.’
He came on-board as manager in November last year. There was virtually nothing in the bookings diary at the time but, eight months on, they’ve got a packed schedule for the rest of the year (there’s not a single free weekend, so don’t even think about asking) and have just booked their very first wedding.
‘It just shows that the demand’s there, and also shows how strongly people feel about this place,’ said Alan. ‘I see a lot of older people popping their head round the door for a quick trip down memory lane and most of them end up in tears because they met their husband or wife here at a tea dance. Honestly, most days I’m in tears with them because the Floral Hall obviously has such a big place in their hearts and they’re so grateful it’s still here.’
There is obviously much more to Hornsea than just the Floral Hall – although Alan puts forward quite a convincing case – so where else would he recommend for new visitors to the town?
‘I’m pretty new myself,’ he said. ‘I only moved here in February and I’d never even been to Hornsea before I started working here. But the first day I arrived, something happened. Hornsea is just so lovely. It’s one of those places that just gets you. There’s so much history here. It’s got a real vintage feel. You are never going to modernise Hornsea – and people who live here wouldn’t have it any other way.’
For Alan and all the other Hornsea newbies, here are a few more places to visit during your day trip, long weekend or family holiday.
Hornsea Museum, established in 1978 in an 18th century farmhouse and two adjoining cottages, has won numerous awards and is a popular place for visitors of all ages.
‘The museum is not a relic but a living entity,’ said a spokesman, ‘changing with time to reflect patterns in village life in North Holderness over the past centuries. From the pre-industrial age of the early 1700s through to post-Second World War Britain, the museum shows human evolution – warts and all.’
Smuggling was once a prominent part of the warts and all business in the town, but now the smugglers are far outnumbered by shoppers making a beeline for Hornsea Freeport, which boasts numerous stores, Neptune’s Kingdom play area and climbing wall, and William’s Farm Kitchen, an award-winning café, shop and butchery specialising in artisan Yorkshire produce.
When you’ve finished shopping (or have run out of money – it happens to the best of us), Hornsea Mere, Yorkshire’s largest freshwater lake, is just a short stone-skim away. It covers an area of 467 acres and is two miles long, three-quarters of a mile wide and around 12 feet at its deepest.
It’s a well-known centre for rowing, sailing (it’s home to Hornsea Sailing Club), boat trips and fishing. But it’s perhaps best-known for its bird population.
The mere is part of the Wassand Hall estate, purchased in the 16th century for £50 (bargain!). The fine regency house, beautiful walled gardens and woodland walks that make up the estate are open to the public on selected days during the summer (check wassand.co.uk for details).
Hornsea is synonymous with pottery. But it’s amazing that Hornsea Pottery ever saw the light of day as there was no locally-sourced clay, no local fuel, an undersized workforce pool and, after 1964, no railway connection.
This didn’t stop brothers Desmond and Colin Rawson pursuing their artistic ambitions though, starting with plaster-of-Paris models in the scullery of their Victoria Avenue home and progressing on to fired clay pots after their friend Phillip Clappison bought them a small, second-hand kiln.
They took on their first full-time employee in 1950; school-leaver Michael Walker, who cycled from Beverley every day. And, by 1954, were ready to officially launch The Hornsea Pottery Company Limited.
By the mid-1960s Hornsea Pottery was the biggest employer in town and, when 1974 rolled round, the company employed 250 staff at its Edenfield Works (it later peaked at 700) making more than three million pieces a year.
The pottery is sadly no more, but its community-minded ethos means it’s still held dear by local people.