A couple of years after we came to live here, our friends Nick and Judy gave us a shock by selling the Bay Hotel and moving away. Well, it had been eighteen years of hard work.
The buyer, a developer, ran it down until instead of twenty or more staff there were four (two of them part-time), closed the fine restaurant, ceased taking bookings from the tourist office; then applied for permission to sell the building off for nine luxury apartments (in place of the twenty bedrooms). And there would be a "leisure facility" in the rear basementlittle more than a steam bath and a tiny shop. (This was an attempt to meet the planning requirement that there be no loss of community benefit. Why should anybody, beside a beach, pay to go into a steam bath in a basement? There was already a larger pool and gym, little used, a few hundred yards away at the Royal Lion in Broad Street.) And the building would have a facelift: its nineteen-twenties character and detail stripped, it would become an anonymous modern block. The flats (expensive, small, without storage space, some without much light) would probably be bought as second homes by rich non-residents.
Instead of a bustling focus of life, where people met their friends or watched the passing scene, there would be a hulk, dark for much of the year. Amid the smile of the Marine Parade, a dead tooth.
The hotel is a half-way point between the Cobb Gate (Lyme's focus) and the Cobb (its most famous feature); half way along Marine Parade, where the town's front of buildings ends and the grassy slope begins, also where the lower and upper levels (the Cart Road and the Walk) are joined, and where Lucy's Ledge lies offshore. A literary description of the Marine Parade hinges on the Bay Hotel, and is reduced to absurdity if it has to hinge on a block of flats.
The dismal proposal got official approvalin the first round. To try to explain the hierarchy of councils, committees, and case officers, and the web of policies (ET1, C5, SA20 . . . ) that constrain their decisions, would be to open a door into another maze. The system is better, we have to suppose, than it would be without such policies, which began with the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947.
Four hundred Lyme people signed a "Save the Bay Hotel" petition in one day, forceful objections were presented in writing and speechcouched in terms of the policies, but spiced with strong emotion. The developer (in Thailand at the time) lost round three, and put in an appeal.
In 2007, in what looked like a side-run around the process, the hotel's twenty bedrooms were converted into ten de-luxe suites with their own kitchenettesnot too different from the proposed apartments. The staff annexe was to be demolished and replaced with a tall slab-like house for the owner (succeeding the hotel, therefore, as last building in the row).
The hotel's ground floor was gutted to become a glitzy 55-seat Thai restaurant, with shiny black floor, glass tables, simplified white open-plan walls, an artificial fire, and expensive food inferior to that of the little Thai restaurant in Bridport. No more lounge beside the sea.