Three of the best known landmarks in Suffolk are owned by the same man, Robert Gough. His parents, both hoteliers, began their business in November 1965 with the purchase of the Marlborough Hotel on Henley Road in Ipswich which they ran for 38 years. They then purchased a second hotel the Angel in Bury St Edmunds. "We are excited to be nearing our 50th anniversary as a family run business." Growing up, Robert and his sister Caroline helped their parents before leaving home to complete their education. Robert studied for a History degree and afterwards worked in London before travelling around America.
"I realised my passion was hotels and so I returned to the family business as it's always something I've enjoyed." Robert's father Dick, who died in 1987, and his mother Mary, (who recieved an MBE for services to the hotel industry in 1990) saw themselves as custodians of the Angel - a well known landmark in West Suffolk.
Its Georgian 4 star hotel with a modern-style restaurant featuring British cuisine and was extended in the late 1990s. It now has 78 individually designed bedrooms including the suites. The Angel has had its share of famous guests over the years including King Louis Philippe of France, and actors Pierce Brosnan and Angelina Jolie, but one visitor has now been commemorated with a Blue Plaque sponsored by the Bury Society. Charles Dickens visited Bury, Sudbury and Ipswich in 1835 as a journalist on the Morning Chronicle, to report on the elections. When he came to Bury, he stayed in what was room 11 at The Angel.
The writer also stayed at The Angel in 1859 and 1861 - this time in what was room 15 and is now 215 - and he did his readings from his works at the nearby Athenaeum.
Dickens also included The Angel in his Pickwick Papers with the main character Samuel Pickwick arriving in the town and staying at the Hotel. Dickens wrote: "The coach rattled through the well-paved streets of a handsome little town, of thriving and cleanly appearance, and stopped before a large inn situated in a wide open street, nearly facing the old abbey."
In 2003, after the sale of the Marlborough, the Salthouse Harbour Hotel and Restaurant was created from a neglected Victorian warehouse on the former Ipswich Docks now the much coveted Ipswich Waterfront. "At the time we purchased the building plenty of people said "Gosh you're brave!" then three years later when it was a huge success they said "You're lucky!" In 2008 when many were retreating into their businesses due to the recession, Robert extended the Salthouse Harbour making it a dazzling addition to the waterfront. In March of this year Robert purchased The Pier in Southwold which has planning permission for a hotel. "When the opportunity arose to build a hotel overlooking the sea it was one I couldn't resist." "After the success of the Salthouse which overlooks the marina it was a natural choice. Southwold is a very significant and distinctive town, I would say the most distinctive in Britain, so the opportunity to add something to that is very exciting." Robert sees this next venture not only as an opportunity but also a huge responsibility. "It's important to us to get it right. It's absolutely critical that we build something of quality and at least four star standard; therefore we want to take our time."
Although planning permission has been granted for a 30 bedroom hotel, Robert and his advisers are in the process of gathering ideas to decide what needs to be put in place of the current Pier Pavilion. The building along the pier were all rebuilt during the millennium, however, many would agree that the Pavilion is the least attractive aspect of the Pier. "I think it's extremely important that the buildings we build contribute to the town they are in, and this new hotel will be no exception." "The town of Southwold is a very distinctive town and to add something to the waterfront is a very significant challenge and can't replicate something we've done before either."
Robert told me he invisiges teh build will take at least 12 months to complete and although tight-lipped about the official start date for the project he did intimate that it might begin as soon as next year. He also let slip that the building will in some way reflect its nautical history. "It certainly won't be a coaching in and it won't be another Salthouse either."
During his first year as the owner of Southwold Pier, after a shaky start it's been a good season. "We took over from Stephen and Antonia Bournes in March 2013 and we'd had one of the worst winters on record. I remember coming down on a beautiful crisp March morning to find the entire promenade, pier and seafront covered in snow! The main obstacle that morning was not being blown off the pier as you walked between the buildings. But I was rather pleasantly surprised how many people where here enjoying the bracing experience, I think the welcoming hot chocolate and mulled wine or the fresh fish and chip luncheon in the Boardwalk actually made it a great day out." "We've had a fantastic late summer, we've exceeded our visitor numbers for last year, with 99,000 visitors on the Pier in July alone." Along with a new hotel, plans for the pier include an art exhibition at the end of the pier next year, and a food offering. "Have you seen these street sellers who cook and serve food as you walk past? Well I'd like to see that sort of service at the end of the pier." Robert is also keen to use more local suppliers from both counties. Already he has changed the ice cream supplier from Cornish ice ceam to a supplier from North Suffolk. "We are very keen to look for as many local suppliers as possible to be coming out of Norfolk and Suffolk, both fresh fish and vegetables but also artisan-type suppliers of gifts. Part of coming to Southwold is being able to experience the best of what's available in Norfolk and Suffolk."
Interview by Stephanie Mackentyre
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