In 1963 Pontins sold Buckleigh Place Country Club, Westward Ho! to the now late William James Dossetter who ran it as a holiday camp for 10 years before selling it to a property developer at the end of the 1972 season. We have been lucky enough to have been contacted by Mr Dossetter's daughter, Jacqueline Moore, who has provided some of her recollections and images for use on this site.
I am the daughter of the late William James Dossetter who bought Buckleigh Place Country Club from Fred Pontin in 1963. This was one of Mr Pontins earliest camps. My father ran this business as a holiday camp for 10 seasons in total finally selling up at the end of the 1972 season. I spent each and every one of these seasons at the camp and also worked there.
My father, like Fred Pontin, was also from the East End of London having been born in 1912 in Stepney. He came from fairly humble beginnings but was an entrepreneurial person. He served in the RAF in the war (spending most of this time in POW camp!) The money he had made from various ventures allowed him to set up a printing factory called Dossetter Printcrafts Ltd which was very successful. In addition to this he branched out, owning and running an approx 30 bed Guest House in the East End of London. This mainly catered for Monday to Friday London workers and some weekend visitors. This particular business was sold and not too long after this, the printing factory burnt down. Two of my Uncles and my cousin worked for my father at this business so he decided to continue to run it but down sized it and relocated it a few miles away. My father then decided to start searching for a suitable holiday business opportunity in the West Country so that he could move his family out of London. My parents viewed a number of businesses until they found Buckleigh Place Country Club.
I can remember my father being excited at having seen Mr Pontin fly in by his helicopter to finalise buying the Club. In 1963 such modes of doing business were certainly not common.
Nothing changed at all in the first season as letters had to be posted out to inform every guest of the change of ownership and luckily there was only one cancellation because of this. It was something of a worry as Pontins was such a well known name. Also inherited in the first year was a manager and his wife and most of the staff.
During the time my father ran the business the format established by Fred Pontin remained pretty well the same.
Only minor alterations were made to the Pontins brochure. On the front page the name Pontins was taken off the top. Inside first page, "We invite you" was altered from "Pontins invite you". On the back page the map originally read Pontins Buckleigh Place.
The building itself has an interesting history. It lies on the boundary of Westward Ho! In an area known as Buckleigh. The centre of Westward Ho! was at the bottom of a steep hill.
From notes Made by my father: The origins of Buckleigh Place appear to date back to 1824.
In about 1881 it was leased to United Services Propriety College Ltd. There was already a Senior College further down the hill in Westward Ho! itself and one of the pupils there was Rudyard Kipling. Stalky & Co is a book he roughly based about his school life at the senior school. Not long after we took over, a very old boy from the junior school visited us to look round the building. He commented that the school had been very lively. He pointed out the hatch in the ceiling of the ballroom and explained that years ago above it had been a dormitory (then games room) and the boys would come through the space at night and lark around into the school hall below. The head of the senior school, Cormell Price, visited weekly and the head of the junior school of Buckleigh Place was Miss Carter. Children from the junior school continued into the senior school. I remember that the school bell was still attached to the side of the building until we sold it in 1972. The college consisted of 3 houses connected by a corridor with an extension built in 1880s. Evidence is that this school was here until 1904.
Also from these notes evidence shows that in 1934 a company called ‘Inclusive Holidays Ltd’ owned Buckleigh Place and that in 1947 the deeds were secured at the bank and an unknown amount of money was paid by Pontins. I have no idea if or what the relationship between ‘Inclusive Holidays Ltd’ and Pontins was.
In 1965 an additional dining room and still room was added to the building.
My father sold the premises to Harris a local building firm at the end of the 1972 season. A couple of years later they developed it. They kept a large part of the main building and converted it into dwellings. The rest of the building and chalets were knocked down and apartments were built and a very nice housing estate was built around the heated swimming pool and this is still used by residents today. The driveway down to it is now called College Close.
My father tried to sell it as a going concern but there were no takers. The reason my father gave for the sale of the Club was that the fire regulations that were soon to be introduced would have cost a lot to carry out and therefore it was the right time to sell up.
The land was a 6 acre site. There was a 9 hole putting green and tennis court. An outdoor heated swimming pool and trampoline was added for the start of the 1964 season. Other outdoor pursuits on offer were daily horse riding sessions 2 rambles a week and a coach outing to Boscastle or Lynton & Lynmouth.
The accommodation was originally for up to 75 persons in 23 bedrooms in the main house & 9 chalets outside.
My parents bought Buckleigh Lodge which was an 8 bedroomed Victorian house adjacent to the holiday club which allowed us to expand to a total of 86 bed spaces. In addition to this, for several weeks we had approx 100 persons accommodated. The other fourteen being put up mostly by the immediate neighbours and even on one occasion 2 people were put up on the Lodge front room settee that converted to a double bed.
By 1972 we had a 60% return rate of guests (I worked in the office with my father) and one fortnight there was only one couple who had not visited before. There were local paid up members who regularly used the clubs facilities in the evening.
Foreign holidays had started to take off in the latter stages but it never really affected us although we did get a few people taking a second holiday with us.
Out of season there were such occasions when the club was booked. New Years Scottish Dance Evening, a weeks field course group and a mentally handicapped holiday group were among the things I can remember taking place.
There was another holiday camp called Top camp (closed a few years later than us) that was along the Cornborough Road from us (owned I think by the Co-op) it accommodated approx 500 people. It was also visible from Westward Ho! Front as you looked up whereas we were hidden down a driveway. The link with Kipling is strong in Westward Ho! with the Kipling Tors, the United Services Senior College becoming Kipling Terrace.
Entertainment consisted of Saturday night bingo and games, Sunday dancing (with Norman Cummins and in later years the Johnny Andrews Trio) in the ballroom, Monday film show night, Tuesday and Wednesday dancing in the ballroom, Thursday guests variety show and Friday dancing and fancy dress in the ballroom. There were various contests and the learning of the Buckleigh Walk and other dances in the ballroom.
The games room had 2 table tennis tables, one full size snooker table, darts, shovehapenny all with tournament prizes at the end of the week.
There was a weekly swimming gala and greasy pole competition.
There was a television lounge with one TV in it which got colour the same year it was introduced.
Dining was full board with a set menu. My aunt, who was a trained cook with much experience, became head cook after the first season. The food was often complemented and my aunt insisted on the kitchen doors being open when people passed into the dining room to be served their meals. There was a kitchen garden out the back which grew quite a lot of the fresh vegetables and fruit. My uncle became the head waiter. My brother and one sister also worked for a time at the club.
There was a shop which sold any item you might have forgotten plus postcards, tea, coffee, soft drinks, sweets, crisps, biscuits and fresh sandwiches in the evening. The bar sold alcoholic drinks and crisps and had a nice sea scene painted onto the bar shutters. My mother organised and often served behind the bar.
The secret of Buckleigh Place Country Clubs success I think lay in the fact that it did literally feel like a house party every week with some weeks more boisterous than others. There were certainly many stories I could tell about some of these antics. The guests were made to feel it was a special holiday and many told us it was the best holiday they had ever had. It was enormously hard work as it was 24 hours work when open but the feed back made it all worth while. My father was a very good host and business man. For my part I felt privileged to work with him and gain such character building experience at such a young age.