HISTORY OF FALCON HOTEL, BUDE, CORNWALL
The Falcon is the oldest coaching house in North Cornwall. Established in 1798 and run for most of its two centuries by the Brendon family, it has a rich history.
The Falcon began as a lodging house established near Bude’s sandy beach to provide accommodation for the captains of vessels trading along the shores of North Cornwall or sheltering from Atlantic storms. King Arthur’s coast was a magnet for shipwrecks in the days of sail. There were few ports and westerly gales drove countless wooden hulls onto the rocks. As the old Cornish saying went:
- From Padstow Point to Lundy Light,
- Is a watery grave by day or night.
Bude’s narrow, tidal inlet provided an important anchorage for merchantmen and a welcome refuge for those in peril on the sea. Hence the name Bude Haven and the need for snug quarters ashore.
In 1823 construction work was completed on the Bude Canal. This is one of the most remarkable ancient waterways in the country, especially unusual for its sea lock and its inclined planes. It was used mainly to transport beach sand to farms inland, where it made excellent fertiliser. Stimulated by this new business, the old lodging house facing the twin basins of what was now Bude’s inner harbour, became the Falcon Crest Inn. And three years later, in 1826, it was further extended and named the Falcon Hotel.
The moving spirit behind these developments was Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, the wealthy, philanthropic 10th baronet, who also took a large part in founding and funding other nearby institutions which still exist. Among them are St Michael’s Church, the Lifeboat and the Lifeboat House, Bude breakwater and the sea-pool at its end, called “Sir Thomas’s Pit”, and the cliff-top storm watchtower known as “The Pepperpot”. The Falcon took its name from the heraldic bird which forms the crest of the Acland family’s coat of arms. And the Acland Suite at the Falcon Hotel today commemorates Sir Thomas’s many local good works.
In the 1840s George Brendon, a prosperous Devon yeoman farmer, acquired the lease of the Falcon Hotel, buying the freehold in 1872. Evidently following the generous example of Sir Thomas Acland, he founded the Bude Haven Philanthropic Society in 1845. Among other things, this organisation helped poor people with their funeral expenses and so it was known as the Death Club. A Minute Book still exists recording its first meeting at the Falcon Hotel, where it continues to hold its annual dinner to this day. Members wear the Death Club tie, which features a coffin.
Before the first steam train puffed into Bude at the end of the 19th century, North Cornwall was more remote from railways than any other part of the country and the Falcon served the headquarters of a 4-horse coaching service linking the town to Exeter. (Seeking to improve on horse power, Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, who built the Castle, now a Heritage Centre, on the dunes opposite the Falcon, pioneered a steam-driven road vehicle.) In 1872 George Brendon extended the coach service to take in other isolated coastal resorts: Bideford, Clovelly, Boscastle, Tintagel and Newquay. It continued until coaches were overtaken by motor buses after the First World War and the Falcon’s role as a coaching inn is celebrated today in the attractive Coachman’s Bar & Grill.
When he took a shine to a hotel guest, such as the noted author Sabine Baring-Gould, George invited him out for a day’s hunting. Years later Baring-Gould wrote in his autobiography, “You have to go right to the West of England to meet that kind of hospitality.” George was the local Master of Fox Hounds, paying for the pack, horses and hounds out of his own pocket. Details of his career can be found in the Saddle Room at the Brendon Arms, the pub next door to the Falcon which has also been run by the family for nearly 200 years. And in the Falcon itself you can see the huge oil painting, by the celebrated artist Heywood Hardy R. A., which was presented to George Brendon in 1904 in recognition of the sport he provided and his achievement in opening up North Cornwall to visitors.
Over the last thirty years the Falcon has been modernised and improved to the highest standards by Tim & Dorothy Browning. But it retains its historic charm as a family hotel. The fifth and sixth generations of the Brendon family now manage the Falcon and they preserve its long tradition of hospitality. They offer you the warmest welcome in the west.