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History of the Rock House

It was back in regency times that Rock House first begun playing host to wealthy families.  Today this charming hotel still stands proud on the Manor Green, radiating elegance and charm of an age gone by.

As early as the eighteenth century a simple cottage stood on the site, fronting on to the fast flowing waters of the Lyn and looking over the picturesque harbour. In the late 1820’s the building was completely refashioned, being given elaborately glazed gothic windows and attractive shutters on the ground floor. Soon afterwards a beautifully proportioned extension was added, boasting a thatched veranda and commanding fine views across the lush lawns.

Rock House has a setting steeped in history. For centuries local fisherman brought big catches of herring into the harbour. So plentiful were the fish, that the lord of the manor sometimes had them spread as manure on the manor field next to the Rock House. Tradition has it that this made the herring feel insulted and this was why they suddenly deserted the coast in 1797 leaving fisherman impoverished.

Local men then turned to smuggling to supplement their incomes. The evidence suggests that the Lord of the manor was heavily involved and old folk still tell of a tunnel reputed to have run between Rock House and the Manor house. What is certain is that in 1805 a lugger from Guernsey came into the harbour and in broad daylight landed over 600 kegs of spirits onto the manor field next to the Rock House. There the barrels lay for two days and nights before men came down with packhorses and carried them away.

One of the last contraband runs into the harbour took place on a January night in 1832. The occupants of Rock House would have had a grandstand view of the battle that ensued when coastguards tried to arrest smugglers and seize their brandy. Coastguards keeping watch saw a vessel come into the bay just after midnight, lights flashed and a rowing boat came ashore from the vessel loaded with brandy. Down Mars Hill came smugglers with packhorses, and as the kegs were being loaded the 3 coastguards sprang out and arrested the smugglers at gunpoint. One of the coastguards then went off for reinforcements but while he was gone a seaward rowing boat came in from the vessel loaded with more kegs. These smugglers quickly realised what was happening and attacked the coastguards on the beach leaving them badly beaten and tied up. The smugglers returned to their ship and sailed away as the men on the shore loaded some of the kegs onto their horses and disappeared into the night. When the coastguard reinforcements arrived, all they found was a few remaining kegs scattered around and two of their men badly injured.

Victorian Times

By Victorian times Lynmouth had become a select resort for those with the means and time to be able to make the long and difficult journey. Rock House was let out to wealthy families who arrived for the summer months with their servants on the paddle steamer from Bristol. In 1869 for example, Mr Whitehead, a wealthy mill owner from Gloucestershire rented Rock House and caused a huge stir by erecting an iron church in Lynmouth which was intended to rival the parish church at Lynton.

In more recent times tragedy came to Lynmouth. On the night of August 15th 1952 a raging torrent of water swept through the little village bringing death and destruction in its wake. Miraculously Rock House escaped the worst of the flood as the main force of the water struck the opposite side of the riverbank demolishing the old lifeboat house before swinging back to rush past the rear of the hotel. The Rock House filled with silt up to the first landing level but luckily it was saved by a huge boulder that came to rest outside the bar window diverting the water through one set of French doors and the out of the others. Although parts of the Rock House were flooded to a depth of several feet, no serious structural damage was done.

So Rock House survived when so many old hotels and cottages were completely destroyed. Today this fine building serves as a reminder of days long gone when discerning tourists first discovered Lynmouth and were entranced by its exceptional beauty.

For more information why not visit the flood disaster museum across the bridge or ask at reception for our own books on the area and flood.