It was once considered among the country’s finest hotels, and thanks to a pre-election meeting staged there by Ted Heath, it gave the nation the expression ‘Selsdon Man’. But despite millions spent on refurbishments, the future of the Selsdon Park Hotel and its golf course is in some doubt.
By KEN TOWL
When it comes to big hotels, it feels like Croydon is cursed.
Take the Croydon Park, a 4-star, 1980s-built block opposite the Law Courts on Altyre Road. It was Croydon’s biggest town centre hotel. Indeed, it boasted that it contained “the largest banqueting space in Croydon”.
And the pandemic killed it, but not before a financially-challenged Croydon Council bought it on behalf of the people of Croydon for £29.8million in 2018.
For reasons not entirely unconnected to this apparent appetite for property speculation, the council later went bankrupt and its financial woes prompted it to sell its 210-room white elephant to a developer for a grand profit of minus-£5million!
The property’s new owners, Amro, want to build 600 apartments on the site in a “landmark” development due to start next year, so it looks like we can expect quite an erection by the time it is completed in 2025. That number of flats can be expected to sell for more than £200million, at current market rates.
Meanwhile, a couple of miles down the road in the leafy, golfy south of the borough, what has in recent times been called the De Vere Selsdon Estate has also bitten the dust, as has, much to the chagrin of several men of a certain disposition, the attached golf course.
The Selsdon Park hotel and its accompanying 200-acre estate have been a notable feature in Croydon life, and national political history.
Before the 1970 General Election, Ted Heath mustered together his shadow cabinet meeting at the Selsdon Park to come up with the Conservative manifesto.
Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson attacked the free-market policies espoused in that Heath document as “Selsdon Man”, which back-fired and helped to end six years of Labour government. There continues to this day a “Selsdon Group” around the fringes of the Tory Party.
The Selsdon estate was originally a Victorian country house to which grand wings were added through the 1920s, and a par 72 golf course, designed by five-times Open champion JH Taylor. By the 1960s, it was recognised as one of the finest hotels in the country. It was often chosen by teams playing in the FA Cup Final for the swanky place to stay and train in the couple of days before the big match at Wembley, and more recently it has been the venue for a weekend of X Factor auditions.
Big business deals involving American investment funds have seen the ownership of the 200-room hotel change hands.
The pandemic has hit the hotel trade harder than many other businesses. Principal Hotels had bought the Selsdon in 1997, and over the next 20 years they spent £3.5million on various refurbishments and expansions, particularly of its health club, and re-branding it the De Vere Estate. But in the middle of the latest £1million works, in 2020, covid hit.
A look on hotels.com confirms that the hotel stopped taking guests a little before Christmas: “This property is closed from December 19 2021 to January 31 2022.” it says, although this initially temporary state of affairs appears to have become permanent.
Certainly, as far as the golf course is concerned, there are no expectations of a re-opening.
In a letter from the golf manager late last year, regular users and members were advised that there will be no more golf after the end of December and that the “hotel and golf course has been sold to a third party and is being closed for a full refurbishment”.
The latest buyers, Birch, haven’t been giving much away about their plans for the site.
If their other property, a Grade II-listed Georgian mansion in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, just beyond the M25, is anything to go by, Birch may be intending to bring something they describe as “feels-like-a-festival” accommodation and “wellness” experience to Selsdon. They have certainly captured the zeitgeist of the second decade of the 21st century, offering the opportunity to “WFB”: working from Birch.
Their current site offers art workshops, yoga and spin classes, a bakery, pottery lessons and foraging walks. There are even yurts: more Hoxton-in-the-Sticks than Selsdon Man.
Of course, they might not be planning to emulate their very successful Hertfordshire operation down in Croydon. Account manager José Arufe tells me only that, “We don’t currently have an outline of plans which we can reveal at this stage.” Kindly, he promised to let us know as soon as he can.
So maybe Croydon’s big hotel fortunes are about to change. And it’s no joke. Hotels of this size bring jobs, provide a demand for other goods and services and also pull paying guests into the borough who will spend money outside the hotel, in bars and restaurants.
So while it looks like the Croydon Park is gone forever, maybe there is still hope in Selsdon.
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