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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Selsdon, full name Selsdon Mowbray, was a character with a drinking problem in Michael Frayn’s brilliant ‘Noises Off’. He is ‘an elderly, half-deaf “pro” with a long, storied career and a drinking problem. If he is not in sight while rehearsing, the stage crew must find him before he finds anything alcoholic. Just thought I’d add some colour to this sad story.
I like the idea of what they’ve done in Hertfordshire…
There’s so much land given over to golf in the area which would solve the housing crisis at a stroke were it not for the lack of public transport. But with little prospect of a radical improvement on that front, a more modern recreational use like the Hertfordshire site seems a good fit.
Still.. 50,000 new homes and an underground loop line from East Croydon out to Farleigh and back, anyone?
Killer stat: there’s more land in Great Britain given over to golf than there is to housing.
Certainly true between the A232 and M25. As a quick look at a satellite photo will confirm.
One upside of the pandemic.. the new working patterns mean nobody can say the train services in and out of London are overloaded and overcrowded anymore. So if we had better connecting links to East Croydon as a transfer hub, it opens up enormous possibilities.
And yes, I know much of that land is Green Belt, but when the fairways are regularly doused with vast amounts of Roundup / Glyphosate, the only thing green about it is the colour.
Let’s hope they reopen the golf course, was a great track if maintained properly
If any building deserves the name, this one certainly does–” a majestic pile”. If not a luxury hotel, what would be wrong with a sensitive conversion to flats or– much better, “apartments “? Maybe a good developer could create a retirement village, where a healthy daily round of golf is part of the ..er.. daily round.
Selsdon man and woman–(or, probably, their daughters and sons, who must be over 60 by now), would be able to enjoy living in a bijou flat, with — downstairs- a sun room, a library with the latest crime paperbacks as well as tried and trusted favourites by J Colins, J Cooper, and others, plus a fitness suite, dining room, cafe, and residents’ bar. The golfers would have their own cafe-bar.
Maybe in the near future, a “Green Room” where relaxation is on offer, attended by casually- dressed staff who would offer a selection of hand-rolled organic leaves . The room ventilated so that its herbaceous vapours would waft over the 18th hole, thus dispelling any negative feelings experienced by those who lost the round.
The magnificent lobby could continue to be the habitat of uniformed staff who would get to know every resident by name, and keep an eye out for them.
All under the benign gaze of a former sailing and classical musical-conducting P.M., whose portrait (a happier one than that illustrated in the article above) would beam down its black and white blessing on residents and staff, a benign presence, or as he mightld have said–the “genius loci”.
Oh, I had forgot……… also a residents’ hair salon and beauty bar, (with a certain number of annual memberships for non residents), offering haircuts for gents and styles for ladies. Blue rinses prominently listed on the price tariff by the door, and, for older gentlemen, a Brylcreme supplement on request.
It might take a big effort, but, if I win the Lottery, yes, I think I could adapt to that.
Especially if there were a few yurts in the grounds for the children and the grandchildren to enjoy.
Or should it be “yourts”? As with yoghourt. Or yogurt.
a few years later…………
Scrabble beckons! I hear that the new management are planning to stage the World Chamionship in 2026 ! Cynthia… darling! ……do you fancy jumbling the tiles ?
“It was once considered among the country’s finest hotels”
Really??? I was genuinedly surprised by this statement! The article speaks of its heydey being in the 60s. As a teenager, I used to live at that time literally on the other side of the road to the hotel: Mountwood, as it was called, in Addington Road. I suppose teenagers’ experiences are rather subjective but I always found the place to be a bit pretentious. The foyer felt dark and dank, the building was sprawling and the proprietors somewhat supercilious and snooty. Not the kind of hotel I would have wanted to stay in at all (though obviously well out of my budget range then as now LOL!). My sister’s wedding reception ended up in the evening at that hotel, and it felt decidedly like the most boring part of the whole day.
I never really understood why Heath would choose the place for his annual Conservative Conference. In fact, I always felt that the only reason that the place became (undeservedly) famous was because of that event. It had a good swimming pool though, that I often used to use. I used to think it was its only redeeming feature.
It’s fair to say that what a teenager expected or wanted from a 4-star hotel in the 1950s or 1960s, and broader society’s expectations (think the Daily Torygraph under Macmillan, or Daily Mail) might not have been the same.
The Tories never used the Selsdon Park for party conferences as such, but for brainstorming sessions among the leadership and their advisers, hence “Selsdon Man”, and the policies that were to carry them through into the 1980s which would deal such devastating damage to communities throughout the country, from which we have never recovered.
But true, maybe Daily “Torygraph” and Dail Mail readers’ hotel expectations in that era were different from mine as a youth. Maybe that’s how the place managed to survive so long 😀