How one man’s grand vision left a lasting impression on Hartlepool

The Grand Hotel at the turn of the 20th century - when it was home to hotelier George Ducksbury and dozens of guests.
The Grand Hotel at the turn of the 20th century - when it was home to hotelier George Ducksbury and dozens of guests.

A Hartlepool hotel at the centre of an ownership change could be restored to its former Victorian glory under plans to extend and refurbish it.

Bosses at hotel group Shepherd Cox are hoping to show off the Grand Hotel “in a way it was intended to be seen” after purchasing the building from Best Western.

Tables laid out for a stylish dinner in the Grand Hotel ballroom in 1990.

Tables laid out for a stylish dinner in the Grand Hotel ballroom in 1990.

The Cumbrian entrepreneur behind the original designs passed away almost 100 years ago, but the red-brick splendour stands as a testament to his dreams.

“George Hedley Ducksbury was a man with big ambitions. He had a vision of creating the largest, grandest hotel in the region,” said local historian Bill Hawkins.

Ducksbury, of Kendal, moved from Lancaster to West Hartlepool in 1893, after being offered the chance to succeed Mr P. Canbery as manager of the Royal Hotel.

Three of his children – Harry, Florence and Elsie – were born in the town and, after throwing himself into community life, he came up with his hotel brainwave.

George Hedley Ducksbury was a man with big ambitions. He had a vision of creating the largest, grandest hotel in the region - and he achieved it all.

Local historian Bill Hawkins

“George wanted to build a first-class residential hotel, which the people of Hartlepool could be proud of – and visitors could enjoy as well,” said Bill.

“Not everything went smoothly. Councillors knocked back his plans in June 1898 due to structural concerns, but finally approved them in September that year.”

Ducksbury’s wife, Kate Amelia, laid the foundation stone for the hotel “shortly after 5pm” on Tuesday, February 28, 1899. Building work started soon after.

One casualty of the construction was reported on September 15, when a labourer called Dawson was thrown 20ft from scaffolding – after a heavy girder hit him.

But the accident did not delay work. By the time of the 1901 census the 100-bedroom Grand was welcoming visitors, with 20-plus staff to wait on them.

“Among the servants was a page boy and billiard marker, as well as waitresses and chambermaids. Guests included architects, jewellers and doctors,” said Bill.

“Ten years later, during the 1911 census, the hotel was still proving popular, with guests ranging from political agents to engineers and ship masters.”

But George’s dream finally came to an end in 1912, when the Grand started to lose money. North Eastern Railway stepped in to purchase it as a station hotel.

Today the Grand is Grade II-listed and, after a succession of owners – from Best Western to Great Northern Railway – it is now being refurbished by Shepherd Cox.

“George sadly died of pneumonia in 1920, aged just 58. But, for as long as the Grand stands, he will never be forgotten,” said Bill.

“Without him there would have been no hotel. It was his vision which created one of the most handsome buildings in the town.”