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Milestone for historic building

PUBLISHED: 22:32 27 April 2003 | UPDATED: 16:33 24 February 2010

ONE of the most imposing buildings in Suffolk where Wallis Simpson secretly hid while awaiting her divorce is celebrating its centenary.

Harvest House, Cobbold Road, Felixstowe, was built by Douglas Tollemache and opened as the prestigious Felix Hotel on May 14, 1903.

ONE of the most imposing buildings in Suffolk where Wallis Simpson secretly hid while awaiting her divorce is celebrating its centenary.

Harvest House, Cobbold Road, Felixstowe, was built by Douglas Tollemache and opened as the prestigious Felix Hotel on May 14, 1903. It was a hotel for nearly 50 years, the head office for Fisons for 30 years and then divided into retirement apartments.

There are now 59 apartments in the five-storey building and anyone wanting to buy has to be 55 years or over. Communal facilities include the Palm Court, dining room and sun lounge, kitchen, games room, chapel, laundry, gardens and a nine-hole putting green.

Mr Tollemache had a vision for a grand hotel for the seaside resort and it was designed by Thomas Cotman, an architect.

The hotel was a great commercial success due to the growing popularity of Felixstowe as an upmarket holiday resort. The wife and family of the German Kaiser Wilhelm spent time in Felixstowe in the summer of 1891 and German physicians were said to have selected the town on account of its health-giving air. This helped to publicise the town and the hotel was built at a time when Felixstowe was becoming well known.

Leslie Ramsey is a director and secretary of Harvest House Ltd, a company which is the freeholder of Harvest House and runs the building that now houses leasehold retirement apartments.

Mr Ramsey, a flat owner, has written a book about the building's history. He said: ''It was during the Great War that the hotel went into decline and in 1920 Tollemache sold it to the Great Eastern Railway and three years later it came into the hands of the London North Eastern Railway following its take-over of the GER.

''In 1936 Mrs Simpson (the future Duchess of Windsor) stayed in Beach House, Felixstowe. She was awaiting her divorce from her second husband Ernest Simpson. Ipswich was selected as a quiet provincial town less likely to attract unwelcome attention. It was necessary for her to live in the area of the court's jurisdiction.

''To relieve the monotony of her provincial existence during the lead-up to the abdication crisis she also had her own room at the Felix Hotel, where the staff were sworn to keep her identity secret.''

The hotel was used by leading tennis players after they had played at Wimbledon. Percy Humphrey, the hotel's general manager, was a keen tennis player and a leading light in the town's tennis club.

He attended the Wimbledon championships to invite players to stay at the hotel and play in the East of England tournament.

Fred Perry, the last British men's Wimbledon champion, came to the hotel to coach budding players and was a major supporter of Felixstowe's tennis week which still follows the Wimbledon fortnight.

Mr Ramsey said: ''After World War II further financial difficulties led to the hotel closing in 1951 and the building was put up for sale. In 1952 Fisons became the new owner and used it as the company's head office for the next 30 years.

''When Fisons planned to demolish part of the building for redevelopment the proposal was blocked by the Government Inspectorate. Fisons then decided to relocate and the building was sold to Norsk Hydro who sold it on in 1984 to Rogers Bros of Felixstowe (owned by Dencora plc of Beccles) who converted it into retirement apartments. The first leases became available in 1985.

''It is a magnificent building to live in, has lovely views of the sea and they are very nice apartments.''

richard.smith@eadt.co.uk

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