No room for Nelson in hotel revamp

SHAUN LOWTHORPE For more than three decades the Hotel Nelson has housed memora-bilia detailing the maritime exploits of Norfolk's most famous son.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

For more than three decades the Hotel Nelson has housed memora-bilia detailing the maritime exploits of Norfolk's most famous son.

But the artefacts are embarking on a voyage to the auction rooms as part of a £5m move to transform the image of the Norwich hotel.

Around 50 items including nautical charts, portraits and even a piece of Nelson's flagship Victory will be auctioned next year.

The collection was originally put together when the hotel first opened in March 1971.

Soon to be rebranded as the Norwich Nelson Premier Travel Inn, the hotel has dispatched the items into storage ahead of an auction date next October.

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And that's because it is undergoing a facelift to convert it into a contemporary budget hotel.

Scour the web and, while there is special praise for staff, many guests have complained that the rooms are drab and dreary and the hotel needs a bit of work to become shipshape.

The refurbishment will see the creation of a new restaurant and an increase from 132 to 160 rooms with the closure of the gym and leisure facilities. Prices will drop from between £95 and £145 to start at £56.

The Nelson link will live on in both the hotel name and a new restaurant.

Darren Beeby, general manager of the Nelson and Premier Inn Duke Street, said the refurbishment would transform the hotel for the better.

“The Premier Inn hotels are a little bit more minimalistic and we tend not to have a great deal of memorabilia around the hotel,” he said. “I came to Norwich three and a half years ago and the hotel's crying out for refurbishment. It's very much your traditional 1970s building. It will become a lot more modern and contemporary.

“Usually Premier Inns are named after the street they are in,” Mr Beeby added. “But feedback from regular clients said we should retain the name. I fought hard to make sure the Nelson name was retained. That's what it's always been known as and we are keeping the name.”

But last night one Nelson enthusiast said the items should stay put. Lloyd Addison, a member of the Nelson Society and a former assistant manager at the hotel, said the items should remain but be displayed better.

“I think it's a great pity particularly at this time,” he said. “It's part of our local heritage.”

With the bicent-enary celebrations of the Battle of Trafalgar still fresh in the memory, and plans for a new Nelson bridge nearby, he said it was the wrong time for the hotel to water down its links with the Nelson name.

“I think they are gradually drifting that way of giving it the corporate name. But I feel that hotels should feel part of the local community and reflect the history and heritage of the area,” he said. “And we have got the new Nelson bridge being built not far away. If they are presented in an attractive manner, then people will come to the hotel and they will see that it reflects Nelson and Norfolk.”

Nelson is believed to have dined within 300 yards of the hotel at St Faith's House, Mountergate, with Admiral Lord Duncan.

A publicity leaflet at the time of the hotel's opening explained that great effort had been taken to celebrate his achievements.

“Engravings of Nelson have been lovingly collected from all over the country,” it said. “Indeed a steel engraving of the admiral, dedicated to the citizens of Norwich, was rescued in Bristol only hours before being exported for sale in the United States.”

James Glennie, from auction house Bonhams, which will oversee the sale, said together the items were worth thousands of pounds and would be of interest to Nelson enthusiasts.

“There are nautical charts, portraits of admirals, ship models and all sorts of things including bits of HMS Victory,” he said.