The secrets and scandals of a former Norwich hotel
- Credit: SUPPLIED / ARCHANT
It’s a career that spanned over 50 years and saw Patrick Griffin rub shoulders with the stars as a hotelier in grand hotels across the world.
But for two years of this incredible journey, he experienced an intense love affair with the city of Norwich - one which he has never forgotten.
After being diagnosed with prostate cancer seven years ago, the 75-year-old began penning a bucket list while undergoing chemotherapy. But while writing it, he realised he had been fortunate enough to experience many of life's wonders already, and became inspired to complete a memoir instead, The Grand Life: Confessions of an Old School Hotelier in the Digital Age.
Born in 1946, in Rugby, Warwickshire, Mr Griffin’s early youth was spent in Swanage, Dorset, where the family moved to escape German bombing while their father served in the Royal Air Force.
Although not academically inclined, he paid homage to his “charm, wit and unfailing ability to make lemonade when he was given lemons”, which he said ensured his childhood and public school years were filled with adventures and hilarious mishaps.
His career began in 1963 as a trainee manager at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, near Brighton, a place he described as “a very traditional Victorian-era five-star hotel” and where he found his passion for hospitality.
But the married, father-of-three first began his adventures in Norfolk after being offered his first management position at the age of 21 at the Castle Hotel – a 90-bed establishment which boasted electric fires and shaving points in each room. Although cheques could only be accepted by prior agreement.
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Mr Griffin, who now lives in Gosford, near Sydney, Australia, had been working at the Hilton hotel in Amsterdam at the time, but said the “opportunity was too good to turn down” and arrived in Nelson’s county in the autumn of 1967.
He said: “All I knew of Norwich at the time was that my father had told me it had a spectacular cathedral, and also my grandmother had worked alongside the nurse Edith Cavell in London–but that was it.
“At the time, the main hotel competition was the Maid’s Head and the Royal.
“Being my first management position, it was a steep learning curve and like any of life's firsts, it vividly stays with you for the rest of your career.”
Fresh from his time at the Hilton, Mr Griffin attempted to bring some big American performances to guests and remembers one incident which ended in disaster.
“We did something at the Hilton which involved using flaming swords while serving up a dessert. I decided to give our guests and staff a night to remember by attempting something similar.
“We served up an ice-cream bomb with cherries and sponge pudding, and the idea was then to appear with these swords on fire - much to the horror of the staff. Although reluctant, I was thrilled when they began dancing around and I thought they were getting into it. Alas, I was wrong. They were trying to put out the sparks on the carpet caused by the melted fuse wires.
“The next day my manager, Michael Cairns, called me in to discuss the incident. I never attempted it again.”
He also recalled the “true blue” Norfolk woman who worked on reception and “narrowed her eyes” at him on his first day. George, the pot-washer, was the first person he ever had to sack. And another lady who went to the Daily Mail following her dismissal. A final fond memory was a visit from a group of Russians who shared vodka with then lord mayor of Norwich.
He added: “It was a fun hotel which had a few incidents during my time there. Norwich is one of the wildest cities I’ve ever visited. I loved it. During the week, it was very quiet, but at weekends it became a hive of party activity.”
For entertainment outside of work, he would go to discos at the former Sampson and Hercules, in Tombland, and the Washington Club, owned by businessman, Roy Dashwood.
He also bought his first car, a Mini Cooper, and learned to fly in a Chipmunk, courtesy of Sqd Leader Peter Mallender DFC, who ran a flying school at Horsham St Faiths. It was his Mosquito plane in which Dambuster Wing Commander Guy Gibson was killed in the Second World War.
However, the dream came to an abrupt end in 1969 when Mr Griffin returned to Eastbourne after being promoted once again and he never got the opportunity to return to “one of his favourite cities”. He said he missed the Norfolk Broads, an area which he found beautiful.
And in 1989, the once-famous Castle Hotel, advertised as “being in the shadow of a Normandy castle”, closed its doors for the last time. It was knocked down the following year to make way for the Castle Mall shopping centre development. The area is now occupied by the British Heart Foundation furniture and electric shop on Castle Meadow.
Mr Griffin and his family later moved to Australia at the turn of the millennium, opening two hotels. And in 2009, while in the role of national accommodation president of the Australian Hotels Association, Mr Griffin was awarded an Order of Australia in the queen’s birthday honours list for services to hotels and the tourism Industry.
In 2011, he retired from his role of regional managing director of Orient-Express Hotels, now Belmond.
“I realised I’ve been so fortunate to have had an incredible life. Focussing on so many happy memories.
“Writing the book was such a cathartic experience, and it enabled me to remain positive as I overcame a series of cancer challenges.”
The memoir, written in three parts, is available to purchase for eReader and paperback via the website www.patrickgriffin.info