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A History of England's Burgh Island and Luxury Hotel

Judi likes to write about trending topics from history to animal care to travel.

Burgh Island off the coast of South Devon, England.

Burgh Island off the coast of South Devon, England.

Burgh Island

Burgh Island sits just 250 metres from the mainland Bigbury-on-Sea in South Hams, Devon in England. The island is very small, less than one square kilometre, and is home to only a few buildings. When the tide is low and the sand is exposed, it's not truly an island and you can actually reach it on foot.

Burgh Island is a highly sought-after destination and has been for a great many years. Famous faces from author Agatha Christie to The Beatles have all made the short journey across a shallow stretch of shimmering sea to Burgh Island. The main draw? A truly breathtaking luxury Art Deco hotel that was once sadly neglected, but has been recently restored to reflect its glamorous beginnings.

The beauty of the hotel has an enduring effect on the public and was voted "the most romantic hotel in Britain" by readers of The Good Hotel Guide in 2011.

The exterior of the Burgh Island Hotel

The exterior of the Burgh Island Hotel

Bar inside Burgh Island Hotel

Bar inside Burgh Island Hotel

The History of Burgh Island Hotel

For centuries the only people who spent a night on Burgh Island were fishermen and monks. The idea for a hotel on Burgh Island was the brainchild of a music hall star, George H Chirgwin. Chirgwin had found considerable success as the "White Eyed Kaffir" on stage and used his money to construct a wooden house on Burgh Island in 1895. He invited friends to his new house for weekend parties.

In 1927 the entire island was sold to a filmmaker, Archibald Nettlefold, and he built the Art Deco style hotel. It was completed in 1929 and had 25 rooms. Perhaps due to Nettlefold's connections in the film industry, the hotel was a great success, drawing a rich and glamorous crowd. Nettlefold continued to enlarge the hotel and added a particularly eccentric room created from the captain's cabin of the former warship HMS Ganges.

The hotel enjoyed success throughout the 1930s but its decline began during World War II. Like many hotels it was converted to a military hospital, housing recovering RAF personnel. It also suffered a direct hit from a bomb which destroyed its upper two floors. Repairs were made, but instead of reopening as a hotel, the building was converted to self-catering accommodation.

In 1986 the hotel was bought by Tony and Beatrice Porter, who faithfully restored it to its former Art Deco glory. The hotel was sold once more in 2002 and the current owners have continued to build on the fine Art Deco heritage. Guests can stay in one of the 15 suites, enjoy the splendid views and take a dip in the Mermaid Pool, dine in black tie splendour and finish the evening listening to a jazz band. If the tide is high and you can't reach the hotel by foot, there is a sea tractor that can transport you to the hotel.

Inside one of the rooms at Burgh Island Hotel. Notice the Art Deco style.

Inside one of the rooms at Burgh Island Hotel. Notice the Art Deco style.

Sea tractor at Burgh Island

Sea tractor at Burgh Island

Agatha Christie's Connection to Burgh Island

Agatha Christie is just one of Burgh Island's famous guests but is perhaps the one most identified with the island. The settings for two of the novelist's stories were inspired by the hotel. And Then There Were None and the Hercule Poirot story Evil Under the Sun both involve the island. A 2001 television adaptation of the latter novel, starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, was filmed on location at the refurbished hotel (you can see the shots of the island in the film's trailer below).

Christie stayed in the Beach House, a quiet spot perfect for writing. Its seclusion also attracted another guest looking to get away from prying eyes. The Beach House is now part of the hotel complex, having been rebuilt in 2007.

The hotel now holds regular Murder Mystery events with an Agatha Christie theme, during which guests can dress in period costumes and enjoy a weekend of glamorous sleuthing!

Burgh Island Hotel's Famous Guests

Besides Agatha Christie, many famous people have stayed at the hotel. Noel Coward famously booked in for three nights but ended up staying for three weeks. The infamous couple, Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, enjoyed a few illicit days on the Island. Edward VIII, the former King of England wanted to marry Simpson, an American and previously divorced socialite. Their relationship deeply disrupted English politics and caused a constitutional crisis, eventually leading to Edward abdicating the throne and his younger brother taking over.

During the second world war, Churchill and Eisenhower are said to have met in the hotel prior to the D-Day landings. Additionally, George Formby, Josephine Baker, Amy Johnson and Lord Mountbatten all have rooms named after them. The Beatles also stayed at the hotel after a concert in Plymouth, but unfortunately, haven't had a room named after them!

The Hotel's Film Credits

Burgh Island has starred in a few films and TV programmes. In 1965 it provided the location for the final scene of a British film, Catch Us If You Can, starring the Dave Clark Five. The popular BBC series "Lovejoy" shot an episode on the Island in 1994. As previously stated, in 2001 the hotel starred alongside David Suchet in an adaptation of Evil Under the Sun.