The Rougemont Hotel was originally occupied by a debtors prison and was said to be the worst in all England. To this day some of the basement areas of the hotel remain as they did in the times of the prison. Where the flagpole now stands at the front of the hotel identifies the site where the prisoners were hanged. In the cellar of Drakes Bar, until recently the old shackling irons were still attached to the walls.
The Central position was used by the Devon and Cornwall Hotel Company to build a handsome and commodious structure. Work began on 24th January 1876 and the hotel began to take shape. The foundation stone was laid on the 1st April 1877 by Mrs. Moore Stevens, wife of the Chairman and on the 29th May 1879 the grand opening dinner was held and it was quoted in the local newspaper that “If the venture was not attended with success this would be due to an ungrateful public and not to any fault of the directors.”
The Hotel celebrated its 14th annual cabaret in 1940 by presenting the city with two picturesque bars ‘Drakes’ and ‘The Golden Hind’ in the styles of the 17th and 20th centuries respectively, to commemorate Exeter’s long and glorious associations with naval history and in particular Sir Francis Drake. Drakes Bar is still open today and boasts English Oak beams and panels. The carved oak fireplace is dated 1610 and was bought from an old country house about 15 miles from Exeter.
The stained glass window, situated at the top of the central staircase, depicts an incident in connection with the visit of Richard III to the city. Shakespeare dramatised it – the Mayor with the keys in hand showing Richard round the castle, the inscription reads:
‘After hearing the place was called Rougemont he was slain at Basteworthy’
This turned out to be true. During the war the window was carefully removed and stored in the cellars wrapped in paper.
Extensive modernisation took place in 1963, especially on the ground floor. The Compton Room was added to the first floor – built into the ceiling space of the original entrance hall which had formerly housed a large glass dome. Further alterations over the years have resulted in the present structure. Shortly after the hotel was built the owners commissioned William Widgery, a well known Devon artist, to paint a series of pictures of the Devonshire Countryside. These remain hung in the Cavendish Room. Although not particularly valuable, they are recorded as part of Exeter’s heritage. The names of the conference rooms are taken from the Duke of Devonshire’s family and estate, e.g. Devonshire, Hartington, Burlington, Chatsworth, Cavendish, Derby and Compton.
There are some more curious things connected to the Rougemont Hotel, such as the tunnel which runs from the basement of the hotel to the present site of the museum situated over the road – perhaps an escape tunnel for the prisoners, or a means of safety for the wealthy guests of the hotel in its early days. There is also, of course, the tales of the ghost of the hotel – Yes, every hotel has its ghost and the Thistle is no exception! ‘The Grey Lady’ as she is known has sometimes been seen walking the staircases in the early hours of the morning. Apparently she was a guest in the hotel when it first opened and for some reason gassed herself in the room. Ever since that day she roams the hotel in search of peace, so watch carefully on the way up to your room, she might make herself known to you.
If you feel tempted to explore The Rougemont history a little bit further get in touch with our reservation team on 0871 376 9018 or click here.
And if you still haven’t got any ideas for Valentines, Thistle Exeter prepared a perfect package to celebrate this occasion:
The Valentine’s Package includes an overnight stay, 4 course dinner and more for £149.00 per couple, or Valentine’s Dinner for £60.00 per couple. Both valid on 14th, 15th and 16th of Feb. For more details click here or call 0871 376 9018.