Visitors to the Olde England Inn in the 1960s through the ’80s would find a fantasy land, replete with suits of armour, a tudor-stye mansion with matching staff and a thatched-roof period cottage with low-hanging doorways.
However, the days of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and the Olde Curiosity Shop – in later years, owner Cyril Lane channelled Henry VIII – are long gone.
Lane’s parents, Sam and Rosina, transformed the 1909 Samuel MacLure-designed manor home on Lampson Street, and its surrounding grounds, into Esquimalt’s premiere tourist attraction and a period hotel in the 1950s and 60s.
But the tudor village began to fall into disrepair in the 1990s – an estimate to re-do the thatched roof on the Hathaway recreation is said to have come in at $150,000. The manor home, known historically as Rosemead but renamed the English Inn around 2001, was transformed into an upscale boutique hotel with a focus on wedding services.
Having given it three years, the current owners of the English Inn property on Lampson Street are looking to get out of the hotel business.
The ownership group, known as LFC Lampson Holdings Inc., hopes to enter into a heritage revitalization agreement with the Township of Esquimalt, in return for the right to subdivide the nearly 4.5-acre property into two lots.
As part of the agreement, the manor home would be retained on a roughly one-acre corner parcel. Requested zoning for the building would add multi-family or single family residential uses, as well as institutional care home or assisted living to the existing tourist accommodation use.
While similar zoning is being sought for the larger parcel – to allow for buildings of up to six storeys – the goal of the proposal is to preserve the heritage characteristics of the manor house and its nearby grounds.
“From a heritage point of view, we thought that was a good thing,” said Esquimalt archivist Sherri Robinson, who also sits on the township’s heritage advisory committee.
The cottage and the other four buildings on the back part of the property are not currently habitable, and the owners have no intention of rehabilitating them, said LFC’s project consultant, Michael Dillistone.
The cottage currently sits with tarps over its thatched roof. Project consulting architect Paul Merrick has said the building was constructed more as a stage set than as usable living space.
“(The owners) are not specifically interested in taking the (cottage) down, they’re more interested in selling the parcels,” Dillistone said. It would be up to future owners to determine the disposition of the derelict buildings, none of which have heritage significance, he added.
Robinson said Rosina Lane had the exact measurements taken of the original Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England before contracting the replica to be built on the grounds of the Inn in 1959. When the original was badly damaged by fire in 1969, Robinson said, people involved in rebuilding it flew to Victoria to take measurements of the replica, one of four such buildings in the world.
The archivist holds out hope that something can be done to save or refurbish the cottage, given its relationship to history.
“I just think it’s such a wonderful tool to have here,” she said. “There’s people right here in Victoria who will never get to see that kind of history, never get to England.”
The English Inn proposal will be discussed April 16 at Esquimalt’s advisory planning commission. A staff review will follow before it is brought before Esquimalt council.