Sam Fawcett was a well established figure in the hospitality industry during the 1920s, being the owner of the Antrim Arms Hotel in Antrim and Fawcett’s Hotel in Portrush. He was associated with one of the big tour companies in Great Britain and 1930 saw the inauguration of Fawcett’s Tours based at the Antrim Arms Hotel.
By 1932 he had taken over direct management of his Portrush hotel which had been “entirely reconstructed, furnished and decorated and is now one of the finest hotels in Portrush” with hot and cold running water in all bedrooms. The hotel specialized in “all-in” tours – especially during the summer season – but also catered for other bookings including parties and events throughout the year. In 1935 adverts were placed to encourage casual dining. The hotel had a resident orchestra.
In the same year the Belfast Newsletter tells us that:
“Visitors to Portrush will be impressed by the new guise of Fawcett’s Royal Portrush Hotel, which has been fully modernized, and now has a magnificent dining room to accommodate 260. The room is sumptuously furnished, with a colour scheme which tones with a beautiful ceiling, while the caprets and curtains are of a special weave. At the same time the room has a homely, friendly feeling which should bring the family atmosphere into any party. Adjoining the dining room is the ballroom with polished maple floor. An up to date orchestra has been engaged, and the leading violinist has been for four years the leading violinist at the Manchester Hippodrome. The hotel contains 150 bedrooms, all of which have been refurnished with oak suites. All beds have interior spring mattresses and there is hot and cold running water in all rooms.”
The article goes on to extoll the standard of cooking and emphasises the available facilities which include:
“Four sun lounges, designed so that the sun shines into them throughout the day, a bar, hotel lounge, smoke-room and a public bar. The hotel is recommended for “the holding of wedding receptions and the accommodation of large parties of excursionists, etc.”
The Londonderry Sentinel announced, on Tuesday 5th May 1936, that the first cross-channel touring party had been visiting Londonderry, having landed in Belfast on 1st May, to stay for one week at Fawcett’s Royal Portrush Hotel to start the hotel’s tenth season of tours in “the Brighton of the North”. Hotel guide-lecturers would conduct the tourists around the province and into Donegal. They would, we’re told, also visit Dunluce Castle, Giant’s Causeway, Antrim Coast, Glens of Antrim, Garron Tower and Castlerock. Interspersed with the tours would be a sports programme and bowling tournament.
Evening entertainment would include a “splendid concert”, dancing, whist drive, games and a carnival dance with cabaret. This formula of an all-in package holiday with non-stop entertainment, sight-seeing and dining proved a great success for Fawcett’s and was continued through the decades to the start of the 1970’s where it faced competition from cheap package holidays to warmer climes such as Spain and was over-shadowed by “the troubles”, a 30 year period of terrorist activity which deterred many tourists from visiting Northern Ireland.
The hotel prospered throughout the 1930’s but, in 1940, was taken over by the government to house Stranmillis Teacher Training College from Belfast whose own accommodation had been requisitioned for war needs. By April 1944 Sam Fawcett was advertising that he would be re-opening his hotel on Friday 23rd June 1944, the teachers in training having presumably returned to Belfast. He was also seeking an orchestra for the hotel. The Second World War was won by the Allied forces in 1945 and in November Fawcett’s were advertising a:
“Victory Christmas at Fawcett’s” with “best whiskies, pre-war dinner wines and liqueurs, dances, concerts, whist drives, novelty and spot dances. Prizes given, Host-Entertainer and Resident Orchestra.”
On Wednesday 9th March 1955 Sam Fawcett passed away at his home, The Steeple, Antrim. He was in his early seventies. The Belfast Newsletter informs us that:
“Mr Fawcett was a member of the Antrim County Council, the Antrim Rural Council and Antrim Town Commissioners. He was proprietor of Fawcett’s Royal Portrush Hotel, a favouite centre for cross-channel tourists. In the European War of 1914-18 he served with the North Irish Horse. He took a prominent part in the local branch of the Ulster Unionist Council. Keenly interested in sport, he was a vice-president of Muckamore Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club. He is survived by his wife and four sons.”
One of these sons, Jack, would take over the Portrush hotel and, together with his wife, Elsie, run it successfully until its closure in the 1990’s. During this time the successful package tours continued and many conferences, annual dinner-dances, wedding receptions and parties were accommodated. Jack Fawcett expanded his business by becoming, at various times, the owner of the Strand Hotel in Portstewart, the Lismara Hotel (now the Port Hotel), Main Street, Portrush and the iconic Northern Counties Hotel.
By 1997 Fawcett’s Royal Court Hotel had closed and was replaced by a block of private apartments.