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The Clifton Hotel Folkestone. Where ghosts & memories reside
Posted on November 2, 2021
In a corner of my mind I keep the memories of an extraordinary place. A place where a hotel’s history intersects with my own. A locale so ingrained in my heart it became a location in THE GIFT, Book 1 and 2.
When I began writing THE GIFT series, I had nil intent of including Folkestone nor the Clifton Hotel. The idea came later. Much later. And now, when I look back at earlier drafts I wonder how I could have missed it, because Folkestone is central to the story’s arc. As a writer, locales can be starting points to enrich the plot and characters. Of course, I muddled it all up. Plot and characters came first. I didn’t think about Folkestone nor the Clifton until one night in September 2018, well into the ninth draft of Book 1. It struck me how this town on the English Channel was all too perfect a locale for Gothic fiction. After all, much blood had been spilt in Hellfire Corner over the centuries.
September 2010: I take you to the night a noise awoke me. Again. I look at the clock on my iPad. 12.45 the morning. Again. I’m in room 111 for the first time at The Clifton Hotel Best Western. Almost every night at the same time a guest in the room above me moves their furniture about. I’ve stayed at the Clifton each September since 2003. Eighteen years. Not many when you consider the buildings the hotel occupies were built as private residences in 1864.
It was to be seven years before I discovered Room 111. Lovely bedroom. Enormous. High ceilings. Fireplace. Sitting area. Big bathroom with separate shower and bath and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the quiet green behind the hotel.
But. There’s always a but.
That first night I was awoken just after one in the morning. And almost every night the rest of my six night stay. I couldn’t say if it was because the hotel guest upstairs had stopped moving about his room or I just slept through it.
I tolerated a couple of nights of this rubbish before making an inquiry at reception before breakfast. The clerk eyes behind the reception counter went wide before darting to his mate popping his head out the reception office door. They said they’d sort it. Good enough for me. Off I went to breakfast.
On the way out a lad who helped me with my bags and often brought a plate of sandwiches and crisps to my room approached. He took a cautionary look round before telling me in a low voice: ‘We have no guests in the room above you.’
Then who was making all the noise?
He would not say.
‘What? Are you suggesting it’s haunted?’ I asked.
He would not say.
In fact nobody at the hotel would.
2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 and briefly in 2021 I stayed in the same Room 111. Same noises in the room above.
A bit of research revealed the Clifton to be the most haunted hotel in England. Legend has it, an unidentified woman took her own life after a fight with her lover. She is said to haunt the room where she committed suicide, her ghost, swathed in a nightgown, emits great sorrow and misery.
There is another story. Of a guest who stayed in the very same room above. They felt unsettled all evening. He finally went to bed for the night. Some hours later he was awoken to by a “form” at the edge of his bed. It vanished before his eyes. The guest refused to return to the room.
In still another story, a night porter was making rounds in the middle of the night – possibly collecting up morning room service cards hung from doors. As he passed before the room previously mentioned he felt a hand grab him on the shoulder and pull him back, turning him around. There was nobody on the corridor. The night porter immediately left his job never to return.
Is the Clifton haunted? There is certainly a presence in the room upstairs that gets great joy out of moving the furniture around in the middle of the night. But don’t let this keep you from becoming a guest at the Clifton.
We were still on the ground. The pilot came on the intercom to inform us British Airways was undergoing a catastrophic computer failure. How did that effect us? Without the computers the pilot could not get confirmation from BA in England that the passenger manifests were approved and the flight could depart. The pilot was trying to do it over his mobile phone but so far could not get through to BA in England.
We waited. One hour became two. And then three. The captain invited passengers to visit the cockpit. I grabbed Daiana by the hand and we headed to the cockpit. We spent a good few minutes chatting with the captain and co-pilot. We returned to our seats and shortly thereafter were informed the captain he had successfully communicated with BA in England. They had given us permission to take off. The last BA flight out of Barcelona as the plane was already loaded.
We landed in Gatwick three hours late only to discover the catastrophic failure at BA was creating havoc. We were the last plane out of Barcelona. All other BA flights were cancelled. None we leaving Gatwick. Including our connection to New York JFK.
Now what? Since we were not going anywhere for now we called Blacklane and requested a lift down to Folkestone. The Clifton had no availability. Although the neighbouring View Hotel did. When we arrived to Folkestone we noticed the Clifton undergoing massive renovations.
Three days later BA was back up and flights departing and we flew off to NYC. But not before we stopped in at the Clifton only to be gobsmacked by the renovations going. It was like a different hotel. Modern, yet retaining it’s originally Victorian era crown moulding and charm.
6 September, 2018: We returned to the Clifton. They have opened a Marco Pierre White Steakhouse in the dining room! It’s something quite wonderful to behold. As a boy I ate many a meal at Wheelers Restaurant on St. Jame’s in Mayfair with my Mum and Dad. Marco Pierre White had bought Wheelers of St and had thoughtfully included some of their familiar items on his menu.
We booked in to Room 111 for nostalgia sake. Ah, I have oh so many memories of the Clifton and Rooms 111 and 112. The bedrooms were to be soon renovated and all that nostalgia would be lost forever. To be fair the bedrooms need a sympathetic renovation. The rooms are dated, the furniture tatty. The wardrobes don’t stay closed and the drawers fall out when you open them. And I do dearly love it. It has the comfort of my Nanas old house in Southwick.
If you wonder where my adoration of this old Victorian pile began, I am quite happy to explain. Let us return to September. 2003. Eighteen years ago. Then, I had never been to Folkestone before, but heard all about a miniatures concorso occurring in the Leas Cliff Pavilion each September called Euro Militaire. In these years I was living in Los Angeles, and my friend Jon Tamkin invited me to attend. He was the shop owner of Mission Models and would be trading there. He told of a decent enough hotel a lot of the traders and modellers stayed during their visit to Folkestone. It was called the Clifton. 2003 was pre-Facebook and Google days and the best search I could manage was through Netscape. I found an email address for the hotel and booked in.
19 September, 2003: Hopped a train at London Charing Cross. Alighting at Folkestone Central, I flagged a taxi and on the short drive to the hotel I found Folkestone strikingly familiar. It was similar to the Brighton and Hove of my youth. Towns I spent many a summer as a child. The taxi left me outside the Clifton. I stood staring at the Channel. It was marvelous, Folkestone the quintessential seaside town I knew so well growing up. The Leas, a long grass verge on the cliffs above the beach known stretched off in both directions. I wanted to explore.
From the moment I entered the lobby I knew I was somewhere special. Somewhere I had never before been. Yet was familiar. At reception I first met Philippe. She still works reception these years later. She handed me a great lumping plastic key chain with my room key on it. I went to the lift, typically tiny and rode it up to my room. Leaving the lift, the old carpeted floors creaked as my suitcase trailed behind me. Opening the door to my room I was greeted by a spectacular view of the Leas and a warm azure sky above the English Channel (all these elements found their way into THE GIFT).
I was home.
Into breakfast in the old dining room. Feeling lucky to get a table in the window overlooking the green. Lively banter with old friends. Conversations picking up where they left off the year prior. Coming in after lunch for a mid-day siesta, my room always made up. A coffee and a bath before going downstairs to the bar for drinks with the mates before dinner. Returning to hotel in the wee hours the morning, old William Harvey’s statue lit up like Christmas shown the way to the front door of the hotel. Stumbling into bed to sleep off a bender.
The world went sideways in September 2008. Economic crisis. The Clifton comforted in a world gone mad. A nice plate of sandwiches and crisps in the lounge. A coffee service on the terrace of a morning watching the sun rise over the Channel as friends passed along the Leas on their way to the Leas Cliff Hall.
September 2021: The Clifton has evolved. The exterior is renovated. The public rooms reorganized. The old long bar is done away with and moved to the lounge where it became the Ocean Bleu. A Costa Coffee has been added and much to our delight the aforementioned Marco Pierre Steakhouse serving old favourites from Wheelers such as their calamari and Governors Steak and Ale Pie. And so have I evolved. And in the best of ways. Where once was one now is three.
Rooms 111 and 112 remain unchanged. But not for much longer. The hotel is gradually updating the rooms floor by floor. I simply adore these two rooms. Of course they exhibit a “patina” of age. The rugs are thining. The bathrooms dated. The wardrobe doors swing open of their own accord. The creaking floors all too familiar. Here in these rooms are so many memories. In 112 I brought a diorama that won me my first gold medal at Euro in 2007. In this room I had drinks and laughs with Mike Rinaldi and Pat Stansell. I stayed in 111 during the post-crisis days of 2010 and 2012 when the world had changed for the better. It’s the end for these old bedrooms. By 2022 they’ll have been renovated and unrecognisable. New memories will be made.
Ever more when I climb from a car that first day I’ll look out to the blue waters of the Channel, take in a lung full of fresh sea air and turn to the facade of the Clifton Hotel and smile. Clifton feels a lot like coming home.