Hotels were at the heart of the popularity and prosperity of Hermanus in the 20th century. After 1925 the Bay View became one of the three top hotel destinations in the town, along with The Marine and Riviera. At its height the Bay View was the largest hotel with 83 bedrooms and public rooms that could accommodate up to 200 guests, writes DR ROBIN LEE of the Hermanus History Society.

It also was unique among the top hotels in that it was not purpose-built as a hotel. In fact, the Bay View started life as a private dwelling, built in 1897 by Christina and Walter Morton. They had inherited land in Hermanus from Christina’s grandfather, Duncan McFarlane, in 1884, but had continued to live on the farm Wortelgat near Stanford.

The Bay View Hotel started life as a private dwelling and then a girls’ boarding school before it became a hotel.

This all changed when Christina was alone at the house, with a very sick child. The only feasible method of getting to Hermanus quickly was by boat. However, a huge storm blew up and Christina and the child had to make the crossing, risking the lives of both. It is said that Christina wrapped the child in a carpet for protection. They reached Hermanus safely and the child received medical attention. When the child was well, Christina announced her intention never to return to Wortelgat – and never did.

They moved to Hermanus and built a new house, which they named Roskeen, after a town in Tipperary in Ireland. After a short time, Christina became concerned at the lack of school facilities in Hermanus and started a girls’ boarding school, also named Roskeen. The school operated until 1918 when, on Christina’s death, Walter Morton closed it and sold the building as a boarding house to one Thomas Vincent.

Vincent in turn sold it to Walter McFarlane (grandson of the original settler of the same name), who installed his son John as manager. In 1924 John McFarlane inherited Roskeen and managed it as a boarding house. He retained it for only three years before it was bought by a Mr and Mrs Bennet and a Mr James Ashley. They appointed as manager Basil Musson who was the son-in-law of Mr Ashley, and the hotel (as it now was) became progressively more popular until it burnt down in 1939.

The Bay View Hotel in the 1930s.

After the fire, Basil Musson and his wife Elma bought the property as it was and spent two years between 1939 and 1941 rebuilding it. They would manage it until 1959 when Basil’s health dictated that he pass it on to his sons – Peter, who became general manager and Frank, the banqueting manager. Peter and Frank were ably assisted by Elma, who still retained an interest in the kitchen and garden, and Sheila, Peter’s wife, who assisted with flower arranging and general organisation.

Frank’s wife, Caroline, originally from Surrey in England, had her hands full raising three sons and maintaining the family farm, Glen Fruin, passed on to Frank by Basil Musson. A portion of the original farm is now Glen Fruin Meadows and Hemel-en- Aarde Village. Glen Fruin supplied the Bay View with fresh produce and homegrown pork until it became more viable to buy such products elsewhere.

Peter and Frank both trained at the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne in Switzerland, after which Peter interned at the Dorchester in London and Imperial Hotel in Torquay, before returning to South Africa to join Frank in the management of the Bay View. This family tradition has lived on in Peters’ grandsons, Warwick’s Chef School graduates, Connel, a Chef/Charcutier and Seth, Chef de Partie.

The Bay View main entrance in the 1940s. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1939.

Peter (with his wife Sheila) and Frank remained as owners/ managers until the hotel was sold to the Murray and Roberts group in 1984. It was then demolished and sectional title apartments were built on the site. These are still there.

At the height of its popularity the Bay View had 83 rooms, a ballroom known as the ‘Ward Room’, excellent mountain and sea views, two swimming pools, one filled with seawater, and beautifully developed gardens. In the 1960s and 1970s the annual Spring Flower Show was held at the hotel on several occasions. There was a bowling green in front of the main building and access to tennis courts across Main Road, where The Links flats are now. The Golf Course was within easy walking distance.

Several well-known residents were associated with the hotel. Coena Haman, a member of one of the oldest families in Hermanus, worked there as a barman for many years. Later, he became well-known as the proprietor of the Café Royal in Main Road near the Adelphi Cinema. Many teenagers of the time remember it well.

The Bay View Hotel’s Gin Alley in the 1970s.

Ace fisherman Bill Selkirk donated the jaws and teeth of his largest catches to the pub in the Bay View. It had a nautical theme and was named the Port o’ Call. A portion of the passage adjacent to the lounge was named ‘Gin Alley’, presumably in honour of the habits of regular patrons.

Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies and her companion Marda Vanne became veterans of Hermanus hotel fires. The first of their three experiences was at the Bay View Hotel in 1939. Later, they were staying at the Riviera Hotel and then at the Cliff Lodge Hotel when fires were experienced.

An aerial view of the Bay View Hotel in the 1970s. PHOTOS: Old Harbour Museum

Peter, Sheila and Frank Musson lived on in Hermanus until their deaths. Sheila, who died in 2005, was a very well-known figure in charitable activities, especially the Society for the Care of the Aged (SOFCA). A celebration of the later part of her life was written by historian S J du Toit and published in her book Hermanus Stories III.

The author welcomes any comments or additional information. He can be contacted at robinlee@hermanus.co.za

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