History buffs are in for a treat now as owner Geoff tells us the amazing story of the Marina Metro Hotel in Jersey.
Can you please tell us more about your property and what makes it so unique?
Well the Marina Metro hotel was built in the late 19th century and is located right on the front of Havre des Pas which is in fact the old boarding ship building area of the island. And before the second world war when the Germans came and built all the shore defenses, there were just sand dunes that separated the land from the sea. The original Marina Metro hotel was built right up to the sand dunes. When we took the property over, about 7 years ago and undertook a full refurbishment, we had a visit from a gentleman named Leo Harris, and he gave me a bit of background into the property. It was in fact purchased by his father in the 1940’s. He told me that his father was a car dealer in Scotland and he decided to retire to Jersey, he found this building and converted it into a tea rooms.
He went on to tell me that as the war was approaching Jersy, the people were evacuating from the island and their family had intended to leave on the last day. Unfortunately on the day that they were due to leave, the person who had agreed to look after the property in their absence, decided at the last minute that he was going to get the last boat out – so there was nobody in charge of the property. So they rushed back to the hotel and tried to make some last minute arrangements, which they were unsuccessful in doing. By the time they decided that they were going to try and go back to England anyway, the last boat had sailed without them – it was too late. So all their possessions and his dad’s Rolls Royce was on the ferry, heading to Southampton and they were stuck in Jersey. They went back to the property, and the following day the German planes attacked the island and the harbour which is just around the corner from the hotel. It became apparent that the Germans were coming very soon. His dad then decided to make his property less inviting for the Germans to occupy, so he filled the ground floor with rubbish, all stuff he had got from metal merchants and the tip – so it was very uninviting. There was also a chapel on the roadside of the property so he went in there and he smashed all the windows and broke all the wooden pews for the same reason. So when the Germans did in fact come the next day, they walked along the promenade, requisitioned a couple of the big hotels and turned their nose up at the Marina Metro and left him alone.
They then had five years of occupation from the Germans, and Leo Harris actually wrote two books about his experience ‘Memories of a Boy’ and ‘More Memories of a Boy’ about his recollection of growing up on the island under the German occupation. He told me a story about his brother who got into mischief, as kids do, by breaking into the armoury that the Germans had set up and they stole 3 riffles. And nobody knew or managed to track them down, until much later on, when somebody informed on them – in exchange to be let off of an offence that they had committed. This was a shooting offence but fortunately because they were young boys under the age of 18 they were sent away to camps in France.
Are there still features from that time in the property?
Unfortunately not, after the tearooms the property was subsequently converted to a hotel. In fact when I was going through some of the old paper work I found an invoice from 1958 where somebody had a week’s full board for 8 pounds and 8 shillings. Having said that I’ve had visitors come to the island who said “we came 50 years ago for our wedding anniversary and we remember the property as it was then.” Believe it or not in the 50’s and 60’s Jersey was known as the love island. We used to have loads and loads of honeymooners come over and the whole plane would be full of honeymooners. You see this being mentioned in some of the old news reels.
So how did you end up taking over the property?
Well I actually own two guest houses on the other side of the road, so I though acquiring this hotel would be a useful acquisition to my involvement in the tourism industry. I actually knew the owner, so after a few years of negotiation he gave me the lease. But the property had been run by tour operators for many years and the lease was just being renewed on an annual basis, but nobody was spending any money on the property and it was very run down – but it’s a nice 3-star hotel now.
So what’s a stay like at Marina Metro now?
We have 6 rooms on the south-facing sea side and rooms on the other side of the property. We are located next to the Alex Shipyard Garden, and that land belonged to the family who used to build the boats. And the garden commemorates the ship building and there’s all little boats with all the names of the boats that were built by the Alex Shipyard Company. They used to build them on the sand dunes and when they were ready – push them out.
Jersey has so much history for such a small island; we have two medieval castles, we have bunkers and underground tunnels that the Germans left behind for us. We also have a lot of older history for example Jersey has become famous for finding coin haul. And around 3 years ago, the biggest Celtic coin haul found anywhere in the world was found in Jersey. It was dug up by some metal detectors and it was a huge haul, it’s taken them 3 years to take them apart. There was all sorts of coin jewellery inside and other interesting things like dead insects from around 2,000 years ago. The coins are now on exhibition in the museum but people had been coming to the island to watch them being taken apart. The finders made around 20 million pounds from that find.
Would you have any advice for anyone who was thinking of entering the industry?
It’s a tough old life, it’s 24/7 and you’re at the beck and call of your customers. But I suppose in Jersey it’s less of a problem as your business tends to be seasonal so you get time in the winter to re-charge your batteries. It’s certainly a business where you have to be people-friendly and enjoy talking to people, that’s very important because obviously it’s a large part of the business.
And do you have any memorable guest moments?
Well as they say there’s nowt as queer as folk. We do have people stay in the hotel’s seafront rooms and they do sometimes complain in the morning that they can hear the sea. And there’s not much I can do about that.
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