Bournemouth Jewish hotels consigned to history as Normandie battles on

BOURNEMOUTH Jewish hotels from the 1940s to the end of the 70s represented the ultimate in luxury and facilities.They offered all-inclusive packages, including top entertainment, full board, afternoon tea and evening tea. Shabbat kiddushim were a highlight in themselves.

The hotels boasted first class facilities, including swimming pools.

Many holiday romances developed into lifetime partnerships.

Holidays in Bournemouth were as much the province of the rich and famous as of those with less wealth.

The only survivor of the heyday of Jewish hotels is the Normandie which will open only for group bookings after the yomtov period.

The great Bournemouth kosher hotel names included the most luxurious of them all, the Green Park, owned by the Marriott and Richman families, the Majestic, run by the legendary Fay Shnyder, the Cumberland, operated by the Felds, the Ambassador, the Langham, East Cliff Manor and East Cliff Court.

Until the last couple of decades the Normandie had never been under kashrut supervision, relying on its on-site ministers, among them Rev H Fenigstein and Rev G Phillips, formerly of Liverpool. But its kashrut was unquestioned and many strictly observant Jews stayed there.

There was a period in the early 1980s when the Normandie actually became a non-kosher establishment but in recent years it has enjoyed kedassia supervision.

In the 1950s the Normandie was owned by the Myers family, subsequently by Mr and Mrs Gershon Lee and then by their daughter Belle Keyne and her husband Lou.

The Keynes, who lived on site, eventually joined forces with Mr and Mrs Ron Fisher.

Jonathan Keyne recalled: "My parents bought the hotel when I was about nine or 10 and I lived there until I was 18.

"It was a very different kind of upbringing because every couple of weeks there would be new groups coming in and that affected the way you interact with other people.

"From my point of view, it had a fantastic garden, a putting green and a swimming pool. I knew nothing different at that age so I just got used to it.

"We used to have our meals in the dining room with everyone else, so it was nice to get away from the crowds and have meals on our own.

"My parents were also on call all the time, which I never thought of as a problem but it did make it harder to get away.

"Therefore, my parents made an extra effort, especially at weekends, to go somewhere else.

"My mother was quite an icon in the hotel as she was very good at looking after the guests.

"I'm sure she would have been a major memory of the hotel to anyone who stayed at that time.

"We also had a golden retriever called Simon who all the kids used to love to play with.

"But ever since my parents sold the hotel, I had no feelings for it."

Jonathan's brother Simon also has happy memories of the Normandie.

"It was an interesting life living in the hotel. I moved there just after my barmitzvah in about 1958 during the heyday of the Jewish hotels and it was a very buzzy place," he recalled.

"There were so many thriving hotels and the youngsters used to go from one to another. In those days, there were very high standards in the Normandie and there was a lovely garden and lovely food.

"In fact, I remember there being masses of food and the Shabbat kiddushes were very popular - if you were young, you'd get crushed in the stampede for the kiddush.

"At certain times of the year it used to get very busy and the same people used to come each year with their families. They used to book their next trip before they left.

"The staff were very loyal and the hotel was well run by my parents.

"Every year there were cricket and football matches, and we also used to play putting, table tennis, and go swimming.

"When it was a good summer, it was the best place in the world.

"We also had the most gorgeous dog called Simon - I was Simon Two-Legs and he was Simon Four-Legs.

"It was a privilege to be by the sea and, although it's still a nice town, it's not what it used to be."

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, today minister of Maidenhead Synagogue, was a regular guest during his childhood.

"I very much regret the demise of Jewish hotels," he said.

"The Normandie was a wonderful institution and attracted Jews from all over the country. It was a wonderful meeting point and I have lots of fond memories there.

"I went there for many, many years on family holidays and always used to see the same regular visitors each year. Lou and Bella Keyne, the owners, became like family.

"There was a real haimishe atmosphere, kosher facilities and great Jewish social opportunities.

"On Shabbat morning, the kiddushes were always lavish and overflowing and the tables sagged under the weight of all the food put out.

"There used to be five kosher hotels in Bournemouth that catered for the middle-of-the-road community, but the Normandie was the only one to survive as more Jews started to go abroad on holidays and demand decreased.

"It is a sad occasion that it is now closing and it reflects the changing passions of British Jewry."

Brian Lassman was involved with the kosher hotel industry for 25 years - 18 with the Ambassador and seven with the Normandie.

He recalled: "When I started in 1969, Bournemouth was the Jewish family holiday destination where people stayed for a week or longer and the children had a fantastic time.

"They used to come because they could eat so much and not have to worry about the food being kosher."

Mr Lassman added that during his time as manager, "the Normandie was a different type of Jewish hotel in that it was more religious.

"More religious people used to like bringing their children as the hotel provides a safe environment with its two acres of gardens.

"Separate entertainment for men and women was also provided.

"As the years went on and other places became cheaper to go to, the hotels started to decline, although people still came for short breaks and weekends.

"In the end, though, it became very difficult economically to run, which is why it is closing now."

Mr Lassman added: "It's really sad that there are no kosher hotels left, firstly because I worked in that industry, but secondly because the hotels used to attract families to the area.

"Bournemouth is a lovely environment and I'm concerned that the Jewish community in Bournemouth will suffer."

Another veteran of the Bournemouth hotel industry, Geoffrey Feld, recalled that the Ambassador Hotel was the first of the large Jewish hotels when it opened in 1935.

It later became the New Ambassador.

At one time he owned the Ambassador and the Majestic.

"After the war people started to think about family holidays, that was the backbone of the Jewish hotel business," he said.

"The family's first choice was sun, sea and sand to get away from the grime and soot of the big cities.

"Jewish people love to eat and the hotels gave superb service. It was the golden age of British holidaymaking.

"Bournemouth really was the place for Jewish families to go to on holiday back then," he reminisced. "There were eight big Jewish hotels in total.

"Between them, they could accommodate more than 1,000 people.

"Each hotel tried to out-do each other - it was very competitive.

"My parents bought the Cumberland in 1949, although I lived in a house nearby. I met a lot of people in the hotel and had a great social life.

"Many shidduchim were arranged there and I even met my wife-to-be, Susan, in the bar at the Cumberland. Indeed, many people who I meet today tell me they either met their partners there, or had a honeymoon or anniversary there.

"From after World War II to the 1980s, it was a major part of Anglo-Jewry, especially when it came to the yomim tovim and even the non-Jewish holidays.

"It is a shame the Normandie is now closing, but it's a question of supply and demand.

"But it does mean the people coming to visit really don't have anywhere to go for a kosher meal or to stay in a kosher establishment."

Mancunian Martin Mann, organiser for nearly 20 years of the annual Esther Rosen trips to the Normandie, recalled: "I used to go to the Green Park Hotel, but when that closed the Normandie was the only Jewish kosher hotel left open.

"The highlight of the trip was always the wonderful Shabbat kiddush.

"I'm very upset it's closing because it's the last kosher hotel in the country. It is a sad state of affairs that, with so many Jewish people in the country, we don't have a single kosher hotel."

Do you have pictures of holidays at Bournemouth Jewish hotels or particular memories? Write to Bournemouth memories, Jewish Telegraph, Telegraph House, 11 Park Hill, Bury Old Road, Prestwich, Manchester M25 0HH or

© 2009 Jewish Telegraph