Sands Holiday Motel was build in late 1970 and early 1971 at a time when the St Mary’s Bay Holiday Camp (across the Dymchurch Road) was a thriving organisation. It took its first guests in May 1971.
It was built on the site of the earlier single storey Sands Hotel, which was demolished in September 1970.
By today’s standards, the motel looks rather down-at-heel and lowbrow, but to families with young children on a Summer holiday (and with a limited budget), it was the perfect destination: comfortable accommodation with a heated pool and one of the most glorious beaches in England not more than a stone’s-throw away.
The Motel consisted of about 40 self-catering chalets, 20 on each of two levels arranged in a U-shape around a swimming pool with diving board, and a semi-circular paddling pool, both of which were heated. Each chalet comprised two bedrooms, bathroom, galley kitchen and living/dining area. The reception was located on the ground floor in the north-west corner of the Motel.
Although there were kitchen facilities in each chalet, there was a restaurant block to the north of the Motel. Over the years there were two such restaurants. The first was destroyed by fire in the mid-1970s and was replaced by a Spanish-influenced building known as the Bahia Bar.
Other facilities on site were a tennis court, putting green and table tennis table.
The photo above shows the Bahia Bar and also the small putting green on the lawn to the left of centre, with small red flags indicating the holes. The building on the far right was a kiosk which sold newspapers, milk and other essentials. The cream building in the distance is the old shop on the corner of Jefferstone Lane and the Dymchurch Road. The tennis court was directly behind the Bahia Bar in this photo.
From the Motel it was possible to see Folkestone to the East and Dungeness to the West. A short walk onto the sea wall led down to the beach, of fine sand with very little shingle.
The outfall from the marsh drainage channel known as “New Sewer” (not to be confused with the modern usage of the word sewer, as it was only for excess water from the marsh) cut across the beach. This provided a perfect place to go fishing for crabs with lugworms dug from the sand.
A short walk inland, down Jefferstone Lane, brings one to the station for the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway. Other web sites, such as the official RHDR site, do much better justice to this marvel of miniature engineering than I can hope to, but suffice it to say, that it is the smallest passenger carrying steam railway in the world. The station has been known, over the years, as Holiday Camp, St Mary’s Bay, and for most of the 1980s and 1990s, Jefferstone Lane. Recently the decision was made to rename it St Mary’s Bay, which seems the most appropriate. From this station it is possible to make very pleasant journeys southwest to Dungeness, and northeast to Hythe.
The Motel’s heyday was in the 1970s and early 1980s. During this period it was always fully occupied in summer and during a number of other holiday periods throughout the year. The pool was always bustling with children and parents enjoying the generally pleasant Kentish summer weather.
However, with the rise of cheaper foreign travel and the demolition of the School Journey Centre, it became uneconomical to run. For a period during the mid-late 1980s, the Motel was used by Social Services to provide housing.
The motel was severely damaged in the Great Storm of 1987. The roof of the north-eastern (Dymchurch) wing was almost completely destroyed, and the windows in a number of chalets on the upper level were blown out.
In 1989, a second storm hit the Motel, further damaging the temporary repairs made after the Great Storm two years earlier. By this stage, the Motel’s days were most definitely numbered.
The decision was therefore made to demolish the Motel and redevelop the site. The Dymchurch wing was demolished by Spring 1990…
The Games room, located on the right at the end of the driveway, were demolished next, along with the old dining room …
The remainder of the demolition took place during the Summer of 1990.
By September 1990, all recognisable traces of the Motel had gone:
I visited the site in 1999 on an appropriately sombre day in terms of weather, and took some video and still photographs. The quality of the stills from the video is not very good, but gives a good impression.
Present state of the site (2014)
Google Maps satellite view from 2013 is still showing the site unchanged since 1990. Any further information, please let us know.