June 15 2011: Combes Hotel, Woolacombe, Devon (1968)
When Robert Holcombe wrote his fictional letter to Eduardo Paolozzi on June 21 1968, the circumstances are understood to have been roughly as follows: that the letter was most probably written at Holcombe’s hotel in Woolacombe, Devon while on holiday from his long-term job in the planning offices at Leeds City Council. It is also a visit possibly connected with his sister, Elizabeth Booth, who had married in 1958 and lived in Exeter with her family from 1962 onwards. The letter’s envelope is printed with the hotel’s details, though the paper is plain.
So while we have the date, and know for certain that Holcombe stayed at the Combes Hotel that summer, it’s not entirely clear whether at the date of writing – at the summer solstice – he was still resident at the hotel or had already returned to Leeds: his home address rather than the hotel’s is typed on the relevant page in his letter. Of course, it’s likely that during a short stay he would have used his Leeds address even while at the hotel but we can’t be entirely certain of his exact whereabouts when he sat down to write.
The best clue we have that he was at the hotel itself is that the letter contains the statement “…as I look out on the world from my Devon hotel window, with all the distance that perspective entails…” and while this still isn’t decisive (Holcombe might, after all, be deploying a rhetorical flourish here, a minor act of fictionalising that certainly wouldn’t be atypical) it’s probably as near as we’ll ever get to a sense of closure in this matter. Which is why this leaflet picturing the hotel (in a style familiar from the idealised portrayals of Butlin’s holiday camps made by John Hinde at the same moment) may be of interest to some readers.
It has come to me, as always, courtesy of Elizabeth Booth and is part of the Robert Holcombe Archive.