Alas, good eating places, whether pubs, hotels or restaurants, often come to sticky ends. They close down and when they re-open are often a shadow of their former selves. They frequently burn down, either deliberately to claim insurance, or by accident when a deep fat fryer goes up in flames.
Destruction by fire was the fate of one of the more unusual eating places in the 1961 Good Food Guide. The Swordfish Hotel, on Crofton Cliffs in Lee – on- Solent was a much-loved attraction on the Hampshire coast, between Gosport and Southampton. It boasted a superb view of the Solent, had its own beach, and in 1961 was serving weird starters, such as fried silk worms and roasted caterpillars. More significantly, its chef was trained, in the words of Raymond Postgate ‘at that nursery of good cooks, the Westminster Technical College ’.
All that training seems to have paid off. One American visitor, a certain Louis G Ochse, praised the ‘ rare ‘ roast beef and the chicken Maryland (12/6) which he rated ‘ as fine as the finest served in any Southern State in America ‘.The Guide, however, neglects to mention that the name of the hotel had been changed by the owners, David and Lorna Conway, who were both former wartime members of the Fleet Air Arm, from Marine Court to the Swordfish, in memory of the WW2 bombers that had flown out of the nearby Lee-on-Solent airfield, which had been the main base of the FAA. Indeed, according to an article dated 1961, the Swordfish was crammed with memorabilia related to the Royal Navy and the FAA. From all accounts Mr Conway seems to have been a rather impressive man. Educated at the distinctly rugged Gordonstoun School, he went on to serve in the Merchant Navies of both New Zealand and Great Britain before joining the FAA, He had also been an air traffic controller at Lee –on-Solent.
Considering that the hotel stood close to the end of the main runway of the airfield and that one of its bars overlooked the approach to runway 5, it is no wonder that the aeroplane- mad Conways seized the opportunity to run Marine Court . It is not known when the couple left the Swordfish, but the hotel, minus its chicken Maryland and fried silk-worms, remained a popular watering hole until March 2004, when it burnt down. By an amazing coincidence, it was demolished not long afterwards to make way for a small development of beachfront homes, predictably christened Swordfish Close. By then Lee-on-Solent airfield had become an industrial park and the new Solent Airport, built to serve Southampton and Portsmouth, had been incorporated into it. [R.M.Healey]