Art Deco hotel opened in 1938

The Ocean Hotel Saltdean (often referred to as the Grand Ocean Hotel) is situated in the heart of Saltdean and has dominated the skyline of Saltdean from the thirties.  It was designed by the architect Richard Jones who also designed the nearby Saltdean Lido.   Emulating the grand designs from the Art Deco period the hotel opened in 1938.

Fine seaside architecture
A fine example of thirties seaside architecture it occupies one of most prestigious sites in Saltdean and sits in around 4 acres.  This vast hotel had 344 bedrooms and a dining hall that could seat 300 people.  From the rear of the building it commands magnificent views down to the Vale of Saltdean, including the Lido. The main building shaped like a crescent contained the whole of the public rooms and some of the bedrooms; there were a further six other buildings in the complex which contained bedrooms and bathrooms only.

Seasonal changes
The hotel was so arranged that during the winter season the six detached blocks could be closed down and the main building, with its 130 bedrooms, run as a separate hotel. A large outdoor swimming pool was one of the main features (later enclosed) and was situated between the rear buildings.

World War II use
During the war the hotel was taken over by the Auxiliary Fire Service and later became a fire service college which was officially opened by the then Home Secretary Herbert Morrison.  It was used throughout the war and was not handed back until 1952, when the lease was acquired by Billy Butlin for £250,000.  Alas the Ocean Hotel would have to wait until another year before it could operate as a holiday resort once again.

Re-opening after the war
It finally opened its doors for business in May of 1953 after an extensive refurbishment.  Six months of hard work had gone in to restoring the near-derelict building to its former glory, as luck would have it the hotel turned out to be excellent investment for Sir Billy Butlin.  With its close proximity to the bright lights and night-life of Brighton the hotel proved a very popular destination for honeymooners throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies.

Grade II listed building
Sold in July 1999 to the Grand Hotel Group the hotel remained open until January 2005. Planning permission was granted in June 2005 to convert the site into apartments. The main building, which is Grade II listed, will be refurbished with apartments upstairs and commercial/community facilities on the ground floor. The remaining buildings will be demolished and replaced by 4 new residential structures and parking.

A new lease of life?
Whilst the laughter of its past patrons may be just a memory and its heyday as a ‘Butlins’ has waned, its proudest owner, Billy Butlin, would have no problem recognizing the building in its current form.  Hopefully this unique building will remain one of the best loved landmarks of Saltdean for many years to come when it take on its new lease of life.

Comments about this page

  • hi campers– no seriously the Butlins Hotel was great. I had my first holiday there in 1991 then it was taken over and call the Grand Ocean hotel where we had some enjoyable holidays and I remember with happiness. Alas it outgrew itself and I think it was about 2003 when it closed and now I believe there maybe a block of art deco flats built where the front was, but I don t know what else. I have been in many hotels since but still think of the grand [butlins] with pleasant memories. Joan

    By joan greenup (21/03/2007)
  • Hi Tony, what a wealth of memories,I felt very sad when The Ocean Hotel closed. It was very unique especially these latter years. Your pictures reminded me of so many happy times. I only discovered it in the late 90s and we spent so many happy times there.  Thank you so much for sharing these pictures and giving pleasure. Do you know if there are any of the Hotel when it first opened and of the guests of the 30s.

    By Joan Greenup (25/09/2007)
  • Has anyone got the up to date latest news on this fine building?

    By Roy Haskett (18/10/2007)
  • Hi, there are lots on the internet about the new flats built on the Ocean Hotel site, and I am pleased to see they have retained the original shape of the Ocean. There are also pictures of the new flat interiors. if you cannot find them I will look the web sites up for you.

    By Joan Greenup (27/10/2007)
  • Hi campers! I first went to Butlin’s Ocean Hotel in 1957 then two or three times a year, until 1964, for Summer and New Year holidays .The Redcoats back then were Dave Allen/Jimmy Tarbuck/Ted Rogers and Freddy Parrot Face Davis. Pleasant memories

    By Gary Hayward (04/01/2008)
  • I worked at the Ocean Hotel in 1969 for the summer season it was a lovely place to work. I had a really good time and met a lot of nice people.  My name then was Sandra Emerson from Scunthorpe, north Lincolnshire.

    By Sandra Horton (07/02/2008)
  • My parents were married on the 23rd March 1957 and honeymooned at the Butlin’s Ocean Hotel Saltdean. Apparently is was popular to get married before the new tax year started in April and the story was covered in the Daily Express in the following few days. There was a big photo of all the newly weds in the Daily Express and I wondered if anyone could help me track down a copy of the photo or the newspaper article. My mother has Altzhiemers and her memory dwells in the past it would mean a lot to my parents who now live in Seaford.

    By Tony Weston (12/04/2008)
  • The Marine Bar – I remember it well! It was where I, with many others, watched the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, soon after the Hotel opened as Butlin’s Ocean Hotel (my father, Tony Watson, was the first Shops and Bars Manager – we moved down from Filey), and many years later watched the moon landings when I was on an official visit there as a Head Office employee from Bognor Regis.

    By Jurgen Watson (17/04/2008)
  • I stayed at the Ocean Hotel when I was 9 years old (1973 and 1974) with my mum and grandparents and had two wonderful holidays. I even won 1st prize in the fancy dress! and one of the Red coats in the photo of the outside of the hotel is in my photo! He had red hair thats how I recognised him wonder where he is now??? Unfortunately I did not appreciate the wonderful Art Deco architecture at that time. Now I would love to stay there and take it all in. Fond memories!!!

    By Julie Hickmott (01/05/2008)
  • I worked and lived at Ocean Hotel from 1986 to 1989. Hard work but loved every bit of it, made some great friends some of which I’m still in contact with. Anybody work there then?

    By Dawn (03/05/2008)
  • Hi Dawn, I worked there in 1986 as a waitress. It was great. I have very fond memories of the people who wer there and made lots of friends. Sadly lost all contact with them from there. I went on to be a redcoat at Skeggy.

    By Lisa Goulding (12/06/2008)
  • I was a redcoat at the Ocean Hotel in 1969 and would love to hear from other redcoats from the same season. Leon ? Jack ? Chris ?

    By Tony (30/06/2008)
  • Hello, it’s nice to find a site like yours. I was a Redcoat from seasons 1985-1986 and what fun we had! Terrible pay, a 90 hour work week but lots of fun and laughs. If there are any who remember me and those days i would love to be contacted.

    By Grant (01/10/2008)
  • Hello Ocean Hotel Enthusiasts. I was a Redcoat working 3 Christmases and the summer of 1987. The hotel was a lovely art deco building with a great feel about it. I have some great photos of it. I would love to be in contact with any enthusiasts or Butlin’s staff or guests from that era. Frank (nicknamed ‘Betty’, the one with the teddies!) email:

    By Frank Mulhall (15/11/2008)
  • We spent our honeymoon here in 1959 and we still have Billy Butlins brochure on our wall.

    By Mal Halfpenny (05/01/2009)
  • I was one of 30 redcoats chosen from thousands throughout the UK in 1979. I played the guitar and had a fantastic year. Entertainment managers then were Barry and Debbie.

    By Chris Horton (09/01/2009)
  • Yes, we spent our honeymoon at the Ocean Hotel too. Met a nice couple, maybe Miram and…..?

    By Joand and Peter Littlefield (07/02/2009)
  • Is it true that Johnny Weismuller performed the opening ceremony of Saltdean Lido in 1938?

    By Bill Manning (07/03/2009)
  • I fell in love with the place without ever going there. It was featured in the Poirot story ‘The Jewel Robbery At The Grand Metropolitan’. I love art deco architecture and made a point of uncovering its location. I had hoped to stay there one day, but now it’s too late!

    By Michelle Perry-Brooker (21/03/2009)
  • I stayed at the Ocean Hotel with a friend and her family in the summer of 1982 when I was 16. Wonderful memories! Does anyone have photos of the hotel from that year?

    By Maria Corbett (07/05/2009)
  • We are buying one of the appartments in the new-build block at Grand Ocean and its lovely to think that people have such fond memories of the place where my family is going to live.

    By Elaine Doherty (22/11/2009)
  • I was born in Brighton and brought up on Saltdean mount. As kids we often climbed over the fence of the Ocean Hotel and played around the grounds and some of the buildings including the swimming pool, even then we realised it was a shame that it was derelict. When Butlins bought it the locals were all invited to an open day I went with my mother and we actually met Billy Butlin. We also used to catch tadpoles and newts in the then derelict Saltdean Lido.

    By Michael Law (25/07/2011)
  • I worked as a Redcoat at the Ocean in 1986. Great Memories.

    By Dave Garner (02/12/2011)
  • Worked and lived here from 1983 to the end of the 1985. Christmas season initially in the kitchen then as a waiter. Rubbish pay, questionable working conditions but plenty of good memories.

    By Simon Carey (10/02/2012)
  • It’s interesting when you see an old photo that triggers your memory of something or someone. I wonder, is Trevor Chepstow’s fine shot of the Ocean Hotel a posed publicity photo or just a casual pic? I’m sure the Red Coat in the photo, talking to the lady sitting in the deck chair, is a chap called Charlie Casey, with whom I worked at Endeavour Motor Company back in the late 1960s early 70s. I remember Charlie as a bit of a joker with bright red hair and a burning ambition to tread the boards. Soon after that time Charlie became a Red Coat at Butlins Ocean Hotel Saltdean. In 1972 Billy Butlin sold all his hotels including the Ocean to the Rank Organization. However, the Butlins company retained the holiday camps. If that is Charlie in the photo it would have been taken around that year I think? Also the cars in the pic look like they are from that era.

    By Christopher Wrapson (12/02/2012)
  • I worked playing drums here in 1975- it was my first summer season with Pat Redmond playing piano and George Levy, who were both fine musicians. It was a great training ground playing for the different cabaret acts-fun times!

    By Victor Bragman (15/09/2012)
  • I was a Redcoat at the Ocean Hotel in 1979/80/81. Would love to hear from others from this time.

    By Michelle Fraser Fitzjohn (12/10/2012)
  • I was the Retail Shop and Bars Manager at The Ocean, for only a short while in 1991. Loved the place and had a great time, always regretted leaving .

    By Dave Hand (24/10/2012)
  • I was a Redcoat 1974 /75 at the Ocean, then became photographer for 2 years, then Blackpool, then Scarborough, then back to the Ocean as stores manager for 5 years. Fantastic time of my life, great memories and made some great friends.

    By Keith Standen (01/02/2013)
  • My wife and I married the 5/3/66 (tax rebate date at that time). We spent our honeymoon at the Ocean Hotel, we had an excellent time. I seem to remember that a national newspaper had a photograph taken of all the honeymooners on the beautiful sweeping stair case. As we arrrived a rugby team were staying there and some wag shouted we expect you down to breakfast tomorrow morning.

    By les guesford (22/05/2013)
  • The first time I saw this magnificent building it was about to be closed but I was able to take a good look round and marvel at its original (if decaying) glory. I was imagining, “here we go again” – another beautiful 1930s building about to fall down…billions of £s for newbuild but barely 10p for a classic relic like the Ocean. When I returned 7 years later I was expecting to see a flattened / ready for development site. How wonderful to see the Phoenix risen from the ashes. The most dramatic architecture of all – Art-Deco.

    By Paul Jennings (18/06/2013)
  • I have an original brochure for the “Ocean Hotel”: Bed & breakfast single 9/6d, Rooms from £4/4s pw, Dogs 2/- per day.

    By Tony Owen (05/10/2013)
  • Quite an old photo this but the reception area never changed a lot. The floor had an image of a dolphin embedded, you can just see it by the Redcoat. I was a Red there in 1973/4 and the floor was already carpeted over by then.

    By Keith Standen (01/02/2015)
  • Spent many hours in the Regency Ballroom. This was a competition going on (the judges sitting at the tables). As a Redcoat I compared many such events myself in that room back in the 70s. I reckon this is from the 60s because there is a theatre organ at the far end of the stage, that was gone by 1973.

    By Keith Standen (01/02/2015)
  • My friend and I went to the Ocean Hotel at Saltdean in September 1953 and met our future husbands, mine came from Leeds and my friend’s came from London.  My husband and I were married in October 1956 and came back to the Ocean Hotel for our honeymoon.  

    By Shirley Rogers (24/03/2015)
  • I am looking for people who have some tales about Saltdean Lido and the Grand Ocean Hotel for an exhibition I am putting on at my home (No.75 Bannings Vale, Saltdean) on the 2nd May 2015 as part of the Artist Open House.
    I would love to track down some Red Coats who worked there, an official Red Coat from Billy Butlins, any photos of the inside of the Grand Ocean Hotel, any tales of the Saltdean Lido, any pics of Johnny Wisemuller opening it or any tales.  I hope someone can help as I see so many of you remember it. Any photos or items – photos used will be returned.  Thanks.

    By Nigel Gray (06/04/2015)
  • Stayed there for a weekend in the ’80s. Lovely building but even then it was very dated.

    By Dennis Fielder (06/04/2015)
  • Nigel check out The Oak Leaf coffee Bar story 1959 / 1962. The Coffee Bar was not directly connected to the Ocean Hotel or the then derelict Lido. I hope the above link helps in some way. Also The Oak Leaf has its own MyB&H page and can be found on Facebook. I wish you all the best with your project.    

    By Chris Wrapson (07/04/2015)
  • From the age of 16, as a grammar school student (1965-1967) and then as a university student (1967 – 1970), I was regularly employed at Butlin’s Ocean Hotel Saltdean, Christmas hols, Easter, weekends in the summer months (when still at school) and the summer holidays, July, August of course. I did a bit of everything, in the kitchens, as ‘service hand’, even assistant chef, white hat and all, (but I was really champion on the dish-washing machine) or in the dining room, waited on tables, (10 tables of 4 persons for each waiter / waitress) wine waiter in the Marine bar, barman in the coffee lounge. Many great memories of those times, and the boozy evenings down at the Spanish lady.

    By Richard Edwin Bishop (29/04/2020)
  • Many a Happy Holiday Spent here, with my Wife and Friends. They had a Great Resident Trio Called “ Joint Effort “. and a Great Comedian Called Paul, Who Later had his own Radio Programme On B.B.C. Radio Kent.

    By Graham Hicks (04/07/2020)

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