THESE days, the historic strip of building once known as The Royal Hotel, is perhaps best recognised for housing the go-to watering hole for many of Clacton’s drinkers.

But in a previous life, some 100 years ago, the concrete complex in Marine Parade East, was much more than the pre-tipple hotspot for Friday night clubbers it is today.

In fact, Sir Winston Churchill himself was once forced into “enduring” several brandies and a cigar at the hotel after his plane landed on the seafront beach in 1914.

At the time, he was the Lord of the Admiralty, and the incident came some 26 years before starting his reign as Prime Minster during the Second World War.

But even then, his reputation preceded him, and as soon as his aircraft touched down after getting into difficulty while in the air, crowds of people quickly swarmed to see him.

Escaping via the cab of the plane, Churchill rushed to the Royal Hotel where he hid without disruption as he waited for a replacement seaplane to arrive.

As he left, he was hounded for autographs and quizzed by suffragettes who directed chants of “Votes for Women” at him as his new plane propelled into the clouds.

His visit to the town, although fleeting and unintentional, was commemorated with a plaque which still remains embedded into a seafront wall near the Toby Carvery.

Before Churchill made his mark in the sand, The Royal Hotel had been thriving for more than 40 years and was the epicentre of the town’s social arrangements.

Having opened in 1872, it was the first property to be built in what was then a new seaside resort and was designed by Fredrick Barnes at a cost of £7,465.

The Debating Society and the Arts and Literary Society often met there, and it also hosted auctions and dancers, and fancy dinners for the likes of Lady Mary Fraser.

By 1900, the glitzy hotel boasted 60 bedrooms and two billiard tables.

But according to George Hardwick, who is in archivist for the Clacton and District Local History Society, the hotel didn’t get off to the best of starts.

He said: “The grand opening ceremony was in July 1872, but the building wasn’t quite finished and so it was not until August 17 that the first visitors were welcomed.

“The hotel was surrounded by fields and lonely clifftops and, at first, the passengers from the steamers were very sedate.

“In the early years of Clacton, the Royal Hotel was a social centre for the town.”

As well as Churchill, other notable guests had also occupied its many rooms.

In 1904, for example, Queen Victoria’s son, the Duke of Connaught, used the Royal Hotel as his headquarters during military exercises in the area.

Mr Hardwick said: “Apparently, one afternoon a young maid dropped a cup of hot tea onto the Duke’s lap.

“It was an accident of course, but his screams and exclamations could be heard in Frinton and they weren’t words usually associated with royalty.”