Written by Peet Banks
The beautiful Hydro Majestic Hotel can be seen atop a breathtaking ridge near Katoomba in Australia’s Blue Mountains.
It was built by a captain of industry, Mark Foy, a retailing magnate who owned the biggest department store in Australia. Mark was very wealthy, and very well-travelled. He was a big fan of ‘the water cure’ – a craze around the world where the rich and famous would spend copious amounts of money at Hydropathic Health Retreats. Mark’s favourite was Smedley’s Hydro in Derbyshire England. Smedley’s was a beautiful Victorian sanatorium surrounded by beautiful acreage. Mark often spoke of the lack of such a Hydro in Australia. Mark started scouting for locations in the idyllic Blue Mountains, and eventually purchased three adjacent properties in Medlow; the Belgravia Hotel, a small cottage that was home to local solicitor Alfred Tucker, and a beautiful estate owned by William Henry Hargraves, a government official and Deputy Registrar of the Equity Court. Using stunning architectural designs, Mark joined these three buildings together with long galleries, over 90 metres in length, making the structure form a linear design. Upon completion, the hotel measured 366 metres of beautiful, richly carpeted luxury. The entire building was heated and powered by a boiler from an exhibition building built in 1879 which did not succeed as it was hoped. The final touch on the hotel was the inclusion of stunningly ornate Italianate Balustrading so guests could immerse themselves in the panoramic view. In 1903 Mark somehow managed to have the name of the suburb, Medlow, altered to Medlow Bath, in order to attract clientele. The Medlow Bath Hydropathic Establishment was a totally immersive affair, with detailed expensive furniture, artwork and every mod-con known at the time. He even employed physician Dr Baur, believing that he would give the sanatorium the European authenticity that Mark believed was crucial for success. Mark had a deep love for America, and so set the official opening date of his sanatorium for 4 July 1904 – which unfortunately coincided with one of the worst snowstorms on record for the Blue Mountains – this didn’t stop Mark though, who transported his VIP guests through the snow in a fleet of specifically imported De Dion Bouton motors – which were some of the first cars in the country at the time. The group met at Penrith Station to make the 9 hour journey in convoy.
After a glamerous opening party, all the guests went to bed, to be woken to a strict regime of heath treatments, including mustard cloths, liver packs, warm enemas, eye baths and ear douches, fomentations ‘as hot as can be borne’, spinal packs, oil rubbing, nose baths, bowel kneading and much, much, much more – including the very risqué naked sun baths.
After a few years Mark noticed that the fashionable trend of hydropathy was on the decline, and reluctantly renamed his hotel the “Hydro Majestic”. All heath treatments were removed from advertising, but still available upon request.
With the mandatory ‘health’ element taken off the menu, the Hydro Majestic became an escape for a privileged clientele, offering lavish entertainments and great feasts. The notorious Cat Alley earned its name during this period (it was previously called The Cloister). This section of building was located directly outside the male dominated billiard room and was occupied by waiting wives and mistresses who gossiped about everything and anything whilst waiting for their partners.
Some famous people to stay at the Hydro Majestic included Dame Nellie Melba, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Nellie Stewart (actress), Governor General Sir Isaac Isaacs, Canadian world heavy weight boxing champion Tommy Burns.
In 1922 much of the hotel was destroyed in a fire, which was in all likelihood, arson, which led to Mark refurbishing the establishment and making it more family oriented.
During World War 2, when the hotel was being managed by Bud Macken, Mark’s nephew, the US Army requisitioned the hotel for use as the 118th General Hospital. The Army gave Bud less than a week to store or remove valuable art and furniture and any remaining guests, and then the US flag was raised on the roof.
The Hydro Majestic stayed in the Foy family until 1984 and was then sold to several different people and organisations, until finally being sold to the Escarpment Group, who restored it to its former glory.
But is it haunted? Apparently so! ·
One website, “Castle of Spirits”, talks about her stay at the Hydro Majestic, and how she was woken from sleep to see the figure of a ghostly woman enter the room, wearing a gown. ·
There is also a tale associated with the hotel, that in 1912 a young woman was being harassed by a man, and in an attempt to escape him, boarded a train and fled to the Hydro Majestic. It is said that her pursuer followed her, where he strangled her with her favourite silk scarf. ·
The hotel also has two resident spirits who have been seen by quite a few staff members. There is a little girl in a blue frock with a white lace collar who likes to run through walls, and a boy who sits in the dining room chandeliers.
A notable death in the Hotel is that of Australia’s first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, who died suddenly or heart failure on 7 January 1920. I don’t know if his ghost has been seen, but I thought he was worth an honourable mention.