Anthony Hocking is an author, an Oxford-educated ex-DJ and the owner of the Royal Hotel in Bethulie . A most interesting man whose stories and dreams fascinated me. Here he kindly answers some of my questions.
Most authors are reading addicts, so I understand your love of books, but what lead you to amass such a huge collection? How did it all start?
When I was very small. I grew up in houses filled with books, and there were book presents every birthday and Christmas. When I started writing books myself in 1971 I began assembling a research library. In about 1981 I realised I was dreaming of living in a house walled in books from floor to ceiling and fulfilled that in Bethulie. Today my collection is far too big for just one house and has overflowed into many other buildings, including the hotel.
How many books are shelved at the Royal Hotel Bethulie ?
Plus/minus 30 000.
Where are the other books located in Bethulie, how many do you have, and what do you intend doing with them?
The main collection is in my house and the studio alongside. Several further buildings are filled with books, mostly in boxes, and some are in the hotel. In total I have plus/minus 120 000. I have no plans to dispose of them. Some people ask what will happen to them when I die. I have no idea – but let’s just say my father lived to 100, and maybe I’ve inherited his genes. (I’m now 71!)
Are there specific genres of books you collect, if so, what are they?
I have a number of collections within my library. The largest room in the main house is a travel library with the books sorted according to country. Other rooms contain a history library, a biographical library, an arts library and a fiction library. The fiction library includes a special collection I call ‘Men of Letters’ – first editions of a group of prolific and influential British writers who flourished at the same time and were all known by their initials. Foremost among them were H G Wells, D H Lawrence, E M Forster, P G Wodehouse, G K Chesterton and J B Priestley.
Are you still collecting books? Can people contact you if they wish to sell or donate books to you?
Certainly I’m still collecting books. I’m delighted to hear from people who want to give me more. Recent donors have included two professors from Johannesburg who gave me their personal libraries.
Your record collection is impressive. As I understand it, you started collecting vinyl’s when no-one wanted them. As with the books, do you still add to your collection, any specific genre, do you buy from people?
Yes, I began collecting vinyls about 15 years ago when other people were throwing them out and I could pick them up for cents. Today I have something like 80 000, but that includes duplicates and seven singles. Long ago I was a radio disc jockey in America so my love of vinyl stems from that. The collection continues to grow thanks to the generosity of people who know about my collection and donate fresh material
Are the records and books catalogued?
For the most part, yes. But I’d say ‘listed’ rather than catalogued, an aide-memoire to help me find things. A properly-trained librarian wouldn’t be impressed.
How did you come to be the owner of a Hotel?
I’ve had a home in Bethulie since 1983, across the street from the hotel. The hotel was never a very glamorous place and appeared to be sliding down a slippery slope. About ten years ago it was sold at auction to a person who wanted to turn it into a shopping and entertainment centre, but the deal fell through. I bought the property very cheaply (I love bargains!) but without any clear idea what I would do with it. There was an early stroke of luck when the SA police asked if they could use the hotel to accommodate people manning road blocks. They stayed in occupation for 17 months, and the money they paid meant I recovered the purchase price. When the police left, a Spanish tour company asked if I could restore the hotel so that they could add it to their South African itinerary. And the rest is history.
What are your future projects, dreams and plans?
Visitors to the hotel have been very generous in their reactions. There’s no sign outside (deliberately) and the hotel doesn’t have any stars, but word of mouth has brought a steady stream of guests to what many say is their favourite offbeat hotel in South Africa. Our chief attractions (they say) are the books and the records, the strong historical associations, great beds, piping hot showers, wonderful hospitality, marvellous food and a variety of things to do. Already we’re hosting activities as varied as war trails, live music, poetry and story-telling, township tours, musical recitals, wine weekends, murder mysteries and star-gazing sessions. I’m planning to add a cooking school plus various week-long courses in subjects as diverse as photography, art lessons and music and literary appreciation. I’m also planning a ’visitor precinct’ in a block of buildings across the street from the hotel which will expand Bethulie’s attractions still further
Anthony can be contacted at [email protected]