Noel Coward

From late 1945 to mid 1951 actor, singer and playwright Noel Coward leased a house  in St Margaret’s Bay which he called ‘White Cliffs’. He used it largely as a weekend and holiday home, eventually buying or leasing the other four art deco houses clustered around it for his friends and relatives. All still stand today but are privately owned.

The cluster of houses owned by Noel Coward in St Margaret’s Bay in 2012

Moving in

‘White Cliffs’ had originally been built for a friend of Coward’s the Hon Kay Norton, who had called the house  with its distinctive red tiled roof, ‘Kay’s Bluff’. Coward’s own country house on Romney Marsh was still occupied by the army

Noel Coward loved the sea. The house was almost in it. Waves either lapped against or lashed the end wall of the house. Noel Coward enjoyed the thought of the White Cliffs of Dover rising steeply on his right only a yard or two from where he lay ( Cole Lesley: The Life of Noel Coward )

Apart from the sea, Coward may have been drawn to St Margaret’s by the presence of other friends in the village, such as Lady Forbes-Robertson, an eminent actress of the early 1900’s who he often visited.

It was not to be an easy move. The house and all the buildings around it had been severely damaged by the British Army who had used the once fashionable seaside retreat as a Battle Training School. To reach his new home Coward and his friends had to pass many ruined  and empty houses, hotel, tearoom and  pub and large chunks of concrete invasion defences and wire.

Repairing the groynes close to Noel Coward's house. Early 1950s

Repairing the groynes close to Noel Coward’s house. Early 1950s

In the summer of 1945 Coward and friends with the help of ‘Harry’ began to repair the house, moving in, still without heating or electricity, in October. On his first night there Coward said

An evening of enchantment, I know this is going to be a happy house (Noel Coward Diaries, Payn and Morley)

Famous Friends

In Coward’s seven years in the Bay he entertained a large array of famous friends from the arts, film and stage.  Katherine Hepburn stayed  here with Spencer Tracey and swam daily from the shore. Daphne Du Maurier, Ian Fleming, Gertrude Lawrence and John Mills all came to relax, play Canasta and Scrabble or join Coward in his painting studio where he produced oils of the Bay and Jamaica. in 1946 his mother and aunt moved into one of the white art deco houses.

White Cliffs painted by Noel Coward,
Dover Museum collection


Moving on

As life in the village and the beach area began to return to normal, Coward’s privacy came under threat. In the severe winter of 1947 large lumps of chalk fell only a few hundred yards from the house and he needed to decide if he wished to extend the lease on ‘White Cliffs’. Ian Fleming had allowed him use of his house in Jamaica, where soon Coward was to build a place for himself. In 1951 he decided to leave and return to his Romney Marsh home. Ian Fleming took on the lease.using it as a weekend retreat until 1958.

Find out more

We have a small collection of information about Coward in our archive here with a more detailed description of his life in the village in an out of print pamphlet called ‘Noel Coward and St Margaret’s Bay’ by Jean Melhuish and Connie Jewell

You should also see ‘ The Life of Noel Coward ‘ by Lesley Cole and ‘The Noel Coward Diaries‘ by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley.




Comments about this page

  • Hi
    Thanks for your memory about this. What a terrific name your Aunt’s Father had! There are plenty of images with Villa Griz Nez in them on the site if you put it into the search engine and its still there.
    St Margaret’s History Society

    By Christine Waterman (11/05/2023)
  • My aunt’s father was Dagwood Cotter. She has happy memories of helping her mother Yvonne Cotter in the tea garden her parents owned. I think their house was called villa Gris Nez? It was on the infamous sharp corner on the road.

    By Trisha Chisnall (12/03/2023)
  • Dear Tina
    Apologies for the long delay in responding to you. We have only been able to find one Spencer Cottage which was the name of a house in The Avenue in a 1950 Street directory with James Robert MANNING in residence. Neither cottage or Mr Manning is mentioned in the 1953 directory, but that may have been an oversight.
    If you would like to enter 1950 in the search engine on our website , you will be able to see various images of the village around that time and get a flavour of life here. It was still getting over the war to an extent as so much damage was caused by shelling and we also still had troops here, now manning radar stations for the Cold War
    Apologies again for the very slow response to your query
    St Margarets History Society

    By Christine Waterman (08/03/2022)
  • I recently learnt that my grandmother’s address in 1956 was Spencer Cottage, St Margaret’s Bay, Kent. I cannot locate it on any maps as there is no street address. That is all the information I have and would dearly love a photo taken in St Margaret’s Bay in 1956, just to give me a feel of what it was like when she lived there. I am in Australia and haven’t visited that area. Best wishes Tina Clayton

    By Christina Clayton (02/09/2021)
  • hy
    i think my farther an d uors worked together on cowards house 1947ish his name tom knott
    and lived in bay road called sunhill

    By m knott (08/08/2021)
  • I think my father worked with yours after the war at st margarets his name Thomas victor knott.

    By michael knott (11/07/2021)
  • We lived in St Margarets bay from early 1951 to 1953 in a flat that was part of The old guard house.
    My father, Harry Gaffney was a General foreman for R Robinson & Sons seadefence contractors. While building a seawall and groynes he got to know Noel Coward, who appreciated the new wall passing his house. My father, Harry, even gave a lift to Mr Coward from Martin Hall station when his chauffer was unavailable. Noel asked my father to a party in his house where he met famous celebreties and also asked him to build a jetty near his house in Jamaica. Harry declined this offer however. I remember seeing Noel Coward once walking out onto a balcony wearing a white dressing gown and smoking a cigarette with a cigarette holder. I have many photos of the sea defence work at St Margarets from 1951 to 1953 (My fathers) and remember a delightful character named (Lt colonel) Dagwood Cotter – does anyone rember him? I went to School in Deal at that time. Lovely memories.
    Eamon Gaffney

    By Eamon Gaffney (14/10/2020)

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