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Oddicombe Beach in the 1890s - viewed from the sea
Oddicombe Beach in the 1890s - viewed from the sea


In the late 1880s, a "lift" railway had opened running between the town of Lynton at the top of a cliff and Lynmouth, a seaside village at its foot. It proved very popular and was soon bringing visitors from Lynton's hotel back and forth for sea bathing.

(To read about Lynton's Lift Railway, click here)


The success at Lynton & Lynmouth was probably what deterred Torquay from sanctioning a project of its own. The townspeople knew it would be easy to put together a consortium to finance the project but they were fearful of the type of visitor that may be attracted to the town because of it. At that time, Torquay was seen as an elegant resort with high-class hotels, Italianate villas to rent, pretty walks and genteel entertainment. No one wished to see the tranquillity surrounding Oddicombe Beach utterly destroyed by an influx of "other people".


The photograph below was taken in the 1890s - the same time that the idea of a funicular railway was being discussed - and rejected - by the town.


Oddicombe Beach - taken in the 1920s from the Downs
Oddicombe Beach in the early 1920s - before the railway was begun


Thirty years were to pass before the idea was to re-emerge and during that time, holiday-making changed beyond recognition. The "other people" expected holidays as part of their employment packages and they wanted to camp out or find bed-and-breakfast accommodation, not to use expensive and restrictive hotels and villas. Mixed bathing had arrived in 1900 at Meadfoot beach further around the coast but the First World War did away with all kinds of notions and people now wanted to feel free to go to any beach they chose to enjoy swimming happily together without tiresome and out-dated restrictions. 


In the early 1920s, a small group of investors persuaded the Town Council to allow them to build a funicular railway connecting Babbacombe Downs with, what is arguably, Torquay's premier beach down on the seashore - Oddicombe beach.


Babbacombe Cliff Railway in its early days

This postcard was never sent so, sadly, is impossible to date the photo. The original livery of the rail cars was cream and maroon - and this is a black and white image.


So we can each make up our own minds as to the date of this view by studying the motor cars in the café car park, the clothing worn by people on the beach and, possibly, the absence of Torquay's coat-of-arms from the side of the rail-car.


Babbacombe Cliff Railway in the 1930s

This photograph dates from the late 1930s, just after the Cliff Railway had passed into the ownership of Torquay Corporation. Judging by the crowds on the beach, this had become a very popular amenity.


Note the row of bathing tents - changing into swimming costumes was not allowed on Torquay's beaches at this time (or for many years afterwards) - you rented a tent for just as long as it took you to don your bathing costume then took a wire rack containing your outdoor clothes to the attendant who looked after it while you took a dip. When you returned, dripping wet, you always hoped it wouldn't be too long before there was a vacant tent so you could dry off quickly!




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