The failure of Brunel's Atmospheric Railway
(see Issue 17) was swiftly followed by the extension of the broad gauge
line through Newton Abbot to Plymouth for steam trains and from this route,
in 1848 a branch line
was created from Newton Abbot to Torquay.
On Monday December 18th in that year, the first steam train arrived at
Torre Station amidst great rejoicing. Everyone had a holiday and there
was a feast for the poor followed by a procession through the town.
Before 1848, if you wanted to reach Torquay, you had either
to undertake a formidable stage coach journey or travel by boat. Almost
overnight, this attractive place was brought within comparatively easy reach of
London and visitors began to arrive in droves. Not those who had to work
and could never afford to take any kind of a holiday but members of the upper classes who soon turned the town into a select
watering-place for the wealthy and titled.
As more and more trains
brought more and more visitors, it soon became a problem to find enough
suitable accommodation for those who wished to stay for any length of
time and who looked for a home from home.
It was William Kitson who devised a plan for turning that part of the
town which overlooked the sea into elite housing suburbs. Purchasers
of two-acre plots could have elegant villas built for use as
holiday homes and when not required by the owners, these could be let
to other visitors.
Meadfoot Lodge which
was featured in Tom
Stentiford's Story in Issue 25 was one such villa. Another, the so-called Woodbine Cottage on
Park Hill, the property of a Miss Johns, was a very different kind
of cottage to the mean little cottages in nearby Pimlico where the poor
lived and where, in 1849, cholera raged
and there were many deaths.
Not everyone wanted to buy and build or even to rent for months on end
- there were others who wanted a short and uncomplicated stay by the
sea, and these visitors began to look for hotels.
In 1828, Torquay had just one hotel. When another opened nearby, the
Vicar of Torre* objected on the grounds that two such places in the town
would be "detrimental to its moral health". This idea was soon
kicked into touch by the arrival of British and Foreign royalty who chose to stay at hotels
in preference to renting villas.
By the 1840s,
Webb's Royal Hotel and Hearder's Family Hotel were
established as select and highly-respectable establishments to which people came
enjoy hotel life as well as the delights of the seaside. The local
newspaper of the time - the Torquay and Tor* Directory and Advertiser -
published each Friday a listing of who was staying at each hotel -
nobility favoured Webb's while the church looked kindly on Hearder's!
Foreigners found the summer climate very pleasant and
began to make comparisons between Torquay and the French Riviera. Soon
the hoteliers of the town were trading off this and Torquay became known
as the "English Riviera".
Webb's Royal Hotel, Torquay
Devon County Council
* The spelling of "Torre" is derived from
that of Torre Abbey. "Tor" is also used as in the name of the
local newspaper. The station at which the first steam train arrived was
called Torre Station. The station now named "Torquay" was
added later when the line was extended to Paignton.
here to continue