"The Vomero"

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The cholera outbreak of 1849 gave the town authorities a very rude shock. By that time, they could see that the coming of the railways and the influx of visitors was beginning to bring great prosperity to the town. Their response was swift. They moved everyone out of Pimlico, Swan Street and George Street (including the Stentiford family we wrote about in Issue 16), pulled down the mean shacks and courts in which hundreds of the poorest people lived and built a sort of temporary camp ground for them at Plainmoor, far away from the suburbs of the wealthy.


They set up a Local Board of health in 1850 to take over the provision of pure drinking water for the town - something that was badly needed. When Robert and Elizabeth Stentiford first went to live in Torquay, there were fewer than 900 people living in the whole of Tormohun (Torquay's early name) - by 1851, there were more than 11,500 permanent residents and far more at the height of the season. Previously, in those early days, Robert and Elizabeth and the other Torquay residents could rely on finding pure water from the numerous springs which sprang up all over the area - but by 1849, the building boom had caused these to become contaminated with sewage with dire results for those living in the low-lying areas.


Elizabeth Barrett, the poet (who later married Robert Browning, another poet), came to Torquay, with her favourite brother Edward,  for the sake of her health in 1838. Sadly, he drowned while sailing in Babbacombe Bay in 1840 and a few months later, the grieving Elizabeth went back to her family home in London. Occasionally though, poems by her were published in Torquay's local paper.

"Sunny Devon, moist with rills,

A nunnery of cloistered hills,

The elements presiding.

For here all summers are comprised,

The nightly frosts shrink exorcised

Before the priestly moonshine.

And every wind with stolid feet

In wandering down the alleys sweet

Steps lightly on the sunshine."

Miss Barrett

Torquay 1839


An apt description of Torquay  and its surrounds - a gentle climate bringing long hours of sunshine, pure water piped down from Dartmoor, Italianate villas on large plots, plenty of locals to provide services and work as servants - and above all, a very well-organised social life. Those listings of residents in the paper every Friday triggered off the rounds of calling, leaving cards, giving and accepting invitations, meeting at concerts, balls, lectures and the clubs that formed the structure of 19th century upper-class life. The town was busy all year round - the delicate came to over-winter, others came to recuperate from the excesses of the London Season, the famous came for a more secluded lifestyle and a few came because of the scenic beauty and natural interest of the place. The place was perfect of its kind.


The Vomero, Torquay

At least that is what one Italian thought. His name was Joseph Marchetti and he was born in Carrera in Italy around 1800. We know little about him except that he must, at some point in his life, have visited Vomero Hill in Naples and seen the famous view of the Bay from that point.


The 1841 Census shows him living in one of the most beautiful of all of Torquay's villas and, presumably it was his idea to call it The Vomero, probably because the view reminded him of that other place so far away. In one sense, it became his home. But it was home to others too, for Joseph and his wife Mary, who came from Ashburton, turned it into a hotel of a very special kind. No mass market for them, even if the clients were of the "right" class - The Vomero was expensive and exclusive, catering only for one or two titled families at any one time.

The Vomero, Torquay

Built in 1838

Courtesy J. R. Wilson


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