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Bradshaw’s Guide

From the hill, Torquay, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


Torquay has been somewhat characteristically described as the Montpelier of England, and truly it is deserving of the appellation. Situated in a small bay at the north-eastern corner of Torbay, the larger one, it is sheltered by a ridge of hills clothed by verdant woodland to the summit, and has thus an immunity from the cold northern and easterly winds, which few other spots so completely enjoy. From being a small village with a few scattered houses, chiefly occupied by officers’ wives, during the period of the last French war, when the Channel fleet were at anchor opposite, it has rapidly risen to a thriving populous town. To borrow the description of “The Route Book of Devon,” the town, beginning with the lower tier, is built round the three sides of the strand or quay formed by the pier, and is composed chiefly of shops of the tradesmen, having a row of trees in front, planted between the flag pavement and the carriage way. The next tier, which is approached by a winding road at each end, and stops at other places, is comprised of handsome terraces; and the third, or highest, having a range of beautiful villas. The views from either of these levels are most enchanting, taking in the whole of the line expansive roadstead of Torbay, within whose circumference numerous fleets can ride in safety, and where is always to be seen the trim yacht and pleasure-boat, the dusky sail of the Brixham trawler, or coasting merchantman, and frequently the more proud and spirit-stirring leviathan of the deep — ’one of Britain’s best bulwarks — a man-of-war.’ To this also must be added, the beautiful country surrounding, commencing by Berry Head to the south, until your eye rests upon the opposite extremity, encircling within its scope the town of Brixham, the richly cultivated neighbourhood of Godrington and Paignton, with the picturesque church of the latter, and the sands rounding from it to the fine woods of Tor Abbey, and the town and pier immediately below. But it is not within the circle, of the town of Torquay, such as we have described, that residences for strangers and invalids are exclusively to be found; the sides and summits of the beautiful valleys which open from it are dotted over with cottages, pavilions, and detached villas, to the extent of two or three miles, in every direction, to which the different roads diverge. About half a mile from Torquay, in the once secluded cove of Meadfoot, which is now being converted into a second town, terraces surpassing those in Torquay are already rising, and the forest of villas has connected the two towns. The sea views from these heights are magnificent, and the situation most attractive. This, though it must be admitted a very alluring picture, falls far short of the reality, as it bursts upon the eye of the stranger who visits it for the first time. The groupings of the various villas, and the picturesque vistas which every turning in the road discloses, are enough to throw a painter into ecstacies, and render his portfolio plethoric with sketches. As before stated, the whole of the buildings are of modern origin. The pier, which forms a most agreeable promenade, was begun in 1804, and with the eastern pier, about forty feet wide, encloses a basin of some 300 feet long by 500 broad. This is the favourite lounge. Another on the Torwood-road is u The Public Gardens,” skilfully laid out, under the direction of the lord of the manor, who has placed about four acres of his estate at the disposal of the public. Passing up the new road, made under Walton Hill, to the Paignton Sands, we come to the remains of Tor Abbey, once more richly endowed than any in England, and now forming a, portion of the delightful seat belonging to Mrs. Cary, a munificent patroness of the town. Between Torquay and Babbicombe is Kent’s Cavern, or Hole, consisting of a large natural excavation capable of being explored to the extent of 600 feet from the entrance. Dr. Buckland here discovered numerous bones of bears, hyenas, olephants, and other expatriated animals, now no longer happily found in this country; Amusements of every kind are easily attainable. A theatre, concerts — held at Webb’s Royal Hotel — assemblies, libraries, news and billiard rooms, cater for every imaginable taste, and the Torquay Museum, belonging to the Natural History Society there established, has a most valuable collection, An excellent market, inns proportionate to the depths of every purse, and apartments to be obtained at reasonable rates, form not the least of the advantages to be derived from a protracted sojourn in this delightful region; but there is one greater attraction yet—its climate.

If those English invalids who, in search of a more congenial temperature, hastily enter on a long journey to some foreign country, and wilfully encounter all the inconveniences attending a residence there, were but to make themselves acquainted with the bland and beautiful climates which he within an easy jaunt, and offer their own accustomed comforts in addition, how many a fruitless regret and unavailing repentance might hereafter be spared. To all suffering under pulmonary complaints, Torquay offers the greatest inducement for a trial of its efficacy as a place of winter residence. Dr. James Clark, in his excellent work on climate, says, the general character of the climate of this coast is soft and humid. Torquay is certainly drier than the other places, and almost entirely free from fogs. This drier state of the atmosphere probably arises in part from the limestone rocks, which are confined to the neighbourhood of this place, and partly from its position between the two streams, the Dart and the Teign, by which the rain is in some degree attracted. Torquay is also remarkably protected from the north-east winds, the great evil of our spring climate; it is likewise well sheltered from the north-west. This protection from winds extends over a very considerable tract of beautiful country, abounding in every variety of landscape, so that there is scarcely a wind that blows from which the invalid will not be able to find a shelter for exercise either on foot or horseback. In this respect Torquay is most, superior to any other place we have noticed. It possesses all the advantages of the south-western climate in the highest degree, and, with the exception of its exposure to the south-west gales, partakes less of the disadvantages of it than any ether place having accommodation for invalids. The selection will, I believe, lie among the following places as winter and spring residences — Torquay, Undercliff, Hastings, and Clifton; and perhaps, in the generality of cases, will deserve the preference in the order stated. So high an eulogium from so impartial and eminent an authority has seldom been bestowed. That it is well deserved, however, may be further seen from the meteorological observations registered which give the mean winter temperature as about 46 degrees, being five degrees warmer than even Exeter. In summer, from the cooling influence of the sea breeze, the temperature, during the last five years, has never at the highest exceeded 80 decrees. So equable a temperature is, we believe, not to be met with elsewhere in Great Britain.

A delightful sandy beach, within ten minutes’ walk of the town, presents faculties for sea-bathing that render a plunge into the clear and sparkling bosom of the bay perfectly irresistible to all who have the taste for its enjoyment Bathing-machines and baths of every description may be had between Torquay and its suburb Paignton, and as a brisk walk after so refreshing a submersion is the orthodox sequel, it may be some satisfaction for the pedestrian to know that the environs abound in those landscape-looking vistas seen through green lanes and overarching woodland which form the true characteristic of Devonian scenery.

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