Baroness Burdett-Coutts and what was once the Rosetor

Torbay Weekly

This Blue Plaque adorns the wall of the Riviera International Conference Centre (RICC) in Chestnut Avenue being the only reminder of Miss Angela Coutts staying in Torquay between 1862 - 1877.

This was just one of her permanent homes when not in London. Angela first stayed at No.1 Meadfoot House Osborne Crescent in 1859, a property locals today affectionately know as Osborne Hotel with Bistro and restaurant etc - the adjoining houses still get leased or are Timeshares.

Angela eventually moved to Villa Syracrusa (Headland Hotel today) until finally, in 1861, having acquired the Ehrenburg House, the Harvey Brothers Company built her new home as Erin Hall overlooking the Torquay Esplanade.

Erin Hall itself survived until 1923 when, having been hugely expanded, it became the Rosetor Hotel, which itself survived right through until the 1980s, when, as a derelict building, Torbay Council demolished it to make for what would become a new leisure complex and Conference facility. Initially named the English Riviera International Centre (ERIC or ERC before IRK!) it finally was titled the RICC - Riviera International Conference Centre and officially opened on May 1, 1987.

Our Blue Plaque today states: "HERE STOOD ROSETOR, The home from 1862 to 1877 of Angela Burdett Coutts - Friend of Royalty and Commoners - and every deserving cause had her Patronage".  

This amazing lady, having inherited the Coutts Bank Empire (cash and fixed assets in 1849), immediately adopted the Coutts name by Royal Licence, which now named her Miss Angelina Burdett-Coutts.

Over many years of visiting Torquay, Angela became responsible for bringing and entertaining a large number of the British and overseas gentry to our area, which included members of the British and Russian Royal family, as well as famous people like Sir Charles Lyle, Charles Darwin, Sir John Lubbock, the White Rajah Brooke of Sarawak, Queen Sophia of Holland and distinguished people from around the world.

By now the richest woman in England, she forever remained single, allowing her to become possibly the greatest benefactor of her era. Yet, at age 67, she finally decided to give it all up for marriage and the love of a Torquay past student of her great friend, William Pengelly, who, like her, was an academic who could speak fluent Latin.

Angela had been born before Her Majesty Queen Victoria yet, having now been honoured by Her Queen with a Baronetsy, this came in her own right (Baroness previously only came through a husband’s title), she outlived the Queen by five years, surviving until 1906, aged 92.

It was apparent that Torbay Council sponsored the plaque, although correspondence concerning the actual unveiling itself did not survive. Fortunately, I do know the plaque was formally unveiled at the new Leisure Centre in mid 1987, just a year after being formally opened to the public.

General Manager Mr R C Tolley arranged for notable attendees, who included Councillors Blogg, Dolman and Hunt and businessmen K J Selley, D.J Reid and R Passmore and also the Editors of the Herald Express and Western Morning News.

The official pamphlet (now out of print) was written by Chief Librarian Mr John Pike and was printed by Torbay Council in conjunction with Torquay Museum. Photographs used were supplied by the National Portrait Gallery and Mansell Agency.

Anyone wishing to have a photocopy of the A4 page of this pamphlet which includes an image of the Baroness and the plaque, plus the full text by Mr Pike should follow the instructions below. If you would like a copy of this and an original "Bygones" biography - please send stamps to the value of £3 tothe TCS Office 1, at No 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.

The proofing sheet of the text together with some relevant pictures copied overleaf can be obtained by sending two 2nd class stamps plus a S.A.E to: Torbay Civic Society No 1 Office at 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.