Blue plaque for focal point building in St Marychurch

Torbay Weekly

Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: St Marychurch Town Hall and William H. Grant

William Henry Grant was the last chairman of St Marychurch Urban District Council which is perhaps why his photograph was used on our pamphlet entitled 'Town Hall of St Marychurch'.

The biography researched and written by Edna White, local historian of Torquay, was prepared with the approval and support of Torbay Borough Council.

This being an early plaque erected in 1986, means sadly there is no correspondence confirming the 'who and why' although without doubt Mr Grant was a worthy recipient of a being pictured on the town hall plaque, having been named by residents as 'The Grand Old Man of St Marychurch'.

The plaque was possible by the generosity of the Rotary Club of Babbacombe and St Marychurch and although it carries the name of the architect George Bridgeman - whose name was spelt incorrectly there is no 'e' in Bridgman - the front picture is of William Henry Godfrey Grant, originally apprenticed to Messrs D & J Woodley before setting up his own marble works at St Marychurch.

Later this would be the famous Grant Marble Works which for a further 150 years produced fine marble ornaments and marble jewellery etc, to such prestigious firms as Aspreys and Tiffany's in London as well as making items ordered by the Royal family.

The town hall St Marychurch sat on the corner site of Manor Road and Babbacombe Road and was built by master builder Alfred Harris - he had worked with the famous Harvey Brothers founded by Jacob Harvey.

Its architect was George Sowden Bridgman, although strangely he had submitted the plans in a nom-de-plume 'Justitia', maybe because he did not want to be accused of getting priority, as he had already been involved in many large projects around Torbay including making a start on the Wigwam building for Isaac Singer, which later after Isaac's death became Oldway Mansion.

The cost of the town hall property at Marychurch, including the architect's fees, was only £3,000 and yet Mr Bridgman constructed a wonderful building with limestone mouldings and mullions still visible today.

To mark its opening, the St Marychurch Musical Society performed Handel's Messiah in the main hall, while outside the walls were fully floodlit using a variety of gas lamps.

This building remained a focal point for social events for years until Torquay Borough Council was formed.

The new town hall was established in Fleet and Union Street seen as a more appropriate place at the centre of the town, on the junction of Fleet Street at the end of Torhill Road.

Today's more prestigious town hall would eventually emerge at Castle Circus, Torquay.

William Henry Godfrey Grant was to be nicknamed 'The Grand Old Man of St Marychurch' after being elected to the local board although long before the new district council came into being after the death of its chairman Mr Potts-Chatto.

Being chairman of St Marychurch Urban District Council, Mr Grant was able to attend the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park, London, while then serving as Torquay Gasworks Committee chairman, a time when still Torquay Central Gas facility was unable to supply gas to the electorate of St Marychurch ward.

During many years serving his local community, Mr Grant supported the new huge sewerage system built in the district and created footpaths everywhere and even established The Downs at Babbacombe.

He also witnessed Chelston host the Devon Agricultural Show in 1882 before making sure St Marychurch was host the following year.

Having served as a councillor for 20 years as chairman, he finally retired in 1900 and then became a magistrate on the county bench.

Unlike his father Joseph, who survived until age 90, William Henry Grant died in 1924 at age 89.

Meanwhile, the 'Old Town Hall of St Marychurch' was finally taken over by Devon County Council in the 1930s.

Ian Handford's biography can still be obtained by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.