Going on a walk through Torquay’s history

Torbay Weekly

As part of my endeavour to see as much of Torquay as possible, I decided to go on a stroll around town, following the trail of the Torbay Civic Society’s Blue Plaque Map. Each of the plaques is dedicated to a specific historic person, event or building connected to its place and is thus a unique way of getting to know the area better.

I began my journey in St Marychurch (in quite dismal weather, to be honest) and walked past its picturesque shops on Fore Street, making my way to the first plaque of the day. Dedicated to St Marychurch’s Town Hall, which only served as a town hall for a limited time, but has had many different uses since and is reminiscent of a time when St Marychurch did not yet belong to Torquay.

Turning left, I strolled past Babbacombe Downs, overlooking Oddicombe Beach and the sea. So far, this is a strong contender for my favourite place in all of Torquay, as I cannot imagine ever growing tired of this view, no matter the weather. Although I have been to the area many times before, without the Blue Plaque Map it probably never would have gotten to my attention that Oscar Wilde, who I heard and read lot about during my English degree, lived there during the winter of 1892/93.

Passing his residence Babbacombe Cliff, I continued along Babbacombe Road in a direction I hadn’t previously taken. Although I was walking right next to the road, it took me past some very scenic fields, until I found myself in Wellswood. As I knew some blue plaques to be located in the area, I had a little stroll around the neighbourhood and although I couldn’t find the plaques, I sure did feel rewarded for having stumbled upon such a pretty part of town.

My good fortune continued as I stayed on Babbacombe Road until I reached Torwood Gardens. As the weather by then had improved drastically, the park looked stunning in the sunshine and I took my time strolling around. To those who call Torquay home, the likes of Wellswood and Torwood Gardens surely are very familiar, but to me they were a new side of town I very much enjoyed discovering. Although I must admit that a failure on my part to detect any plaques in a while did make me question my eyesight a bit, I didn’t mind as much, feeling as though I was discovering a whole lot instead.

Luckily, the next plaque on my way was easily detectable, being located at the front of Torquay Museum in honour of it being the Torquay Natural History Society’s meeting place. From there, I wandered down to the harbour to the next plaque on Harbour Point, where the Rotary Club of Torquay first met in 1920. Taking in the scenic views from the harbourside, I ventured on towards the Pavilion, which has its own plaque dedicated to it, before I continued on into the town centre.

On the Terrace I detected a plaque in memory of the artist John Salter, who lived in one of the buildings in the late nineteenth century. In search of a good view point over the town centre and harbour, I climbed the steps leading to St John’s Church on Montpellier Road. I was indeed rewarded with a great view of the blue skies over Torquay and took a small break to enjoy the scenery.

Then I made my way back down and over to Swan Street, where I found a plaque commemorating Torquay’s first Methodist Church. Just a stone’s throw away, on Braddons Hill Road West, I detected the last blue plaque of my walk. Put up in honour of Edward Vivian, I hardly could have found a better plaque to end my little expedition. According to the writing on the plaque, “no man did more to mould Torquay’s character, advance its interests, extend its fame”.

There are many more of the plaques to be discovered and I’m looking forward to spotting them here and there during my time in Torquay. My walk, which took me about two hours, walking at a very leisurely pace, made me realise how brimming with history this town is and helped me discover it in a new way. Excitingly, Paignton and Brixham are home to completely different sets of plaques – but that is a journey for another day.

The Torquay Plaque Map can be found on the Torbay Civic Society’s Website.