Inside Oldway Mansion and a journey through its history

Torbay Weekly

Plans and dreams of restoring Paignton's Oldway Mansion to its former glory have taken a major step forward.

Torbay Council and its community partner the Oldway Trust, supported by the Friends of Oldway and the Oldway Gardens Group have secured almost £150,000 of National Lottery Heritage Funding.

Part of the money will pay for a full-time project manager who will at last drive forward a future plan for the mansion.

The funding application was submitted under the heading '‘Developing a resilient future for Oldway’.

And that is just what the council, trust, friends and supporters want to see happen with what was once one of the jewels in the Bay's crown.

Here Trust chairman and vice-chairman Paul Hawthorne and Chris Robson track the history of the mansion from its  palatial days to its sadder, modern times.

Accompanying the piece are photos taken after the Torbay Weekly was given a tour of the building.

Isaac Singer arrived in Torquay in February 1872. They stayed initially at the Victoria and Albert Hotel. Isaac was accompanied by his wife Isabella and their six young children, the youngest of which, Franklin, had just celebrated his second birthday.

Isaac swiftly rented Oldway Villa and gardens for six months, with a view to returning to his London home once his health had recovered.

What was intended to only be a temporary stay soon developed into something more permanent, as Isaac quickly fell for the charms of Paignton and its inhabitants.

Oldway was where he decided he would make his final home, and fulfil his wish to use his recently acquired wealth to design and build a dream home, his “Wigwam”.

Work began in 1873, as his lawyer, Mr Eastley, painstakingly acquired as much property around the Oldway Villa as possible to form a fitting estate to go with the newly planned extensive mansion.

Plans for new mansion drawn up by Geo. Soudon Bridgman were passed by the local Paignton Board in 1873 and the town sewer was duly extended to accommodate it.

Sadly, Isaac Singer fell ill and died in 1875 before his mansion was completed, but his will dictated that the house and gardens must be competed according to his plans.

His third son, Paris, took control of the mansion and gardens in 1897 and adapted the house and grounds to their current form, transforming both into a breath-taking version of the French palace of Versailles, with the assistance of the great landscape architects of their day the Duchênes.

During the first World War the mansion was used as an American Hospital and between the wars it was run as a country Club in conjunction with an 18-hole golf course in higher Preston.

After WW2, the estate was sold to Paignton Urban District Council to become its headquarters and transferred to the new unitary authority, Torbay Council, on its formation in 1998.

Torbay Council vacated Oldway mansion in 2011 and it was handed was handed to a developer for conversion to a hotel.

When this did not happen, and it was handed back to the Council in 2016, a working party was set up to decide its future.

On the working party, we consulted widely and brought in representatives from the key community organisations.

We engaged Consultants to assess future uses and they reported in 2018 that it could become self-sustaining through a combination of letting out spaces to compatible businesses, events, room hire, and admission charges, under a charitable umbrella organisation, or Trust.

This report was accepted by full Council which voted down a proposal by the then elected Mayor to sell off the estate. The Oldway Trust was formed from members of the working party in 2019 and achieved charitable status in the same year.

Although the pandemic has slowed things down, we have negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with the Council to take over running the estate, once it is self-sustaining.

We are currently pulling together a bid for a major lottery grant to repair the outside of the mansion and make it weather-tight before embarking on internal restorations. It is hoped that public access to the mansion can be restored in the coming year.