How 10,000 people signed up to help Sheila save Torquay Pavilion

Torquay Pavilion

Torquay Pavilion - Credit: Getty Images

Torquay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: The Pavilion, Torquay

As this is the 50th of my features on the 'why and how' Torbay Civic Society plaques emerge, it seems appropriate I give the building that founded the society - Torquay Pavilion.

It was the huge conviction of Mrs Sheila Hardaway in believing the Pavilion must be saved that she mounted a public campaign 'Friends of the Pavilion' in 1971 after learning the Department of Environment had just listed the property as a Building of Special Architecture even though the council had decided it wanted to demolish it.

The 'Friends' joined up a staggering 10,000 supporting locals - including myself - a figure that has never been exceeded by a volunteer organisation in Torbay.

The wish to demolish came in January, 1972, after the council decided to build a large conference centre within the town capable of seating up to 2,500 delegates.

A car park had been planned for Swan Street, exactly opposite, while elected members of the Torbay Resort Services Working Party then stated the Pavilion site seemed the best option of seven sites they had considering including - Lymington Road, Sheddon Hill, Hollicombe Gasworks and numerous areas of Paignton.

With petitions against demolition now delivered to Torquay Town Hall, Sheila eventually won her battle when that November councillors voted to retain the Pavilion by - 34 to five in favour - with one abstention.

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Unfortunately, the threat returned as if to haunt the 'Friends' and yet by 1987, Sheila was negotiating with Simon Jeffery, then director and general manager of Torquay Marina, Torquay Yacht Harbours (today MDL), and eventually they agreed it would be appropriate to celebrate the anniversary of the campaign by holding a special function at the Pavilion to include a supper party followed by a fashion parade courtesy of Maggie Williams and then the unveiling of the Torbay Civic Society blue plaque to honour the Pavilion.

Our special curtain board was used for the unveiling, just in case of inclement weather that evening because the unveiling was not until 9.15pm.

The plaque would later be affixed to the entrance wall of the Pavilion, next day.

Torquay Yacht Harbours Company funded the event with the pamphlet produced by Torbay Council print department once the biography was written by Frank Cawson and civic society member Denis Walton plus the help of Torquay Museum.

The late evening event took place on October 15, 1987, when the plaque was formally unveiled by Mrs A James Hardaway, Simon RG Jeffery and a council representative.

Today it is interesting to recall that the proposed demolition of the Pavilion saw a start made on the building of the new English Riviera International Conference Centre.

This brought Lord O'Hagan, Devon's Euro MP, to Torquay to witness the piling take place where the huge Rosetor Hotel had once stood.

The Pavilion was originally opened on August 17, 1912, by a Golden Key and as our plaque later confirmed the designer was Major Garrett, borough engineer.

He had just completed the Princess Gardens and Terrace Walk on reclaimed land, yet had spent 20 years trying to convince councillors a Pavilion building - nicknamed The White Palace by Sir Edgar Elgar - would become a huge attraction for the town and was forever determined it would be a part of the 'Queen of the English Riviera' image.

Unfortunately, Torbay Council never set it a fixed purpose seeing it as a mere general entertainment centre. Over the decades it has been used as a concert hall, theatre, ice and then roller-skating rink before finally, in 1987, a shopping complex.

All were sadly, financially unsustainable.

Today, the Pavilion is again closed awaiting its fate.

Had it been transformed and made the concourse to the proposed hotel and apartment complex we believe it would have been equally as successful as the Abbey Sands complex, which was also highly controversial yet supported by the society from the outset.

A feature entitled 'Pavilion remains Garrett's precious legacy' can be obtained by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.