Blue Plaque commemorates incredible entrepreneur

The Blue Plaque honouring Richard Wolston

The Blue Plaque honouring Richard Wolston - Credit: Torbay Civic Society

Mr R R Wolston was a solicitor yet he founded the Torbay Paintworks Company in 1848 to manufacture what was the world's first rust prohibitor on iron.

He already owned a limestone and iron ore mine but then discovered ochre made paint.

His wider ambition was to build a Churston to Brixham railway link to ship his products north while offering to help Brixham fishermen get their products to the London market fresh.

Having created a home, Parkham Wood House on New Road, after his death this became Parkham Hotel and a century on, Saxon Heights retirement home, comprising 74 homes for the McCarthy and Stone group.

The Blue Plaque to commemorate an incredible entrepreneur was unveiled on May 15, 1988, at Saxon Heights in partnership with McCarthy and Stone and Torbay Civic Society former chairman Mrs Ena Hocking.

Few people today even recall Mr Wolston, yet when learning of his importance to Torbay, I gave numerous talks to local groups concerning his many business ventures, when elected chairman of Torbay Civic Society.

Mr Wolston was a remarkable entrepreneur. Born in London, his family origins were in Staverton, Devon.

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Having qualified as a lawyer at Furnivals in London, he moved to Torbay in 1829, setting up a solicitor's practice in Brixham.

Investing widely in a number of property deals, he built his home overlooking the town and called it Parkham Wood.

He bought an acre of land at Furzeham and built a Windmill - the stump of which we can still see at Galmpton, but after discovering clay and iron and ochre nearby, this eventually led to him shipping huge quantities of iron ore to the ironworks at Cyfarthfa in South Wales.

His clay made earthenware jars, sewage pipes, firebricks and tiles yet ultimately it was the by-product ochre, when sold to fishermen as a sails preservative that led to 'red sails all around the world' that was his break through.

His new product - red lead paint - a proven rust preventative for any cast iron and quite unique. Now bridges, railways, aqueducts, ships and engines and, of course, armaments like huge guns or small firearms, all benefitted from the new product.

It made Mr Wolston very rich but as with most entrepreneurs he would not stop, being determined to create a first rail link from Churston to Higher Brixham which was to be his nemesis.

By now a public notary, clerk to the Harbour and Market Commissioners, secretary to the Torbay and Brixham Harbour of Refuge and Dock Company and even a commissioner of the Dartmouth and Torquay Turnpike Trust, Mr Wolston was still working as a solicitor.

With little time or perhaps no interest in railway regulation, it was the small print that brought his downfall, after discovering tax was payable on all rail tickets.

Now the South Devon Railway Company sued him in court for losses and this made him bankrupt.

He was also legally battling another man of Brixham, as he had no patent covering ochre and Mr Calley, another man of vision, used the material for de-fouling ship keels.

Eventually, Wolston lost everything and then fled Brixham into obscurity, when only after his death in 1883 did we learn his formal assets were just £62.10.0d.

Today, our Blue Plaque - only visible at the end of the drive to Saxon Heights - sponsored by McCarthy & Stone saw them also produce a double-sided A4 leaflet, still obtainable from us, unlike our normal full-colour, double-sided pamphlet, as used in our general Collectors Series.

The amazing Mr Wolston, after three decades in Brixham, left us and the world so much, yet today he is rarely remembered.

Fortunately, the plaque at Saxon Heights, the leaflet and one road was named in his honour -  Wolston Close - in the Furzeham with Churston ward which remain the only visible memorials.

The McCarthy & Stone leaflet entitled Richard Walter Wolston (1799-1883) can still be obtained by sending stamps valued 50p plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 1 Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ1 1DE.