Bishop's Blue Plaque destined to grace new five-star hotel

Bishop Henry Phillpotts

Bishop Henry Phillpotts - Credit: Submitted

Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society, gives us the who and how each of Torbay’s Blue Plaques was chosen. This week: Bishop Henry Phillpotts and Bishopstowe

This week the story behind a Blue Plaque that can no longer be found at the site of what was a bishop's home and the Palace Hotel, Babbacombe.

The Blue Plaque honouring Bishop Henry Phillpotts and his house Bishopstowe

The Blue Plaque honouring Bishop Henry Phillpotts and his house Bishopstowe - Credit: Submitted

Only  recently demolished to make way for a new five-star hotel in the next two years, Bishopstowe Villa was built for Lord Bishop of Exeter -  one Henry Phillpotts whose power stretched across an enormous diocese, from the borders of Somerset and Dorset to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

In 1830, Bishop Phillpotts was aged 52 and had two Bishops Palaces in Torbay, one at Babbacombe Road and the other at Paignton, being the representative of the Church of England for the whole Western Peninsula.

He presided over an enormous flock for an amazing 38 years, the most influential man in the West Country, imagining himself at times God on earth.

He survived to an astonishing 91 years old during an era when few people, including his clergy, ever went against his rule.

The Blue Plaque honouring the bishop’s former villa came after a recommendation by one of our committee members, Denis Walton, before eventually the hotel's proprietor Vernon Duker and his managing director Paul Uphill arranged sponsorship.

Torbay Civic Society's pamphlet 'Bishop Phillpotts and Bishopstowe (Palace Hotel)'

Torbay Civic Society's pamphlet 'Bishop Phillpotts and Bishopstowe (Palace Hotel)' - Credit: Torbay Civic Society

Most Read

This event was viewed as prestigious, because today many of those who attended the unveiling are still familiar names from local history.

They include the Rev Hewlett Thompson, the Torquay coroner Henry Sykes-Ball, Peter Frost of Torbay Chartered Accountants Bishop Fleming, Frank Cawson, Torbay Civic Society's own Colonel Elliott and from Torbay Council, Paul Whitehead.

The Blue Plaque was fixed to the internal wall of the Italianate entrance to the hotel and when unveiled at 11am on November 5, 1987. Chairman Mrs Ena Hocking, the Torbay mayor and Mr Uphill formally officiated.

The hotel provided free refreshments for everyone which together with our free pamphlet - sponsored by the hotel with text research done by Deryck Seymour - this must have made for a very pleasant event.

His Lordship the Bishop Henry Phillpotts was an extra-ordinary clergyman as during his long life he had not only sired 18 children but become a substantial religious administrator.

Today husband and wife still lie together, although in separate graves alongisde each other, right inside the lych gate entrance area to the parish churchyard at St Marychurch, Torquay.

Bishopstowe had in truth been a bishop's mansion, being a home suitable to house a very large family.

His Lordship had built the home in the 1840s, a period when all new residences in Wellswood had to reflect an Italianate style, in accordance with laid down strict covenants.

In time the building was much extended and finally was converted into a hotel in 1921.

Now for virtually 100 years the Italianate entrance would survive, until in 1987 we affixed our Blue Plaque with its words of history for all to read.

During the Second World War the Palace Hotel had been used as an RAF hospital and with the German Luftwaffe obviously aware of this, the hotel suffered two bombing raids as bombs were unloaded from aircraft on their return flight from bombing British cities in the North on their way back to their German homeland.

Today, the Palace Hotel as we knew it, has almost been completely demolished with only the central tower - with its Italianate reception hall - remaining.

Having checked, I soon discovered the Saville’s agent, had fortunately removed our plaque prior to the demolition team starting. Having spoken to him, I am confident that it will be restored to its former home once the new five-star hotel is completed in around three years' time.

A Torbay Civic Society pamphlet named Bishop Phillpotts and Bishopstowe (Palace Hotel) is  obtainable by sending stamps to the value of 50p - plus a small stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 1 Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.