Celebrity reviews of Torbay throughout history... and not all are complimentary!

Babbacombe Bay in Torbay from out-of-copyright 1891 book "Picturesque England".

Babbacombe Bay in Torbay circa 1891 - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It was Dr Kevin Dixon who pointed me to some of the celebrity reviews of Torbay throughout history.

They range from the quite lovely to the ‘we’ll see you in court’ comments from people I had no idea ever visited the area.

Take Beatrix Potter, for example, in 1893 who said: “I did not take to what I had seen of Torquay. I sniffed my bedroom on arrival. It is possible to have too much natural history in a bed. I did not undress after the first night, but I was obliged to lie on it because there were only two chairs and one of them was broken.” 

She would then visit Kents Cavern, made unpleasant observations of the surrounding area and the cows, but was impressed with the caves. 

Shortly after her, came fellow writer Rudyard Kipling in 1897. He seemed to have similar views.

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling - Credit: Getty Images

“Torquay is such a place as I do desire to upset it by dancing through it with nothing on but my spectacles. Villas, clipped hedges and shaven lawns, fat old ladies with respirators and obese landaus.” A landau was a sort of luxury horse-drawn carriage of the time.  

Another writer, Robert Louis Stevenson dropped by in 1865, way before gifting us with treasure maps, one-legged pirates and parrots.

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He wrote of the Bay: “The biting Oriental blasts, the howling tempests, and the general ailments of the human race have been successfully braved by yours truly.”

And this from a man born in Edinburgh! 

George Eliot or Mary Anne Evans - remember that if you are ever chosen for The Chase - popped in to a crowded town in 1868. 

“Torquay is sadly spoiled by wealth and fashion, which leaves no secluded walks, and tattoo all the hills with ugly patterns of roads and villa gardens. Everywhere houses and streets are being built, and Babbacombe will soon be joined to Torquay. We should not come again, for in a few years all the hills will be parts of a London suburb.” 

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens - Credit: Getty Images

Thankfully, Charles Dickens turned up in 1869 having been a regular Devon visitor, especially after settling his parents just outside of Exeter. He seemed pleased with what he found. 

"This is a pretty place... a mixture of Hastings and Tunbridge Wells and little bits of the hills about Naples.

"The town was a place I consider to be an imposter, a delusion and a snare." 

Buffalo Bill in 1904 rode into town and set up camp in a field off Newton Road. He was mightily impressed. 

“It is the prettiest place I have ever seen in my life. It takes the blue ribbon, and I have fully made up my mind when I retire from public life to come here for a winter. It is a corker.

"I have been out on Daddyhole Plain this morning and it is simply splendid; the blue waters of the bay and the giant rocks quite captured me. Torquay is different from any other place I was ever in.”

That comment on retiring here for the winter is a common one but the stark reality of living anywhere in Devon when the cold sets in does change hearts and minds. 

Mick Jagger made this comment in 1964: “Torquay’s a great town. But I shouldn’t think there’s much to do in the winter.”

Reading that, I was reminded of a short conversation I had with Larry Grayson in the early 1980s.

We had been on stage at the Festival Theatre, Paignton, for a fund raiser and had not attracted the same crowds as The Rolling Stones so we were now stood looking back over the Bay, having a cuppa as he reminisced about his success and his love of Torquay.

He had moved there with his adoptive mother. "We loved our house in Ilsham Marine Drive but the winter very nearly finished us both."

I asked if ‘Shut that door’ had come from a Devon winter in Torbay but apparently not. 

They moved back to Nuneaton after a couple of years.

Babbacombe Bay

Babbacombe Bay - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto