First staycations - when railway brought Victorian visitors to Bay

A view of Paignton beach with bathing machines, bicycles and horse drawn vehicles from the Tully Col

A view of Paignton beach with bathing machines, bicycles and horse drawn vehicles from the Tully Collection (PR10126) - Credit: Torquay Museum

History column with Amy-Lee Haynes:

As the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic linger on for another summer, Brits are once again limited with their holiday options.

With this, we will undoubtedly see flocks of tourists gracing our beaches whilst on their 'staycations'.

This is not the first time that a historic event has prevented British holidaymakers from heading further across the globe to have a well-deserved break.

In fact, this is entirely reminiscent of the origins of Torbay as a holiday hotspot.

Although many of the more affluent members of the population were visiting seaside towns from the mid-18th century, Torbay was not yet considered a popular holiday destination until the early 1800s.

Following the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars in 1803 and the consequent blockading of France by the Royal Navy, the richer members of society could no longer travel abroad.

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Instead, British holidaymakers set their eyes towards something more local.

Torbay became an idyllic location during these times particularly due to its mild climate, with one visitor exclaiming: "It is not England, but a bit of sunny Italy".

The Victorians believed that this type of climate and a large dose of fresh air was beneficial to those recovering from illnesses and surgery making Torbay an ideal location for convalescent homes, offering visitors a relaxing stay and plenty of rest.

The sheltered harbours of Torbay were also used by the Channel Fleet whose job it was to protect Britain against Napoleon's forces meaning it was a safe seaside location.

The fleet brought naval officers to Torbay along with their wives and children.

This led to increased popularity of the area and so more and more large villas were built, many of which are still around today.

Following this, tourism vastly increased with the opening of Torre railway station in 1848, allowing greater accessibility which ultimately led to the rapid growth of Torbay as a seaside holiday resort.

More and more of the population could now venture across the country to seek refuge from the stresses of industrialised life.

This summer, Torbay's beaches will be filled with a multitude of accents as families seek tranquillity after the difficult time we've all experienced during the pandemic.

These scenes of escapism echo the very roots of tourism in the area.

When one can no longer jet off abroad, it's necessary to find rest and relaxation closer to home.