People have no idea what this rather magnificent colonnaded building is all about

Paignton Club.

Paignton Club. - Credit: Derek Harper / Geograph

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

Having been invited to undertake a presentation about the history of Torbay to the Taunton Civic Society at their hall in Taunton in early 2005, it was only a few weeks later in June they brought a full coach party our area, so that I could officially guide them around Torquay and Paignton where eventually we had afternoon tea at the Paignton Club.

Whether this visit was the inspiration by the late Peter Grafton at the time Paignton Club secretary, to suggest to his fellow directors that year was an appropriate time for them to honour the club by having a Blue Plaque, we shall never know.

What we do know is that it was around the Paignton Club's 120th year, having been founded in 1884 as a private members' club for gentlemen, although actual completion came in 1886.

Now in 2005 with sponsorship of the plaque assured and with the local business lobby group the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) funding the leaflet, the words and proofing were completed before the 15ins aluminium and stoved Blue Plaque was formally unveiled by the Mayor of Torbay, Councillor Nick Bye, on December 22, 2005. 

Having joined the club in 1989, 14 years previous, even then it was impossible for me to recall a time when ladies were barred entry, due to original rules only allowing male professionals - doctors, lawyers and the clergy - as members. 

Indeed, it was not until the 1960s that the so-called 'trade people' were considered for membership, and even then they were subjected to a 'black ball' application process.

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It took a long time before the fairer sex were allowed to enter the premises by the rear door, then only if escorted by a club member.

Today, British law has ensured all these barriers have been removed and now ladies can join in their own right and of course, enter by walking up the steps through the front door.

The unveiling ceremony was very well attended, particularly by ladies living in Paignton who for years had known little about the club, other than it was a place where only 'men visited'.

On the unveiling day anyone wishing to tour all the premises, soon discovered the large snooker room, various committee rooms, a kitchen and a bar plus a front lounge-style reading area where, as with any club, local and national daily newspapers were free to read - in house.

It must have been an eye-opener and quite entertaining for 'sceptical ladies' who would have been pleased to discover no overnight accommodation was provided at the club. 

Finally, a large restaurant room, since widened, doubled as yet another meeting room for larger numbers to be addressed, which was the situation that day.

Peter became escort to anyone wanting to see around the whole premises after the ceremonial unveiling was over.

Then everyone gathered in the main restaurant where, as you would expect of gentlemen, refreshment was served.

Following this, Peter and I then gave a little of the local history of Paignton and this club, which included  mentioning a major Paignton forefather, often referred to as the 'Maker of Paignton',  George S Bridgman. Being a local architect he was the designer of the building.

Lastly, our leaflet provided in conjunction with the club historian and Ron Sims, was given out free for retaining as a commemorative item.

Finally, Peter confirmed that the Paignton Club was one of only a few private members' clubs left in the West Country from Victorian times. Continuing he said: "Until today's plaque was unveiled the external brass plate outside was the only clue to what this building was all about. 

"We know it is often said by people walking or driving past they have no idea what this rather magnificent colonnaded building is all about."

A Torbay Civic Society special four-double sided paper leaflet entitled the Paignton Club may be obtained by sending stamps to value of 50p plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society,  4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.

Torbay Civic Society's leaflet about Paignton Club

Torbay Civic Society's leaflet about Paignton Club - Credit: Torbay Civic Society