Reminders of Paignton's history and the Singer legacy

Torbay Weekly

When the tide is low, the mile-long stretch of beach from Preston’s Marine Parade to Paignton Harbour is by far the longest in the Bay and along the way are several reminders of the history of the town and the Singer legacy in particular.

The Redcliffe Hotel dominates the beach frontage and, as a Torbay Civic Society blue plaque reminds us, was originally the residence of Colonel Robert Smith “eminent engineer, artist and architect in India.”

Smith died in 1873 and four years later the house was bought by Paris Singer who sold it in 1902.

It was converted to a hotel a year later. In the early days of aviation Paignton Green was used as an aerodrome and on the site of what is now The Boathouse bar and restaurant was a hangar, housing Avro biplanes from 1911-14 and, after The Great War, Avro sea planes.

These would be wheeled down the nearby slipway and taxied to Paignton Pier where they took tourists on pleasure flights around the Bay at a cost of 10shillings in pre-war days and 25 shillings post war.

Across the Green is another Singer link - The Palace Hotel, originally Steartfield House and the home of Washington Singer, one of Isaac Singer’s sons.

It was sold in 1925 and became the social hub of the town as the Palace Hotel.

During World War Two, it was requisitioned for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Paignton Pier was opened in June 1879 and originally had a pavilion and snooker hall which was destroyed by fire in 1919.

Approaching the harbour you are confronted by the imposing Paignton Club. The club was formed at a meeting in 1882 at The Esplanade Hotel, now The Inn on the Green.

Local architect G.L.Bridgeman, who designed Oldway Mansion, was commissioned to draw up the plans and the committee accepted a quote of £1,350 from C and R E Drew to build the club house you see today.

It wasn't until 2000 that women were allowed to become full members!

The harbour itself, something of a hidden gem, buzzes with activity throughout the year.

It has a history of wooden boat building which has long since ended but sailing and rowing feature strongly as does the shellfish industry with the famous Browse Brothers’ crab factory on the south quay now the Blue Sea Food Company with its headquarters on the Brixham Road business park.

Completed in 1838, the harbour was take  over by the local authority since 1935 and you'll find another Civic Society blue plaque on the wall of the Harbour Light pub and restaurant in memory of the first harbour master.

Stella Gale was not only the first woman to be appointed harbour master in the UK but she was only 21 when she took the job in 1921.

The daughter of a well known local shipbuilder, Stella continued in the role until 1941.

Weather permitting, most of the promenade cafes along the route remain open throughout the winter and have been doing exceptional business with so many people enjoying this particular walk to get out and about during lockdown and tier two restrictions.