'The Father of Paignton' recognised by three blue plaques

Joseph Bulmer

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

Born in 1839, George Soudon Bridgman left his home in Torquay to move to London and eventually returned in 1864 to work at Harvey Brothers (Builders) in Torquay until he achieved his architectural articles.

Now he set up his own architect's practice at Paignton where he rose to be become a master mason.

Although no Blue Plaque specifically honours George Bridgman, he was so important to Torbay that Torbay Civic Society put his name on no less than three Blue Plaques.

He appears on the St Marychurch Town Hall plaque - albeit with an error, Bridgeman not Bridgman - unveiled on the corner of Manor Road on land donated by Robert S S Cary.

The plaque and its literature, out of print, came courtesy of the Rotary Club of Babbacombe and St Marychurch and when unveiled in November 1986, it came with the approval of Torbay Borough Council long before listed by English Heritage.

The second building carrying George's name is the Gentlemans' Club today the Paignton Club on its Esplanade.

That plaque came courtesy of Paignton Club and the literature was sponsored by the Federation of Small Businesses.

Held on December 22, 2003, that unveiling was carried out by myself and Torbay mayor Nick Bye.

The third plaque quoting George was at Brixham Town Hall.

He was still young when building the town hall in Palladium style, with a rear theatre.

Our plaque to Brixham Theatre and John Slater at the front wall, includes George S Bridgman - local architect, unveiled by Betty Slater and her son in 2008.

This man's amazing portfolio of designs also include The Gerston Hotel, Paignton Pier, Masonic premises and even a hall and drill shed plus hospital.

At Torquay, he designed Osborne Crescent, The Market and Wellswood Park as well as many banks and churches including a Wesleyan and Baptist Church.

George even found time to undertake a huge amount of restoration work on properties which included Paignton sea wall.

Yet his most visible designs were always going to be those for Isaac Singer and especially his so-called Wigwam - Oldway Mansion.

George had previously met Arthur Hyde Dendy before he met Isaac and yet both men trusted him incredibly.

With the arrival of Isambard Brunel's 'Gods Wonderful Railway' in 1859, Dendy commissioned Bridgman to design Gerston Hotel which being near the railway station, was to be a focal point for Paignton.

Dendy, a lawyer, had real promotional talent and he even published a newspaper and a number of tourist guides making Paignton at the time more successful than Torquay.

George married Miss E Norman in 1863 and they were blessed with eight children at their Courtland Road home.

Meanwhile, with the local authority then draining the swamp, it wanted a new sea defence constructed to protect the low-lying Esplanade.

By 1867 Mr Bridgman's firm had been commissioned to provide our long Paignton Esplanade still with us today.

With the wall rebuilt, George moved on to design the Victoria and Albert Hotel in Belgrave Road, Torquay, which was where he met Isaac Singer, who had moved from London.

By 1886, Messrs Singer, Lambshead, Bartlett and Couldrey would form a four-man partnership, and then acquired all the land between Winner Street and Paignton station.

Two years later the syndicate - known as the Four Radicals - approached Paignton's successful architect to develop the huge site.

Dellers Supply Stores soon became Dellers Restaurant - the largest commercial building in Paignton - and George even designed the Palace Avenue Theatre for the group.

Having lost his first wife on March 28, 1900, George re-married Eliza (Lizzie) Black, who eventually persuaded him back to the town of his youth, Torquay, in January, 1902.

There they lived happily until his death at age 86 on April 3, 1925.

The sheer enormity of George's projects in Paignton let alone around Torbay, is phenomenal and locally it earned him the title - George Bridgman - The Father of Paignton.

An A3 biography of George Bridgman can be obtained by sending three second-class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to: Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.