Colonel Robert Smith's home renamed Redcliffe Towers by locals
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
This, my second plaque after being elected chairman of Torbay Civic Society in 2001, came after we approached the owner of Redcliffe Hotel, Stephen Twigger.
The idea of any commemorative plaques had been abandoned three years before, but as a new chairman, the concept was worthy of being resurrected.
Mr Twigger liked the idea and agreed the hotel would sponsor the plaque and its publication and we then agreed the hotel would become a main base for most of our events.
The creator of Redcliffe House was Robert Smith, born in 1787 to James Smith - one time private secretary to the Marquis of Hastings and Mary his wife, born at Bridgeland Street, Bideford.
With close Scottish connections to the Smiths of Braco and Methven in Perthshire, his father was a lawyer.
By age 13 Robert had produced two watercolours of Weare House, Gifford, having been commissioned by the Earl of Fortescue.
Today those paintings are held by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.
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Having joined the East India College in 1803, Robert under the influence of its art instructors, now developed his extraordinary artistic talents.
Now he would join the Bengal Engineers, where his technical talent added to his artistic skill ensured he would design bridges and roads and even a lighthouse before taking private commissions for large houses and designing classical palaces for the Indian Rajah of Murshidabad.
One officer said of him said: “Smith is by far the best draftsman I am acquainted with.” It was a comment which when noted by Lady Nugent, wife of the Commander in Chief Sir George Nugent, saw her husband immediately arrange for the still young Smith to accompany the couple on a wide tour of Upper India during 1812-1813, after which her ladyship then wrote 'Robert's artistic views of Benares, Lucknow, Kanpur are so beautiful that I know every place immediately'.
But the heat of India affected Smith's health and soon he was requesting permission to be posted to Penang, a convalescent island and eventually travelled to China.
By 1819 he had come home, but then returned to India to immerse himself in a hybrid form of Hinduism and Islam which could explain how he took an Indian wife, although little was written about this period.
Major Smith left India as Lieutenant Colonel and finally came home in 1832.
Whatever happened to the Indian wife is not known although we know he married Julia Adelaide Vitton de Claude in 1840 and together they produced a daughter - who died in 1843 - and a son Claude before he lost Julia in 1850.
Distraught at losing his wife, Smith now with Claude spent 22 years in isolation until retiring from the army as a Honorary Colonel aged 63.
With only one other relative, his sister Mary in Torquay, Robert Smith came here and found Preston, with its outcrop of granite on a lane with no dwellings.
Now he designed and built his home while residing with his unmarried sister at Warren Road.
His plans produced 'Redcliffe', a home the locals renamed Redcliffe Towers.
Father and son with many servants - all given quarters - moved in during 1864 but when Mary died in 1872, he returned to her home staying there until his death on September 16, 1873.
Today, he lies alongside Mary in the Teignmouth cemetery.
Redcliffe Towers was eventually purchased by the Singer family and later turned into a convalescent home for sailors and soldiers before, in 1902, becoming a small hotel.
Eventually acquired by Samuel Twigger, Stephen's father, in April 1979, our plaque to honour Redcliffe and Colonel Robert Smith was unveiled by the Mayor of Torbay, Councillor Robert Pudner, on October 22, 2001 before all attending were provided with free refreshment and, of course, some history.
The Torbay Civic Society pamphlet for Colonel Robert Smith and Redcliffe is obtainable by sending postage stamps to the value of 50p plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 1 Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ1 1DE.