Explore a town with a heart that's rich in history

Red sandstone walls lead to Coverdale Tower

Red sandstone walls lead to Coverdale Tower - Credit: Keith Perry

For those of us who grew up in Paignton in the 1950s and 1960s it has been painful to witness  the town’s decline in recent times.

Happily there are signs of the regeneration of a resort that holds so many happy memories for generations of locals and visitors alike.

Two smart new hotels on the seafront, the possibility of investment in shabby Station Square, the restoration of Torbay Cinema - the UK’s oldest - and, hopefully, the demolition of the eyesore Crossways precinct are either underway or on the cards.

With so many negative points grabbing the headlines in recent years we often tend to overlook the fact that behind its faded facade is a town with a heart that's rich in history - and one which is well worth exploring on foot.

This week’s walkabout starts at the Totnes Road end of Winner Street with its bronze mermaid sculpture. The street was originally Wynerde Street which means ‘Vineyard Street’ as during the Middle Ages vineyards lined the slopes above and it developed as the town’s main trading area in the mid 16th century.

Along the street look out for a number of wide coaching inn archways which led to stabling for the horses and refreshment for the driver.

Only one inn remains in the street today - the Oldenburg which can be traced back to the late 17th century. The Globe Inn, a little further up on the opposite side of the road, is now closed but probably predated the Oldenburg.

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Turn right into historic Church Street where clues to its grand past can be seen in the architecture and striking ironwork and carved wooden overhangs close to the coaching inn arch that leads into Crown and Anchor Way and the rear of The Coach House, formerly The London Inn. Another historic inn, The Victoria, used to be across the road and is now a Chinese restaurant.

Walk down the slope beside the former Starkey, Knight and Ford brewery, now flats, and on your right you will come to a pathway leading to Paignton Clink - which, as the civic society plaque tells us, was a medieval lock-up for petty offenders last used in 1867.

Retrace your footsteps to Church Street and enter the grounds of the Parish Church of St John the Baptist through the lych gate.

Worth walking to the rear of the church, one of the largest medieval parish churches in the county, and note the grooves in the walls of the North Chancel door where the archers used to sharpen their arrows!

Running parallel to the front of the church is Palace Place, once the site of the market and fair, granted a charter in 1294 by King Edward I.

There are two information boards here relating, among other things to the Medieval Bishop’s Hall and its excavation in 2003.

Walk down Church Path and turn right where you will the tower built by Bishop Osbern in 1072 and later known as Coverdale Tower after Bishop Miles Coverdale, Bishop of Exeter between 1551 and 1553, who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English.

On your left is Bishop’s Place and on the wall of the surgery you will see a blue plaque recording the fact that this row of houses was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Medical Officer, Architect and Chief Engineer overseeing the building of the South Devon railway.

Palace Avenue boasts some fine examples of Victorian architecture and if you look for Barclays Bank you’ll see another blue plaque, dedicated to mathematician and physicist Oliver Heaviside who lived here from 1889 to 1897.

Walk through the Palace Avenue Gardens and you will arrive at Palace Avenue Theatre, built in 1890 and still very much a working theatre.

I recommend  the meticulously researched Paignton Heritage Walk written by Judy and Alan Rowse which is a longer and far more detailed version of my walkabout. Enter ‘Paignton Historic Quarter’ into your search engine to find it.