Torquay villa was home of Prince Peter Georgievich of Oldenburg and his family

Torbay Weekly

The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Villa Borghese

The placement of a blue plaque on Villa Borgehese in Ridgeway Road, the Lincombes, Torquay, was an interesting scenario in that it started soon after I became chairman of Torbay Civic Society.

It was the only time that differing owners at the property had contacted me about the possibility of establishing a plaque on the listed property.

When the initial request failed because of cost, it was 10 years later before a second owner - having found the sponsorship - agreed the plaque erected in 2014.

Villa Borghese was one of hundreds of Italianate homes built by the Palk family through its land agent William Kitson, a man with the desire and then power to develop Torquay into what he envisaged would be a Victorian town the 'enclave for the rich'.

He made sure wide roads, gentle gradients and steps to give access to servants were installed across the many hills of Warberry, Lincombe and Vane Hill Road areas.

During a quarter of a century, Mr Kitson used his energy to develop a town suitable for residents and visitors although largely ignored the wishes of Robert Palk of Palk Estates, his sponsor, who wanted for industrialisation and commercial properties.

Because Kitson was a committed churchman, he did build many churches including St Mary Magdalene, St Marks and St Matthias in Wellswood, plus many local government buildings.

Villa Borghese, constructed in the 1830s for the Capel-Cure family, became a setting for their sculptures and paintings brought back from their 'Grand Tour of Italy' while waiting for a new home in Shropshire to be completed - ultimately named Badger Hall.

Their house mirrored the Borghese's properties in the City of Rome where gardens, parks and sculptures also carried this name.

Rev Edward Capel-Cure had at one time served as chaplain to Queen Victoria although was now retired.

By the late 1840s, this first family had moved out and we can only assume the villa was like many of that era, often leased out by owners.

Yet by July 1850, Prince Peter of Oldenburg and his wife Princess Therese and their eight children stayed with us for many months in the secluded terraced villa hidden in the Lincombes.

Eventually, other Russian families came to Torquay including the Romanoffs, who on spending holidays here, chose to lease and stay at the mansion Villa Syracrusa on Daddyhole Plain Road.

This property, sitting 200ft above sea level, enjoyed magnificent views of Torbay and many members of the Russian aristocracy including HIH the Grand Duchess Marie of Russia and stayed here in the years to 1867.

Syracrusa eventually became the Torquay Hydro and later the Overmead Hotel, before today having been extended many times, it is called the Headland Hotel on Daddyhole Road.

Villa Borghese, meanwhile of the 20th century, is converted into large apartments with its additional wing added.

It was during early 2014 that a second owner - a civic society member - arranged for the necessary blue plaque sponsorship to honour the villa and its most famous resident, Prince Peter Georgievich of Oldenburg.

That saw me contact the Oldenburg public house on Winner Street, Paignton, to ask if they would like to have use of the advert space on our official pamphlet - knowing that the inn had changed its name from The Globe to The Oldenburg, in recognition of the prince's visit to Torquay having been nominated to the throne of Denmark in September 1854 - exactly 160 years previous.

The plaque was finally unveiled on July 31, 2014, by the chairman of Torbay Council Mrs Jane Barnby, together with the owners and members of Torbay Civic Society and the public present.

Following the formal unveiling, we then viewed the ground floor and inner floor areas and garden before being served refreshments and hearing a little of the historical background of Borghese.

Torbay Civic Society's full-colour leaflet Villa Borghese and his Imperial Highness may be obtained by sending two second class stamps and a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA