Tower built to protect Paignton's so-called Palace of Osbern

Torbay Weekly

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

The manor house, its castle walls and tower at Bishops Place, Paignton, is locally referred to as 'Coverdale Tower' although in practice it was built as part of the fortifications to protect the so-called Palace of Osbern - Bishop of Exeter in the time of William the Conqueror in 1072 and named simply the Bishops Tower.

Our early blue plaque erected on the tower was sponsored by Torbay Council in 1987 although due to it being west facing, it faded quickly to such an extent that many locals would regularly write to us to get it renewed.

As mentioned previously, the responsibility and maintenance of any plaque becomes the responsibility of the sponsor once formally unveiled.

This particular blue plaque was originally put up by my predecessor, Mrs Ena Hocking - who with the help of Torquay Council and Torbay Museum had also produced the first pamphlet the Bishops Tower Paignton written by civic society members Frank Cawson and Denis Walton and printed by the borough council, although today long out of print.

In 2006/7 and in partnership with the late Tony Moss as chairman of the Paignton Preservation and Local History Society - now Paignton Heritage Society - he and our society decided to restore the plaque and issue a new pamphlet which was written and produced by local historian Mrs Peggy Parnell, giving far more detailed history of how the 'Rev Miles Coverdale' connection came into being and why it still takes precedence in people's memories when referring to the Bishops Tower.

The new pamphlet more fully reflects the complete history of the Palace and its tower - we titled it 'The Bishops Tower (Coverdale Tower) - circa 1050' - and it is still available.

The restored plaque was formally launched by Tony Moss and myself on April 20, 2007, when large numbers of both societies and the public attended.

After the unveiling everyone was invited to tour the tower, still looked after by volunteers of the Paignton Heritage Society.

A goodly number of us having firstly picked up their copy of the new publication, then made a short walk to a local cafe where light refreshments were purchased and further presentations made.

The ongoing problems between Protestants and Catholics during the 15th century saw the Rev Miles Coverdale choose to spend much of his time abroad, although remaining a supporter and friend of Thomas Cromwell no less.

Eventually it was Cromwell who convinced King Henry VIII of the need for an English translation of the Tyndale's official Bible which he entrusted to Coverdale and which was finally published on October 4, 1535.

The Rev Miles Coverdale, as Bishop of Exeter during 1551-1553, was of course in charge of the huge diocese from Somerset right down through Devon and Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly.

Some locals appreciated it was Coverale who translated much of the Tyndale Bible which led to them honouring him on the formal town crest and even naming roads and properties after him including - Coverdale Road and Coverdale Hotel.

By 1553, Queen Mary had stripped him of the Bishopric and even for a time considered he should be executed.

Our wording on the blue plaque still says: "Fortifications of the Palace of the Bishops of Exeter - Lords of the Manor of Paignton from 1066 to 1549" - yet makes no mention of Coverdale.

Throughout the reign of Queen Mary, he continued to preach the gospel in English and as legend still goes, it was Queen Mary that imprisoned him in the Tower of Paignton and only after his wife intervened, using her Royal connection to Denmark did the family manage to be given safe passage out of England to Denmark.

By the 1700s the tower was derelict, used only to store cattle until in 1909 the Exeter Diocese finally took over its deeds and built the vicarage within the exsiting castle walls.

The Bishops Tower (Coverdale Tower) circa 1050 pamphlet is still available and may be obtained on sending two second class stamps and a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.