Walkabout Torbay with Keith Perry: Excellent museum tells town's railway story

Torbay Weekly

Walkabout Torbay with Keith Perry:

The most significant event in the history of Newton Abbot took place on December 30, 1846, with the arrival of the railway, transforming it almost overnight from sleepy market town to a bustling industrial centre.

Although it's importance as a railway town may have diminished considerably over the years, the connection between the Great Western Railway and Newton Abbot is still felt strongly in the town today and is remembered in the excellent Town and GWR Museum, an essential stopping point at the end of this two-part walkabout.

However, we begin the official town trail (placeify.co.uk) at the war memorial in Queen Street which bears the names of the 234 Newton Abbot men who died during two world wars.

Unveiled in 1922, the Figure of Freedom is sometimes know to locals as ‘Lady with Sausages’.

Opposite the memorial is an Indian restaurant once known as Dagenham House, home of Dr John Ley who sacked the matron of the workhouse in East Street for cruelty and created a better life for residents.

A little further along Queen Street we arrive at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church where the Italian Aller Vale potter Domenico Marucci married in 1890 and across the road, now Costcutter, is the family home of Victorian theatre designer Frank Matcham whose work includes the London Palladium.

The Pharmacy Cafe, formerly Bibbings The Chemist, still has the original Italian mosaic floor and the drugs run of 117 small mahogany drawers and further along, opposite the Richard Hopkins, is the site of Newton’s equivalent of Paignton’s famed Dellars Cafe  - Madge Mellors, where afternoon teas were once served by waitresses in black aprons and white caps.

At the top of Queen Street is another reminder of Newton’s past.

The famous Invertere coat, originally designed for gentleman motorists, was produced here from 1904 and although the factory closed in 1986 the coat is still available.

Union Street was the scene of a full-blooded riot in 1908 when suffragette Emily Pankhurst arrived in town to campaign.

Opposing sides clashed, the suffragettes using their brollies as weapons, and after much fighting Mrs Pankhurst got a police escort back to her Torquay Hotel.

Although the arrival of the railway changed its profile Newton Abbot remains a market town in every sense.

The current market site was revamped in the late 19th century and, with the Alexander Hall - now a cinema - opened in 1871.

A fish market existed until the First World War and was demolished in 1977 but the market hall and Alexandra continue to serve their original purpose.

A farmer’s market also operates in Courtenay Street on Tuesday and Friday and for details of livestock market dates consult the auctioneers’ website at rendells.co.uk

The splendid Passmore Edwards building on the corner of Market Street was gifted to the town by John Passmore Edwards in memory of his mother.

The library here is home to the UK's second largest collection of railway studies books and reference materials after York's National Railway Museum.

We continue our exploration of Newton Abbot via the Town Trail in next week’s Torbay Weekly.