All About Torquay

Now a popular holiday resort, Torquay’s origins can be traced back to the Stone Age. From pre-historic caves to famous novelists, discover the history of this beautiful coastal town…

In the beginning

The town’s inhabitants resided in the coastal caves, now known as Kents Cavern. The caves are one of Europe’s significant Stone Age sites, with rocks dating back 400 million years. Unsurprisingly, Kents Cavern is a key tourist attraction and visitors can take a guided tour to learn all about the 15-year-long Victorian excavation, led by local archaeologist William Pengelly, that unearthed the caves’ history. Tourists can continue their voyage of discovery, with a trip to Torquay Museum where more than 500 stone tools are on display – many of which were found in the excavation.

What’s in a name?

Torre was the town’s ancient name and means “weathered rock outcrop.” It took its name from the remains of the historic quarry, which you can still see on Tor Hill Road. Quay was added at a later date due to the town’s increased fishing activity.*

19th century developments

Torquay’s major phase of development occurred in the 1800s. The Palk family were notable residents and owned much of the land in Torquay during this era. It was under the Palks that a new harbour was built in the early 19th century which increased Torquay’s importance as a fishing town. It was in the second half of the century however, that Torquay came to be known as a popular leisure destination. As seaside holidays became fashionable among the upper classes, Torquay’s mild climate made it one of their preferred holiday spots.

The Osborne Hotel also has its roots in the 19th century developments. It was Sir Lawrence Palk, 4th Baronet, who commissioned the construction of Hesketh Crescent; the grade II listed Regency crescent building we call home. Completed in 1848, it’s a fine example of 19th century architecture and is said to be one of West England’s most elegant crescent buildings.

Notable buildings

Aside from Hesketh Crescent, there are many significant historic buildings in the town. Torre Abbey was founded in 1196 as a monastery. Dissolved in 1539 during Henry VIII’s Reformation, today it’s home to four floors of art exhibitions, heritage and interactive displays.

A mile from the seafront, you’ll find Cockington Court – a stunning manor house built in the 16th century. Now it’s more commonly known as a thriving crafts centre with over 20 studios. The house is open to the public along with its beautiful walled and Tudor rose gardens.

A little bit of mystery

Torquay’s most famous resident is probably crime novelist Agatha Christie. Born in the town in September 1890, her childhood home provided much inspiration for the setting of her popular crime mysteries. Fans of the author can discover more about how Torquay influenced her work with a walk along the Agatha Christie mile, which includes the Princess Gardens and Beacon Cove.

Experience the wonder of Torquay yourself with a stay at our seafront hotel: check availability.

*Source: Travel Wessex.

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History of the Regency Crescent at Meadfoot

The Osborne hotel is set in the centre of an elegant Regency style crescent that was built in 1848. Commissioned by Sir Lawrence Palk, the handsome Grade II listed building, now known as Hesketh Crescent, took two years to construct and created 15 private terraced houses overlooking the stunning sea views of Meadfoot Beach in Torquay.

The construction of the opulent 4-storey homes, designed by the Harvey brothers, was triggered by the expansion of the railway, which was predicted to bring an influx of visitors and tourists to the area. Indeed many people were attracted to the stunning location not just because of its accessibility but because of the mildness of its winters, the health-giving properties of the air and the unspoilt beauty of the scenery. The Crescent was leased to the architects from the outset, paying £1,000 for each house leased for 99 years and £6 per annum ground rent.

The rich and famous came to live at Hesketh Crescent because of its growing reputation as ‘the Rivera of England’ – it was a relaxing spa town and a suitable place to convalesce. Charles Darwin lived at number 2 when he began writing his famous book on evolutionary theory ‘On the Origin of Species’ and engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel spent his summers holidaying there. Philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts rented 1 Hesketh Crescent for twenty years and William Kitson, known as ‘the maker of Torquay’ worked tirelessly to transform the area into what the Western Morning News described as the “most opulent, the handsomest, and the most fashionable watering place in the British Isles”.

Hesketh Crescent’s central house, situated at number 8, became the Osborne hotel in 1853. Later the hotel was expanded to occupy the five houses it consists of today and by the late 1920s the building had incorporated electric lighting, gas fires and lifts to all floors. Guests enjoyed tennis lawns and secluded sea bathing and by 1958 rooms with private bathrooms and toilets became available too. Today the Osborne is a 32-bedroom hotel that allows visitors to experience the spectacular views and historic beauty of South Devon in opulent surroundings.

The Crescent has since been converted into a number of luxury timeshare apartments alongside the classically-styled hotel. The stately building and the trees that surround it fall under a Grade II listed preservation order to ensure the spa resort retains its historic character and beautiful design.