A BRIEF HISTORY OF TORQUAY
Torquay was populated during prehistoric times. The caves of Kents Cavern wee found hand axes dating back 500,000 years have been found, as well as an upper jaw bone believed to be the oldest human remain in Europe!
Fast forward hundreds of thousands of years, and the Roman population that lived here laid offerings to their Gods in the same caves.
The Domesday Book records the picture-postcard village of Cockington Country Park, a traditional country estate with thatched cottages and landscaped gardens still retaining much of its old world charm.
The manor was given to the 'de Cockington' family after the Norman Conquest, who lived there for 281 year.
It was then owned by the Cary family until 1654, when the Mallocks took over the estate for a period of 279 years.
Cockington Manor and its outhouses are now the venue for a tea rooms, Craft Centre, old forge, horse trips and outstanding gardens, wildlife and Ponds. A short walk takes you through the countryside to Torquay Seafront merging the countryside with the shore.
Torquay for the most part still shrouded in deep countryside in the 12th Century. The historic Torre Abbey on Torquay's seafront, was originally constructed as a monastery in 1196, and was at one time the richest in England.
Following the dissolution of the monasteries, it became a private residence and had a number of different owners, before remaining in the Cary family for almost 300 years. It was then donated to the local council.
The town was recognised as a desirable situation to rest and improve one's health in the late 18th Century, when it became popular with naval families during the Napoleonic Wars.
An early visitor in 1794 is recorded as saying: "Instead of the poor uncomfortable village we had expected, how great it was our surprise at seeing a pretty range of neat new buildings, fitted up for summer visitors, who may certainly here enjoy carriage rides, bathing, retirement and a most romantic situation."
However, the principal shaping of Torquay into the tourist destination as we now know it came about during Victorian times. The town had already developed a reputation as a place to convalesce, but in the mid-1800s the arrival of the Great Western Railway, pioneered by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, opened up the Bay to the wider holidaying public. Torquay soon became a favourite location of those unable to make the journey to the South of France.
Grand villas and terraces were built on Torquay's hills, bathing huts were wheeled down the beaches, and the inhabitants of the town were said to have the "highest class" of living.
Amongst the many hotels is of course the boutique Gleneagles Hotel, completely transformed since its name was rendered infamous by John Cleese's Fawlty Towers!
The maritime history of Torquay includes such highlights as the regattas of 1893 and 1894, when the Prince of Wales won the main events with his J Class yacht, and the formidable sight of 113 war ships that were anchored in the bay in 1905. Whilst not as commercial as nearby Brixham, the harbour at Torquay was heavily involved in importing coal and wool from Australia, which was then sent to the mills in the North of England.
Torquay quickly became famed for its watersports, and had the honour of hosting those events for the 1948 Olympic Games, when the Olympic flame was burned in Torre Abbey Gardens. In the Bay today you will see a remnant of the past as three ex-Royal Navy motor launches, converted after the war, now run the Torquay to Brixham ferry route.
During the two World Wars, Torquay was an important base for both British and foreign soldiers. Hospitals were set up to aid casualties from France, Flanders and Gallipoli.
Beacon Quay, now the location of the Living Coasts aquatic zoo, initially sheltered naval seaplanes, and in the Second World War was the site of the embarkations of many soldiers, including thousands of US Army personnel in 1944. Today a monument dedicated to the officers that served in World War II takes pride of place near the Harbour Master's Office.
When the all clear was given for holidaymakers to return to coastal resorts in 1944, Torquay received a flood of visitors!Nowadays the town continues to offer tourists a fantastic trip.