Torquay’s best-loved historic building — now closed for redevelopment. Details:
This photo taken in 1913
The graceful proportions of Torquay Pavilion evoke the aesthetic ideals of a gentler era and celebrate the spirit of Edwardian seaside architecture. For a century this landmark building has been at the hub the town’s cultural life and today it stands as a fine example of Victorian design recalling Torquay’s splendour of yesteryear... but now sadly closed.
The Torquay Pavilion was opened in 1912 as a ‘Palace of Pleasure’ to attract more visitors to the
resort and to create a venue in which to hear music, see plays and meet friends. It is one of the few remaining examples of Victorian seaside architecture, a style dedicated to the late 19th and early 20th-century holidaymakers’ appetite for novelty and entertainment.
Designed by Major Henry Augustus Garrett and built not on the pier, as many seaside pavilions were, but adjoining it, The Pavilion combines a mix of Classical and Art Nouveau styles to create a splendid triumph of decorative frivolity.
It was in the early 1890s that a local authority committee submitted a report suggesting the building of a pier complete with bandstand, shelters, landing places and a pavilion. However, at the ratepayers’ meeting it was voted to build a pier without the pavilion.
Torquay was still, at that time, without a public building suitable for full-scale concerts or large assemblies and, in 1896, a competition was organised for designs for a pavilion. Edward Richards won the prize — 50 guineas — after the entries had been judged by the vice-president of the Institute of British Architects in 1897.
Controversy was to dog the scheme, but as hoteliers and traders continued to urge the need for a venue for both summer and winter entertainment, Richards, with H C Goss, drew up further plans which were approved at a public meeting in 1903. But Richards was not to see his plans come to fruition, for he died later that year.
Discussion continued, with the issue clouded by the matter of a proposed new town hall, also badly needed to replace the small outdated public offices of 1851 at the foot of Abbey Road. Ex-Mayor Col. Charles Spragge CB, proposed in 1909 that a town hall should be built simultaneously with a pavilion and this proposal was accepted by the council. Subsequently, the proposed plans were used as a basis for the design of a place of entertainment to hold 2000 people. Work began in 1911, some 20 years after the idea of a pavilion had first been discussed and ten years after they had been agreed.
The Pavilion was built on a site formed partly from land reclaimed from the sea, on a concrete ‘raft’ weighing 1000 tons and on which a framework of steel stanchions and girders was erected. The facing tiles, in Doulton’s carrara enamelled stoneware, were a very popular building material at the time and were probably used in order to make The Pavilion appear like a white palace. The impressive central copper-covered dome is topped with a full-size figure of Britannia, a symbol of patriotism and imperialism, presented by the then Mayor, Cllr. C T Towell, JP. The two smaller domes at each side of the entrance are surmounted by copper figures of Mercury, messenger and god of eloquence. There is very fine cast ironwork in the ‘art nouveau’ style edging the steps to the promenade deck and the octagonal bandstands (or summerhouses) are also edged with fine cast ironwork in the Victorian decorative tradition.
The other decorations on the exterior — swags of flowers, urns topped with pineapples, scrolls, ferns and cherubs’ heads — reflect the Victorian feeling for ornamentation on every available surface.
When it was formerly opened in August 1912, contemporary newspaper reports in both the local and national press were enthusiastic. The Pavilion was headlined as ‘Torquay’s Palace of Pleasure’. Inside there was a foyer and an auditorium, with lounges and a café; an elegant atmosphere prevailed, with oak panelling, moulded plasterwork, a curved balcony, stained glass and potted palms, together with an open-air promenade and tea garden.
The town then took the important step of founding a municipal orchestra of 25 players, with Basil Cameron as musical director. This was disbanded during the war, but after the war the same musical policy continued. Classical music began to play an increasing part in the life of the town, with morning and afternoon concerts in a ‘Winter Orchestral Season’.
Residents of the town still speak enthusiastically of the series of Torquay Music Festivals which brought famous conductors, composers and artistes to The Pavilion, including Sir Henry Wood, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Malcolm Sargeant, Constant Lambert, Dame Nellie Melba, Solomon, Mark Hambourg, Dame Ethel Smythe and many others. The orchestra made its first BBC radio broadcast from The Pavilion at Christmas 1932, and continued to broadcast regularly from then on.
The inter-war period was the heyday of The Pavilion. After the 1940s it was used for plays, concerts, bingo and roller skating. Scheduled for demolition by Torbay Council in the early 1970s, it was only saved by the energetic and enthusiastic efforts of the Friends of The Pavilion, led by Mrs Sheila Hardaway together with Mr Ian Handford. In 1973 it became a Class II listed building of special architectural and historic interest. It is due to be upgraded to Class II*.
Its position has made The Pavilion a focal point and centre of attraction in the town for residents and visitors alike. Re-opened in 1987 as a shopping centre after extensive award-winning restoration work that respected its elegant past, The Pavilion still stands architecturally as it was first conceived.
See the Pavilion as it looked in 1948 on this old film:
• One hundred years ago the site of The Pavilion was under water and the shoreline was at the front of the Torbay Hotel. The land that now extends to the marina was reclaimed from the sea and The Pavilion built using a special concrete designed to create a foundation 'raft' weighing 1000 tons.
• Originally called the "Cucumber House" at the time of its conception in 1899, The Pavilion became known as 'The White Palace' due to the white tiles that cover the exterior. As a Grade II Listed Building, the tiles are also protected and to replace them today with the same Royal Doulton 'Patent Carrara Ware', a type of terracotta tile, would cost £110 each!
• The original cost of building The Pavilion was £16,942 4s 4d and ticket prices were two shillings (10p) for seats in the Grand Hall or Circle in 1912.
• The Pavilion was, from 1979 to 1983, operated as an ice rink — although no water or freezing techniques were used. The skating surface was 'Glice', a Belgian invention and made in France from high density ethylene polymer that gave similar qualities to conventional ice but was soft, dry and of ambient temperature.
• Amazingly, Torquay Council wanted to demolish The Pavilion but local opposition saved the day.
—JA/EH. This version © Jonathan Abery 2003-2014
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The Pavilion used to offer specialist, independently-owned shops.
Here is a brief description of what they did and where they are now:
• Le Petit Gourmet Café & Tea Shop - closed permanently
• Therapia Holistic Healthcare & Aromatherapy Gifts
Therapia specialises in holistic healthcare products. http://www.therapiaonline.com
New address: The Kiosk (adjacent to TKMaxx), Fleet Walk Shopping Centre, Torquay
or 92 Shiphay Lane, Torquay TQ2 7BZ. Mobile 07817 454390.
• Magnetic Care
Therapeutic magnetic and copper jewellery. Palk Street adjacent to the Tourist Information Office. Freephone 0800 298 4932. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Blush/Wicked Wick http://www.handcarvedcandles.co.uk
• The Towel Shop
Fleet Street. 01803 380755
• Mr Gill’s Collectables
Winter Gardens, Fleet Walk Shopping Centre. 01803 299548
• Traditional Chinese Medicine, Paignton
Winter Gardens, Fleet Walk Shopping Centre. Tel. 01803 293930.
• Harbour Breezes
Handmade Leather crafts personalised while you wait. Shop on Palk Street.
Last update May 2014. Please report any bad links to email@example.com
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