Torquay ([1849])

J. Bastin
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Devon West Country Studies M SC3306
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CD 49 DVD 7
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Knight, Charles.The land we live in . London: C. Knight, 1848-50. Vol.III. pp. 83-84.Nearly all the way from Teignmouth the stranger will have observed, not without surprise, the number of large and expensive residences that have been recently erected on almost every available (and many an unpromising) spot. Many appear to have been begun without a proper reckoning of the cost, and are standing in an unfinished state; many that are finished are to let, but more are occupied. As Torquay is approached, the number rapidly increases, until on the skirts of the town there appears, as it has been appropriately termed, " a forest of villas." What old Fuller calls " the plague of building," seems to have alighted here in its strongest form. But whatever may be the case further off, it is said that a villa of the best kind is hardly ever completed and furnished in the immediate vicinity of the town before a tenant is found ready to secure itNo other watering-place in England has risen so rapidly into importance as Torquay. Leland indicates its existence without mentioning its name. Speaking of Torbay he says, " There is a pier and succour for fisher-boats in the bottom by Torre priory." What it was in the middle of the sixteenth century it remained, with little alteration, to the end of the eighteenth. " The living generation," says the Route Book of Devon, " has seen the site where now stand stately buildings, handsome shops, and a noble pier, with a busy population of 8000 souls, occupied by a few miserable-looking fishing-huts, and some loose stones jutting out from the shore, as a sort of anchorage or protection for the wretched craft of its inhabitants." The same work suggests a reason, in addition to the causes that have led to its unrivalled popularity, for the remarkable increase of houses :-" The increase of buildings and houses here has been, perhaps, greater than in any other town-[watering-place is meant: Birkenhead and other commercial and manufacturing towns have, of course, increased to a much greater extent]- in the kingdom. This, in a great measure, may be attributed, in addition to its beauty of situation, and salubrity of climate, to the natural advantages it possesses for building. The whole district being nearly one large marble quarry, the renter or possessor of a few feet square has only to dig for his basement story, and the material, with the exception of a little timber, which is landed before his door, for the completion of his superstructure, is found." Torquay lies in a sunny and sheltered cove at the north-eastern extremity of the noble Torbay. Lofty hills surround it on all sides except the south, where it is open to the sea. The houses are built on the sides of the hills, which rise steeply from the bosom of the bay. Thus happily placed, the town enjoys almost all the amenities of a more southern clime: the temperature is mild and equable, beyond perhaps that of any other part of the island. In winter the air is warm and balmy; while in summer the heat is tempered by the gentle sea breezes; and it is said to be less humid than any other spot on the coast of Devon. It suffers only from the south-western gales, and they serve to clear and purify the atmosphere. Dr. (now Sir J.) Clarke, in his celebrated work on "Climate", gives it the first place among English towns as a residence for those whose health requires a warm winter abode; and his decision at once confirmed and widely extended the popularity it had already attained. He says, " The general character of the climate of this coast is soft and humid. Torquay is certainly drier than the other places, and almost entirely free from fogs. This drier state of the atmosphere probably arises, in part, from the limestone rocks, which are confined to the neighbourhood of this place, and partly from its position between the two streams, the Dart and the Teign, by which the rain is in some degree attracted. Torquay is also remarkably protected from the north-east winds, the great evil of our spring climate. It is likewise sheltered from the north-west. This protection from winds extends also over a very considerable tract of beautiful country, abounding in every variety of landscape; so that there is scarcely a wind that blows from which the invalid will not be able to find a shelter for exercise, either on foot or horseback. In this respect Torquay is much superior to any other place we have noticed. . . . The selection will, I believe, lie among the following places, as winter or spring residences: Torquay, the Undercliff (Isle of Wight), Hastings, and Clifton,-and perhaps in the generality of cases will deserve the preference in the order stated." After such an encomium from one of the most celebrated physicians of the day, Torquay could not fail to obtain a large influx of visitors-and those of the class most desiderated. Torquay is now the most fashionable resort of the kind. It has both a summer and a winter season; and the commencement of the one follows close upon the termination of the other. Hither come invalids from every part of the kingdom in search of health, or in the hope of alleviating sickness: and hither also flock the idle, the wealthy, and the luxurious, in search of pleasure, or of novelty, or in the hope of somehow getting rid of the lingering hours.[…] The appearance of Torbay is so tempting, that we can hardly suppose the visitor, however little of a sailor, will be content without having a sail on it. He should do so, if only to see Torquay to most advantage. From the crowd of meaner buildings which encircle the harbour and extend along the sides of the cove, rise the streets and terraces of white houses, like an amphitheatre, tier above tier. Behind these are receding hills, spotted at wider intervals with gay and luxurious villas, each in its own enclosure, and surrounded by dark green foliage. The picture is in itself a beautiful and a striking one- and it is the more impressive from the associations and feelings that arise on looking upon such a scene of wealth and refinement. [Text may be taken from a different source or edition than that listed as the source by Somers Cocks.]
Wood engraving