Case Study Site 12 – Babbacombe to Torquay

Case Study Site 12 – Babbacombe to Torquay

1.         Location

The case study extends from Oddicombe Beach to the north of Torquay, southwards along the Torquay frontage to Hope’s Nose, a distance of approximately 4km. 

2.         Why was the Case Study Site selected?

This particular site was chosen as a case study on account of Torquay’s importance as a seaside resort with a rich architectural heritage and, adjacent to it, a number of popular bathing beaches, including Anstey’s Cove and Oddicombe Beach, which have contained an interesting array of seaside properties of architectural quality.  On account of the numerous images of this coastal frontage, the approach to this case study has been to examine changes to the built environment since the late eighteenth century (both physical and human influences) and to illustrate how, over this time period, artworks can improve our understanding of changes to the built environment. 

3.         Summary of the Geology, Geomorphology & Coastal Processes

Much of the coastline and hinterland along this part of the South Devon coast consists of sandstones of the Permian Period.  However, at Torquay itself, the headland is composed of the Old Red Sandstone Group of the earlier lower Devonian epoch; in addition, there are outcrops of limestones, mudstones and slates of the Torbay and Tamar Groups.  The Devonian limestones are resistant to erosion, whilst the softer mudstones and other outcrops form the recessed coastline of Torbay itself and extend southwards.  The rates of cliff recession have been slow over the last 100 years although some eroded materials do contribute to beach-forming sediment, which is contained within the bays. The general direction of sediment transport is south to north around Torbay, with inputs from eroding or unstable cliffs, which give the beaches the typical reddish pink sand colour. 

Although cliff erosion is slow, there is a wide distribution of relic or inactive coastal landslides along this part of the South Devon coast.  Some of these ancient landslides are susceptible to reactivation following increased toe erosion or changes in groundwater; these might be anticipated to a greater extent as a result of climate change and sea level rise. 

4.         Risks to Heritage Assets along the Case Study Frontage

Because of the resilient nature of the coastal cliffs around Torquay, risks to heritage assets are relatively low.  In some of the adjacent bays historical properties have been affected over time by cliff instability, and this has led to the redevelopment of some sites.  For this particular case study, therefore, the attention is focused on historical and primarily anthropogenic change, which is illustrated in detail through the following case study examples. 

5.         How can historical Imagery inform heritage risk management?

The town of Torquay is almost entirely of the nineteenth century, the original hamlet having expanded rapidly at the time of the Napoleonic Wars and soon after.  Calling itself ‘the Queen of Watering Places’, Torquay expanded rapidly with grand terraces and ornate villas extending along the coastal frontage of the Bay.  The coming of the railway in 1848 led to even more rapid development and the establishment of the town as a grand Victorian seaside resort.  At Babbacombe to the north, cottages ornés were built above the bay and on the coastal slopes, and many of these cottages feature in early engravings (e.g. Figures 12.12 and 12.14).  A large number of images provide a chronology of the development of locations such as Babbacombe, and show how historic buildings have been adapted or lost over time.  The case study is intended to provide assistance on how historical artworks, such as watercolours and engravings, can be utilised to provide a more complete historical environment record. 

6.         Key Issues – What can be learnt from this site?

Torquay is the largest seaside resort to be considered within a case study for the CHeRISH project.  Because of its significance and popularity, together with the adjacent villages and bays, there is a rich art record which can be interrogated to describe patterns of development over the last 200 years.  The best images could be usefully added to the Historical Environment Records in order to provide illustrations of heritage sites extending back long before the days of photography. 

Interpreting Historical Artworks

Figure 12.1: ‘Torquay’ by William Daniell RA. Aquatint. Engraving. 1825.

This attractive house was Marine Villa, which is present on John Wood’s Plan of ‘Torquay and Environs’ of 1841, and was then occupied by a Dr Parkin.  In 1853 it appears on the ‘Plan of the Town of Torquay, from the Ordnance Survey, Being a Companion to the Torquay Directory’.  Edward Cockrem’s directory records the house was occupied by Sir Henry Bold Hoghton, Bart (Cockrem,18511).

On the First Edition Ordnance Survey Country Series, surveyed in 1861, (see Figure 12.2) it appears as Marina, which survived with extensions independently for a time, for it appears on the Second Edition County Series surveyed in 1904.  It was finally subsumed into the ever-growing Imperial Hotel (which had opened in 1866 after the Marine Villa’s neighbour ‘The Cove’ was demolished in 1863 to make way for it) and as shown on the Third Edition County Series surveyed 1933.  Elements of the ornate façade survived at least until the Second World War. 

This view demonstrates Daniell’s skill and accuracy as both a topographical and architectural artist and shows a scene that has changed dramatically over the last 200 years. 

Figure 12.2: The Ordnance Survey Map (1860-61) shows the expansion of the Imperial Hotel adjacent to ‘The Marine Villa’ or ‘Marina’ which is shown in Daniell’s view (Figure 12.1).

© Crown Copyright and Database Rights 20016.  Ordnance Survey 100022695.

Figure 12.3: An aerial photograph showing how development has changed the environment today.

Image Courtesy of Torbay Council.

Figure 12.4: A view of ‘Vane Hill Torquay’ by Alfred Robert Quinton in watercolour (c.1920).  In the foreground is the Pavilion, which was first designed by E. Richards in 1897, adapted by the Borough Surveyor, H. A. Garrett, and opened in 1912.  Quinton produced numerous detailed views for the postcard publishers, J. & F. Salmon, in the early twentieth century.

Image Courtesy of J. Salmon Limited of Sevenoaks.

Figure 12.5: ‘Waldon Hill, Torquay’ also by A. R. Quinton.  The line of Rock Walk can be seen on the hillside; all the villas on the hill pre-date the Pavilion.  Alongside the North Quay are the Coal Bunkers. 

Image Courtesy of J. Salmon Limited of Sevenoaks.

Figure 12.6: This photograph of ‘Vane Hill’, c.1910 is a similar view to that painted by Quinton in Figure 12.4 and illustrates his eye for detail. 

Private Collection.

Figure 12.7: In this hand-tinted colour postcard, c.1920, many of the details shown of the buildings in Quinton’s postcard (Figure 12.4) are visible here but in this view are in colour.  (It should be noted that hand-tinted cards such as this do not have the reliability of original colour photographs)

Private Collection.

Figure 12.8: A present day view of the harbour and Vane Hill showing the developments that have replaced the Victorian villas.

Figure 12.9: ‘Torre Abbey, Devon’ by William Daniell, 1825.  This aquatint engraving shows Torre Abbey, which is the Georgian-looking building to the left of the picture, showing the two side wings built 1741-42; trees obscure the medieval gatehouse, and the large medieval ‘Spanish Barn’, which should lie to the left (west) has been omitted.  The New Inner Harbour in the foreground, built to Rennie’s design, was completed c.1815, but Torbay Road was not cut at the bottom of the cliff face until 1840.  The pedestrian Rock Walk rising from the harbour to cut across Waldron Hill is the diagonal visible up the cliff.  The ‘watchtower’ lies to the south above Cary Parade.  This appears on the OS 1:500 Town map and the 1:1250 County Series surveyed 1860-61.  Remnants may have survived in the wooded area behind the Torbay Hotel.

Figure 12.10 shows David Addey’s watercolour of Daniell’s view painted in 1990.  Torre Abbey appears to be obscured by foliage.  A multi-storey car park now partially obscures the Pavilion.  The present day view is shown in Figure 12.11.

Image Courtesy: Alamy Stock Photo

Figure 12.12: ‘Babbacombe’ by George Rowe, c.1826.  Sadly, most houses have gone, certainly along the beach.  The high flagstaff, up on the downs, is certainly on the 1887 OS Map, though the lower one (on Half-Tide Rock) is not.  Of the up-slope houses the lower one is probably ’The Vine’, present in some form as ‘Glen Sannox/Babbacombe Court’ until late twentieth century demolition.  The upper one could, therefore, be ‘The Babbacombe Cliff House Hotel’ (Babbacombe Cliff on the 1933 OS) which may have been built by William Nesfield in 1878.

Figure 12.13: ‘Babbacombe’ by T. Fidlor, c.1830s.  The leftmost building on the shore was a public house in 1887 and has been subsumed into the Cary Arms Hotel; the building above it is ‘Beach Cottage’.  The middle building on the shore present in 1887, had gone by 1904.  The one above with a smoking chimney is recognisably the listed Rose Cottage; it now has a slate verandah but it has been artistically ‘moved’ down slope.  The cottages orné cannot be identified in this location.  The flagstaff on Half-Tide Rock may have been a fishing aid at this location, having none of the visibility of the one on the downs, signalling shoals and tides by hoisting various buoys – it only appears to have stays, and no halyards/running rigging to the mast top.

Figures 12.14-12.17: This series of views plot the changes at Babbacombe in the nineteenth century.  The two engravings (top and middle) show the gradual alteration or replacement of the marine villas on the shore.  The tranquil view of ‘Fisherman’s Bay and Babbacombe Rocks’ by Edward William Cooke RA, painted in 1875 portrays this coastline in Pre-Raphaelite geological detail.

Image Courtesy of Martyn Gregory Gallery, London.

Full details of the ‘Babbacombe Downs Conservation Area – Character Appraisal’ (2005) can be found here:

The Changing Torbay Coast

Figure 12.18: This detailed watercolour of ’Oddicombe Beach’ by Samuel Edward Kelly, c.1910, shows development beneath the precarious red sandstone cliffs.  Debris from previous cliff falls litters the shore in the foreground.

Image Courtesy: Private Collection.

Figure 12.19: This postcard shows the beach and the cliff in about 1970.  The jointing in the sandstone cliffs is clearly visible and suggests the potential for further cliff falls. 

Image Courtesy: Private Collection.

Figure 12.20: The watercolour by artist David Addey (1990) shows development on the cliff top and coastal defences in the bay below. 

Image Courtesy of David Addey.

Figure 12.21: A photograph of Oddicombe Beach c.1900 looking eastwards.  A cliff fall has occurred from the face of the bluff in the centre of the view.

Image Courtesy of Torquay Library.

Figure 12.22: The massive cliff fall onto Oddicombe Beach on 3rd April 2013 at Ridgemont House. 

Image © Dr N. Csorvasi 2013.

Figure 12.23: Another massive rockfall at nearby Anstey’s Cove is recorded in this photograph c.1900.

The assistance of Hal Bishop and John Tucker of Torbay Council in the preparation of this case study is gratefully acknowledged.

7.         References

  1. Cockrem, E., 1851.  ‘Plan of the Town of Torquay, from the Ordnance Survey, Being a Companion to the Torquay Directory’.