The English Riviera

The ‘English Riviera’ consists of the three towns that rest on Tor Bay, Babbacombe, Torquay, and Paignton. Sheltered from the Atlantic’s northerly and easterly winds, Tor Bay has been a popular vacation spot for the English aristocracy. At the turn of the 20th century, the English Riviera’s prominence was greatly helped by the railway. Without the car or plane as the main mode of transportation, wealthy people flocked to the Devon coast for the exuberant culture and relaxing atmosphere. Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890. She grew up around the influx of tourists on bank holidays and in the summers when coaches and trainloads of people filled the quays. Knowing that every grand hotel and house in town was booked, people still came and camped out near Torre Abbey. In fact during the high season, the towns would grow some 25 thousand inhabitants. With the rising demand for real estate, the three towns grew rapidly during the first half of the 20th century. Elegant summer homes and beautiful gardens quickly sprouted in the old fishing villages.

People flocked to Tor Bay for its rich culture in the first half of the 20th century. Whether one wanted to enjoy the water, beach, sports, clubs, or simply relaxing scenery, Tor Bay was the ideal spot in England. There are a variety of beautiful beaches and walks along the illustrious quays and piers.

[Take the Agatha Christie Torquay Walk]

Tor BayThe swimming and diving events held throughout the year attracted hundreds of spectators, especially on the days that the Oddicombe and Leander swimming clubs competed. There were also highly competitive yachting and rowing regattas. Frequent visitors also attended various exclusive societies such as the horse, cricket, tennis, and bowling clubs.

Torquay was particularly well known for its spa culture and evening society. The Marine Spa and Ballroom had medicinal baths as well as daily teas and evening dances. Next door, the Pavilion hosted plays, symphonies and evening balls. During designated ‘shopping weeks’ young female hopefuls flocked to Torquay to shop, fashionably walk the boardwalks, sunbathe on the beaches, and attend evening events. Because this rich culture catered to so many young people, Torquay’s young population during these ‘shopping weeks’ grew exponentially. Furthermore, people came to find love. This quest was often successful because Torquay was known for its matchmaking.
Tor Bay’s cultural decline is closely linked the plane and car. As the rest of England, but more importantly Europe, became more accessible, Tor Bay’s tourism greatly diminished. Visiting foreign countries for brief holidays became easier and easier, making Tor Bay’s beautiful beaches less exotic than those on the mainland of Europe. Furthermore, the local council failed to protect the historic housing districts, hotels, and societal buildings paving the way for more affluent but private summer patrons who were significantly less in number. The famous Marine Spa and Ballroom closed down in 1971 due to various accidents and improper sanitation. Finally, in the late 1970s’ as the English youth culture shifted dramatically, the Pavilion was converted into a shopping mall because it was difficult to attract the same number of young people that once dominated the town. Nonetheless, Tor Bay has remained affluent. However, the town no longer promotes the same kind of youth culture it did in the first half of the century. Instead, Tor Bay has yielded to the demands of private homes and vacations.Norman Houses

© Copyright Christopher Chanock 2007


Well, no, I haven’t. The sailing’s all right and the scenery and the service and food – but there’s no matiness in the place, you know what I mean! What I say is, my money’s as good as another man’s. We’re all here to enjoy ourselves. Then why not get together and do it? All these cliques and people sitting by themselves and giving you frosty good-mornings and good – evenings – and yes, very pleasant weather. No joy de viver. Lot of stuck-up dummies!
-Evil Under the Sun