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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Torquay Part 3 Princess Gardens to Pavilion

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas JUNE. 28, 2021

Sticking to the plan of posting the photos in pretty much the order they were taken, I have a handful of shots in Princess Gardens, taken while I aimed for the Pavilion. I have more shots of the gardens taken on my return journey which I will show in the final post.

So this post is an indulgence to celebrate my new favourite building, the Torquay Pavilion which is set at one end of the Princess Gardens. If you know my work, you know my interest in architecture, so this building was both a pleasure to find as well as a disappointment. A pleasure because it is a delight of turn of the century seaside fantasy not unlike the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, but a disappointment because neglect and time have not been kind to this treasure. Although there is a sign attached saying "Closed for Renovation" there is no sign of said renovation, and time is running out for some of the finer parts as far as I can tell.

As you walk along the sea front, the harbour is on the right and the gardens on the left.

In the gardens is a large Ferris wheel which was working and popular, which was really nice to see. The original Ferris Wheel was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. as a landmark for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The generic term Ferris wheel, now used in American English for all such structures, has become the most common type of amusement ride at state fairs in the United States.

Boats large and small. The small ones, this side of the end of the pier. In the bay the Marella Explorer cruise ship.

Above Princess Gardens is the vertical park on the cliff called The Royal Terrace gardens.

Now coming into view is The Pavilion with it's distinctive Verdigris domed balconies. It is currently boarded up and in a poor state of disrepair but does display a board saying closed for renovation. It is a very distinctive and unique building.

The council’s Cabinet has approved spending £75,000 to fund jointly with leaseholder MDL a study of the condition of the empty building and a repair plan with detailed costs.

It has also agreed a framework with MDL and its development company for how to restore the building “as quickly as possible”.

Council leader Steve Darling said the project offered a way to "get our grand old lady back on her feet." Devon Live

The ornate Pavilion with its cream stone walls and green copper roof was built as a theatre and later used as a concert hall, cinema and skating rink, but closed in 2013 after being turned into a shopping arcade.

Built on land reclaimed from the sea and opened in 1912, it was known to admirers in its heyday as Torquay’s Palace of Pleasure and was listed to protect it in 1973. Its last stage show in 1976 and it was then used as a skating rink between 1979 and 1983, then reopened as a shopping arcade in 1987 after restoration.

The Pavilion Theatre was a theatre in Torquay, Devon, England. It was one of the three main auditoriums in Torbay, and during the 1970s differed from the Princess Theatre, Torquay, and the Festival Theatre, Paignton, in that it had plays rather than variety shows during the lucrative summer seasons.

From 1890 to 1930, the Borough Engineer of Torbay, Henry Augustus Garrett, laid out the Princess Gardens, the Terrace Walk, Pier Pavilion and Torquay Pavilion on Torquay seafront. The Pavilion's architect was Edward Rogers, who drew up the final plans with HC Goss. The plans were passed in 1903, but construction did not start until 1911. Part of its site is on land reclaimed from the sea, and it was built on a concrete raft on which a steel framework was erected. It is faced with white tiles made of Doulton's Carrara-enamelled stoneware.

Pavilion music director Basil Hindenberg diplomatically changed his German-sounding surname to Cameron at the outset of the First World War in 1914.

In 1915, the reduced size of the wartime orchestra upset author George Bernard Shaw who complained he had been ‘swindled’ having ‘paid two shillings for Beethoven’.

After attending a concert at the Pavilion in 1913, a young lady accepted a proposal of marriage and agreed to become Mrs Agatha Christie. Following the author’s death in 1976, it was suggested that the Pavilion should be renamed the Agatha Christie Memorial Theatre.

Despite earning an enviable reputation with regular radio broadcasts and annual music festivals, the orchestra was disbanded in 1953.

A campaign by the Friends of the Pavilion (now Torbay Civic Society) ensured that the building was listed as being of special architectural and historical interest in 1973.

Finely sculpted Art Nouveau-style cast iron edges the steps to the promenade deck and the octagonal bandstands or summer houses.

Its central copper-covered dome is topped with a life-size figure of Britannia and two smaller domes on each side bear figures of Mercury.

In keeping with my promise to show the photos in order of the walk, this view below appeared as I circled the Pavilion. So I have added it here. It looks almost Mediterranean to me, it's those palm trees again.

The Pavilion opened on Saturday 17 August 1912 and apart from the foyer and auditorium, it had lounges and a café, all of which were panelled with oak. A municipal orchestra was founded and many famous conductors and singers performed here.

In its heyday, the venue featured celebrated artistes including composer Sir Edward Elgar, pianist Rachmaninoff, singer Paul Robeson, ballerina Anna Pavlova, operatic soprano Dame Nellie Melba, actor Sir Donald Wolfit, entertainer George Formby and comedian George Robey in an era when the Pavilion was renowned as ‘Torquay’s Palace of Pleasure’.

It was proposed to demolish the building in 1973, but it was listed in the same year. It closed in 1976, when it was leased to Rank Organisation and the interior was destroyed in adaptations for various types of amusements, first as a skating rink and in the 1980s as a shopping arcade. As of June 2021, it is closed awaiting restoration; the steel girders which form its framework are heavily corroded. It has Grade II listed status.

While the local politicians decide on their course of action various plants are making their own move.

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