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Torquay History!


Torquay doesn't look like a railway town but its history is closely linked with the railways.

Early 19th century

The beginning of tourism
Torquay owes much to Napoleon. The Napoleonic wars meant that the rich elite could no longer visit abroad and looked for local destinations to visit instead. Torbay, the large bay ringed by the three towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, is ideal as a large sheltered anchorage for ships. It was frequently used by the Channel Fleet which protected England against invasion by Napoleon. Wives and relatives of officers visited Torquay to be near their loved ones in the fleet. After Napoleon was captured he was held on the warship "Bellerophon", nicknamed "Billy Ruffian", in Torbay for two days before being taken to Plymouth and then to St. Helena. Napoleon also helped the prosperity of Torquay in another way. Local smugglers did very good business 'importing' French brandy during the war with Napoleon. Since then smuggling of one kind or another has not completely stopped. In later years Queen Victoria reviewed the entire British Fleet in the waters of Torbay. The mild winter climate and good air in Torquay attracted many visitors who came for health reasons. During the whole of the 19th century Torquay was considered a health resort where the wealthy would come in winter to recover from illness. By 1850 there were about 2000 bedrooms in the small hotels of Torquay. The population of Torquay grew rapidly from 838 in 1801 to 11,474 in 1851.

The 2nd half of the 19th century

The coming of the railways
In the 1840's railway mania hit Torquay. It is difficult for us now to imagine how important railways were to the 19th century. Perhaps the situation was best described by a noted English historian G.M. Trevelyan who wrote: "The railways were England's gift to the world." In fact, a large proportion of the world's trains still roll along tracks manufactured in the last century with the words "Made in Birmingham" stamped on them. The people of Torquay knew that the railways would bring visitors and prosperity and they wanted the railway to come to their town. Finally, in 1848, the station in Torre (some distance from the sea) was opened and Torquay was connected to the world! On a Saturday morning in 1852 a town meeting decided to continue the railway down to the sea - to the harbour. The people at the meeting imagined Torquay as an industrial town, importing raw materials through the harbour and transporting finished articles inland. This decision caused great controversy, and in the afternoon of the same day another meeting was held cancelling the decision of the morning and deciding to continue the railway to the sea but not to the harbour. As a result Torquay kept its character as a tourist town and became the place it is today. The railways also had a great effect on the surrounding towns and countryside. Torquay grew in importance because it a had a railway station but not all towns were so fortunate. Many towns looked on desperately as the trains passed by them without stopping - taking their prosperity with them. These towns died economically. Even the road transport was reduced because so many goods were carried on the new trains.

The 20th century
1902 saw the first advertising campaign to bring healthy visitors to Torquay - rather than people recovering from illnesses. Torquay changed in character from being a winter holiday resort to being a summer holiday resort. Rail traffic increased steadily until WW1. (During WW1 soldiers were brought to Torquay to recover from their injuries.) After the Great War an effective advertising campaign by The Great Western Railway Company was responsible for making Torquay a major resort. The busiest day was on August Bank Holiday in 1938, just before the outbreak of WW2, when 20,000 passengers arrived in Torquay station, followed by 50 trains the next day.

Recent times

After WW2
Since the war tourist patterns have changed considerably. Many more people have the money to travel abroad for their holidays and nearly everyone has a car. This means that fewer visit British holiday resorts but when they do they do usually travel by car. The British holiday has become a touring holiday with visitors staying only one or two days in each place. The visitor does not bother to book a hotel, but prefers to stay at one of the numerous cheap bed & breakfast establishments instead (b&b's). The Beatles song 'Daytripper' is about this form of holidaymaking. In recent years Torquay has become better known abroad and we have received more foreign tourists who usually tour in cars like the British holidaymakers. In fact, many students at TIS return with their families in subsequent years to tour the area.

Quality of Life
But the tourist has been replaced in importance by a new kind of visitor - the one who comes to stay. The Westcountry in general has become an area of strong net immigration. People move from all parts of the country to live in a mild climate in an area surrounding by beautiful countryside and largely free of the crime and social problems of the cities. Many of the new residents are retired folk, but many others are of working age who have simply come to escape city life. The infrastructure is good, the healthcare system excellent, and communications with other parts of the country are also good. So many people have come that it can be difficult to find an adult born locally.