Torre Abbey is undoubtedly the single most important medieval building in Torbay, and although its appearance has changed over the years, it should be on every visitor’s list of things to see.
Founded in 1196 by Canons of the Premonstratensian (!) order they became wealthy landlords adding the ‘quay’ to Torre.
They carried on their business for over 300 years until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.
During the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I, one of the Spanish Armada’s galleons, the Nuestra Senora del Rosario, was captured by Sir Francis Drake and its crew of 397 were imprisoned in the abbey barn – known ever since as the Spanish Barn.
The remains and ruins of the medieval abbey are still here to be seen, but successive owners started to change the abbey into a comfortable home, and in 1662 it fell into the hands of the Cary family.
The Cary family are one of Torquay’s most notable families with a long history and they stayed here right up until 1930 when they sold it to the Borough of Torquay for £40,000.
Unfortunately, as the years progressed the ex-Cary home was in danger of becoming another part of the Abbey ruins and started to look very forlorn, but a restoration project, helped by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has breathed new life into the most important building in Torquay.
A visit to the abbey includes a self-guided tour of the house and its galleries, and also the gardens which include the old abbey ruins.
There is a charge to visit, but you can get a reduced rate if you prefer to just visit the gardens. All the details can be found on their website.
It’s good to see that the buildings have been restored and put to good use, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the main building is largely Georgian in character with an emphasis on art.
If that’s not your thing, then the gardens may well be. They include the ruins of the original abbey and an area given over to ‘Agatha Christie’s Potent Plants’. Every one of these plants has a connection with her novels, and it’s probably worth knowing that over half of her victims were poisoned!
Torre Abbey proves that there was life in Torquay before the railway arrived and is a welcome departure from the other obvious holiday attractions. Try not to miss it.