Torre Abbey is without doubt the most important historical building in Torbay, and although its appearance has changed from what it was originally designed for, it should be on everyone’s list of places to see.
Not only does a visit offer an insight into how Torquay developed from the time Torre Abbey was founded in 1196, you can also impress your friends by telling them it was occupied by the Canons of the Premonstratensian order. These wealthy landlords were responsible for adding the ‘quay’ to Torre, and were here for over 300 years until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.
During the reign of Henry’s 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 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. In 1662 it fell into the hands of one of Torquay’s most notable families – the Cary family – who 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, completed in 2013, has returned the abbey to something like its former glory.
The abbey can be visited on a self-guided tour of the house and gardens, which means that you can spend as much, or as little, time as you wish.
There are some old parts to the abbey, but is mainly Georgian in character, and refurbished in a way that reflects how the Cary family would have remembered it at the time they invited Horatio Nelson to dinner.
It’s not so much a tour of the Cary family home though, as it doubles up as a museum with interactive exhibits and art galleries. Even the dining table has talking plates.
Outside, the gardens are not just pleasant, but interesting too, and include the remains of the original abbey.
Another aspect of the garden is the intriguing ‘Agatha Christie’s Potent Plants’ border. The famous author used to come to Torre Abbey in her younger years when the Careys were still in residence, and every one of these plants has a connection with her novels, and it’s worth remembering that over half of her victims were poisoned!
Torre Abbey proves that there was life in Torquay before the railway arrived, and as it’s only a short distance from the harbour and sea-front, it’s easy to get to. You can find out all the relevant up to date information from their website.
ORIGINAL POST – APRIL 2018
LATEST UPDATE – OCT 2020