Torquay- how others see us

(Last Updated On: August 13, 2019)

The Scottish poet Robert Burns famously wrote, “O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.” Of course, few people below the Roman Wall understood what he was on about so it was necessarily translated as, “O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.” It’s a good motto, so here’s what other visitors and residents have written about Torquay over the years:

“I have been out on Daddyhole Plain this morning and it is simply splendid; the blue waters of the bay and the giant rocks quite captured me. Torquay is different from any other place I was ever in.” William F Cody – Buffalo Bill (1846-1917)

“The people of Ellacombe had better renounce the name of religionists, and call themselves ‘alcoholists’.” The Vicar of Ellacombe, the Reverend CE Storrs (1895)

“Torquay is such a place as I do desire to upset it by dancing through it with nothing on but my spectacles. Villas, clipped hedges and shaven lawns, fat old ladies with respirators and obese landaus.” Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

“Torquay’s a great town. But I shouldn’t think there’s much to do in the winter,” Mick Jagger (1964)

“Lo! time shall come, when on yon throng’d parade
Shall groups assemble, swains and many a maid,
And elder dames and sires, in converse gay,
Breathing sweet health fresh-wafted from the bay”. Poet TW Booker (1815)

“Making my way along the barrack-like prom, I passed a mournful-looking man who was sitting outside The Galley sandwich bar, in a kind of concrete corridor overlooking the harbour, staring at his bacon and brie baguette (the baguette is the new cheese roll in Torquay). ‘It’s these ‘daily specials’ – they never seem to change’, he was saying to his wife. Something of a metaphor, I felt. The reason that he didn’t hurl it into the sea and demand something truly special has, I suppose, much to do with our English seaside holiday tradition: take what you are given and shut up. The attitude still prevails. Buying postcards in Harbour Lights, one of the hundreds of gift and beachware shops, I asked the owner if he sold stamps. He fairly jumped for joy as he said proudly, ‘No, I don’t.’ I hastened on.” The Daily Telegraph (2000)

“I did not take to what I had seen of Torquay. I sniffed my bedroom on arrival, and for a few hours felt a certain grim satisfaction where my forebodings were maintained, but it is possible to have too much Natural History in a bed. I did not undress after the first night, but I was obliged to lie on it because there were only two chairs and one of them was broken.” Anstey’s Cove was, “curiously pretty but rather too much of a show place”, while St. Marychurch was, “a most dreary suburb”, Beatrix Potter (1893)

“A funny, tawdry place, on the sea, like a pub picture of China gone crazy, only its got speedboats & plenty of sea & diving boards & this afternoon a cruiser, god knows where that came from. And we shall spend some blue sea mornings here.” Author Malcolm Lowry (1931)

“Quel Bon Pays” – “what a lovely country”. Napoleon Bonaparte (1815)

“I don’t know whether you have ever seen Torquay. It is sadly spoiled by wealth and fashion, which leaves no secluded walks, and tattoo all the hills with ugly patterns of roads and villa gardens. Everywhere houses and streets are being built, and Babbicombe will soon be joined to Torquay. We should not come again without special call, for in a few years all the hills will be parts of a London suburb.” George Eliot – Mary Anne Evans (1868)

“But this year the biting Oriental blasts, the howling tempests, and the general ailments of the human race have been successfully braved by yours truly”. Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894).

“From rock to rock upon the glooming quay,
The town was hushed beneath us: lower down
The bay was oily calm; the harbour-buoy,
Sole star of phosphorescence in the calm,
With one green sparkle ever and anon
Dipped by itself, and we were glad at heart”.

Poet Laureate Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

“The whole town was swarming with holiday-makers, only they did not seem to be making holiday. One doesn’t, of course, expect any overt gaiety from English people at play. I did not anticipate that vivacity, that careless, wayward charm which makes even the shoddiest French seaside resort so stimulating. But all the same there was something unduly oppressive in the empty, questing faces of the crowds that shuffled and shambled through the sunless, hot but steep and windy streets. They had nothing to do, it seemed, because there was nothing for them to do”.The Spectator Magazine’s James Pope Hennessy (1947)

“’Twas at Torquay in Devon, land of stream and cream, merry maids and proper men, tall fellows and bold and of cider stronger and sweeter than your Norman can make for all his cunning; and this girl was a play-actress, rosy as the apples, and white as the cream, and soft as the air, and high-spirited as the folk, of that enchanted dukedom” . Aleister Crowley (1917) after losing his virginity to a “Torquay theatre girl” at the age of 15.

“I have read of the close proximity of the overly rich and the very poor that exists in many cities, but I believe I speak the truth when I say I have seen more luxury since being in Torquay than in all my previous life, and I know I never saw such pitiable poverty before. Half-clad children with hungry pinched faces, and grown up beggars with something worse than either hunger or squalor upon their countenances are to be seen everywhere. All pity for such poor folk in England!” Canadian traveller Isabella Cowen (1892).

“More architectural murders have been committed here than in all of Agatha Christie’s novels. The splendid Victorian Marine Pavilion (sic), once right on the seawall, was destroyed in the 1960s to make way for another concrete bunker, called Coral Island, which for the past few years has been a boarded up, graffiti-covered eyesore.” The Daily Telegraph (2000)

All ye lovers of the picturesque, away
To beautiful Torquay and spend a holiday
‘Tis health for invalids for to go there
To view the beautiful scenery and inhale the fragrant air,
Especially in the winter and spring-time of the year,
When the weather is not too hot, but is balmy and clear”.

The world’s worst poet William Topaz McGonagall (1825-1902)

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Kevin Dixon went to Audley Park – now Torquay Academy – and South Devon College when it was at Torre. After studying at Birmingham City University, he returned home because there’s nowhere else quite like Torquay. He then became involved in community and adult education, completed a PhD at Exeter University , and started writing about the weird and unknown side of town. He now Chairs Healthwatch Torbay and is involved in health and social care in the Bay.