Wednesday 6 August 2014

Historic Heart of the English Riviera - Katherine Roberts

You can travel halfway around the world to see historic sites, yet it’s all too easy to ignore what is on your own doorstep. Since my home town of Paignton has just been rebranded the “Historic Heart of the English Riviera”, I thought I’d take a walk with my camera and see how much history I could find.

Paignton is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Sometimes written Peynton or Paington, its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon settlement Paega's Town. It was originally a small fishing village, but became a popular Victorian seaside destination with the arrival of the railway link from London. A huge Paignton Pudding (a tradition dating back to the 13th century) was baked for the occasion, causing a riot as everyone scrambled for a piece. These puddings are still baked today to mark special events.

Bishop's Tower door (street level)
Most of the grand hotels along the seafront date from the Victorian period, but the oldest part of town is centred around the Parish Church and nearby Bishop's Palace, so I'll take you there first. The Bishop's Tower, complete with its blue plaque, provided inspiration for these decorative street bollards found in the original part of town:

Behind the tower, turning left along Church Path will bring you to the ruins of the Medieval Bishop's Hall, believed to date back to the 13th century.

excavation of the Bishop's Hall - Parish Church in the background

A plaque beside these ruins tells the history of the excavation, so I'll include it here... though you might need a magnifying glass to read it!

Coming out of Church Path, you'll see a narrow entrance on your left into the wickedly twisty Crown and Anchor Way, where the town slaughterhouse used to be (and where if you are in a car your Satnav will insist upon directing you to find out how good a driver you are. WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS ROUTE IN ANYTHING LARGER THAN A MINI IF YOU VALUE YOUR PAINTWORK!). On foot, you can take the safer pavement route past the original Old Family Butcher's shop to one end of:

 Here, you can go antique shopping – some brilliant bargains to be found!

You might like to pause at the Oldenburg Inn for a pint of real ale, before making your way via. interesting independent shops to the other end of Winner Street, where you'll find a plinth with a mermaid on top guarding the junction.

This statue, installed a few years ago as part of a general spruce-up of the town, incorporates Paignton’s heritage as seaside town, zoo, geopark and holiday destination. Here's the mermaid on top from a better angle:

Heading back up Winner Street towards the church, you can take a short walk down Well Street past the funeral parlour (where you will sometimes see a hearse drawn by two plumed black horses). Turn right at the end past a pretty thatched cottage, and you'll come to the old salt marshes where you can find the medieval:

I’d like to show you a picture of the original street door and mullion windows, but there was a white van parked right in front of it so I took this picture of the plaque beside the door instead. For interior shots follow this link: Kirkham House. The house is occasionally open to the public, but best to check before you visit because it was closed when I passed.

So there is a fair amount of history if you look for it among the Victorian and newer buildings, and Paignton is indeed the heart of Torbay at the end of the mainline railway, where steam trains take over to carry visitors down to Kingswear and the Dartmouth ferry. The coastline dates back to Paleolithic times with its red sandstone cliffs and distinctive red beaches, so there is more fascinating history to explore including the picturesque harbour area and Oldway Mansion (home of the Singer family who made the famous sewing machines) - but since it's holiday time, I can't really leave you without a picture of the sea.

This is Paignton Pier taken from an unusual angle at low tide, showing the castle-like Redcliffe Hotel in the background, where author Dick Francis loved to stay. (I am standing on wet sand here, not walking on water, though you can get some strange effects on a misty day in winter!)

PS. That red sand is officially the best sandcastle-making sand in Britain - see you on the beach!


Katherine Roberts writes fantasy, legend and historical fiction for young readers. Her first novel Song Quest won the Branford Boase Award for children's debut fiction. Her latest series is the Pendragon Legacy quartet about King Arthur's daughter, published by Templar Books.

All of Katherine's backlist titles are now available as ebooks for Kindle, Nook, Kobo and Apple i-devices. Prince of Macedonia (part 1 of her Great Horse serial project) is FREE today for Kindle.

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Carol Drinkwater said...

Katherine, I once drove from my home overlooking Cannes and the French Riviera to Paignton. I have never forgotten my arrival as I cruised the esplanade (the Croisette!) into the seaside town, tired but surprised by the natural beauty of the place. I hadn't been there since a childhood holiday with my parents. I remember the palm trees and the gentle evening light. It does indeed seem reminiscent of our French coastline. Cannes was also originally a fishing village that gained notoriety with the arrival of the Victorian English royalty. We don't have the pudding! Thank you for taking me back on the little trip down memory lane.

Katherine Roberts said...

Yes, the palm trees seem to be enjoying our increasingly tropical weather... I have one in my garden!

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