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Torre Abbey - Torquay

Torre Abbey - Torquay directions
Please Note: As a result of major funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund the Abbey will be closed until 2008 as it goes through a major refurbishment.

Torre Abbey is Torquay's most historic building. It has weathered many a century and, as all things old and beautiful, has a wonderful history to tell. The Abbey itself is set on a splendid piece of land with colourful gardens, lovely green lawn with scattered trees and even a tropical palm house.

Before modern development one would have a direct view over the bay but even now just a short walk through the local gardens and sports facilities will lead you to the sea front.

Torre Abbey was founded in 1196. It's first mask was that of a monastery. It housed the premonstratensian monks of the order of canons and by the 15th century it was the richest monastery of the order in the whole of England.During the reign of Henry V111 the monasteries faced dissolution and in 1539 the fate of the Torre Abbey monastery was sealed.
The Abbey was adapted as a private residence and for hundreds of years it housed many of Torquay's leading citizens. The Abbots of Torre, the lords of Torre Manor, the Cary family and most recently the mayor of Torbay all boasted Torre Abbey as their official residence.

The most notable residents of the Abbey were the Cary family who lived there for 268 years, from 1662 up until 1930.The Carys, who have helped to develop modern Torquay, were recusant Catholics. They built a secret chapel under the roof of the west wing and continued to worship there.In 1779 they converted the former Abbots Hall into a chapel and this then served as the parish church for local Catholics until 1856.

The coastal road to Torquay was only built in 1842. Before the railway some rich visitors would come by sea on paddle-steamers, which made regular trips along the coast from London.Interestingly the Cary family opposed the building of the road as it would spoil their beautiful views and would also allow people to get closer to their home.

Torre Abbey comprises two Grade 1 listed buildings and is scheduled as an ancient monument of national importance. It is also the most complete medieval Abbey ruins in Devon and Cornwall, with it's spledid gatehouse dating back to 1380.

Unfortunately at the back of the Abbey the church lie in ruins but on the west and south sides of the cloisters the stonework does rise to roof level and this gives a clearer picture of how it would have once looked. The barrel vault over the chapel dates back to the 15th century, while underneath visitors can see the undercrofts which would have been used as service rooms.

The early monastic 'Tithe Barn' is one of Britain's most complete early medieval barns. In 1588 the barn was used to house 400 Spanish prisoners from the Spanish Armada and so it is now aptly named 'The Spanish Barn'.

The apperance of the Abbey today owes to the fact that in 1741-3 the south wing of the building, which faces the sea, was redecorated to the classical style of the time. Some years later a mock Tudor folly was built on the eastern side for use as a brewery.

In 1930 the Abbey was purchased by Torquay Borough council and is today used as Torbay's municipal art gallery and as the official residence of the mayor of Torbay. The gallery owns numerous oil and watercolour works from the 18th-20th century. The most recent aquisitions by the gallery are by more recent artists, and it is nice to see that the Abbey is still building on it's already splendid history.

There are Pre-Raphaelite works such as Holman Hunt's "The Children's Holiday" and Burn-Jones' drawings of "The Planets". Water-colours by William Henry Hunt and Thomas Miles Richardson are also included.

The exhibition at the Abbey has a fine collection of 18th and 19th century English glass, silver and pewter. One in particular that captures the imagination of many enthusiasts around the world is the Brian Reade collection of Torquay and Watcombe terracottas, which has been supplemented by donations from the Torquay Pottery Collector's Society. Another feather in the cap is the collection of drawings, plaster casts and sculptures by Frederick Thrupp, which is the only one of it's kind to have survived.

But by far the most popular exhibition at the Abbey is the Agatha Christie collection. Dame Agatha Christie was a world renowned crime-writer and many of her personal effects are on display here. The room is outfitted in a close approximation of her study as it once would have looked. After her death her family donated her Remington typewriter, some original manuscripts, an oil painting of Christie as a young woman, some family photographs and much more.

When most people think of Torre Abbey they immediately think of the gardens and art gallery etc. But not many people realise that there is a darker side to this building, no less than three ghosts wander the corridors of Torre Abbey. The first is a headless monk from the days of the monastery, the second is an 18th century lady and the third is supposedly a Spanish lady searching for her long lost love amongst the Spanish Armada troops imprisoned here.

Apart from the colourful gardens and the museum the Abbey may be used for private services such as christenings, renewal of wedding vows and funerals.

A thorough tour of the Abbey should take approximately 3-4 hours and there are refreshments available in the Victorian kitchen, which has plenty of space.

There is still much to do after your visit with a Pitch and Putt on Torre Abbey green, tennis courts directly opposite, for those with an abundance of energy, and the beach which is a very short walk from the Abbey.

All in all a tour of Torre Abbey is a wonderful glance into the history of Torquay and of it's most historic building.It is a must see for anyone who is interested in art and culture.

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Torre Abbey - Torquay

Torre Abbey - Torquay

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