Over 800 Years of History at Torre Abbey
How about a little history, a lot of beauty and some family fun? Check out Torre Abbey, just 20 minutes drive from Galmpton Touring Park. It’s been around since 1196. Back then it was home to the Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré. The Premonstratensian order was also known as the White Canons.
The White Canons remained here for three and a half centuries until the Dissolution of the Monasteries (thanks to Henry VIII). The Cary family bought the property in 1662 and lived here for 268 years. Then in 1930, after a global economic crisis that affected the Cary family, Commander Henry Cary sold the Abbey to Torquay Borough Council.
Over the years, the Abbey was an art gallery, a museum, and a home to the Royal Air Force during World War II. In 2008, with £6.5 million in grants, the Torbay Council which now owns the Abbey, renovated the ancient structure and turned it into an amazing place to visit, the largest surviving medieval monastery in Devon and Cornwall.
There are 122 rooms on 20 different levels. If you’re up for it, there are 265 steps. You can experience life in the 12th century. You will understand the austerity of the life of the 12th century Canons who in spite of their plain living had servants. This was an extremely wealthy Abbey, so wealthy that these wealthy Premonstratensians built the first real harbour in Torquay.
Torre Abbey is so old that every part of it has a long and often colourful history. For instance, the Spanish Barn where musical events now take place and where there are temporary exhibits, used to be a Tithe Barn in medieval times. This is where taxes paid to the Abbey were stored. Stored? Yes, because the taxes were paid in grain, hay and such farm produce.
There’s even a ghost here. When the Spanish Armada was captured by Sir Francis Drake, 397members of the Spanish Armada were imprisoned here, including the fiancée of a lieutenant and she died here. Her ghost is said to haunt the barn and the surrounding area.
The gardens are a tour in themselves. They are immense and startlingly beautiful. There are gardens within gardens. One example is the Agatha Christie garden. This Potent Plants Display is based on the plants that Torquay’s Queen of Crime included in her mystery novels. Then there is the Children’s Medieval Garden that uses a medieval design. It even has a hand made wattle fence. There are medieval plants, turf seats, willow tunnels , sensory planting and a fountain.
This just begins to cover the magic of Torre Abbey. There is the the largest surviving collection from a Victorian sculptor’s studio on site. Frederick Thrupp’s widow gave most of his surviving work to the town and it remains as part of the fine art collection along with William Blake’s illustrations for the “Book of Job” and Edward Burne-Jones cartoons, among others.
While the Abbey is currently closed until February 28, it will be open from February 16 to 22. When it opens on February 28, it will be open from Wednesday to Sunday until June 30, 2015. Meanwhile, there is a series of Friday afternoon lectures on the history of Torbay by John Risdon running from February 6 until March 27. As well, there are workshops on February 17 and 19, from 11:00am until 4:30pm, where you can get creative and learn how to make lightcatchers.
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