Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Oldway still pulling crowds

Torbay is not just about fabulous beaches, it has some pretty interesting history too.

One of the most fascinating days out you can spend on the English Riviera is at Oldway Mansion, a little oasis of calm and splendour tucked away behind the main road linking Torquay to Paignton.
A visit here is a trip to the the place where Isaac Singer, whose name adorns sewing machines around the world, entertained his colourful friends and where his son, Paris, danced with the beautiful Isadora Duncan.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Around 1871 the Fernham estate in Paignton was purchased by Isaac Merritt Singer, the founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The old buildings on the site were demolished and he commissioned a local architect, George Soudon Bridgman[1] to build a new mansion as his home. Isaac Merritt Singer died on 23 July 1875, shortly before work on the original mansion was completed.
Paris Eugene Singer, Isaac Singer's third son, supervised the alterations at Oldway Mansion between 1904 and 1907. The rebuilding work was modelled on the Palace of Versailles, and the eastern elevation of the building was inspired by the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The interior of the building is noted for its grand staircase made from marble and balusters of bronze. The ceiling of the staircase is decorated with an ornate painting based on an original design for the Palace of Versailles by the French painter and architect Joseph Lebrun. The ceiling is a replica painted by Carl Rossner, who studied the original by Lebrun before creating the reproduction.
Above the staircase there is a large painting entitled The Crowning of Josephine by Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. The original was sold to the French government in 1946 and now hangs in the Palace of Versailles. Today there is a replica of the painting hanging in its place. The reproduction is a colour print which was unveiled in 1995.
The gallery on the first floor is a reproduction of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, and is floored in parquet. The gallery leads into the ballroom, which contains walls of gilt panelling and mirrors. Above the fireplace there is an oil painting of Louis of Bourbon dating from 1717.
Oldway Mansion is set in 17 acres (69,000 m2) of gardens, which are laid out on an Italian theme by the French landscape gardener Achille Duchesne. Beneath the eastern elevation of the building is the maze, which consists of dwarf box hedging and flower beds. To the south of the mansion there is the grotto garden where a waterfall passes over a rocky cave into a pool below. The grounds of the mansion contain many sub-tropical plants and shrubs.
Opposite the main entrance to the mansion is a large round building known as The Rotunda. This was built in 1873, and was used originally as a horse riding pavilion and exercise area. Isaac Merritt Singer gave this building the nickname of "The Wigwam".
Paris Singer is noted for his love affair with the dancer Isadora Duncan, who died in a road accident in 1927. Following the end of their relationship in 1917, Paris became an American citizen and went to live in the United States. This was done partly for tax reasons, and after 1918 Oldway Mansion was no longer the permanent home of the Singer family.
During the period of the First World War from 1914 to 1918, Oldway Mansion was transformed into the American Women’s War Relief Hospital. The Rotunda was converted to house rows of beds for the wounded soldiers being brought back to England from the trenches of France and Belgium. Queen Mary visited the hospital in November 1914.
Oldway Mansion became the Torbay Country Club in 1929. During this period tennis courts and a bowling green were added to the grounds that can still be seen today.
During the Second World War from 1939 to 1945, Oldway was used in the war effort by housing RAF cadets training to be aircrew. In 1943 Oldway was damaged in an air raid, along with many other buildings in Paignton. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the mansion in 1943 .
Paignton Urban District Council purchased Oldway Mansion from the Singer family in 1946 for the sum of £45,000. It is estimated that around £200,000 was spent on building the mansion. Today the building is used mainly as council offices and for civil marriage ceremonies. There are also offices for the BBC local radio station Radio Devon in the building. The mansion and its grounds can be visited free of charge by members of the public, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Torbay. The mansion has a small museum with exhibits linked to the building's history, including antique Singer sewing machines. Oldway Mansion is a Grade II listed building.
In recent years the cost of maintaining the building and gardens has increased considerably, leading to the suggestion that they should be sold and turned into a casino or apartments. This suggestion has been controversial, since local residents argue that the mansion was sold at a reduced price on the understanding that it would be open to the public.

Entry to the house is free and there is a small exhibition in the foyer

No comments: