THE coming of the railway to Paignton and the grand opening of the new station on August 2, 1859 was just what the town needed.
It gave the inspiration so badly needed to those almost forgotten men who wanted to make Paignton a place to remember, to drain the marshland between beach and the new railway line, to build a new sea wall to prevent the high tides flooding the area.
Local men of vision realised the potential for change in a dilapidated town that had been racked with poverty and disease due to the appalling stench of the open sewers on the marshland. The dire need for improvement was plainly evident.
Trying to imagine how it must have been for the local inhabitants is almost impossible given the creature comforts we now enjoy. It must have been a very hard life having to do everything manually from fetching buckets of water from the main well in aptly named Well Street and being only able to afford the bare essentials. Many were undernourished and succumbed to sickness and early death.
Come the next three decades, all that was about to change given the well-planned notions of four men in particular, each contributing their own expertise to the future needs and specifications of a more well-to-do society
They were George Soudon Bridgman, acclaimed local architect who, along with his associate, Walter George Couldrey achieved a great deal to earn an exemplary reputation in Torbay, having designed Isaac Singer’s Oldway Mansion and, in 1879 with the financial backing of Arthur Dendy, the new Paignton pier and sea wall, resolving the problem of flooding from spring tides. As a result new buildings sprung up everywhere on the reclaimed land.
It was a truly exiting time William Lambshead was set on rebuilding the new Palace Avenue Methodist Church and along with the trustees his lateral thinking persuaded the churchmen that the best option was to have the chapel in Polsham taken down stone by stone and rebuilt on the Palace Avenue site, finishing with a new frontage onto that which we see now.
They were set to debate the business of how best to put Paignton on the map to compare with its richer and more prosperous bay neighbour which gained the reputation of being a jolly healthy place to relax or convalesce after an illness, where the likes of the rich and famous would regularly visit and tell their friends it was just the place to be seen when on holiday.
Something really had to be done straight away to bring Paignton up to the expectations demanded of holiday visitors, and not just for the wealthy that would come in their motorised vehicles but those who came in charabancs and trains.
Eventually everything started to work for them when the land which is now Palace Avenue came up for auction.
They aimed to bid high but happily the competition was not overwhelming because others did not hold any confidence they could make anything of it, bearing in mind that most of the land was only a glorified cabbage patch which formerly had sustained fair return to the owner for years in producing the flat pole cabbage which was shipped via Paignton harbour and Plymouth for general distribution.
But the business was sinking and fortunately for the future wellbeing of Paignton, the crucial land was sold at auction to our intrepid entrepreneurs who more or less saw eye to eye in collaborating their aspirations for a Paignton of the future.
Lambshead’s priority was twofold: To create a scheme to build a new chapel on the Palace Avenue site, which had been bought for £325, and also enhance his store business. His lateral thinking to remove the existing chapel at Polsham and rebuild the pile in Palace Avenue raised eyebrows but his keen sense of persuasion convinced the Wesleyan trustees who agreed to a tender from recommended builders Christopher and Robert Drew.
Lambshead’s already popular Dellers store occupied the site next to Rossiters and he was also responsible for the first electricity generator in the town. And soon, in 1872, no longer had Paigntonians to carry their water in buckets from the old well because the new Paignton reservoir in Great Parks was in service and moves were made to tap in the water to everyone in the vicinity.
Despite several setbacks, given the church trustees’ efforts to raise the necessary funds, the mission was barely accomplished given their ‘faith of God’, and Paris Singer, who kindly lent his house, Redcliffe Towers, to promote several events and stalls with all sorts of bric-a-brac to draw the crowds, opened by his wife who did much to support the quest.
The legal affairs were taken care of by the astute solicitor, Onesimus Smart Bartlett.
By the same token Bridgman, the main authority, positive in his vision, had the ability to impress those who came into contact with him by nurturing their hopes and ambitions, in showing them what could be achieved for the well being of all and of course a prosperous future for himself.
We surely owe it to those men of the past with their innovative visions — even down to the beautiful Palace Avenue park which, along with its Turkish Oak standing guard over the war memorial, remain in tribute to them.