Torre Abbey Historic House and Gallery

Address : The King's Drive
Town/City : Torquay
County : Devon
Country : England
Post code : TQ2 5JE
Phone : 01803 293593
Web Site :

Since its foundation in 1196, Torre Abbey has witnessed, survived and even played a role in some epic moments of history. But through all that, the one thing that has never changed is the hospitality offered to its guests..



The History - Torre Abbey
The six Canons of the Premonstratensian order who arrived on the south coast of England from Wellbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire (having been gifted the Abbey land by Lord William Brewer) began the tradition eight hundred years ago and it has been maintained ever since. First, for three and a half centuries by the Abbots and Canons, then by the Cary family, who, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, bought the property in 1662, after a succession of owners, and lived here for 268 years. This tradition of hospitality continues today the local authority, taking great pride in allowing the public to enter and explore the largest surviving medieval monastery in Devon and Cornwall.

During all that time, and in all of its roles - as an abbey, a family home, art gallery and attraction - eight centuries of history have been absorbed into the very fabric of a building which is divided into 122 rooms, rambling over 20 different levels and with 265 steps.

It all contributes to a fascinating experience for the 21st century 'pilgrim', who can step inside - and back-in-time - to see what life was like for a 12th century Canon following the strict rule of St Augustine. It was an austere life, yet they were supported by servants and staff; and by the end of the 15th century, Torre Abbey had become the wealthiest Premonstratensian Abbey in England earning 1.8 million pounds a year.

That fortune enabled them to build Torquay's first real harbour and, in order to sell the produce from their vast landholdings they gained a charter from the king to found the nearby market town of "Newton Abbot. As well as caring for the sick and poor, it was customary for the Abbey to offer one night's free board-and-lodge to travellers. (This was one Torquay boarding house where the "No Vacancies" sign never appeared!).

Following Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the surviving buildings were bought by Cary family in 1662 and became a private house. Surrounded at that time by fields, the Abbey gradually changed in appearance during the 300 years of ownership by the family, and today bears all the hallmarks of a Georgian Mansion.

However, the one thing which never changed was the welcome given to all visitors. Members of the Cary family were renowned for their hospitality - so much so that at one point, the Abbey became better known locally as "The George Hotel" (George being the Cary's favourite family name).

The Abbey also boasts another of the English Riviera's most famous buildings, The "Spanish Barn"  a medieval Tithe Barn originally built to store taxes paid to the Abbey in the form of grain, hay and other farm produce. The barn's place in the history books was firmly established at the time of the Spanish Armada, when the "Nuestra Senora del Rosario" was among the first of the Spanish fleet to come to grief. A total of 397 prisoners were captured by Sir Francis Drake and were held in the barn for a fortnight. Under the ownership of the Cary's it became a stable, and later a garage for Colonel Cary's Daimler; and these days it houses temporary exhibitions and musical events.

Someone who dances to an altogether different tune, however, is the Abbey's most famous ghost!, Assured of an easy victory, many of the sailors in the Spanish Armada took their wives along for the voyage. A young Lieutenant and his fiancee were amongst those on board the Rosario when the vessel was captured. She quickly disguised herself as a sailor and was imprisoned in the tithe barn. But she died there, and "The Spanish Lady" is now said to roam the barn and the surrounding parkland...sobbing for her lost love.

The Abbey was purchased by the local authority for £40,000, in 1930, for use as an art gallery. Part of the need for this was created when the widow of prominent Victorian sculptor Frederick Thrupp gifted much of his surviving work to the town. Actually the largest surviving collection from a Victorian sculptor's studio, his work today takes centre stage within a fine-art collection which also boasts a collection of pictures including Pre-Raphaelite works of national standing, such as Holman Hunt's "The Children's Holiday", Edward Burne-Jones' cartoons and William Blake's for the "Book of Job".

Part-gallery, part-museum, and part-historic house, Torre Abbey nevertheless found itself heading towards the new millennium with a detailed surveyor's report which revealed that works on a frightening scale would be needed just to keep the building standing. Now, as the result of a second £6-million restoration project, to be completed in July 2013, a completely new generation of visitors will receive the very special Torre Abbey welcome as they step inside this precious building to experience and discover 800 years of history.


Explore... Relax... Discover...
With a wealth of exotic and exciting plants, Torre Abbey's Gardens nestle behind the main house, a tranquil haven of beauty and pleasure that both reflects and enhances the very special atmosphere of Torre Abbey.

The Gardens - Torre Abbey
Visitors who wish to picnic, paint, read or just relax in this beautiful setting can be assured of a warm welcome.

This award-winning and organic garden is increasingly famed for its exuberant plantings of herbaceous perennials, roses and dahlias set in a formal nineteenth century landscape around the Abbey ruins. Also on show are a variety of rare and interesting shrubs and trees that flourish in the mild "Riviera" climate as well as displays such as the knot garden and orchard area that reflect the rich history of the Abbey over the ages.

All year round interest is provided by collections in the heated glasshouses. The Palm House contains a selection of tropical and sub-tropical plants including rare and endangered palms donated by Kew Gardens, along with bananas, pineapples and tropical flowers. At the top of the garden the Arid House showcases over fifty different species of cacti and succulents.

Agatha Christie's Potent Plants Display
Celebrating Torquay's most famous resident, the Queen of Crime herself, this unique feature is based entirely on plants that appear in Agatha Christie's novels and stories. Here, not surprisingly, there are plenty of horticultural nasties to be found and much to be learnt about the poisonous secrets of some of our best- known garden flowers. Sinister but fun!

The Children's Medieval Garden
Based on a traditional medieval design and enclosed within a hand made wattle fence, this garden within a garden has been lovingly created to entice people (of all ages) into the fascinating world of medieval plants and their uses. Turf seats, willow tunnels , sensory planting and a fountain offer children especially, the opportunity to explore, touch, taste and look, whilst grown ups can take advantage of the same features to contemplate a simpler, less frenetic way of life.

The Abbey Ruins
The garden surrounds the remains of the original abbey including the ruined church and tower and a number of important monastic rooms and buildings.

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