In order to understand the beginning of Feemasonry in Torquay, first it is necessary to have some idea of what Torquay was actually like in the early 19th century and the different way of life that our predecessors must have experienced.
It is said that the Burghers of Sidmouth financed the first harbour at Tor Key in the 17th century. They paid to have it constructed in order to shelter their boats in foul weather, rather than pay fees to places such as Teignmouth, Exmouth, or Lyme, . Their self-interest planted the seed that would eventually grow into a town the size of Torquay. However by 1800 very little had changed, and Tor Key was an unknown Hamlet, virtually cut-off from the rest of the county.
In April 1828 the Exeter Flying Post reported of Torquay that “25 years ago it was so little known that letters frequently miscarried, and there were not at that time twenty respectable houses in the place…”… and in 1774 it was said that “Tor Kay(sic) is a village and an inn or two…”.
So, by 1810 there were very few benefits to be enjoyed, but the clock had begun to tick. There was in 1810, no infrastructure at all, there was no piped water, no drainage, no sewers, no lighting, no gas, no turnpikes, (thus no roads capable of taking a carriage) no stage-coaches, no police, no road cleaning or repairing, no courts, no local administration,( it was a part of the Haytor Hundred, administered from Exeter) Fleet St., Union St., Teignmouth Rd. Torbay Road, Etc. Etc. just did not exist. There were but three ways of getting there, :-
- by cart track via Milber,
- by cart track via Tor Mohan to Two Mile Oak,
- by Sea,
The latter was the preferred route, especially for heavy goods, sailing from Brixham or Teignmouth. Both of which were established commercial ports, served by Stage Coaches. The roads, like all roads of that period followed the high ground, where with natural drainage, they were less likely to get bogged down during the winter or after rain. Only turnpikes were maintained (and strictly controlled as far as wheel widths, loading, and the forbidding of cattle etc), so the state of these tracks can well be imagined. The map shows the paths and roads that made up Tor Key at that time, each village being separate and distinct. In some way, the Torquay catchment was in a state of development much the same as Maidencombe, Coombe-in-Teignhead and Stoke are today ---- and probably supporting the same population.
The list shows the relevant census figures for the area we now know as Torquay, and covered over 2,200 acres.
It can be seen that the formation of our Lodge coincided with a period of explosive growth in Torquay, turning from an undeveloped country area into a substantial and important town.
During this time the local towns of any significance were :-
- Newton Bushell ( Newton Abbot ) Stage coach route
- Teignmouth……Stagecoach route & Harbour
- Brixham………...Stagecoach route & harbour
- Totness………… Pop. 2725, 2 Seats Parliament
- Ashburton ……. Pop. 3053 2 Seats Parliament
- Dartmouth ……. Pop. 3595 2 Seats Parliament.
- Ancient road to Barton Cross and Newton Abbot via Milber
- Old Mill Road to Chelston and Paignton.
- Chelston to Gallows Hill
- Kerswell to Gallows Hill
- Road from Torre to St. Marychurch
- Strand to Torwood and Babbacombe
- Abbey and Torre Village to Strand (the Ropewalk, now Abbey Road)
- Footpath, Torre church to Strand ( Rock Walk)
It is best not to confuse these roads with those we know and love today, but once again they would be more like we are used to seeing around Stoke, except of course unmetalled, deeply rutted, and muddy after rain. Certainly, road number 7 was just a footpath, and road number 8, which was also known as Fishermen’s walk or Lady Gold Walk, having been paid for by Mrs. Cary as a short cut to the Harbour, was also nothing more than a cliff path, shored up by wooden piles at certain more precarious sections.
The only way to move from place to place was by foot or Horse, perhaps a few donkeys were used as well. Once it was dark there were no lights to show the way and certainly people would not think of travelling any great distance by night. When it rained the paths and roads got muddy, whether it rained or not, horses and other beasts did what comes naturally, and as the roads were not cleaned …? This, together with the lack of sanitation, Torquay must have had “atmosphere” if very little else. It is no wonder that any Brother living more than 5 miles from the Lodge could claim Country membership at half the normal fee.
Having previously read of the shortcomings of Tor Key, what did it have to commend it around 1810?
There was the Fleete, not just the trickle we now see running into the Inner Harbour at low tide. In earlier times it carried all the water that drained down from the whole valley from Barton seawards,( it probably was the precursor of that nasty Torquay habit of sending its waste out into the Bay). Tor Bay itself was a safe, sheltered anchorage for ships of the Royal Navy, where they could stand-by, waiting for Boneparte to make his move. It also enjoyed a temperate climate, and had many prestigious building sites, much sought after by those who had benefited from England’s expanding economy and the Industrial Revolution. Most of all, there was Sir Lawrence Palk, a landowner with a vision ----- who played the leading part in turning it into a thriving town, being an instigator in introducing all those Services that were previously lacking.
There were 5 Inns, namely :-
- The Bird in Hand ( later to be London Inn on High Road )
- The Crown & Anchor (later became The Steam Packet Inn, where 6&7 Victoria Parade now stand )
- The London Inn ( afterwards Poultons Hotel & later became Royal Hotel )
- The Shallop ( Where the Yacht now stands )
- The Old Inn ( Where the Gibbons now stands )
The Hole in the Wall also existed but was probably less salubrious in those days.
And so, there was no shortage of places to meet in those early days, but bearing in mind that several of our founder members are described as “Gentlemen”, they would not wish to be seen in an establishment that was “unsuitable” for them. Information now at hand, suggests that out of these five inns, four were run by members of St.John’s.
These facts have been introduced to the History because I believe they are important. Make no mistake, if Torquay had not gone through this phenomenal growth, our Lodge would not have survived, indeed it is doubtful if any of today’s members would be here at all.