Paignton made a major contribution to the recovery of soldiers wounded in the trenches in France and Belgium. The first war-wounded arrived at "Oldway Hospital" in September 1914. It was reported: "On 27th September thousands of people had the novel experience of seeing the wounded arrive. Their destination was Oldway Mansion. Adaptation has involved construction work and important alterations. No expense has been spared. The majority of the latter [those with bandaged heads, hands and feet who were convalescing] were able to mount the GWR buses unaided. The more seriously wounded were removed on ambulance stretchers and carefully placed in vans. Only one casualty died enroute from Southampton, his body was removed at an intermediate station".

In November, Queen Mary visited both Oldway Hospital and the Red Cross hospital at Torquay Town Hall. Through the generosity of Paris Singer (who allowed the use of the building and became vice-chairman of the Hospital Committee; Lady Randolph Churchill was chairman) and the American Women's War Relief Fund (which financed and operated it), it continued to be a hospital throughout the War years and many men recuperated there. In 1915 New Zealanders and wounded men from the Royal Inniskillings and the North Staffs Regiments recuperated there.

There were 255 beds when the Somme offensive began in 1916. They were looked after by a staff of 151 including eight surgeons, 15 American Sisters, 17 English Sisters and 21 Probationers. The outdoor staff included four gardeners and six gatemen/groundsmen. By 1916 3,203 cases had been admitted but there had been only 13 deaths. The average time each patient spent there was 31.5 days. The daily cost (including salaries, food and upkeep) was about 6s. a bed. Thanks were expressed to many Paigntonians including "all members of Paignton Fire Brigade who have never missed attending at the Railway Station on the arrival of a convoy to act as Volunteer Stretcher Bearers, no matter what time of day or night they may have been called upon". The "Patrol of Boy Scouts" gave similar assistance. Touching letters of thanks were included in the 2nd Annual Report [the only one which appears to have survived]. A Private Handford of the "West Riding Regiment" expressed his thanks in verse:

The outside is majestic, the inside spick and span
The Nurses who attend you are everything that's serene
The doctors who visit you treat you with care
For they seem to have an idea of what it's like "out there"...

The Committee also ran the Victoria Street Workrooms in London. Socks, etc. were knitted by "old broken-down working women incapable of earning a wage in the ordinary course of trade or manufacture". Needlework was also done by "another class of war sufferer who did not improve with the improved conditions of work in the labour market of England". This was the better-class educated woman, elderly governesses and music teachers, women whose only qualifications had been an ability to teach English in Continental families, secretaries, companions and women of their type... with nothing before them other than the Workhouse".

During the influenza outbreak in 1918 about 100 soldiers died and were buried in Paignton Cemetery; their bodies were later exhumed and taken to America.
Most of the military action of course took place many miles away from Paignton but, during World War 2, it was the civilian life of the town that suffered the most upheavals. A year-by-year account summarises the major happenings:


During September large numbers of children with their teachers arrived from London - many, however, returned returned during winter of 1939-40.


Early in the year the South Devon Holiday Camp and Dixon's Devon Coast Country Club were requisitioned and used a prisoner-of-war camp until after the Fall of France; it was then used as a rest camp for the British Expeditionary Force returning from Dunkirk.

By the middle of the 1940 machine-gun posts and pillboxes had been built and Paignton Pier isolated from the Promenade. Steel anti-tank barriers put on beaches and the Army erected barbed-wire entanglements on walls and cliffs. About the same time lighting patrols ("Put out that light!") were carried out by Special Constables, assisted by the Wardens.

On 14th May Anthony Eden made his now famous broadcast appeal to the nation asking for those between the ages of 17 and 65, who were not already on War Service, to join the Local Defence Volunteers, unpaid but they would wear uniforms and be armed. On 31st May it was stated that "lads between 15 and 17 are required as runners with bicycles". In July the name was changed to the "Home Guard".

In June members of Paignton Council staff were formed into civil defence units (three "Rescue"; two "Decontamination" [after poison gas attacks] and two "Road Repair Parties"). In July it was announced that 22 air-raid shelters were to be built; at the same time all direction signs were to be removed [to confuse an enemy invader]. However, evacuees were still being sent to Paignton; in that month 1,795 children and 170 adults arrived in the town. Two months later, in September, all unoccupied houses were requisitioned for use by those made homeless by bomb damage.

On the night of September 11th/12th the first air-raid took place when 13 Climsland Road was destroyed and others damaged. To help meet possible fuel shortages, emergency coal stocks began to be built up in Queen's Park in November. There were other "evacuees" also. Animals from Chessington Zoo were accommodated at Paignton Zoo; they arrived towards the end of the year.

It was during 1940 that the RAF established No 2 ITW (Initial Training Wing) in Paignton, as part of a plan to train aircrew on a large scale in Torbay. It was based at Oldway, the Rotunda building also being used. During the period from 1940 to 1944, nearly 50,000 cadets passed through the Bay units.


In March it was reported that there were over 2,000 unaccompanied children billeted in the town; by July the total number had increased to 4,909 people. Most of these were from the large cities. In April there were new arrivals from closer at hand; these came from Plymouth to escape the "blitz" there. During the night of 11th/12th April there was a heavy incendiary raid on Paignton; over 20 fires were started and one warden was killed. On 12th May Paignton was machine-gunned. In July, as a result of the Plymouth air-raids, "street fire-parties" were instituted. It was at about this time that a survey was made of "railings available for munitions" [i.e. melting down]. Their removal began in April 1942.


Another air-raid caused the destruction of three houses in Langs Road; in this raid 13 people were killed and 1,291 other houses damaged. In October there was a popular innovation when the British Restaurant opened at 67 Torquay Road (here a two-course lunch cost one shilling [5p]; one with three courses and a cup of tea 1s.3d [less than 7p]. The Restaurant finally closed down on 9th June 1945). Evidence of the problems the bombing was causing can be gauged from the announcement that, under the Defence Regulations, all women aged between 20 and 45 residing in Paignton [and not in the Services] were required to register for fire-watching duties.


On 13th February 135 properties were damaged in a raid, including "Oldway" and "Little Oldway". Possibly as a result of this, in November, 2,805 Morrison and Anderson shelters were delivered. Conditions, printed in the Paignton News, stipulated that "Morrison indoor shelters would be issued free to those employed in an occupation compulsorily insured under the NHI Acts and whose earnings did not exceed £350 p.a". Others were able to purchase them for £7. [In August 1944 it was announced that they would be collected by the Council and sent to London as the so-called "V" weapons, developed by the Germans, were causing severe damage].

At the end of 1943 people evacuated from South Hams Battle Area arrived in the town. At about the same time some US forces arrived and were accommodated. A major unit was the 460th Amphibian Truck Company of the US Army which arrived in January 1944 and the GIs were billeted in the Park Hotel on the sea front. Much of the Company's training was done at Goodrington where special entries to the South Sands through the beach defences were made for them. The story is told fully elsewhere.


Although the D-day landings in Normandy had been successful, the War was far from over. In July 2,167 evacuees arrived in Paignton after "escaping" from the London "V1" and "V2" attacks. However, the final ending of any possibility of an invasion had meant that the Sea-front could be cleared of barbed-wire and other obstructions; in July the coast ban was lifted. This had excluded everybody, except permit-holders, from the area; visitors soon began to arrive to use the newly re-opened beaches.


By the end of January all defence works had been removed except static water tanks (work on these did not start until July). By this time the war in Europe had ended and the surrender in the Far East would be a reality a few weeks later.

Housing the People.

Although not directly connected with wars, the social changes that resulted from both the 1914-18 and the 1939-1945 Wars, produced a revolution both in housing demand and provision. Before the former had ended, steps were being taken in Paignton to provide "homes for heroes". To enable houses to be built, land at Stanley Gardens was bought, so named as a tribute to J Stanley Huggins. The 69 houses, on what was to be the town's first Council housing estate, were completed in 1920. The cost of each one was calculated to be about £1,000 each. The housing estate at St. Michael's became the next development in 1921. A period followed when subsidies were granted only for private enterprise housing - in 1924 Paignton was granted a subsidy of £112 a house, made up of a government grant of £75 and a local grant of £37. By the time the subsidy scheme ended in 1929, over 450 houses had been built. When the refuse destructor in York Gardens was pulled down in 1928, 13 houses were put up in 18 weeks. Prices were very reasonable, each house costing only about £400.

The next building programme by the Council was at Tweenaway where land was bought in 1930, construction starting in the December. The tender for the first 22 worked out at just £445.5s.8d per house. Costs were reduced even further as the work proceeded, non-parlour houses costing only about £300 a unit in 1932. Two years later, in May 1934, it was even lower - just £297.

Council house building was halted completely during World War 2, although schemes for the houses likely to be needed when the conflict ended were first discussed in December 1943. Restrictions existed in the late 1940s which prevented private house building on any scale. Private homes were only permitted on a ratio of 1:4 - that meant that only one licence for a privately-built house was granted for every four Council house plans approved. The draft layout for the Foxhole estate was approved in 1946 and, from 1951, all Council building was restricted to this district. The last major development land available in the 1970s and 1980s was at Great Parks. Plans were made in 1973 and the building there was done by the County Borough and its successor Authority over the next decade.

The growth of private housing matched that elsewhere in Torbay. Paris Singer, now most remembered for his liaison with Isadora Duncan, made a major contribution to the development of the town. He took over control from his father's trustees of the Paignton & District Development Company, and through it, erected houses at Preston, Oldway and Barcombe. Open ground beyond was built over much later.

By the 1930s most of low-lying Paignton had been used up so, in the last fifty years, most of the new housing has been on the hills above the town. Most of the more notable properties have been constructed on Preston Down, Windmill Hill and at Three Beaches and Hookhills.

Churston deserves special mention. In June 1932 the estate from the edge of the Warborough towards Broadsands was taken over by Staverton Builders who promised that "care would be taken to ensure that the development was appropriate to the area". The flat-roofed houses which resulted were avant-garde to some eyes. Much of the building "beyond the viaducts" took place long after 1945. "Green Lane", adjacent to Churston Church, became "less green" much later also when new bungalows were constructed along its length. House-building in the "village" was restricted until the 1980s.

The late 1980s saw the decline of Local Authority house-building and the effects of the "right to buy" legislation which enabled tenants to buy at "discount rates" the properties in which they had lived for some time.

Outline plans for a "mini-new town" at Great Parks were approved in 1988. In August 1992 it was reported that the whole scheme would cost £32 million, of which £2.5 million needed to be spent on major services (roads and sewers) before work could begin. Later phases of the work might not take place until after 1998 because Devon County Council had restricted the number of houses which could be built until after the third stage of the ring road had been completed.

© copyright John Pike

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