Famous People in Torquay

The English Riviera is associated with a number of prominent people whose names are known throughout the world. They range from inventors and authors to historical figures who have important connections with the area. Trace their footsteps by visiting monuments dedicated to their memory, houses where they lived and locations they visited or wrote about.


Sir Humphrey Gilbert

The ‘Father of Colonisation’ who claimed Newfoundland for the Crown was born in 1539 at Greenway Court, Galmpton, which was also home to his illustrious half-brother Sir Walter Raleigh.

Sir Francis Drake

Defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 and held 400 prisoners in the Tithe Barn at Torre Abbey. Circumnavigated the world in 1580 and a replica of his ship the Golden Hind has been a popular tourist attraction in Brixham harbour since 1964.

Charles Babbage

Computer Pioneer, 1792 – 1871

Charles Babbage was born in Teignmouth, near Torquay, and was educated at the University of Cambridge. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1816 and was active in the founding of the Analytical, the Royal Astronomical, and the Statistical societies. In the 1820s Babbage began developing his Difference Engine, a mechanical device that can perform simple mathematical calculations. Babbage started to build his Difference Engine, but was unable to complete it because of a lack of funding. However, in 1991 British scientists, following Babbage’s detailed drawings and specifications, constructed the Difference Engine. The machine works flawlessly, calculating up to a precision of 31 digits, proving that Babbage’s design was sound. In the 1830s Babbage began developing his Analytical Engine, which was designed to carry out more complicated calculations, but this device was never built. Babbage’s book ?Economy of Machines and Manufactures? (1832) initiated the field of study known today as operational research.



Prince William of Orange

In November 1688, Brixham was the cradle of the ‘Bloodless Revolution‘. Prince William of Orange landed at the port and went on to claim the throne as King William III. To mark the bicentenary a statue of the monarch was commissioned and unveiled a year later on the quay. The 300th Anniversary was celebrated in July 1988 with a week of festivities. HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh joined in the celebrations and stayed in the Bay overnight onboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.


Following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the former Emperor of France became a major tourist attraction when he was brought to Torbay on a ‘man o’ war’ en route to exile on St Helena in July 1815. The distinguished prisoner was impressed with his first sight of Torbay and commented Quel bon pays! (What a lovely country!).

Sir Richard Francis Burton

Explorer, soldier, diplomat, linguist, prolific writer and translator of The Arabian Nights and the Karma Sutra was born in Torquay in 1821.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Stayed at the Bath Saloons (now the Regina Hotel) in Torquay to benefit her health from 1838-41. During this period the poems she wrote include De Profundis and The Cry of the Children.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

During a railway survey of South Devon, Brunel fell in love with Torbay and bought 135 acres of land at Watcombe in 1847. His premature death in 1859 occurred before the house he had designed could be built, although the gardens he planted now form Brunel Woods, where a modern sculpture now stands commemorating his life.

Charles Kingsley

Author of The Water Babies and Westward Ho! stayed at Livermead House, Torquay, with his wife and children in 1854. His research of marine biology along the seashore resulted in the publication of Glaucus.

William Froude

Naval architect who built Chelston Cross (now Manor House), Seaway Lane, Torquay in 1867. There he constructed a water tank to test scale models of experimental warship designs for the Admiralty.

Isaac Singer

The American sewing machine magnate who fathered more than twenty children spent the five years up to his death in 1875 at Oldway. His son Paris Singer had an affair with the dancer Isadora Duncan.

John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee

Convicted of murder in 1885, he mysteriously survived three attempts to execute him at Exeter Gaol. He was eventually released after serving a life sentence.

Arthur Leyland Harrison VC

Born in 1886 at Carlsbad Villa (now Mount Vernon) in Higher Erith Road, Torquay. A limestone and granite monument was erected at Roundham Head, Paignton in 2000 as a tribute to the rugby union international and naval officer who was posthumously awarded his country’s highest honour for courage following a raid on Zeebrugge in April 1918.

Eden Phillpotts

The ‘Hardy of Devon‘, best known for his Dartmoor cycle of 18 novels and the comic play The Farmer’s Wife (later made into a silent film directed by Alfred Hitchcock), became a Freeman of the Borough of Torquay in 1921.

Agatha Christie

Dame Agatha Christie, the world’s most famous mystery writer, was born in Barton Road, Torquay in 1890 and bought Greenway House, Galmpton in 1938. In September 1990 the English Riviera celebrated her Centenary and there are now a series of trails to follow and discover why this region was one of her major sources of inspiration.

Oscar Wilde

Wrote A Woman of No Importance whilst staying at Babbacombe Cliff during the winter of 1892/93.

Rudyard Kipling

Lived at Rock House, Maidencombe, in 1896 and experienced an overpowering atmosphere which made him feel depressed. The building is thought to have been the inspiration for his ghost story The House Surgeon.

Oliver Heaviside

Eccentric mathematician and physicist, best known for his prediction that a layer exists in the earth’s atmosphere off which radio signals can bounce, lived at Palace Avenue. Paignton and later Homefield, Lower Warberry Road, Torquay, where he is said to have papered the walls with unpaid bills before his death in 1925.

Elizabeth Goudge

In 1939, she moved to Providence Cottage, Marldon and the district featured in such children’s stories and novels as Smokey HouseGentian Hill and Green Dolphin Country.

Flora Thompson

Settled at Lauriston, off New Road, Brixham in 1940 where she wrote her classics on country life, Candleford Green and Still Glides the Stream.

Rupert Allason

Authority on the subject of espionage using the pseudonym Nigel West. Served as Conservative MP for Torbay 1987-97 and was humorously dubbed MP for the Bermuda Triangle when he chose to holiday to the Caribbean when his party narrowly avoided defeat in a vote of confidence in John Major’s government.
Sources: http://www.torbay.gov.uk/famouspeople, http://www.visitoruk.com/famous_people.php?f=torquay

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