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Princess Gardens Torquay: A Victorian Oasis Preserved for Generations, Captured by Martin Dutton

Updated: May 24, 2023

Toquay's Princess Gardens, a formal Victorian seaside gem, has stood the test of time since its creation in the 1890s. Nestled on the seafront, this picturesque haven boasts vibrant flower beds, a beautiful fountain, and sprawling lawns that overlooking breath-taking views of the bay, Pier, and harbour.

Torquay, once a modest seaside town, rose to prominence as a fashionable resort in the late 18th century when the Napoleonic Wars disrupted continental travel. By the 1870s, the growing influx of visitors necessitated the development of additional amenities. After a couple of failed schemes, the town decided to construct a pier and public gardens to enhance the visitor experience. Princess Gardens, named after Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria, emerged on reclaimed land alongside Princess Parade, complementing the terraced cliff walks of the Royal Terrace Gardens.

The layout of Princess Gardens has remained largely unchanged since its heyday. Following a fleur-de-lis design, the flower beds and signature Torbay palms, known as Cordyline, lend a historic charm to the landscape. One of the highlights of the gardens is the magnificent three-tier cast iron fountain, a Grade II-listed structure. Painstakingly restored and repainted in 2018, the fountain now stands as a testament to the garden's enduring heritage.

Princess Gardens has not only captured the hearts of locals and visitors but has also found its way into literature. The gardens feature prominently in Agatha Christie's beloved mystery novel, "The ABC Murders" (1936). Today, the gardens are part of both the Agatha Christie Mile and the Agatha Christie Literary Trail, offering fans of the iconic author a chance to immerse themselves in the world of her captivating stories.

Spanning approximately 5 hectares, Princess Gardens is divided into three areas. To the southeast, the gardens extend to the New Harbour, while to the east, the early 20th-century Pavilion marks the boundary. The gardens stretch westward, separated from the promenade gardens by the magnificent Princess Theatre. The Royal Terrace Gardens lie adjacent to Princess Gardens, providing a seamless connection between these enchanting green spaces.

As visitors step into Princess Gardens, they are greeted by an expansive triangular area adorned with lush lawns and curvilinear tarmac walks. To the west of the Pavilion, an elliptical-shaped lawn boasts majestic Torbay palms and meticulously designed flower beds. A sunken elliptical lawn, located a short distance away, serves as the focal point for a splendid three-tier cast iron fountain, surrounded by segmental-shaped flower beds. Various shelters throughout the gardens offer a perfect spot for visitors to relax and soak in the surroundings.

Designed by the Borough Engineer and Surveyor, Major Garrett, Princess Gardens underwent construction between 1892 and 1894. Today, the original path patterns and layout remain remarkably intact, providing a glimpse into the garden's past splendour.

Adjacent to Princess Gardens, Torbay Road is lined with mature London plane trees on its northern side, while Princess Parade, a wide paved promenade, runs parallel to the gardens on the southern side. A circular sunken green interrupts the line of Princess Parade, forming a semi-circular bastion overlooking the New Harbour that is now used for the hosting of events and markets.

With its rich Victorian heritage and pleasant atmosphere merging seamlessly with breath-taking views of Tor Bay, Princess Gardens is a glimpse into an oft forgotten past of pleasure and grandeur. Thanks to the dedication of locals, this enchanting seaside retreat continues to captivate visitors and offers a tranquil oasis amidst the bustling resort town. As you stroll through the flower beds, breathe in the scents of a bygone era, and soak in the panoramic views, Princess Gardens will transport you to a time of elegance and charm.

Through the Eyes of an Artist

It is easy to see why this seaside sanctuary became a focus for much of Martin Dutton's Torquay series. Surrounded by beautiful architecture, verdant planting and luminous sea views, the bustle of gentle promenaders offered scenes tantalisingly full of life.

"Lockdown was a difficult and sometimes disastrous period for everyone. But for me it did have an unexpected positive outcome. As a practicing painter my annual routine included a period of painting in Europe. The exotic lavender fields of Provence, the acres of golden sunflowers and vine field patterns of the Dordogne bathed in sunlight were rewarding places to paint in situ. However, these activities were brought to a standstill when lockdown anchored us all to our own homes and local environments. But for me, this was not a negative situation as it encouraged me to look for painting subject matter in my local area and I “discovered” the town that had been my backyard for over twenty years - Torquay!"

"We’ve had glorious Summer weather during the lockdown years which has provided the in situ artist with the equivalent periods of dry, warm painting time as can be relied upon in places like Southern France and Spain. I suppose it was because of the unreliability of the English weather coupled with my enthusiasm for painting outdoors in sun drenched unexplored landscapes that I hadn’t considered developing a prolonged painting project in my local area. But when I started to do small in situ paintings in Torquay I realised that here was a place full of visual delight and positive human activity that offered endless painterly opportunities."

"When I begin a new painting theme the first paintings are always directly topographical and realistic, setting down what I see in front of me in order to get to know my subject."

"This representational approach will then develop into a more intuitively expressive response as the subject begins to reveal itself to me. This exhibition represents my journey so far in my exploration of a fascinating seaside town."

You can discover Martin's work at Artizan Collective Gallery until June 25th. For more information, visit



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