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Torquay Pavilion: A Storied Haven of Cultural Extravagance, Resting in Works of Martin Dutton

Updated: May 24, 2023


Nestled along the picturesque Torquay seafront, the Torquay Pavilion stands as a testament to a bygone era of artistic grandeur. This Grade II listed building, with its exquisite Art Nouveau architecture and iconic copper-covered dome crowned by a majestic figure of Britannia, has witnessed over a century of captivating performances and leisurely pursuits. From its illustrious opening night in 1912 to its recent closure and ongoing restoration efforts, the Pavilion remains a cherished icon in the history of Torquay.

The Pavilion made its grand debut on a splendid summer evening, Saturday, August 17, 1912, under the auspices of Mayor Charles Towell. The night was an affair of unparalleled grandeur, highlighted by a splendid performance from the esteemed Torquay Municipal orchestra. With its lounges, cafe, and panelled oak interiors, the Pavilion swiftly captured the hearts of locals and visitors alike, establishing itself as one of Torquay's premier entertainment destinations.


The true zenith of the Pavilion's glory arrived in the vibrant decades of the 1920s and 1930s. During this extraordinary period, illustrious luminaries graced the stage, including the esteemed composer Sir Edward Elgar, the virtuoso pianist Rachmaninoff, and the enchanting ballerina Anna Pavlova. The Pavilion's hallowed halls echoed with the resplendent voices of operatic soprano Dame Nellie Melba and the charismatic entertainer George Formby. It was during this golden age that the Pavilion earned its well-deserved reputation as "Torquay's Palace of Pleasure."

The indelible mark left by Ernest Goss, the Pavilion's music director from 1919 to 1953 and entertainments manager from 1926 to 1948, cannot be overstated. Goss orchestrated exceptional film screenings, curated productions by renowned theatrical companies, and showcased performances by internationally acclaimed artists. His musical prowess extended across symphony concerts, grand operas, variety shows, and pantomimes, cementing his name as a visionary impresario.


As the 1950s dawned, the Pavilion experienced a gradual decline. The orchestra disbanded in 1953, and the financial struggles of the building became apparent. In 1976, the Pavilion reluctantly closed its doors. However, a dedicated campaign by the Friends of the Pavilion (now known as the Torbay Civic Society) heralded a turning point. The building's architectural and historical significance was recognized with a listing in 1973. A revival ensued, with the Pavilion transformed into an ice-skating rink from 1979 to 1983. Following an award-winning restoration, the building reopened as an upscale shopping mall in 1987.

Having closed in 2013 as traders vacated with proposed development on the horizon, today, the future of the Torquay Pavilion remains uncertain. Locally, plans and proposals are frequently hotly contested with the Pavilion's rich heritage and enduring allure earning it a place in the hearts of residents and visitors alike.

The Torquay Pavilion stands as an architectural gem and a testament to the vibrant cultural history of Torquay. Its walls have resonated with the melodies of music maestros, witnessed the awe-inspiring performances of renowned artists, and provided a haven of entertainment for countless visitors. As restoration efforts continue to be controversial, the Pavilion awaits a new chapter, holding within it the promise of continued cultural significance for generations to come.

At Rest in Works of Martin Dutton

As Torquay Pavilion sleeps, life goes on around it whether that be in the bustling marina or the thriving Princess Gardens. Perhaps few pay much regard to its closed doors and boarded windows, but its peaceful grandeur appealed to South West Academician Martin Dutton, who in the post lockdown period captured the building extensively in a series of Torbay works.

You can discover Martin's work at Artizan Collective Gallery until June 25th. For more information, visit www.art-hub.co.uk/ex/md23


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