From it’s 19th Century beginnings as a single residence for the Bishop of Exeter to the substantial extensions during the interwar period to create a hotel focussed on health and leisure and it’s subsequent adaptation in the 1980s to cater for events and conferences, the history of the Palace Hotel has been one of change and adaptation to current market trends.
The Palace Hotel Development Timeline
Pre 1840 - Farmland
The St Marychurch title map of 1840 depicts the application area as being formed from six fields, which were part of a wider group of large fields around the coast. The fields were characteristic of post-medieval enclosure (rather than medieval strip fields or enclosure, such as those to the west closer to St Marychurch).
1840-1870 - Bishop’s Italianate Villa
Bishop’s Italianate VillaThe Palace hotel began life as an Italianate villa known as Bishopstowe built by E.W. Gribble between 1841-2 for the Bishop of Exeter, Bishop Henry Philpotts. The house was located within extensive grounds in the countryside away from other land being developed at this period by the major landowners, the Palks and the Carys.
Despite the coastal location, the house and gardens were not designed to take in sea views, rather, the building was set within a picturesque landscape inspired by 17th-century paintings. These paintings frequently feature dramatic, often mountainous, landscapes with prominent trees or more widespread vegetated vistas. On the north side of Anstey’s Cove
1870-1920 - Adjacent villa development
The current hotel property includes a cottage located to the northwest of the tennis courts, beyond the limit of the walled garden of Bishopstowe. This was constructed as a pair of cottages in 1871 by S. Hanbury.
Later Ordnance Survey maps depict no significant change to the property, although by 1904 residential development around Babbacombe Road had extended as far as the grounds of Bishopstowe.
1921-1939 - Hotel redevelopment
In 1921, almost 80 years after its original construction, Bishopstowe was purchased by Birmingham industrialist George Hands who extensively modified the residence to create a hotel. Initially, two additional floors where added and by 1930 extensive wings created a block of development that extended across the valley, from Babbacombe Road to Ansteys Cove Road. Bishopstowe’s outbuildings were demolished, and replaced with new buildings including the covered swimming pool. Beyond this was a garage and staff accommodation, partially reusing existing buildings and covered tennis courts on the site of the old kitchen garden.
During this time the Palace Hotel was advertised as a grand destination hotel for well healed guests, and advertisements targeted those with their own motor transport and drivers. Facilities included a grand ballroom, sun lounges, squash courts, gymnasium, cinema, indoor bowls and skittle alleys, covered tennis courts and a golf course.
1940-1947 - World War 2
Like many of Torquay’s larger hotels, the Palace was requisitioned during WW2 to assist with the war effort. In 1939 it was converted into a 249 bed hospital for the RAF. On 25 October 1942 the building suffered damage from two bombs – one a direct hit. Considerable damage was caused to the centre of the north wing and to the junction of the north wing and the central block. The hotel was again targeted on 8 January 1943, after which the hospital closed. The building reopened as a hotel on 5 March 1948, although at that date the north wing was not usable.
1948-1990 - The modern Palace Hotel
The second half of the 20th Century saw the hotel undergo a series of significant upgrades including the remodelling of guest accommodation to include en-suite bathrooms, and the upgrade of the kitchen and swimming pool facilities. The ballroom was replaced with function rooms, and the bowls and skittle alleys replaced with a gym and commercial office suites. During the 1980s the hotel remained a popular destination and hosted significant events such as the 1987 Conservative Party Conference.
1991-2017 - Failed regeneration
2017 - Next Chapter
The Fragrance Group, a Singapore based hotel developer buys the Palace Hotel
The Palace Hotel Today
Scale and facilities
The existing hotel has 141 bedrooms, 140 car parking spaces, 19.9 acres of grounds, extensive conference, meeting and function rooms for up to 1000 delegates and comprehensive indoor and outdoor leisure facilities including 9 hole golf course and indoor tennis courts.
Despite the age of the original building, due to the extensive alterations, little remains of historical importance. A heritage assessment carried out by AC Archaeology found that while the shape the of the original house can be determined on the ground floor, the only surviving significant architectural feature is the main staircase from ground to first floor. It concludes that the property is considered to be a heritage asset of low significance. As such the loss of the building is acceptable.
English Heritage have also assessed the historical value of the hotel and concluded that it does not meet the criteria for listing as “… the 1841 house has been lost, and the 1920s hotel is a standard design with no internal features of note and has been altered”.
The existing hotel facilities and guest accommodation are tired, outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Recent intrusive investigations have identified extensive amounts of asbestos.
The tourist market for the hotel has also evolved and visitor expectations far exceed what they once did. Numerous planning applications have sought, unsuccessfully, to secure the long-term preservation of the hotel, both structurally and financially. Unfortunately, the hotel had deteriorated to such an extent that none of these provided a viable solution.
Remodelling the building to bring it up to current industry expectations and reflect Torbay’s aspiration to create a premier tourism destination is economically unviable.
Habitat surveys of the existing buildings and grounds have been carried out by EAD Ecology. The surveys found no overriding ecological constraints to development but highlighted areas where new proposals could enhance the biodiversity on the site.
The site is characterized by its boundary of broadleaf woodland and clumps of mature specimen trees including Corsican Pines and Cedars. Over the years the tree population has been poorly managed restricting the habitat and amenity value.
The development of the site provides the opportunities to develop a new tree and woodland strategy which would benefit both the wildlife and the wider community by ensuring the tree population is managed in a sustainable manner.
As part of the design development of the new hotel, a tree survey to assess and classify the quality of the existing trees has been carried out. This has allowed the design team to minimize the impact of the new proposals on the existing tree population.
Permission was granted in 2013 (reference P/2013/1209) for the significant redevelopment of the Palace hotel site. This included:
- 137 apartments with 205 parking spaces on the site of the existing leisure facilities
- Erection of single and two storey roof level hotel bedroom extensions
- Reconstruction of the existing three storey wing on the North East to provide 4 storey guest accommodation
- New spa and gym facilities
- Redevelopment of the existing garage buildings and hotel frontage to provide 113 parking spaces
The Torbay Local Plan establishes the overarching planning policy context and spatial strategy for Torbay as well as development management policies up to the year 2030. The following policies are considered to be of particular relevance to the site:
Aspiration 1 (Secure economic recovery and success) of the Plan relates to promoting economic recovery and success and includes the following objectives:
- To ensure the English Riviera achieves its potential as a premier tourist resort by continued investment in existing facilities, waterfront areas and marine environment, and the provision of new attractions.
- To cater to changing holiday demands and expectations to attract new visitors, investment in high quality facilities and the improvement of existing product and services.
- To remove the obstacles to business growth and investment.
Emerging Neighbourhood Plan
The Torquay Neighbourhood Plan was published for public consultation by the Torquay Neighbourhood Forum between October – December 2017. The plan sets out the vision for Torquay to be ‘the best in the west’ and identifies a lack of higher quality accommodation and good quality large hotels.
Urban Landscape Protection Areas
The Palace lies within an ‘Urban Landscape Protection Areas’ (ULPA). Policy C5 states that proposals in such areas will be permitted where it does not undermine the value of the ULPA and it makes a positive contribution to the urban environment and enhances the landscape character of the ULPA.
This will be the first project of its type in the South West for more than a generation, raising the profile of Torbay as an international tourist destination.
The Hope’s Nose to Walls Hill SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) lies immediately adjacent to the eastern site boundary. Daddyhole SSSI is located circa 1.8km to the south-west of the site. The Lyme Bay and Torbay candidate Special Area of Conservation (SAC) lies c. 250m to the east of the site.
Critical Drainage Area
The site is located within the Critical Drainage Area (CDR). A CDA is an area that has critical drainage problems and which has been notified to the Local Planning Authority. In these locations, there is a need for surface water to be managed to a higher standard than normal to ensure any new development with contribute to a reduction in flooding risks.
The Design Team
The Fragrance Group has appointed internationally renowned experts to help bring this exciting project forward.
Based in Torquay, architects, Kay Elliott have worked on hotel and leisure projects around the globe from Blackpool to Bangkok, and from Salcombe to Sydney. Closer to home they designed the multi-award-winning Abbey Sands on Torquay seafront. The £12million project was granted planning permission in 2012 and opened two years later.
Design and Engineering Consultants Arup have worked on world-famous projects from the Sydney Opera House, the Olympic venue, the London Aquatics Centre, London’s Barbican Centre and the City of Manchester Stadium.
Consulting Engineers Hoare Lea count Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, Bristol’s Hengrove Leisure Centre and the Scarlet Hotel in Mawgan Porth