Oldway Mansion

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The southern elevation of Oldway Mansion at dusk

Oldway Mansion is a large house and gardens in Paignton, Devon, England. It was built as a private residence for Isaac Merritt Singer (1811–1875), and rebuilt by his third son Paris Singer in the style of the Palace of Versailles.

The mansion and gardens[edit]

Around 1871 the Fernham estate in Paignton was purchased by Isaac Merritt Singer, the founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The old buildings on the site were demolished and he commissioned a local architect, George Soudon Bridgman[1] to build a new mansion as his home. Isaac Merritt Singer died on 23 July 1875, shortly before work on the original mansion was completed.

The grand staircase at Oldway Mansion with The Crowning of Josephine by Napoleon after David.

Paris Eugene Singer, Isaac Singer's third son, supervised the alterations at Oldway Mansion between 1904 and 1907. The rebuilding work was modelled on the Palace of Versailles, and the eastern elevation of the building was inspired by the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The interior of the building is noted for its grand staircase made from marble and balusters of bronze. The ceiling of the staircase is decorated with an ornate painting based on an original design for the Palace of Versailles by the French painter and architect Joseph Lebrun. The ceiling is a replica painted by Carl Rossner.

Above the grand staircase there is a reproduction of the first version of Jacques-Louis David's painting The Crowning of Josephine by Napoleon. The original was purchased by Paris Singer in the late 19th century. The painting was sold to the French government in 1946 and now hangs in the Palace of Versailles. The reproduction at the mansion, which is in the same place as the original, is a colour photocopy and was unveiled in 1995.

The gallery on the first floor is a reproduction of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, and is floored in parquet. The gallery leads into the ballroom, which contains walls of gilt panelling and mirrors. Above the fireplace there is an oil painting of Louis of Bourbon dating from 1717.

Oldway Mansion is set in 17 acres (69,000 m2) of gardens, which are laid out on an Italian theme by the French landscape gardener Achille Duchesne. Beneath the eastern elevation of the building is the maze, which consists of dwarf box hedging and flower beds. To the south of the mansion there is the grotto garden where a waterfall passes over a rocky cave into a pool below. The grounds of the mansion contain many sub-tropical plants and shrubs.

The eastern and northern elevations of Oldway Mansion

Opposite the main entrance to the mansion is a large round building known as The Rotunda. This was built in 1873, and was used originally as a horse riding pavilion and exercise area. Isaac Merritt Singer gave this building the nickname of "The Wigwam".

History[edit]

Following the end of an affair with the dancer Isadora Duncan in 1917, Paris Singer became an American citizen and went to live in the United States. This was done partly for tax reasons, and after 1918 Oldway Mansion was no longer the permanent home of the Singer family.

During the period of the First World War from 1914 to 1918, Oldway Mansion was transformed into the American Women's War Relief Hospital. The Rotunda was converted to house rows of beds for the wounded soldiers being brought back to England from the trenches of France and Belgium.

Oldway Mansion became the Torbay Country Club in 1929. During this period tennis courts and a bowling green were added to the grounds.

During the Second World War from 1939 to 1945, Oldway was used in the war effort by housing RAF cadets training to be aircrew. In 1943 Oldway was damaged in an air raid, along with many other buildings in Paignton. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the mansion in 1943.

panoramic image of gardens at Oldway Mansion
Oldway Mansion has large formal gardens laid out on an Italian theme

Oldway Mansion today[edit]

Oldway Mansion is located in Devon
Oldway Mansion
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Oldway Mansion shown within Devon
(grid reference SX8960)

Paignton Urban District Council purchased Oldway Mansion from the Singer family in 1946 for £45,000. It is estimated that around £200,000 was spent on building the mansion. Until 2013, the building was used as council offices and for civil marriage ceremonies. Oldway Mansion is a Grade II* listed building.[2]

In January 2007, Torbay Council announced that it was considering selling the mansion as it had become too expensive to maintain. The suggestion was controversial, since local residents argued that the mansion was sold at a reduced price on the understanding that it would be open to the public.[3] On 30 April 2012, plans for Oldway Mansion to be converted into a luxury hotel and sheltered retirement flats were approved by Torbay Council.[4] The deal was finalised in September 2012.[5] As of October 2013, Oldway Mansion is empty, with Torbay Council no longer using the buildings.[6] The bowling green is still in use, and the tennis courts are closed.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ George Soudon Bridgman also designed Paignton Pier, which opened in 1879. [1]
  2. ^ Oldway Mansion at British Listed Buildings
  3. ^ "Anger over plans to sell mansion". BBC News. 29 January 2007. 
  4. ^ "£12million Oldway plans approved". Herald Express. 30 April 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  5. ^ "Delight as £12m Paignton Oldway deal is signed to herald new beginning". Herald Express. 27 September 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2012. 
  6. ^ "300 take peep into past at Paignton's Oldway Mansion". Herald Express. 26 October 2013. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  7. ^ "It’s time for tennis – but not in Paignton!". Herald Express. 19 June 2013. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Churchill: The Hollywood Years (2004)
  9. ^ "Gay couples among first to 'wed'", BBC News. 21 December 2005.

Further reading[edit]

  • Oldway Mansion: Paignton by Torbay Borough Council ISBN 0-901842-15-X
  • Oldway Mansion, historic home of the Singer family by Paul Hawthorne, Torbay Books, ISBN 978-0-9551857-6-2 published October 2009

Coordinates: 50°26′35″N 3°34′04″W / 50.442978°N 3.567738°W / 50.442978; -3.567738

External links[edit]