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The villages of Babbacombe and St. Marychurch, nestled in Devon, England, possess a rich and textured history that extends far beyond the singular tale of John Lee, "the man they could not hang." These villages, with their deep historical roots, offer a vivid glimpse into England's coastal and rural past.

Babbacombe is famous for its "Downs", the pubs, Oddicombe and Babbacombe beach, but is closely related to St. Marychurch and merges together.

St. Marychurch's heritage traces back to Saxon times, indicating a longstanding community presence, paralleled by evidence of a fishing community near Babbacombe Beach around the 1500s. The area's early economic foundation was primarily maritime and agrarian, with many residents relying on the sea or farming and limestone quarrying. The challenging economic conditions also made smuggling a common pursuit among the locals.

The Manor map of 1775, the earliest known detailed mapping of the area, reveals a sparse settlement with just a few cottages dotting the landscape near the beach, marking the beginnings of what would become the Babbacombe and St. Marychurch we know today. Over time, the rugged beauty of Babbacombe attracted attention, leading to the construction of ornamental cottages and gardens, which, while enhancing the area's appeal, somewhat diminished its wild, secluded charm as noted in early 19th-century accounts.

By the mid-1800s, Babbacombe's narrative began to shift significantly. A devastating fire in 1854 razed several cottages, including Ivy, Rock, and Mushroom Cottages, yet the community persisted and rebuilt. The Victorian era ushered in a wave of development, with new housing expanding the villages inland despite criticism from contemporaries regarding the aesthetic impact on the scenic landscape.

The latter part of the 19th century saw Babbacombe emerging as a desirable destination for the Victorians seeking their slice of the Riviera, with the building of the Royal Hotel and the establishment of All Saints Church among the signs of a burgeoning tourist hub.

World War I halted further expansion, but the interwar years saw a resurgence in tourism, bolstered by the advent of motor coach travel, which brought visitors in more significant numbers to the scenic locales of Babbacombe and St. Marychurch.

St. Marychurch, with its ancient church tightly surrounded by cottages and shops, has always held a central place in the local community. By the 19th century, the village was described as a handsome and picturesque parish, appealing to visitors with its coastal views and quaint village atmosphere. The arrival of industry and tourism in the Victorian era brought employment and a modicum of prosperity, transforming the area into a thriving community.

In the early 20th century, St. Marychurch was incorporated into the Borough of Torquay, an event humorously noted for the larger town's acquisition of the village's steamroller. Establishing tram and bus services further integrated St. Marychurch and Babbacombe into the broader urban landscape of the area.

Today, St. Marychurch retains its unique identity and continues to thrive as a vibrant community, boasting a range of independent shops and services catering to residents and visitors. The gift of Tessier Gardens in 1933, with its Sun Temple, remains a testament to the village's enduring charm and the importance of quiet, restful spaces.

The intertwined histories of Babbacombe and St. Marychurch, from their early days of hardship and survival to their development into cherished tourist destinations, reflect the broader socio-economic changes in England's coastal regions. These villages stand as enduring symbols of resilience, community, and the enduring allure of the English coast.

Babbacombe Theatre

A valuable asset to the English Riviera for nearly eighty years, the Babbacombe Theatre in Torquay is renowned for wowing audiences with its highly acclaimed family variety shows, performed throughout the year by a professional cast.

A TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Award winner for five consecutive years, the theatre is also ranked the No.1 Theatre in Devon. It was also the only theatre in the Bay to have produced consecutive ‘5 STAR’ productions.


The Babbacombe Model Village

This outdoor model village was opened in 1963 by Tom Dobbins. Mr Dobbins had previously opened another model village at Southport in 1957. This extraordinary exhibition covers 4 acres and includes over 400 models and over 1,000 ft of model train track.

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Bygones is a must-see attraction for visitors to St Marychurch and Torquay. Walk freely through various interactive displays and over 2000 genuine artefacts from yesteryear!

Bygones is proud to be listed in the top 10 Things to do in Torquay (TripAdvisor No. 4), and we are delighted to welcome well-behaved dogs throughout Bygones.

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Babbacombe Cliff Railway

Planned in 1890 and finally built in 1926, the Babbacombe Cliff Railway took two years to construct and was the brainchild of two prominent Victorians and involved some of the biggest engineering names of the day.

Surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in the UK, the Cliff Railway provides a vital and non-exhausting way for locals and holidaymakers alike to soak up the peaceful atmosphere and take in the fantastic views as they travel to and from the water's edge. The railway is now also an Approved Premise for weddings.

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