Torquay is a seaside town in Devon, England, part of the unitary authority area of Torbay. It lies 18 miles (29 km) south of the county town of Exeter and 28 miles (45 km) east-north-east of Plymouth, on the north of Tor Bay, adjoining the neighbouring town of Paignton on the west of the bay and across from the fishing port of Brixham. In the 2011 UK Census, Torquay’s population was 65,245, about half of that of the whole of Torbay. The area comprising modern Torquay has been inhabited since Palaeolithic times. Hand axes found in Kent’s cavern have been dated as 40,000 years old and a maxilla fragment, known as Kent’s Cavern 4, may be the oldest example of a modern human in Europe, dating back to 37,000–40,000 years ago.
Roman soldiers are known to have visited Torquay during the period when Britain was a part of the Roman Empire, leaving offerings at a curious rock formation in Kent’s Cavern, known as “The Face”. No evidence has been found of Roman settlement in the town.
The first major building in Torquay was Torre Abbey, a Premonstratensian monastery founded in 1196. Torquay remained a minor settlement until the Napoleonic wars, when Torbay was used as a sheltered anchorage by the Channel Fleet, and relatives of officers often visited Torquay. The mild climate attracted many visitors who considered the town a convalescence retreat where they could recover from illness away from the cold winters of more northerly or easterly locations. The population of Torquay grew rapidly from 838 in 1801, to 11,474 in 1851.
The second phase in the expansion of Torquay began when Torre railway station was opened on 18 December 1848. The improved transport connections resulted in rapid growth at the expense of nearby towns not on Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railways. The more central Torquay railway station was opened on 2 August 1859 with views of the sea from the platforms. After the growth of the preceding decades, Torquay was granted borough status in 1872. Previously regarded as a convalescence retreat, Torquay began to encourage healthy visitors, and 1902 saw the first advertising campaign to market Torquay to summer tourists.
Torquay Tramways operated electric street trams from 1907. They were initially powered by the unusual Dolter stud-contact electrifications as not to disfigure the town with overhead wires, but in 1911 was converted to more conventional overhead-line supply. The line was extended into Paignton in 1911 but the network was closed in 1934.