The stories behind Torbay’s blue plaques by Ian Handford, President of the Torbay Civic Society. This week: The Narracott family
One of the most significant projects undertaken by the Narracott family – as builders rather than architects today – was the contract to build the Torquay Pavilion, completed in 1912.
Today’s blue plaque at the Pavilion was erected and unveiled in 1987 by our then President, Sheila Hardway.
The plaque has previously been featured in this series although no mention of the Narracott family has been made, although it was prominent through the work of Mr. RE Narracott.
As builders, the Narracott surname can be traced back many generations, primarily but not exclusively to the South Devon region.
The family have been involved with a number of significant properties in Torbay including Paignton Pier, the Carnegie-funded Central Library in Torquay, Westhill School and even the General Accident building in St Marychurch built before a second redevelopment which transformed the site in small today. independent shops and a large grocery store.
Most of the early projects were under the control of Mr RE Narracott, although later Edward Narracott in partnership with Bryan J Tanner of Stoke Gabriel and John G Andre of Totnes and many associates were part of the business.
With the proposal to build a pavilion on the site of built-up or reclaimed land from the sea, a long struggle developed between Torquay Borough Engineer Mr. HA Garrett – later Major Garrett, and the borough council until the councilors eventually fell. their concept for a pavilion and bandstand shelters, a landing platform for local boats, and some form of theater or pavilion being built on the pier.
Even the National Institute of British Architects was involved by offering a monetary prize of £50 for the best design received, which turned out to be by an Edward Richards.
Yet in 1903 the Mayor of Torquay, no less, intervened in calling a public meeting at the request of the Chamber of Commerce so that everyone could have an opportunity to speak on the proposed a new pavilion.
Finally, the mayor announced, “It is absolutely necessary … that steps be taken to provide visitors with adequate musical and other attractions, particularly during the winter season.”
Another speaker chimed in, saying that Torquay is ‘getting lackluster with each passing year and the high class properties are depreciating’.
In the end, this debate came to nothing, and Richards’ plans were ultimately rejected.
Later, after many surveys and meetings, a simple pier was built.
With more and more visitors flocking to Torquay, preferably Eastbourne or Bournemouth – the resort’s main competition – it took another six seasons before our borough council finally accepted Mr Garrett’s ideas for an Esplanade Pavilion and found the required initial funding of £15,000.
The contract for the pavilion was awarded to Mr. RE Narracott and the official plans adopted were those originally drawn up by Mr. E Richards.
In 1968 Narracott (architect firm) acquired their premises at Montpellier Terrace, Torquay – originally a presbytery building for St John’s Church – and today, interestingly, this Georgian building is in the process of to be converted into a town center home after being sold by Narracotts before moving to new offices at Harbor Point on Victoria Parade, Torquay.
Today they trade as Edward Narracott Tanner and Andre and still have associates operating in Totnes.
Somewhere in this long history another local Torquay building contractor – Mervyn Benney of MW Benney Building, which was established in 1910 and now has further offices in South Devon – was involved and traded as Narrocotts.
This company was involved in the Torquay Library contract in the 1940s and, eventually being an official member of the Master Builders’ Federation, the company name reverted to M. W. Benney Company in 1976.