397 Spanish prisoners held in in Torquay

FOR PERSONAL REASONS King Henry VIII dissolved all the monasteries and similar establishments in England during the 16th century. Many of their buildings were destroyed or left to disintegrate. Their lands were sold or given to new owners. Some of them incorporated the remains of the monastic structures that they had acquired into new buildings. A good example of this can be seen in Devon’s Torquay. It is the remains of Torre Abbey.

The abbey was founded by members of the Premonstratensian Order in 1196. By the time of the Dissolution in 1536, Torre Abbey was the wealthiest of the houses of the Order in Britain. In 1539, the monastery was given over to one of King Henry VIII’s commissioners. After that, the first leaseholder of the former abbey and its lands was the lawyer Sir Hugh Pollard (?1498-?1576). What was left of the monastic buildings was incorporated into a large house built for Thomas Ridgeway. After several others had owned the property, it came into the hands of the Cary family in 1662. In 1740, the residential building was remodelled in the Georgian style, which is what can be seen today. This family retained ownership of the abbey remains, the house, and its lands, until 1930, when a member of the family sold them to Torquay Borough Council. Since then, the house has been used for municipal administrative purposes and during WW2, it was occupied by the RAF.

Near to the main house, there is a large, intact tithe barn. This was constructed in about 1300. In the summer of 1588, the Spanish sent a large fleet, the Armada, to invade England with the intention of restoring the Roman Catholic religion in what had become a Protestant country. The Spanish failed miserably, and many of them became prisoners of war. Francis Drake (c1540-1596) forced one of the Spanish vessels to surrender and as a result captured 397 Spanish prisoners. They were held in the tithe barn for 23 days before they were transferred to Exeter. As a result of this, the barn is now known as The Spanish Barn. during WW2, the RAF used it as a gymnasium. Now, the barn is hired out for weddings and other special occasions.

The remains of the abbey, the barn, and the house built within the abbey ruins, overlook a park, a small golf course, and a few yards away, the waves in Tor Bay. The abbey grounds are a short walk from the commercialised harbour area in the centre of Torquay, and provide a pleasant contrast to the latter.

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