Most of Torquay's Villas and Mansions were built between 1840 and 1900. They were generally built as second homes for the very rich Aristocratic families of the UK. At one point, Torquay was the richest place in the UK with more millionaires per head of population than any other.
What attracted the Aristocracy was the fact that Torquay has the UK’s best weather. Torquay has a unique location. It is part of a large bay which is warmed by the Gulf Stream, with further protection from the weather provided by Dartmoor to the North. During the winter of 2010 when it seemed most of the country was snow bound for long periods, Torquay only had one small snow fall that melted within an hour. In the summer it is not as stifling hot as many inland cities. Torquay's water comes from Dartmoor which is made of granite, hence the water is one of the purists in the UK. These were very important things in the late 1800's
With so many very wealthy residents, Torquay became expensive and elite. It became the English Riviera with a very “High Society” social circle and events. The very wealthy Singer sewing machine family moved to Torbay from the USA, but due to their American accents they weren’t accepted into Torquay “High Society”. So to make a statement to the Aristocracy of Torquay, they built a massive Mansion just outside Torquay in Preston, which is many times bigger than the biggest mansion in Torquay. It is called “Oldway Mansion”.
We know “Riviera Mansion” was one of the earlier Mansions to be built, because it grabbed one of the best locations, that is in the centre of what is called Waldon Hill, which is the most prominent location in Torquay.
At that time it was called Hawthornden.
In 1860’s Mr & Mrs Huxtable lived in “Riviera Mansion”. They had eleven servants looking after them. By comparing average earnings between 1840 and now, Mrs Huxtable had invested approximately £5M in the USA State of Illinois railway, in return for interest payments. The State of Illinois refused to pay. Mrs Huxtable sued and won. The State of Illinois had to repay her the original sum, interest and costs. It came to around £15M.
In 1871, Mr Holdsworth who lived in “Riviera Mansion” which he valued £3K, said in his will. “I bequeath to my daughter the house in which I now reside called Hawthornden with the greenhouse, stables, coachhouse and gardens” He goes on to say “I have given to my daughter, also my horse carriage, harness and saddlery. Also the sum of one hundred pounds. I also bequeath unto my other daughter Eliza my pictures (being portraits of my family or otherwise) in my said dwelling house called Hawthornden”
He goes on to list the furniture and books that he gave to various museums and people.
1889. The Hon. George Marsden Waterhouse, Ex Prime Minister of South Australia and New Zealand returned to England and brought “Riviera Mansion” where he lived for the rest of his life.
In the 1950/60 it was converted into a 14 Bedroom Hotel and Restaurant for 50. It was called the Homers Hotel after the owner, Mrs Homer. The Restaurant was open to the general public and was one of the best in Torbay. A prime table would require booking months in advance.
It is rumoured by ex-
It is odd to consider when it was originally built, it would have been lit by candles. Then with great excitement came gas lighting. Then with great excitement came electric filament lighting. The first telephone. The first Radio and the first TV. It is beyond the imagination of all those previous extremely wealthy owners that one day Riviera Mansion would have Colour TV’s, WiFi Internet, mobile phones and now be lit by LEDs’
A picture and advert from the time when it was THE HOMERS HOTEL