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Torrs Park

As one views Torrs Park from across the valley, the scene is dominated by the large villas in buff Marland brick, built in the 1880's by the Barnstaple firm of Shapland & Petter.

So prominent they are, that Bridget Cherry in Pevsner's Buildings of England: Devon, attributes the whole estate to W.C. Oliver their architect. We know definitely that he was responsible for the seven houses, (four of them semi-detached) from Parkroyd to Glen Tor/Torrs Vale, two blocks of identical design. He also designed Westwell Hall in the slip road above, and possibly some of the others further along the south side of Torrs Park. His contribution does much to create the unique character of the estate and later houses on the opposite side of the road followed his style, but in a rather more conventional manner. The Marland brick of Oliver's houses, with its china clay content, has worn well and gives this splendid row a freshness which belies its age. Ilfracombe has few more spectacular views than these grand villas in their leafy setting, especially when seen in bright sunlight.

Parkroyd is the first of the houses one meets on coming up from Bath Place. One is struck by the gables, both on the front and at the sides, with fine detail of the half-timbering, early for its time. There are generous bays in brick and Gothic detailing in the doorways, but the most impressive view of the building is from Osborne Road, which was made by Shapland & Petter to cross the deep ravine of the West Wilder Brook, and to give easy access to Torrs Park from the Parish Church.

The sketch, made from an old photograph of about 1900, shows how well the house has been preserved, for it could have been made directly from the house as it is today. Two large bays rise through four floors to hipped roofs, which culminate in modest finials. There is little decoration, no mouldings, but horizontal band of pinkish (Fremington?) brick. Decoration is concentrated in the space between, especially in the woodwork. This is of the highest quality, finely detailed, and its dark colour contrasting with the light buff brickwork. The gabled dormers are unusual, in that the windows under the gables are set obliquely from the centre to form a "V" shape. It is hard to see the advantage of this unless it be to provide a shaded out look, like the veranda below. This has richly turned woodwork in its columns and railings, with a pretty striped roof over it. Each house has an extensive conservatory at its side, built over a brick basement. The conservatories at Glen Tor/ Torrs Vale were originally cantilevered daringly on wooden supports but, like these at Parkroyd, they now have brick basements.

Though built as a pair of semi-detached houses, Parkroyd was earlier made into one dwelling. In the 1930's it was known as Williston, the Christian Endeavour Holiday Home, and the initials of this church organisation for young people, can still be seen carved into the stonework of the bay windows facing Torrs Park. In the 1950's it appears in the Directory as Parkroyd and has since been divided into flats.

Jim Bates - December 1998

Created 20/4/99