Reg Haskell Photography

Oldway Mansion

Large house, now in use as Borough Council offices. 1873 to the designs of GS Bridgman for Isaac Singer, founder of the sewing machine company. Contractor J Matcham of Plymouth, design partly undertaken by Isaac Singer himself. House thoroughly remodelled 1904-1907 for Singer's son, Paris, architect unknown to date.

MATERIALS: Stuccoed; roof concealed behind parapets except lead-covered lantern. Probably 1870s stacks with yellow brick shafts, stone bands and pots. 1904-1907 build said to include a large proportion of concrete construction. Original build in French Renaissance style. Remodelling, with elevations described as in Pevsner as "stunningly bombastic" based on various French precedents, including Versailles. PLAN: The existing plan makes use of the outlines of Bridgman's double-depth arrangement (demolishing a private theatre on the east side), but the early C20 work cut a massive open well, top-lit stair hall for an imperial stair down from the former ground floor to the former basement, which is the level of the present main entrance on the N side facing onto the courtyard. The stair leads up to ballroom on the east side. Other principal rooms face south, overlooking the formal gardens laid out by Duchesne with a study on the N side (now the mayor's parlour). On the west side of the stair hall, at the old ground floor level, a gallery based on the hall of mirrors at Versailles, with stair off to the former first-floor rooms. The position of the early C20 service rooms is unclear, they were probably sited below the east range.

EXTERIOR: 3 storeys except south elevation, which is 2 storeys. All elevations remodelled in 1904-1907 except the W, which retains Bridgeman's facade. Entrance (N) elevation 13 bays, the centre 3 broken forard and pedimented, the 2 narrow bays flanking the centre slightly broken forward. Ground floor with chanelled rustication and recessed 2-light windows with keyblocks. Modest entrance of triple doorways in centre 3 bays. First and 2nd-floor bays divided by giant Ionic pilasters with entablature and dentil cornice below balustraded parapet. Centre 3 bays with distyle Ionic columns in antis, pediment above entablature filled with a winged shield drooping over the cornice. First-floor windows in outer bays with moulded architraves and tall French windows onto individual cast-iron balconies between the pilasters. 2nd floor windows in outer bays tall 2-light casements, 4 panes per light with moulded architraves, sill blocks and swags of cloth carved in relief under the sills. Narrow bays flanking the centre 3 have first-floor one-light transomed windows and round-headed one-light second-floor windows. Centre 3 bays have first-floor round-headed French windows with pilastered architraves with stucco mouldings and swags of cloth over the arches. Windows glazed with small panes with spoke glazing bars and open onto cast-iron balcony. Above the French windows 3 blind oculi decorated with festoons of husk ornament. The 8-bay east elevation also has a ground-floor loggia of small square-headed openings with keyblocks, walls decorated with chanelled rustication. Above this a gaint colonnade of Ionic columns with entablature and moulded cornice, creating a loggia with coffered moulded ceiling and balustrade in front of the ballroom. The bays to the wall behind the loggia are divided by giant pilasters, windows and details similar to N elevation. Life-size statue groups on the roof at left- and right-ends. 9-bay 2-storey S elevation plus 3-bay single-storey canted pavilions at either end. Ground floor with chanelled rustication, centre 3 bays slightly broken forward and pedimented. Cornice at first-floor level; balustraded parapet to main block and pavilions. Central garden doorway to main block and to each pavilion with moulded architrave and keyblock, with small-pane French windows with fanlights with spoke glazing bars; similar window onto first-floor centre cast-iron balcony. Other ground-floor windows with moulded architraves and keyblocks, glazed with 2-light small-pane casements; similar first-floor windows with individual cast-iron balconies and carved panels over the lintels depicting Cupid at play. Narrower bays flanking the centre with blind panels roundels and niches with husk and flower festoons and swags of drapery. Pediment filled with classical female nude, perhaps Venus, leaning on an amphora and looking at an owl. 2:3:3-bay yellow Flemish bond brick W elevation to Bridgman's designs with a corbelled cornice, moulded tile relief and bowed balconies. Triple window lights stair, attractive tiled panel below stair window.

INTERIOR: Mostly dating from the 1904-1907 phase, but retaining some of the 1870s features, particularly on the top floor. Remarkable 1904-1907 stair hall, said to be based on Lebrun's (unexecuted) designs for the stair at Versailles for Louis XIV. Mosaic floor; imperial stair with marble and bronze balustrades. 3-sided gallery on round-headed marble arcading at the old basement level, the east side of the stair hall was designed to take JL David's painting showing Napoleon crowning Josephine (returned to France in 1946 and now hanging in Versailles). The west side has an Ionic screen of paired, painted marble columns into the hall of mirrors. The north and south sides have paired gilded doors with elaborate overdoors and tall marble pilasters flanking statue niches containing sculpted headless torsos with armour and helmets. Spectacular painted ceiling above enriched cornice with trompe d'oeil paintings of allegorical classical figures. The ballroom, to the east, has a sprung woodblock floor and probably original light fittings. It is lined with fixed mirrors with gilded surrounds and decoration of flaming torches and musical instruments. The north end has a coloured Italian marble chimney-piece with original integral fireback and cast-iron surround. Above the chimney-piece gilded side panels with an elaborate swan-necked pediment with the Bourbon crest create a frame for a 1717 painting of Loius of Bourbon, Prince of Asturias. Flanking the chimney-piece, paired doors below bow-fronted galleries. White Italian marble chimney-piece on the west wall has a large mirror over and glazed doors to left and right below classical panels carved in relief. 2 paired doors from the stair gallery have overdoors with integral trompe d'oeil flower paintings. The hall of mirrors is lined with round-headed mirrors in marble architraves and contains an C18 white marble statue of a woman playing a pipe as well as 2 Greek style candlesticks. The study, now the mayor's parlour, to the north, has full-height fluted oak Corinthian columns flanking paired doors with carved round-headed overdoors and relief sculpture above. Suite of rooms on south side also retains original chimney-pieces (some from Bridgman's phase), mirrors, elaborate plaster cornices etc Bridgman stair with balustrade of cast-iron panels and ramped handrail rises from the hall of mirrors to the upper floor, which also retains plasterwork and chimney-pieces, although now re-partitioned for office use. Numerous features of interest, including statuary from the 1904-1907 phase survives, but are not mentioned individually here.

HISTORY: Isaac Singer's drawings for the Bridgman phase survive and are owned by the Borough Council. A small museum in the entrance hall contains numerous photographs and documents relating to the history of the house, including photographs of Bridgman's building. Paris Singer is said to have obtained permission to scaffold the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles to examine the Lebrun colour scheme there as a model for the stair hall at Oldway. The Singer family had a major impact on the development of Paignton and bought and developed land in the town. Paris Singer had an affair with Isadora Duncan, who spent some time at Oldway, which was used as the set for the film 'Isadora'. Plans to develop Paignton into the centre of a film industry, which was to be the British answer to Hollywood, were based at Oldway and Little Oldway. In 1914 the house was converted into the American Women's War Hospital. In 1929 it was reused as the Torbay Country Club, with some alterations to the basement level. The RAF requisitioned the building in 1939, it was bought from the Singer family by the Borough Council in 1945
(ref: NHLE)
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