Paignton - Esplanade Hotel

Esplanade Road : TQ4 6BG Paignton - Esplanade Hotel : Map credit National Library of Scotland Paignton - Esplanade Hotel : Image credit ISSUU.com
The Torbay Bicycle Club was formed in March 1878, with Mr Arthur Dendy as the club president. Mr Dendy was a wealthy solicitor from Birmingham, who retired to Paignton

and helped to develop the town as a tourist attraction, building hotels and a pier.

All racing in Paignton seemed to be organised by Torbay BC. Their first track meeting in Paignton was held on August 28th 1878 on Paignton Green (TB4 6BW), which became an annual event. The races were a 1 mile club handicap, 2 miles open race, 1 mile bone shaker handicap and the 5 miles club championship race which was won by the club captain R Waycott. From 1881 there evening and weekend races on the green.

In the early 1880's, Torbay BC were looking for a track and were considering a venture at Newton Abbot. In 1883, Arthur Dendy, who had just built the Esplanade Hotel, constructed a level, five laps to the mile, oval cycle track, banked to 2ft 6in. The track was in an enclosure behind the hotel and had an archery range, grandstand, changing rooms and refreshment rooms. The Torbay BC organised all the bicycle racing at the track.

The first meeting on the Esplanade track was held on Wednesday August 15th 1883, with 3,000 spectators. The events included the 5 miles NCU Devon and Cornwall championship race. The Prizes were distributed by Mr Dendy's niece and afterwards a cold collation (light meal) was served in the Esplanade Hotel.

September 26th 1883 the seven events included two unusual races. There was an event for riders under 11 stone, who had to carry weights, if necessary, to make up the deficiency. There was also a one mile match race between Harry and Willy Bridgman on a Sociable tricycle, and A Henderson junior, a ‘trick rider', all the competitors were about 8 years old.

Racing at the track continued through the 1880's, the Whit Monday and August Bank holiday

Meeting were annual events and attracted up to 5,000 spectators. There were also evening meetings. On August 2nd 1886, FS Buckingham of Blackheath won the 1 mile open handicap race, he was the first cyclist to race in the area on a safety fitted with pneumatic tyres.

Arthur Dendy died on August 13th 1886 and his wife died the following year. Following Mr Dendy's death, the Esplanade Hotel was run by the Dendy Trust and three members of the Torbay BC (F Palk, B Eastley and R Waycott) personally leased the Esplanade track so that bicycle racing could continue there. A bowling green and tennis court were built inside the track and the area around the track was terraced.

In 1887 the sharp corners of the track were smoothed out and additional banking was added. In 1891 the track was widened by three feet all around. The organisers obtained occasional licenses to sell drink at the cycle race meetings.

Racing continued into the early 1890's and many well-known riders such as H Synyer, WF Ball and E Leitch rode there. Attendance at the meeting was impressive, there were 6,000 spectators at the Whitsun 1888 event.

At the August 4th 1890 meeting, the great attraction was a balloon ascent by ‘Professor Baldwin'. Whilst it was being filled with gas, the balloon broke free of its mooring and floated away. The professor just managed to jump out and the balloon fell back to earth, the crowd attacked the balloon and then turned their attention to the professor, who had to be rescued by the police.

The August Bank Holiday meeting of 1894 was probably the last bicycle racing to be held on the Esplanade track. Ernest Leitch won 2 miles scratch race for the Singer cup* which he won for the third time, so it became his absolute property.

It was reported by the East and South Devon Advertiser on April 13th 1895 that Mr Washington Singer had acquired the cycle track at the Esplanade Hotel and "will be known as a cycle track no more.". Mr Singer wanted the land to extend his garden, his home was, Steartfield House (now the Palace Hotel) which was next door to the hotel. The syndicate who had leased the track claimed that they lost £20 running on the venture over the years.

The Esplanade Hotel continued in business and in the 1990's the hotel was owned by the coach company Shearings, who went into administration in 2020. The new owners of the Esplanade re-opened the hotel as a pub, called the Inn on the Green.

* The Singer cup (value 60 guineas) was donated by Washington Singer, an American heir of the Singer sewing machines empire, who lived in Steartfield House (now the Palace Hotel) on the Esplanade. Singer was a sportsman and philanthropist.


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Photos : ISSUU.com
Maps    : National Library of Scotland