Paignton (/ˈpntən/ PAYN-tən) is a seaside town on the coast of Tor Bay in Devon, England. Together with Torquay and Brixham it forms the borough of Torbay which was created in 1998. The Torbay area is a holiday destination known as the English Riviera. Paignton's population in the United Kingdom Census of 2011 was 49,021.[1] It has origins as a Celtic settlement and was first mentioned in 1086. It grew as a small fishing village and a new harbour was built in 1847. A railway line was opened to passengers in 1859 creating links to Torquay and London. As its population increased, it merged with the villages of Goodrington and Preston. Paignton is around 25 miles (40 km) north east of Plymouth and 20 miles (32 km) south of Exeter, and has the fourth largest population in Devon.


View along Preston Sands beach
Location within Devon
Population49,021 (2011)[1]
OS grid referenceSX8960
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtTQ3, TQ4
Dialling code01803
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
FireDevon and Somerset
AmbulanceSouth Western
EU ParliamentSouth West England
UK Parliament


Paignton is mentioned in the Domesday Book of AD 1086 as Peintone in the ancient hundred of Kerswell.[2] Formerly written Peynton, Payngton[3] and Paington, the name is derived from "Paega" an Anglo-Saxon personal name, "ing" meaning "the people of" and "ton" an enclosure, estate or homestead,[4] the original Anglo-Saxon settlement. Originally, the beach was backed by low sand dunes with marshes behind on the flat land between the sea and the hills behind. The settlement grew up on the dry ground at the foot of the hills, and also as a separate hamlet in the shelter of Roundham Head, which was a fishing settlement. The first church was probably built using wood in the eighth century[5] In late Saxon times, the manor was owned by Leofric, the Bishop of Exeter, and later bishops built a palace, some remains of which, including the "Coverdale" Tower can be seen to the south of the parish church. Winner Street owes its name to a corruption of the word "Wynerde", referring to vineyards or, at least to traders in wine in the medieval period.[6] Paignton was given the status of a borough having a market and fair in 1294.[7]

Paignton was a small fishing and farming village (noted for grapes, cabbages and cider)[8] until the 19th century, when in 1837 the Paington Harbour Act led to the construction of a new harbour. Around the same time, the modern spelling, Paignton, first appeared. The historic part of Paignton is centred on Church Street, Winner Street and Palace Avenue which contain fine examples of Victorian architecture. Kirkham House is a late medieval stone house which is open to the public at certain times of the year.[9] The Coverdale Tower adjacent to Paignton Parish Church is named after Bishop Miles Coverdale, who published an English translation of the Bible in 1536. Coverdale was Bishop of Exeter between 1551 and 1553 and is reputed to have lived in the tower although this is doubted by modern historians.[7]

The railway line to Paignton was built by the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway, and opened to passengers on 2 August 1859, providing Torquay and Paignton with a link to London.

The Paignton Pudding, first made in the 13th century, is the origin of the nickname pudden eaters for the people of Paignton. The puddings were made infrequently and were of great size. When thousands turned up hoping to obtain a piece of a huge pudding that had been baked to celebrate the arrival of the railway[10] chaos occurred and the event became notorious. A Paignton Pudding was baked in 1968 to celebrate the town's charter, and another baked in 2006 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Oldway Mansion is a large house and gardens constructed in the 1870s for Isaac Merritt Singer, who had amassed a considerable fortune with his improvements to the sewing machine. The building was occupied by Torbay Council[11] until an agreement was signed in September 2012 to develop the site into a hotel and retirement apartments.[12] Other Singer legacies in Paignton include the Palace Hotel and the Inn on the Green, which were built as homes for Singer's sons Washington and Mortimer.

Torquay Tramways were extended into Paignton in 1911 but the network was closed in 1934.[13]


As Paignton's population grew, it merged with the coastal villages of Goodrington and Preston. The town was governed by an urban district council until April 1968, when the creation of Torbay County Borough Council led to a single body covering Torquay, Paignton and Brixham.[14] The unitary authority formed in 1998 now handles all local government for Torbay, which has a directly elected mayor and 36 councillors. They are elected every four years. The Mayor chooses nine councillors to form the Cabinet. The Chairman of Torbay Council wears the chain of office.[15] The first elected mayor was Nick Bye, elected in 2005. In 2011, Gordon Oliver became the second.[16] In May 2016, voters in Torbay chose to replace the system of a Mayor and cabinet with a council leader and cabinet in 2019.[17]

Most of Paignton is in the Torbay constituency. At the 2015 general election, Kevin Foster became the Conservative MP with a majority of 3,286. He retained it with a majority of 14,283 in 2017. Some areas in the southern and western parts of the town are in the Totnes constituency. In 2015, Sarah Wollaston retained the seat for the Conservative Party with a majority of 18,385, reduced to 13,477 in 2017. In the 2009 European elections, the United Kingdom Independence Party topped the poll in Torbay with 34.4% of the vote.[18] In the 2014 poll, UKIP again topped the poll, with 43.2%. Paignton is part of the South West England multi-member Euro-constituency, which returned two UKIP, two Conservative, one Labour and one Green Party members.[19]


Paignton's economy relies extensively on tourism and the town is marketed as a location for family holidays. The main seafront area is dominated by Paignton Pier,[20] a 780-foot (240 m) long structure opened in 1879. It was designed by George Soudon Bridgman, the local architect who also designed the original Oldway Mansion. The Festival Theatre, opened in 1967, was once a seafront theatre capable of staging large summer shows. In 1999 it was converted into a multiscreen cinema. The Torbay Air Show, launched in 2016, is held over the Bay in front of Paignton Sands in early June annually.[21] The Paignton Festival (formerly known as the "Torbay Carnival") is over 100 years old and is held annually in late July. It features a Carnival Procession together with various entertainments and charity stalls on The Green.[22] Regatta Week during early August is the peak holiday season. During this period there is a funfair on Paignton Green, along with a large fireworks display. Later in August is Children's Week, which includes a wide range of events and competitions.[23] Paignton has a variety of holiday accommodation, complemented by numerous pubs, nightclubs and restaurants.

Tourist attractions include Paignton Zoo and the Dartmouth Steam Railway, which operates steam trains from Paignton to Kingswear, from where a ferry can be taken across the River Dart to Dartmouth. The line was sold in 1972 without cessation of services by British Rail in the aftermath of the cutbacks of the Beeching era in the 1960s, and is operated today as a heritage railway line.[24] The 630 mile South West Coast Path National Trail runs along the coast.[25]

Suttons Seeds, a supplier of seeds, bulbs and horticultural products, is based in Paignton. There are small industrial estates and superstores on the outskirts on Brixham Road.

Places of interest

The Torbay Picture House (now closed) is believed to have been Europe's oldest purpose-built cinema and was built in 1907. Seat 2 Row 2 of the circle was the favourite seat of Torquay-born crime novelist Agatha Christie, who lived in neighbouring Galmpton. The cinemas and theatres in her books are all said to be based on the Torbay Picture House. It was also used as a location for the 1984 Donald Sutherland film Ordeal by Innocence and the 1981 film The French Lieutenant's Woman (which was filmed mainly at Lyme Regis in Dorset).[27][28]

The Royal Bijou Theatre is now demolished, but a blue plaque marking its former location can be found next to the Thomas Cook travel agency in Hyde Road. The theatre was the venue for the premiere of The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan on 30 December 1879. The performance was given at short notice to secure the British copyright on the work after problems had arisen with unauthorised performances of HMS Pinafore in the USA.[29] The Palace Theatre in Palace Avenue has been the main theatre in the town since the conversion of the Festival Theatre to a cinema in 1998.

The department store Rossiters was a centrepiece of the town until its closure in January 2009. The store is said to have been the inspiration for the sitcom Are You Being Served?.[30] In 2010, it reopened as a discount store.[31]

From 1889 to 1897 the mathematician Oliver Heaviside lived in Palace Avenue, in the building now occupied by Barclays Bank. A commemorative blue plaque can be seen on the wall. Heaviside is buried in Paignton Cemetery.


Paignton beach and the nearby Preston Sands, which are continuous at low tide, are used for water sports including kite surfing and dinghy sailing. Both are sandy and gently shelving and have no strong currents, making them popular with swimmers and families. Both have green spaces immediately inland. Paignton Green has a pirate-themed Adventure Golf course and the Paignton Geoplay Park, a children's play area, which has the area's geology as its theme, inspired by the UNESCO Global Geopark of which Paignton is a part. Immediately to the east of Paignton Harbour is Fairy Cove, which has no facilities, but features good exposures of the Torbay Breccia, a red sandstone with pieces of rock which washed into it when the area was a desert. Also within the former Urban District of Paignton lies Goodrington which has another popular beach backed by Young's Park, with its boating lake, and a large outdoor waterpark, Splashdown Quaywest. Beyond Goodrington are Waterside and Saltern Coves, which have no facilities and are accessed through fields, followed by Broadsands, on the Brixham border. The reed beds found behind Broadsands beach are a haunt of the rare cirl bunting.[32] Hollicombe beach, situated at Paignton's northern boundary with Torquay, features a geological stratotype at its northern end, known as the "Corbyn's Head Member"[33] Elberry Cove is used by jetski enthusiasts, while Saltern Cove is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its distinctive geology and its marine biology.


Paignton railway station is situated close to the shops and a short walk from the beach along Torbay Road. Train services are mainly provided by Great Western Railway and mainly consist of approximately hourly services to Torquay, Newton Abbot, Exeter and Exmouth, with some longer distance services to Taunton, Bristol, Cardiff and London (Paddington). Arriva Cross Country provide services to Birmingham and Manchester. Queen's Park Station for the Dartmouth Steam Railway is adjacent to the main railway station on the beachside of the level crossing. A service of steam trains is provided from February to December, although it is daily only between April and October.

The bus and coach station face the main entrance to the railway station. Bus services are provided by Stagecoach Southwest, Torbay Minibuses, Country Bus (Newton Abbot) and Dartmouth Steam Railway and Riverboat Company. Principal services are to Totnes and Plymouth; Torquay and Newton Abbot; Torquay, Teignmouth and Dawlish Warren; Brixham; and Kingswear for the ferry to Dartmouth. A range of long-distance coach services is operated by National Express.

The other railway station in Paignton is Goodrington Sands (opened 1928), now part of the Dartmouth Steam Railway.

Ferry services are provided seasonally by Paignton Pleasure Cruises and We Ferry to Torquay and Brixham from Paignton Harbour.

Paignton Harbour, with Torquay in the background

See also


  1. "Census 2011 - Torbay Profile". Torbay Council. 3 July 2013. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2014. (Word document)
  2. Open Domesday Online: Paignton, Devon, accessed July 2017
  3. 1765 Benjamin Donn Wall Map of Devonshire and Exeter, accessed July 2017
  4. Pike, John R. (1993). Paignton. Torbay Borough Council. p. 1. ISBN 1 869986 06 7.
  5. Pike, John R. (1993). Paignton. Torbay Borough Council. p. 58. ISBN 1 869986 06 7.
  6. Pike, John R. (1993). Paignton. Torbay Borough Council. p. 27. ISBN 1 869986 06 7.
  7. Parnell, Peggy (2007). A Paignton Scrapbook. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-4739-8.
  8. Barber, Chips (1992). Paignton. Obelisk Publications. p. 4. ISBN 0 946651 59 0.
  9. Kirkham House : Devon : South West : View properties : Properties : Days Out & Events : English Heritage
  10. Naylor, John & Naylor, Robert (1916). "From John O'Groats to Land's End". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
  11. Torbay Council – Torbay Council Web Site
  12. "Delight as £12m Paignton Oldway deal is signed to herald new beginning". Herald Express. 28 September 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  13. Crawley, Robert (2007). Torquay Trams. Colaton Raleigh: West Country Historic Omnibus and Transport Trust. pp. 1–3.
  14. "Devon Record Office: Torbay County Borough Council". The National Archives. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  15. "Council & Democracy". Torbay Council. Archived from the original on 19 December 2008. Retrieved 24 December 2008.
  16. "The Mayor and Cabinet". Torbay Council. Archived from the original on 30 August 2008. Retrieved 24 December 2008.
  17. "Torbay mayor and cabinet system scrapped in referendum", BBC News. 8 May 2016.
  18. 2009 European election results Archived 24 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  19. "South West England (European Parliament Constituency)". BBC News.
  20. English Seaside Piers – Paignton Pier Archived 14 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  21. Torbay Council. "Torbay Air Show". Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  22. English Riviera BID Company Ltd. "Paignton Festival (previously known as Torbay Carnival Week)". Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  23. "Torbay Children's week".
  24. Potts, C.R. (2014). The Newton Abbot to Kingswear Railway (2nd ed.). Usk: Oakwood Press. pp. 254–260. ISBN 978 0 85361 733 4.
  25. South West Coast Path Association. "South West Coast Path". Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  26. "Paignton Parish Church – Short History". Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  27. Ordeal by Innocence (1984)
  28. The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
  29. When I was but a nursery maid
  30. "Shutting up shop after 150 years", BBC News. 30 January 2005.
  31. "Store Details - The Original Factory Shop". Archived from the original on 25 January 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  32. Where to watch Cirl Buntings
  33. A Review of the Geological Heritage of Torbay Archived 28 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • Frith, Francis; John Bainbridge (1999). Francis Frith's Torbay. Frith Book Co. ISBN 1-85937-063-2.
  • Pearce, Frank (1999). The Book of Torbay: A Century of Celebration. Halsgrove. ISBN 1-84114-029-5.
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