Oldway Mansion

Oldway Mansion is a large house and gardens in Paignton, Devon, England. It was built as a private residence for Isaac Singer (1811–1875) and rebuilt by his son Paris Singer in the style of the Palace of Versailles.

Around 1871, the Fernham estate in Paignton was purchased by Isaac Singer, the founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The old buildings on the site were demolished and he commissioned a local architect, George Soudon Bridgman, to build a new mansion as his home.

As part of the designs, Singer instructed Bridgman to build a theatre within the house. Singer spared no cost in terms of Oldway Mansion’s construction; he sourced the finest materials from around the world and instructed Bridgman to design the interior in exuberant French style.

Singer died on 23 July 1875, shortly before work on the original mansion was completed.

Paris Singer, a son of Isaac Singer, supervised the alterations at Oldway Mansion between 1904 and 1907. The rebuilding work was modelled on the Palace of Versailles and the eastern elevation of the building was inspired by the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The interior of the building is noted for its grand staircase made from marble, and balusters of bronze. The ceiling of the staircase is decorated with an ornate painting based on an original design for the Palace of Versailles for Louis XIV by the French painter and architect Charles Le Brun.

Above the grand staircase, there is a reproduction of the first version of Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Crowning of Josephine by Napoleon. The original was purchased by Paris Singer in the late 19th century; the painting was sold to the French government in 1946 and now hangs in the Palace of Versailles.

The gallery on the first floor is a reproduction of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and it is floored in parquet. The gallery leads into the ballroom, which contains walls of gilt panelling and mirrors. Above the fireplace, there is an oil painting of Louis de Bourbon dating from 1717.

Oldway Mansion is set in 17 acres (69,000 m2) of gardens, which were laid out on an Italian theme by the French landscape gardener Achille Duchesne. Beneath the eastern elevation of the building is the maze, which consists of dwarf box hedging and flower beds. To the south of the mansion, there is a grotto garden, where a waterfall passes over a rocky cave into a pool below. The grounds of the mansion contain many sub-tropical plants and shrubs.

The formal gardens and parkland are Grade II listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.

During the period of the First World War from 1914 to 1918, Oldway Mansion was transformed into the American Women’s War Relief Hospital. The Rotunda was converted to house rows of beds for the wounded soldiers being brought back to England from the trenches of France and Belgium. King George V visited the mansion in 1915.

Oldway Mansion became the Torbay Country Club in 1929. During this period, tennis courts and a bowling green were added to the grounds.

Torbay Golf & Country Club opened in 1933. Oldway Mansion was used as the club house, with the course in the hills above the Mansion. The course closed in the mid-1950s.

During the Second World War from 1939 to 1945, Oldway was used in the war effort by housing RAF cadets training to be aircrew. In 1943, Oldway was damaged in an air raid, along with many other buildings in Paignton.

Until 2013, the building was used as council offices and for civil marriage ceremonies. Oldway Mansion has been a Grade II* listed building since 1993

Oldway Mansion has been used as a film location on several occasions. During the spring of 2004, it doubled as Buckingham Palace for the filming of Churchill: The Hollywood Years, starring Christian Slater and Neve Campbell. Pink gravel, guard houses and period vehicles were used to recreate the royal courtyard. On 21 December 2005, the ballroom at Oldway Mansion was the location for Devon’s first civil partnership. The registration was officially witnessed by the Mayor of Torbay and his dignitaries.