During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) against the French, the Royal Navy took advantage of Tor Bay’s deep water, sheltered aspect and strategic position for defending the English Channel, to use it as a harbour for the fleet. It was during this time that the visiting families of naval officers kick started the tourist industry, all be it in Torquay, by reporting to others by letter and word of the incredible natural beauty of the area. At this time Paignton was one of the local beauty spots visited on excursions by those visiting Torquay.
Paignton's Heyday, the Railway
Nothing of note really happened in Paignton until the arrival of the railway in 1859 which brought an ever increasing number of tourists. The Victorian pier, gently sloping sandy beaches, warm safe seas and mild climate made it the perfect family holiday destination. It’s heyday was the prosperous 60s by which time there were numerous B&Bs, holiday camps and camp sites providing reasonably priced accommodation for the thousands of happy grockles (the local word for tourists that came into common parlance after it was used in the Michael Winner film The System starring Oliver Reed which was filmed in Paignton). Comparisons with the south of France led Torbay to become known as the English Riviera with the five star accommodation in neighbouring Torquay attracting the rich and famous.
For Paignton particularly, the start of cheap package holidays in the mid 1970s to Spain with its guarantee of summer sunshine signalled the start of more difficult times for the town. The holiday camps, especially those inland, closed to provide land for homes for the growing permanent population. The rise of supermarkets and out of town shopping saw the town centre contract and decline. The Central Business District is now comprised of the eastern end of Palace Avenue, the pedestrianised Victoria Street, Hyde Road which contains the majority of the town’s estate agents and the “grockle ally” of tourist shops in Torbay Road that takes you down to the seafront promenade.