Babbacombe Theatre

Built in the Art Deco box style the Babbacombe Concert Hall opened in May 1939.  The auditorium could seat 600 people.  The air conditioning was able to change the air six times per hour; warm/cold air being forced in at the front of the auditorium by electric fans and extracted at the rear.  The very modern lighting system added to the impact of this new venue and the external lights along the Downs were controlled from inside the Concert Hall also.

But we need to go back to 1900 when the music was first played on the Downs.  As tourism increased in Torquay and Babbacombe Downs became busier a bandstand of a simple wooden enclosure was erected towards the centre of the downs and a couple of times a week a band would play.  One such band was Perrins, formed by a  local greengrocer, Mr Perrin.  Perrins, an amateur military band, was quite a regular here, twice a week throughout the year and even more frequently in the summer.

As Babbacombe Downs became more and more popular, a purpose build bandstand was built in 1928 on the site of the present theatre using the natural slope of the land as an auditorium and roughwood giving a little shelter from the wind.  By 1935 a canvas awning topped it.

The Bandstand and also Redgate Beach were purchased from the proceeds of sale of the gas works in 1926 at Barton Hill Road.

After much pressure from the St Marychurch and Babbacombe business community the Babbacombe Concert Hall was constructed using exactly the same site as the Bandstand thus requiring no excavations, the owners of nearby properties also influenced its design too.  It was built precisely to the same height as the old Bandstand when the canvas awning was in place.  This meant in effect that no property had its view of Babbacombe Bay or Lyme Bay obscured.

So the Concert Hall opened in May 1939.  Perrins Band had to find a new home and moved down to the Princess Pier in Torquay.  Unfortunately the Second World War broke out in September and the first season only lasted for 12 months before the RAF commandeered it for a lectures.  The boys were kitted out at Babbacombe Garage and stayed in the Hotels along the Downs.  There were a few concerts during the War and ENSA Shows replaced summer entertainment.

After the war the Theatre was back in business and one or two up and comings appeared here: Ray Allen, Norman Vaughan, Bruce Forsythe, Roy Hudd and the Glen Miller Sounds.

Babbacombe Theatre circa 2010

Babbacombe Theatre circa 2010

Battles between Babbacombe and Torquay still crop up from time to time, not so many years ago Torquay tried to close the Theatre to help prop up the Princess Theatre.  A petition of 3000 odd people and the backing of the Theatres Trust, the South West Arts and some of the artists that started their careers in Babbacombe soon put that to bed.