Cary Arms, A History

The Cary family have been a part of Torquay’s history since 1662 when Sir George Cary moved into Torre Abbey. They owned much of the land at Cockington, St Marychurch and Babbacombe.

Cary Arms is named after this influential local family.

Babbacombe Bay, The Early Days

Babbacombe Bay has always been one of Torbay’s quietest and least spoilt beaches. The village of Babbacombe began here, a small cluster of fisherman’s cottages clinging to the cliff, always in danger of being washed away by the sea.

The first sign of new beginnings for the bay came when the Whitehead family moved into a large house right on the beach. It was later called The Glen and stood where the car park is now. Mrs Whitehead attended the baby princess Victoria and was a lady in waiting to the princess’s mother. The young princess was driven out from Torquay to visit her in 1833.

While she was queen, Victoria visited the bay twice, once in 1846 when she did not land and again in 1852. This time the queen was taken close to the shore in a rowing boat so that she could admire and sketch the scenery.

Prince Albert with their sons Edward, Prince of Wales and Prince Alfred went to visit Mrs Whitehead. Edward came to Babbacombe twice more, in around 1856 and again in 1878. He was staying at the Imperial Hotel and was driven to Oddicombe and from there was rowed across to Babbacombe bay, he met Emma Keyse, the niece of Mrs Whitehead at the Glen and was invited for tea. However, his aides had arranged for tea to be taken at the Cary Arms. They sat on the grass overlooking the bay and asked the landlord for an already famous Devonshire cream tea. The landlord informed them that there was no clotted cream available. One of the other diners sat nearby offered the royal party some of theirs so the reputation of William Gaskell, the landlord at the time and the Cary Arms was saved.

The thatched roof of the inn was destroyed by fire in 1906 to be replaced by the red tiled one we see today. Local builders carried out the work for a cost of £1,193.


Smugglers have long been active along this part of the south coast, the steep cliffs and isolated coves being ideal for them to land their illicit goods at the dead of night. The towns of Torbay were well patrolled by the revenue men and punishments for those caught were harsh.

Babbacombe Bay was a popular landing point, just far enough from Torquay to be reasonably safe for the smugglers to get ashore and wind their way through a network of secret paths and tunnels. The idea of course was to avoid paying duty on these goods, usually wines and spirits, which were then sold at the back doors of the many inns around the town and across the county.

Agatha Christie

The world’s most famous crime writer, Agatha Christie, was born in Torquay in 1890. She was a nurse during the First World War, a time that gave her an insight into medicines and poisons, so important in the many novels that were to follow. Many were set around the West Country with such sleuths as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple solving murders galore.

In 1938 Agatha Christie bought Greenway, a beautiful house overlooking the River Dart at Galmpton near Brixham. Initially she and her husband, Max, used the house as a holiday home. The Greenway estate dates back to the late 1400’s when among the first owners were the Gilbert family, favourites of Elizabeth 1, who occupied an earlier version of the house for over 200 years.

Christie passed Greenway to her family and they in turn gave it to The National Trust. Greenway opens its doors and gardens to the public in August 2009.

Dartmoor National Park

Dartmoor was designated as one of the National parks of England and Wales in 1951. It covers 369 square miles of Devonshire. Much of the area lies over a granite plateau with the famous weather beaten Tors thrusting upwards as a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago. Tor is an ancient Celtic word for tower. The park is named after the River Dart, which rises on the moor.

Most of Dartmoor lies at over 600m above sea level, which means weather conditions can change in minutes, from the calm and sunny to severe and dangerous.

Many of the countries most dangerous criminals were once incarcerated in Dartmoor Prison at Princetown, the theory being that if they escaped from the prison, they would never get off the moor!

People have been living there since pre-history. Evidence can be seen all over the moor in the form of ancient stone crosses, standing stones, circles and all manner of lumps and bumps show signs of many years of human habitation.

Babbacombe Sailing Club

A regatta has been held at Babbacombe since the early 1820’s making it one of the oldest in the country.

The Babbacombe Corinthian sailing club was formed to satisfy local demand in 1935. At that time the club’s headquarters was an old fisherman’s hut on Oddicombe beach, just across the bay from the Cary Arms. A new building was built on its footprint and opened in 1937.

John Lee

John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee was famously named ‘the man they could not hang’.

Emma Keyse was the niece of the original owner of The Glen, Mrs Whitehead, a large house near Cary Arms. A kindly lady, always willing to help, her cook Elizabeth Harris asked if there could be a position in the staff for her half brother, John Lee. He had a history of petty crime but Emma was willing to give him a chance. She employed him as a servant when he left school in an attempt to set him on the straight and narrow. He left in 1879 to join the navy but was invalided out and returned to Babbacombe. He had several jobs locally but was dismissed for theft before he resumed his post at The Glen.

On the 15th November 1884 Emma was found brutally murdered. Suspicion immediately fell on John Lee then a young lad of 20. He was arrested, sent for trial and later convicted of the murder. Lee was sentenced to be hanged at Exeter prison on 23rd February 1885. Three times the hangman tried to carry out his task, three times the trap door failed to open, more probably due to the wooden door swelling in the rain or the inefficiency of the hangman than the hand of god. The execution was postponed and later commuted to life in prison. He served 22 years at Portland prison in Dorset. He visited his family in Torquay on his release just before Christmas 1907 and then apparently left the country.

Teignmouth Golf Club

Teignmouth Golf Club was opened in 1924, created by the famous American Dr CA MacKenzie for the sum of £3,500. Many said it was madness to create a golf course in such an open and exposed place. The golf club is 800 feet above sea level on Little Haldon Moor and overlooks the Teign estuary in one direction and distant views to Dartmoor in the other. Alister MacKenzie was born in Yorkshire in 1870, studied medicine but always enjoyed his golf and following a period serving in the Boer War decided to turn his hand to course design. He went on to design over 40 golf courses including Augusta, the home of the US masters in 1932, in partnership with Bobby Jones. He died in 1934 at his home in Santa Cruz.

Following a difficult time both before and after the Second World War, with dwindling memberships and therefore revenue the club had more than its fair share of financial difficulties and was sold to Teignmouth council for £6,000 in 1947. Today it is one of the leading and most popular clubs in the area.