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New walking guide reveals Riviera's famous literary past

A sample of the guide

A new guide to Torquay’s literary heritage has been released aiming to reveal facts about Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Bovril, war poetry, Frankenstein and evolution.

Writers On The Riviera' is an illustrated printed map and guide which highlights writers who have taken inspiration from the area.

The English Riviera is well known as the birthplace of the world-famous crime writer Agatha Christie, but the area has provided an inspiration for many other writers over the years. 

Oscar Wilde, Mary Shelley, Charles Kingsley, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and many others were attracted to Torquay.

Charles Darwin’s seminal work On the Origin of Species, and his theory of evolution shocked Victorian society. He arrived in Torquay in July 1861 and lived at No 2 Meadfoot House in Hesketh Crescent, having chosen the town for health reasons. 

Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novels are the source of phrases including ‘the great unwashed’, ‘pursuit of the almighty dollar’ and ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’.

Bulwer-Lytton had an in-depth knowledge of the occult. One of his most popular excursions into the occult was his novel Vril, the Power of the Coming Race. The word ‘Vril’ came to be associated with ‘life-giving elixirs’, so when  John L Johnston was looking for a name for his ‘liquid life’ beef extract drink, he chose a blend of the words Bovine and Vril, and named the new beefy beverage ‘Bovril’. 

Beatrix Potter was an English writer, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist best known for ’The Tale of Peter Rabbit’. Kents Cavern is thought to be the inspiration for her drawing of the entrance to Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s house. 

George Bernard Shaw is perhaps best known for Pygmalion, and is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize for Literature and an Oscar (for the screenplay of Pygmalion). His 1897 play You Never Can Tell was set in Torquay. Bernard Shaw regularly visited the Hydropathic Hotel above Meadfoot Beach, now the Headland Hotel & Spa.

The guide has been produced by Torbay Culture and the English Riviera BID Company to attract new tourists as well as showing another side of the area to existing visitors and getting the local community exploring.

Martin Thomas, Executive Director of Torbay Culture said: "‘This area has a fascinating and long-standing literary heritage. For generations, writers have lived and visited the bay, and been inspired to create work here. This new trail focuses on Torquay and features internationally celebrated writers from Agatha Christie and Wilfred Owen, through to contemporary authors living and working here today."

To download the map click here

Click play to hear Torquay historian Dr Kevin Dixon speaking to reporter Andrew Kay

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