300 take peep into past at Paignton's Oldway Mansion
THE prospective developers of Oldway Mansion are keen and eager to get on with the project.
But Akkeron says it has to wait for the legal agreement with the council to be finalised.
The mansion, rotunda and stables are now standing empty as Torbay Council has moved out its staff and its equipment.
The next step, once the legal agreement is signed, is for Akkeron to take on the long term leases for the mansion, rotunda and stables, the tennis courts and the area between the bowling green and Oldway Road.
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The first phase of works will include further surveys on the mansion and stables to convert the listed buildings into a 57-bedroom luxury spa hotel and the first section of housing, 22 units, and new indoor bowling club, in line with permissions granted last year. Work on the mansion, rotunda and stables alone is estimated at £7million.
But the legal agreement, expected to be signed by late summer, has been delayed, partly because Akkeron has decided to build the homes themselves rather than use a developer because of market conditions.
Mark Jones, development manager for Akkeron, was at a special public open day at the mansion which saw more than 330 people shown around the buildings. The tours gave a rare opportunity to see the grandeur of the decoration of the rooms which previously made up the private family quarters of the Singer family themselves. There were around 130 of the Friends of Oldway and around 200 members of the public.
Mr Jones said: "The attendance was stunning. Clearly people are interested to see behind the scenes, but we did point out that when the hotel is completed the areas open to the public will be greatly enhanced. The Mayor's Parlour, for example, will be a hotel lounge and bar and people will be able to come into the public areas as in any hotel. The rear staircase will be open and the upstairs lounge."
The mansion retains many of its original decorative features and Mr Jones said they aimed to keep as much as possible while still complying with the safety requirements of a hotel. The room named after dancer Isadora Duncan, for example, has delicate golden mouldings, hidden doors, and a balcony outside which will be a real feature of the room. It is easy to see the potential of such rooms, even though many still have some office equipment such as suspended metal light fittings. All the furniture has now been removed.
The hotel room facilities such as the bathrooms will be contemporary and in some cases set within a self contained 'pod' so moisture does not affect the fittings such as ceiling mouldings which can still be seen. Some of the rooms will have balconies which take advantage of the great views over Paignton.
Work is expected to start quickly on the 22 homes on the north west side of the site, which includes the former park keepers' buildings leading down to Oldway Road.
But Mr Jones said before starting on the mansion they still have further surveys to do and a work plan to produce for the buildings, for example to see how modern services can be run through the complex. He said this could take a further nine to 12 months.
The mansion has seen many structural changes over the years from the original house built by Isaac Singer.
Mr Jones said rather than aiming to restore it to its original state: "We will restore what we have inherited rather than making a judgement on what period of time to restore it to, Isaac Singer's time, or Paris Singer's time or the interventions the council has made."
There will be 37 rooms in the mansion itself and a further 20 in the stable and rotunda. "We are not trying to force fit rooms into small spaces. We are trying to do this in a sympathetic way. But the new fittings will be contemporary because you couldn't match all the different styles used through the buildings."
Paul Hawthorne, chairman of the Friends of Oldway, said: "The last time people were able to tour the Mansion so freely was in 1947 when Paignton Urban District Council had just completed the purchase. We managed to show them all sides of the house's history, from bedrooms designed by Isaac Singer himself at the heart of his Wigwam, to stately guest rooms converted by his son Paris Singer, to the attic rooms where the 30 or so servants lodged.
"The feedback from the public was incredibly positive, and the numbers who turned out show just how passionate so many local people are about this wonderful place."