Baronet founded Bay home for ‘gentlewomen of limited means’


The stories behind Torbay’s blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week, Sir Culling Smith-Eardley:

The blue plaque placed on Erith House in 2004 came in commemoration of  the 150th anniversary of the Torquay Institution which first appeared on Vaughan Parade in Torquay.

Erith House would be created by Sir Culling Smith-Eardley in fond memory of his late wife Lady Eardley in the parish of Erith, Kent.

During the 1850s Sir Culling and his wife were residing at Erith in Kent and it was from there it is believed he met Florence Nightingale when attending a committee meeting in 1853 at No 1 Upper Harley Street, to discuss setting up nursing homes for ‘gentlewomen of limited means’.

Later at a reconvened meeting on February 20, 1854, the committee were joined by Lady Bird and her daughter, of Torwood Mount, Torquay, who also ensured to establish a nursing establishment, which ultimately resulted in the Torquay Institution on Vaughan Parade.

The home was to care for ladies of ‘limited means’ suffering from chest problems or in poor health.

Access to the Torquay Institution was strict and even when two of Florence’s nurses tried to move here, they were turned away after being judged ‘as not of sufficient limited means’.

Our new facility became so popular and it was obvious that larger premises would be required and now Sir Laurence Palk (Lord Haldon) stepped in to gift Hazelwood Manoron Warberry Hill.

Meanwhile, Sir Culling (1805-1863) and his wife moved to Torquay from Kent.

With his obsession about evangelism and a strong conviction that all Christians should unite into a single body, he had even been the prime mover in the founding of the Evangelical Alliance during 1845-46 becoming its first chairman.

Having in 1856 purchased part of the Frognel Estate, this was now part of Belmont Villa itself, and indeed both part of the large estate of Herbert Minton, who resided in a house which today is simply called Mintons on Higher Woodfield Road.

The baronet was very wealthy and he became a significant benefactor to our area.

With a strong maternal Jewish background, the Eardleys – and especially the baronet – had been working politically to improve relationships between the Church of England and non-conformists.

They always supported individuals banned from parish churches which saw the couple eventually fund the construction of our significant Furrough Cross Church at St Marychurch in spite of the fact that this was very much against the wishes of Bishop Phillpotts.

The baronet used his home name from Kent when constructing a new property – Erith House in 1860 – having decided to replace Lord Haldon’s Hazelwood Manor convalescent home with a larger premises.

The ethos regarding only for ladies was retained so that only ‘gentlewomen of limited means’ could apply for access.

He dedicated Erith House to the memory of his late wife Lady Eardley and it would be a very long time before the home accepted men.

Finally, on July 14, 2004, Torbay Civic Society unveiled its blue plaque at Erith House in Lower Erith Road in celebration of 150 years since the so-called Torquay Institution had been established in our town.

The plaque today states: “Established in 1854 as Torquay Institution Erith House – was built in 1860 named in memory of Lady Eardley of Erith Kent. Gentlewomen of Limited means suffering from chest problems came to reside and benefit from the mild climate of Torquay. Erith House is a registered charity.”

The baronet had loathed all forms of religious persecution throughout his political life and had even been instrumental in the abolition of penal laws against Swedish Roman Catholics during 1858.

He also campaigned the release of Edgar Mortara, an Italian Jewish child.

Yet by 1860 and in poor health, it was to be an adverse reaction to re-vaccination against smallpox that brought about his death on May 21, 1863.

His son Sir Eardley Gideon Culling Eardley now became fourth baronet until on his death in 1875, the title became extinct.


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