Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society, gives us the who and how each of Torbay’s Blue Plaque was chosen. This week: Flora Thompson
Having approached the owners of ‘Lauriston’ in New Road, Brixham, about the possibility of placing a Blue Plaque on their property, honouring the famous novelist Flora Thompson, at first they were not overly keen.
My visit to this home opened my eyes to a different era, as what had been the Thompson family cottage from 1940 had been almost unseen on New Road, with its front door facing south.
Virtually unchanged since Flora and her family lived there, this home was where she heard her beloved son Peter, a merchant seaman, had been lost when his ship was torpedoed.
The cottage was where she completed three of her most famous novels, ‘Over to Candleford’ and ‘Candleford Green’ plus eventually ‘Still Glides the Stream’ - finished in 1946 but not published until after her death.
With the help and sponsorship of Brixham Town Council, a Blue Plaque unveiling was finally agreed although the formal ceremony would take place at the Catholic Church Hall, further down New Road.
The chosen date was December 5, 2008, to coincide with Flora’s birthdate.
We knew in advance that BBC Radio and BBC Television intended to be present and, therefore, had to inform them the plaque would not be finally in situ at the cottage until days later.
Having been contacted by Gill Lindsay a modern biographer on Flora Thompson’s life, Gillian then contacted Flora’s great niece Carol Knight, so that she and her husband Keith, and Gillian, could travel down from Middlesex to be at the event.
Carol was of course, the society’s special guest on the unveiling day.
On December 5, the plaque was duly unveiled at the hall and after formal introductions and a welcome by Chris Bedford, chairman of Brixham Town Council, Carol addressed about 50 attendees and told us that Flora had written most of her stories in spite of opposition from her mother, saying her mother had said ‘Flora and her damned poetry’, which oddly followed Flora’s husband’s stance, as he also was also not overly supportive.
Today’s readers and supporters are fortunate that Flora ‘struck to her guns’ and now her writing is literary history.
With the Brixham family home so close to New Road with only its end or side wall visible, it was insignifacant. Today, however, with its Blue Plaque high up at second-floor level, the home is far more noticeable to passing walkers or drivers, who may take a quick peek left, when leaving Brixham.
With the proceedings at the church hall over, members of the society were informed they could visit the cottage if they so wished.
They were allowed to see each unspoiled room of the house with windows where Flora would have sat writing her novels during her final six years of life.
The house or cottage still had a special ambience, indeed so special that the television team/crew decided to stay on long after we all departed, so they could film the house, gardens and carry out interviews, all of which eventually emerged as a video, about the days events from hall to cottage.
What had turned out to be a special event for the society made us new friends.
Carol and Keith returned three years later when, in 2011, we officially unveiled a Flora Thompson door - one of 12 doors at South Devon College Paignton - which today carry historic named connections of famous figures of Torbay, of interest to both students and visitors to the college.
Flora Thompson died in May 1947 and is interred at Longcross Cemetery, Dartmouth. Her grave carries a sculptured stone carved like an ‘open book’ with the simple words: ‘To dear memory of Flora Thompson - May 21st 1947’ on the open left (sculptured) page.
The society’s Flora Thompson pamphlet is still available by post by sending postage stamps and an stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society at Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ1 1DE.