Coastguard cottage plaque honours Sunny Jim

James Callaghan lived in Brixham and attended Furzeham School

James Callaghan lived in Brixham and attended Furzeham School - Credit: Archant

The inital request for a Blue Plaque to former Prime Minister James Callaghan came from Mr A Heard, 26 Berry Head Road, Brixham, although ultimately it was Brixham Town Council who sponsored the plaque, the second of three honouring famous residents of their town as part of a promotional Heritage Trail for visitors.

Mr Leonard ‘James’ Callaghan, politician, was ‘Sunny Jim’, who would eventually hold all three of the great offices of state including being Prime Minister.

The only son of James Callaghan, Chief Naval Petty Officer (RN) who served on the Royal Yacht and retired in 1914 to take up a position as a Brixham Coastguard but with a tied cottage.

Then, in 1921 when Leonard died, his family, in near poverty, had to give up the tied home.

A young Leonard James had attended Furseham Elementary school from age two, a school dating back to 1820 - being the first Free School in Brixham.

With little interest in physical activity or sports, Jim won a prize in 1921 for his biblical knowledge but apart from this, was not noted as an outstanding pupil.

By age 14 and at Portsmouth, Jim attended the secondary school before winning a scholarship to the grammar school.

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His extra-ordinary life started at the Inland Revenue and then the TUC when becoming an assistant to the Staff Federation. Next came enlistment in 1943 and as a young stoker, Jim - later Sunny Jim - saw active service in places as far distant as Ceylon and Iceland, until the war ended and a 35-year parliamentary career commenced.

Sunny Jim held all the major offices of state and even served as Father of the House before becoming a life peer in July, 1987.

As Lord Callaghan, Sunny Jim came often to Brixham.

During the arrangements made for Torbay Civic Society to affix a Blue Plaque to his old home, it was agreed to hold the official unveiling ceremony in a lounge at Berry Head Hotel - the coastguard home cottage being seen as too small to cater for a public event.

In his long parliamentary career Lord Callaghan never forgot Brixham and as late as 2004 had supported the campaign to repair the Shoalstone Swimming Pool, being quite near 26 Berry Head Road, the cottage he would personally recall later in parliament.

In retirement Lord Callaghan produced his memoirs titled ‘Time and Chance’ before on March 15, 2005 his beloved wife Audrey died. It would be only 11 days later, on the eve of his 93rd birthday, that Sunny Jim also died. He was survived by a son and two daughters.

Three years later, the Blue Plaque was unveiled after the formal ceremony at Berry Head Hotel. Affixed to the wall of the coastguard cottage today, all passers by may view.

This should have completed the Callaghan plaque story but that was not to be.

Just one week after the installation, a neighbour back from holiday wrote to me to say it was on the wrong cottage. After researching the Parliamentary Hansard record in London, I luckily found Lord Callaghan relating a little of his early life in Brixham and fortunately recalled the cottage number. I was also aware that if the plaque been under the control of English Heritage (as in London) they never allow plaques unless the person honoured has been dead 20 years or more.

Thankfully, no such rule applies in Devon and so from our viewpoint, on two accounts it was lucky - Sunny Jim.

A TCS pamphlet ‘Callaghan of Cardiff (1912-2005)’ is still obtainable by sending a postage stamp to the value of 50p - plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, Suite 1, Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.