Doctor destined to have a far from normal life

The Blue Plaque in Brixham

The Blue Plaque in Brixham - Credit: Ian Handford

Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society, gives us the who and how each of Torbay’s Blue Plaques was chosen. This week: Dr Francis Brett Young

Neither of the two plaques highlighted here came through Torbay Civic Society and yet both are identical 15" aluminium Blue Plaques mirroring our own day, yet on this occasion put up by Francis Brett-Young Society an organisation formed after his death.

Francis Brett-Young, like his father, would become a medical doctor.

After his mother died when he was 14, the boy seemed destined to have a far from normal life.

Having received his medical degree in Birmingham, Dr Young came to Brixham in 1907 and opened a medical practice.

Later on taking in a partner at the Cleveland practice he eventually moved to live with his wife at Old Garden House, Heath Road in Brixham.

Later, he would spend two years as a ship surgeon travelling to and from far off Japan.

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On return to Brixham he built up the medical practice before leaving again this time after being called to the First World War.

Having joined the Medical Corps in Africa eventually now Major Young was invalided out after contracting malaria in 1918.

Unable to return to his Brixham practice, his love of writing now surfaced and he became a superb wordsmith, writing of his wide travels and also being competent poet and writer of novels.

The first book written with his brother was titled 'Undergrowth' although thereafter he alone produced dozens of novels.  

His chief pleasures after retiring to South Africa with his wife, are recorded as being his music, his pipe, his dog and a 'continuing recreation from travel'.

A fellow author John Masefield said Young was: "The most gifted, most interesting and most beautiful of mind among the younger men writing English."

He is worthy of his Blue Plaques installed up by the Brett-Young Association, the main one situated behind closed gates, is at his home 'Old Garden House' off Heath Road.

Another public plaque may be viewed at the presbytery on New Road at the side the Catholic church and we believe there are others at a school and a third home although no details yet exist. 

I am delighted to include Dr Young's plaques as part of this series about significant people of our area.

Naturally, as these plaques were not part of the Torbay Civic Society commemorative series our normal pamphlet did not apply, nevertheless because this serving doctor left us one or two amazing stories about his working life are well worth reading further.

As a start, you could get my short biography written in 2003. That article on Dr Young is now reproduced in A3 and includes pictures of the doctor, his Old Garden House home on Heath Road and the main plaque.

Because Torbay Civic Society in May 1994 knew nothing in advance about the plaque unveiling to honour Francis Brett Young, we took no part in that historic event. 

Long after his death a fellow author, a lay preacher and friend of the doctor in the Black Country Alan Rankin, in wishing him to be remembered in perpetuity, was the founder of the Francis Brett Young Society which much later became a registered charity.

Mr Rankin in admiring his fellow-author is quoted as saying he regarded 'Francis as the Midlands Thomas Hardy'.

With almost four dozen novels and numerous poems to his name, some of these may still be available in the usual retail outlets and local libraries, once life returns to normal after the pandemic has run its course.

For interested academics, the doctor also wrote articles in Bookman, Booksellar, London Review, Twitchett, World Today and the Review of Literature before his last book 'Winstanslow' was published posthumously in 1956.

This star of Brixham died abroad in South Africa on March 28, 1954.

In 2003 in conjunction with Mr Nick Pannell, a special biography for Francis Brett Young was published - a copy of which can be obtained by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 1 Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ1 1DE.