Honouring volunteer who became involved in 15 Brixham institutions

The Prince of Wales, closely followed behind by Henry Maddick Smardon, inspecting the crew
of the n

The Prince of Wales, closely followed behind by Henry Maddick Smardon, inspecting the crew of the new Brixham lifeboat on July 27, 1932 - Credit: Archant

Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society, gives us the who and how each of Torbay’s Blue Plaques was chosen. This week: Henry Maddick Smardon

In terms of public service, Brixham’s Henry Maddick Smardon MBE was a truly remarkable man.

He was a memorable dignatory of the town during the early years of the 20th century and yet today, other than his two memorials left in his name, he is now largely forgotten.

Had it not been for John Read, of Brixham Heritage Museum, mentioning this man to me, after I had completed a talk on another famous Devon figure to the museum members, the idea of a plaque to honour Mr Smardon would never have occurred.

Once the idea was floated, John introduced me to the Smardon family and especially Mrs Isabelle Barker, nee Smardon, plus her in-laws Mr and Mrs D Barker, at the time living in the Smardon home - a large flat above what had been ‘Smardons Library shop’ at 8 Bolton Street, Brixham.

I soon discovered that Henry - always referred to as just ‘Spot’ - had spent 46 years teaching the children of Furzeham and from 1937 had been part of the Brixham Urban District Council, later serving as its chairman in 1945.

But perhaps more importantly, was the sheer volunteering commitment this man made throughout his life, becoming involved in no less than 15 institutions of the town including serving such august bodies as the RNLI, the NUT, All Saints’ Church, Brixham Rugby Club, chairman of Brixham Fish Control Advisers’ Group etc.

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For years he also worked as a local newspaper reporter and was even instrumental in establishing the ‘Smardon’s Field’ at Astley Park on Reabarn Road, one of Brixham’s earliest holiday camps and yet still today its gates act as a memorial to him.

It was in April 2015 that Brixham town councillors voted without exception to fund a Blue Plaque to honour the memory of Henry M Smardon.

The plaque would need to be placed at his home, 8 Bolton Street, and that became my next challenge as number 8 - today a newsagents - had no vacant wall space at all for any plaque, let alone a civic society 15-inch roundall.

The lone skylight above the single width door of the passageway, leading to the upper floor and the large flat seemed the only possibility.

Blocking the skylight would exclude all external natural light to the passage, so in having to think outside of the box, my builder and I decided large sheets of perspex which would be sufficient to support an entrapped, could be placed in the skylight.

It meant the existing glass was protected from external damage and yet would still let a little natural light into the passage. The concept was unique, a first for the society.

With the date of unveiling agreed to coincide with Mr Smardons birthdate, October 22, the rest of the arrangements brought a second challenge, when it became obvious the police would not allow a ‘public event’ on Bolton Cross junction, even for a matter of minutes. The spot of the home, was just too important even for ‘Spot’.

Fortunately, the town hall clerk now stepped in to allow us to use the town hall function room/cafe, which then meant refreshments could be served after the unveiling.

So it was on October 22, 2015, with Councillor Paul Addison, chairman of Brixham Town Council, presiding, a large attendance of mainly Brixham residents and museum and society members, were finally able to welcome Isabel Smardon to the event to honour Henry by the provision of a Blue Plaque.

With the usual greetings and thanks given and a presentations of a little biography of Henry by yours truly, our collectors pamphlet was then freely distributed. Thanks were finally given given the town council and Brixham Does Care group, as the plaque was removed from the room to be permanently fixed in its new skylight home.

Everyone could now view the plaque safely from the pavement as they finally left the event.

• A TCS pamphlet ‘Henry Maddick Smardon MBE (1869-1948)’ is still obtainable by sending postage stamps to the value of 50p - plus a stamped addressd envelope to Torbay Civic Society, Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ1 1DE.