Visitors to Brixham
Brixham in its early days was just a small settlement of farmers who fished as a side-line. Brixham was always overshadowed by the larger town of Dartmouth although Brixham was larger than both Torquay and Paignton. Some of the earliest visitors to Brixham were the monks from Totnes who regularly travelled to St Marys along Monksbridge Road and up into what was then the main town.
The earliest reference to Brixham Fishing is a mentioned by John Leland in 1542. Leland was touring the British Isles listing all the books in libraries and monasteries. He said in his book ‘the west point of Torrebay is caullid Byri: and more than within a mile of this point is a praty town of fischar men caullid Brixham. (sic)
Brixham ‘hit the headlines’ in 1688 when Prince William landed his fleet here. It is not necessary to go into detail as this is has always been contentious and surrounded by folklore needless to say the fact was he did land at Brixham and was hailed as the return of democracy to the country.
It was during the reign of George III that the Member of Parliament for Middlesex was to become a thorn in the side of both George and of Parliament itself. John Wilkes was described as a radical and campaigner for a free press, although, how much of his campaigning was due to this or of just self-promotion? He was a member of the notorious ‘Hellfire Club’ who met regularly for nights of sin and debauchery. At this time it was still treasonous to publish criticisms of the monarch or his advisors in 1771 he forced Parliament to give the press the right to publish Parliamentary debates verbatim. On the 20th August 1772, during his travels of the West Country, he found himself climbing the Kings steps in Brixham and comments;
At last we made Brixham-quay, in Torbay, the place where King William landed…..I was ready to fall on my knees on the sacred spot; and could scarcely leave the holy steps on which he landed to rescue a wretched people from slavery and the Stuarts. I was provoked to find no pyramid, obelisk, nor the least public memorial, on such a spot: but I hope the memory of that event is engraven on the hearts of the people; who seem to me, in that part of Devonshire, very staunch to the cause of liberty.
In 1773 Fanny Burney, the novelist, visited Brixham whilst holidaying at Teignmouth. She came by yacht and, having tried in vain to hire horses for the return trip, was obliged to stay over-night in Brixham before going back by sea. Fanny was a writer of satire mainly at the expense of her fellow aristocrats she was very much admired by her male contemporises such as Dr Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Hester Thrale and David Garrick.
Prince William was not the last of the royals to visit Brixham. On 21st July 1828 H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence (soon to become William IV) paid an official visit to Brixham as Lord High Admiral. The Brixham inhabitants presented him with an address of good will, together with a piece of the stone on which William of Orange first set foot when he landed in England. The chip of the stone was contained in a case of Heart of Oak over 800 years old, from the old Totnes Bridge, beautifully lined with velvet.
In the summer of 1969 HM Queen Elizabeth II visited Torbay to review the fleet together with Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. The Queen returned in 1988 specifically to visit Brixham as it was the 300th anniversary of the landing of William of Orange. She spent a week in and around Brixham and Torbay.
In 2003 the Duke of Kent visited Brixham to talk to the fundraisers of the Lifeboat institution. The most frequent royal to visit Brixham has been Anne Princess Royal who seems to like the fish hampers she receives. She was here in 2005, 2008, and 2011 and again more recently.
Many of the visitors to Brixham have extended stays here. James Callaghan (becoming Prime-minister and later Lord Callaghan) came to Brixham as a two year old when his father took up the post of coastguard. He was educated at Furzeham School before they moved back to Portsmouth where James attended Grammar school. His father is buried in St. Mary’s graveyard.
In 1966 there was a phrase uttered that would become known to sports fans for generations to come. That phase was emitted in the last dying moments of the World Cup Final between England and Germany when Kenneth Wolstenholme elated “ They think it’s all over, it is now” as Geoff Hurst slotted in the last goal of the final. Kenneth started his career as a journalist before the Second World War broke out. He enlisted in the RAF and took part in over 100 bombing raids until the end of the war. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and bar. There later followed a very long career in sports broadcasting before he retired and moved to Galmpton where he became a respected member of the community and even supporting Torquay United at home games.
I have already documented some of the people who have been given blue plaques on or near New Road. If you are of a certain age you will remember a TV series which started in 1967 and ran until 1973 and launched into stardom many fine actors. A regular character on this series was Desk Sargent Tom Stone played by John Slater. John was already an accomplished actor playing in Shakespeare plays with the likes of Michael Bates, Robert Hardy, Robert Shaw, Jill Bennett and Michael Gwynn. He turned his talents to film and appeared in many classic British movies including ‘Went the Day Well’, ‘Passport to Pimlico ‘and ‘The Million Pound Note’. In 1960 John came to Brixham to film ‘The Devils Pass’ (his son Rodger also had a small part). The film is entirely filmed in Brixham and children from the Brixham Orphan Boys Home are involved. John and his wife Betty fell in love with Brixham and bought a holiday home here in Westcliffe Terrace. In 1972 John learned that the Brixham Theatre was to be turned into a Bingo Hall, he stepped in and leased the theatre to produce his own series of summer shows despite failing health. John continued to campaign against the closure suggesting improvements and better advertising. John unfortunately died in 1975.
Another Blue plaque recipient was Flora Thompson born in 1876 author of the ‘Candleford’ collection of novels. She was one of ten children born to Albert and Emma in a small hamlet in Oxfordshire. In 1898 she went to work in a post office in Grayshot, Hampshire. It was here she rubbed shoulders with some literary giants who were among her customers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Bernard Shaw being just two of many. She had a few small books of poems published but it wasn’t until 1939 that the first of the Candleford books was published. In 1940 she came to Brixham and bought her final home ‘Lauriston’ in New Road, Brixham. It was here she finished the Candleford collection. She also purchased 32 Bolton Street probably as an investment. Flora died on the 21st June 1947.