Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Tilton - Francis Brett Young's Quinton by Michael Hall

"Francis Brett Young (1884-1954) was one of England's greatest regional novelists. His series of novels set in Birmingham and its suburbs, the industrial Black Country and its green borderlands portray a vibrant picture of life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More than this, they are also good stories with an appeal for today's readers."

Thus writes Michael Hall in his 2009 biography of author Francis Brett Young.

Francis Brett Young was born in Halesowen in 1884, the son of Dr Thomas Brett Young and Annie Elizabeth Jackson, he studied as a doctor at Birmingham's Queen's Hospital but embarked upon a literary career following the deterioration of his own health during World War I.

Young set out to write a series of novels set in and around Birmingham, which he said "would form a definite series presenting a more or less complete picture of society in the Midlands before the war".

At the height of his fame Young's annually produced novels were eagerly awaited. His complete works included:

  • Robert Bridges: A Critical Study (1914)
  • The Iron Age (1916)
  • Marching to Tanga (With General Smuts in East Africa) (1914)
  • The Young Physician (1919)
  • Poems, 1916-1918 (1919)
  • The Black Diamond (1921)
  • The Red Knight (1921) Collins, London
  • Cold Harbour (1924)
  • Portrait of Clare (1927)
  • My Brother Jonathan (1928)
  • The House Under the Water (1932)
  • This Little World (1934)
  • White Ladies (1935)
  • Dr. Bradley Remembers (1936)
  • Far Forest (1936)
  • Portrait of a Village (1937)
  • They Seek a Country (1937)
  • Mr Lucton's Freedom (1940)
  • A Man About the House (1942)
  • The Island (1944) (written as epic verse)
  • Wistanslow (1956)

  • Many of his novels were set in the fictional city of North Bromwich, based on Birmingham with particular focus on the western segment of the city including Small 'Eath (Small Heath), Marbourne (Harbourne), Sparkheath (Aston), Blockley (Hockley), Winsworth (Handsworth and Winson Green), Lower Sparkdale (Bordesley, Camp Hill, Sparkbrook and Sparkhill), Alvaston (Edgbaston), Sutton Vesey (Sutton Coldfield) and Tilton (Quinton).  

    The suburbs of Alvaston and Tilton are extensively depicted in a number of Young's novels with what Michael Hall describes as explicitly interpretive accuracy. Beyond providing a fascinating biographical account of the life and works of Francis Brett Young, Hall's book explores the parallels between the fictional village of Tilton and the real place of Quinton, sometimes down to the finest details of history, geography and social conditions. Hall concludes:

    "In their realistic evocations Young's novels merit serious consideration as a valid record of Quinton topography and life before World War II. Conveying powerfully and convincingly the sense of place which was personally important, Young's writings provide a valuable complement to demographic and economic study, offering essential source material for further study"

    "More than works of contemporary fiction, Young's novels have themselves become indispensable historical evidence".   

    In 1950 Francis Brett Young was awarded the honorary degree of D.Litt. by the University of Birmingham. The Public Orator, Professor T. Bodkin commented:

    "He has done for Warwickshire and Worcestershire what Hardy did for Dorset and Bennett for the Five Towns." 

    Francis Brett Young died in South Africa in 1954.

    Published 2009 by The Francis Brett Young Society (www.fbysociety.co.uk) and Quinton Local History Society (www.qlhs.org.uk)

    ISBN 978-1-898844-18-1

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