Rags-to-riches story of a Middlesbrough dentist
PUBLISHED: 08:33 06 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:56 20 February 2013
Jo Haywood is charmed by the toothsome rags-to-riches tale of a pioneering North East dentist
Author Tony Brown obviously likes a project he can really sink his teeth into. Not content with producing a nine-generation family history and writing articles on motor caravanning and canal boating, he has now published a book telling the inspiring story of his grandfathers rise to prominence as a successful North East dentist.
Tom Brown: Victorian Middlesbrough Dentist (12.50, Country Books) is not just the biography of a poor-boy-done-good, its also a fascinating social history of dentistry, charting the clinical changes that brought it out from the backstreets and into the mainstream.
The authors grandfather opened his dental practice in Parliament Road, Middlesbrough, shortly after the First World War and there was a Brown wielding a drill there until 2004, when Tony retired to pursue his writing career.
Tom, his son and grandson worked hard to make the practice a success, but it was an uphill struggle from the start. He was only five years old when he lost his own father.
Thomas, a shepherd, died in October 1884 of tuberculosis, aged just 31, leaving his young family virtually penniless. His mother, Ann, moved them to Berwick-upon-Tweed, where she set up a lodging house, scraping together just 15 shillings a week.
Life changed for Tom in 1895 when an unexpected opportunity presented itself. His younger brother, Willie, left school and was offered two apprenticeships, one in cabinet making and the other in dentistry. He made an appointment with the dentist but then had a change of heart and opted for cabinet making instead.
Tom, then 16, decided to take the road his brother had declined to travel and grabbed the chance to become a dentist with admirable foresight. After completing his apprenticeship, he went on to develop his own trademark techniques, striving to make dentistry as painless as possible and the results longer lasting.
His son, Tom Junior, still had two or three of his fathers personally made, fully intact gold crowns at the time of his death in 1993, said Tony. These crowns must predate Tom Seniors retirement in 1940, giving a survival time of 55 to 60 years, which is quite extraordinary and is a tribute to both his dental and gold-crafting skills.
Tom worked such long, arduous hours that it wasnt until his retirement in 1940 that his grandson, Tony, really got to know him. He enjoyed sharing his passion for both dentistry and photography, but by then his legendary patience and affability were often dulled by painful angina.
Sometimes he would sit in his high-backed, winged chair, always correctly dressed in a dark grey suit with a waistcoat and polished black shoes with his right hand across his chest, inside his jacket, said Tony. It wasnt until later that it was explained to me that this was because of pain from his heart.
His kindly disposition remained intact, however, right up until his death in August 1954.
Tom took to keeping a budgie for company, Tony explained. After a few months, a new budgie would learn to pick at the cotton holding on his waistcoat buttons. Eventually the button would fall off and a good example of
his gentle nature is that he would give strict instructions to whoever was
sewing it back on that it must be done with the minimum of thread so that it wasnt too difficult for the bird to peck off again.