A silver nose is the pick of the exhibits in the new Yarm museum. It has been sculpted around the face of a local veteran and it is a tribute to a dragoon whose bravery in 1743 fighting for King George II against the French deserves to be better commemorated than in this cheesy music hall poem called The Song of the Silver Nose:

Darlington and Stockton Times: Tom Brown's face and nose were badly disfigured by the injuries he received at Dettingen

King George, he'd lost near half his men

When he made his stand at Dettingen,

But when they tore his flag away

He feared he'd also lost the day.

But bold Tom Brown he seized his chance

And galloped through those men from France.

He fought and swore and cut and tore

Till he'd won the English flag once more.

He placed that flag between his thighs

And thundered back through the battle cries.

The Frenchies tried to cut him down

But they couldn't stop our Tommy Brown.

They slashed his face, they slashed his neck,

They lodged two bullets in his back.

In fighting off King George's foes

Tom lost two fingers and his nose.

But when Tom raised the flag again

King George's soldiers cheered and sang

And proved themselves true Englishmen

By winning the Battle of Dettingen.

King George was pleased with Tommy Brown.

He gave him a pension of thirty crown,

A walking stick with a golden head

And a silver nose to wear instead.

Tom Brown was born in Kirkleatham, near Redcar, around 1705. He became an apprentice shoemaker in Yarm before joining George II’s army in the Regiment of Bland’s Dragoons in the 3rd Hussars.

Darlington and Stockton Times: King George II at Dettingen

Britain was involved in the War of Austrian Succession, which was about who should sit on the Austrian throne only, of course, it was about far more than that. It lasted eight years during which 750,000 people were either killed or wounded. Britain, the Dutch Republic and Hanover – the “Pragmatic Allies” – were fighting France, Prussia and Bavaria although the war spread to involve much of Europe in a variety of conflicts – you may remember from schooldays that the War of Jenkins’ Ear was part of it which fits in nicely with the story of Brown’s silver nose.

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At Dettingen in Bavaria on June 27, 1743, the British army encountered the French with George II leading his troops into battle – the last time a reigning British monarch has ever done so.

It was a mess of a battle, with both sides making bloody mistakes, but the French captured the Hussars’ regimental standard. Private Brown, who had already had two horses shot and killed beneath him, went after it on his third horse, only to have two fingers on his bridle hand sliced off by a sabre. Then his horse was shot, causing it to bolt out of control to the back of the French lines.

There he found the missing flag. He killed the gendarme who was attempting to take it from the battlefield, grabbed the standard, rammed it between his thighs and his saddle and then charged back through the French forces in a bid to reach his own regiment. As he went, he received eight slashes to the eye, face, head, neck and nose; two musket balls lodged in his back, three more went through his hat, and a pistol shot grazed his forehead.

But he made it.

In this “hacked condition”, he rejoined his regiment which gave him three “huzzahs” on his arrival.

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The British rallied and saw off the French. Rather than chase after them, perhaps because he realised this had been a lucky escape rather than a great tactical triumph, George II decided to reward the heroes of the hour, using a sword to dub 14 of them knights banneret there and then on the battlefield. He started with his most mighty commander, the Earl of Stair, and he finished with the most lowly, the illiterate Yarm shoemaker Tom Brown – this makes him the last soldier ever to be knighted on a battlefield.

Poor Tom was a sorry sight for the king’s eyes, with blood pouring from his facial wounds and his nose hanging off. The king rewarded him with a pension, a gold topped walking stick, and a silver cover for his disfigured face.

Darlington and Stockton Times: A silver nose, one of the exhibits at the Yarm Town Hall Heritage Centre. Picture: Gareth Lightfoot.

Tom was so happy he feasted on his favourite meal of cold mutton – but it seems likely that his knighthood was removed by his superiors when they discovered just how lowly he was (he is never referred to as Sir Tom Brown).

But he got to keep his silver nose.

And he was the toast of the country. His portrait, complete with hideous scars, was painted, his likeness was cast in silver, and songs and cheesy broadside ballads were written about his heroism.

He retired back to Yarm on his £30-a-year pension and became a publican.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Tom Brown's former pub in Yarm, which is now two privately owned houses

As our cheesy ballad concludes:

In a High Street inn of old Yarm Town

As landlord Tommy settled down

With his silver nose and his walking stick

Till they buried him in forty-six.

His pub was near the bridge, at No 116 – it continued as Tom Brown’s Inn until 1908 when it lost its licence.

It is said that Tom drank himself to death, aged about 40, in less than three years – he must have been in considerable pain from the two musket balls lodged in his back, which could never be removed, and from the wounds on his face.

His nose never became fully detached, but it just dangled there, propped up by the prosthetic from the king.

Tom was buried in an unmarked grave in St Mary Magdalene, but he has never been forgotten.

In 1755, his father’s cottage in Kirkleatham, in the shadow of the almshouses, was demolished and an elm was planted on the site. Over time it has been replaced by an oak, which still has a plaque on it noting that “King George II personally gave him a silver nose and a gold-headed walking stick for his bravery”.

In 1968, the Museum of the Queen’s Royal Hussars researched his story and placed a proper Portland Stone military headstone in Yarm churchyard dedicated to him.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The headstone erected in 1968 Yarm churchyard in memory of Tom Brown

About 20 years ago, his house in the High Street was restored. The listed buildings schedule says it is from the mid-18th Century, but behind the brick façade was found a much earlier, timber framed building dating to the 15th Century. An old piece of heavily painted cast iron turned out to be a fireback bearing George II’s coat-of-arms which it was said was placed in there by Tom himself.

And now a silver nose is at the centre of the new Yarm Town Hall Heritage Centre, which was opened at the weekend in the restored town hall.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The town hall in Yarm in the centre of the High Street on this late 1960s picture. Tom Brown's house is further to the north of the town hall

It has been created to bring Tom Brown’s story to life and is modelled on the face of a local veteran who has been videoed telling his story. The nose is accompanied by a Viking helmet, a flood bell and a lion from the Tall Trees nightclub all presented in a replica of an Iron Age canoe that was found when the railway viaduct was built in the 1840s. The centre is open from 1pm to 5pm Thursdays to Sundays.