William Wooding Starmer : the great campanologist of Tunbridge Wells

It’s been a while.  The research continues and I’ve a couple of articles in the pipeline, but I do so struggle to write up! So I thought it was about time I completed the piece I had started on 8 April 2018 (yes – 2 1/2 years ago!!) following a day devoted to organist, composer and campanologist, William Wooding STARMER.

W W Starmer FRAM 1890-1926 From Keith Root_St Marks Church
Photo courtesy of Keith Root, St Mark’s Church

W.W. STARMER (1866-1927) is on my radar because of his friendship with the great “Mechlin bellmaster” Josef DENYN, one of those who took refuge in Tunbridge Wells with his family.  In September 1914 the Courier newspaper published details of a letter sent to Mr STARMER by Mr DENYN which gave a vivid account of the destruction of the town of Mechelen and its church.  Soon Mr DENYN and his family would be in Tunbridge Wells, at first lodging with Mr and Mrs STARMER, before being housed by the Mayor’s Refugees’ Committee at 72 Pennington Road, Southborough, and then, from sometime in 1915, at 3 East Cliff Road, St Johns.

My interest in DENYN and carillons led me to contact the British Carillon Society, eliciting a response from society member, Scott Orr, who revealed he is himself currently researching William Wooding STARMER.

Almost 2 1/2 years ago (it seems like yesterday!) on 7th April 2018 we met up in Tunbridge Wells.

First we visited St Mark’s Church (Wikipedia link) where “W.W.” was organist for 38 years from the end of April 1888 (though I noted the picture above says 1890).  While there he was responsible for setting up a robed choir which included women in the soprano and alto sections – the only church choir in Chichester Diocese at the time which included robed women taking the soprano and alto parts. The choir visited Belgium on a number of occasions – no doubt thanks to Starmer’s association with Jef DENYN and the carillon community.  But I’m getting ahead of myself!

The youngest of 4 children, William Wooding STARMER was born in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, on 4 November 1866 to shoemaker Edwin and his wife Emma.  He was educated at Wellingborough Grammar School where he must have been a keen cricketer as I have found his name among the winners of the cricket-ball throwing contest at the school’s sports day (for which he was also a member of the organising committee) in 1883.  And clearly also an excellent musician as in the Autumn of the same year, just before his 18th birthday, and while still at school, he was appointed organist to William Compton, the 4th Marquess of Northampton, whose family seat was at nearby Castle Ashby

1883 11 03 STARMER WW Appointed organist to church at Castle Ashby Marquis of Northampton_cropped
Northampton Mercury, 3 November 1883 (Image (c) The British Library Board)

According to an article about him which appeared in the Musical Herald in 1907 (quoted in the Kent & Sussex Courier of 10 May 1907), that same year, 1883, “he decided to take up music as a career, and his father gave him the option of being articled to a cathedral organist or of studying at the Royal Academy of Music.  On the advice of Sir George MacFarren (2) he chose the latter.”

“There is much to be said,” he remarked, “in favour of serving an apprenticeship to a good cathedral organist if you intend to make church music your single aim, but I am convinced that I got a much wider experience at the Academy that I should have done at a cathedral, and as most of us have to become general practitioners in music, or at least to be qualified for whatever line of work presents itself, I feel that I did the right thing.”

“W.W.” gained a BMus from Cambridge University in 1888, and was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music (ARAM) in 1889 (Fellowship followed in 1906).

By this time he was well settled in Tunbridge Wells.

But what had brought him here?  It would seem that his older brother George Henry STARMER could well have led the way.  Some 15 years older than William, and also a musician, he had been appointed Music Master at Highbury House School in St Leonard’s on the Sussex coast in 1872 (3).  There he met his future wife, Annie SHEPHERD, who had been a governess at the school for several years – an account in the school magazine of a concert held at the school in 1876, reports that the Concert arrangements were “headed by our enthusiastic and indefatigable music master, Mr Starmer” and that “Miss Shepherd sang in her customary and pleasing manner, the song “I love the merry, merry sunshine” and was deservedly applauded to the echo” . (4)

The young couple married in Hastings the following year and moved to Tunbridge Wells, where the new Mrs Starmer opened a boys’ school at their home on Upper Grosvenor Road (1 Lyndhurst Villas), and her husband became organist at St Peter’s Church on Bayhall Road – a post he held for the next seven years, until 1885. (5)

In June 1884 “W.W.” was appointed organist at St Peter’s Church in Pembury, and in November the following year he  moved to Emmanuel Church, Mount Ephraim, till finally being appointed organist at St Mark’s Church in the spring of 1888 – a position he was to hold until his resignation in 1926.

In April 1901 Starmer married the Honorable Florence Emily Frances SOMERVILLE of Guildford Road, Tunbridge Wells, daughter of the late Anglo-Irish Liberal politician Sir William Meredyth Somerville, in a quiet ceremony from the bride’s aunt’s and uncle’s home in Ealing, and together they had a son and a daughter.

In September 1893 he became Conductor of the Tunbridge Wells Vocal Association, an organisation which had been founded as the Tunbridge Wells Choral Association in 1852 (Courier, 28th October 1927) and was one of the oldest organisations of its time.  Starmer would be its conductor until spring 1926 when he also resigned at organist and choirmaster of St Mark’s to take up a similar post at East Grinstead Parish Church.

Meanwhile he built up for himself a high reputation in the music world (Courier, 19 February 1926), becoming a leading authority, “of European repute”, on campanology – the art of bell-ringing – and much in demand as a lecturer on the subject – once defiantly ploughing on through an air raid during the First World War as recalled by a writer to the Courier in 1927, as well as as an international competition adjudicator, notably at the Carillon Competition in Josef DENYN’s home town of Mechelen, Belgium, in 1910, as well as as an examiner at the School of Carillon Playing there.  In 1924 he became Professor of Campanology at the University of Birmingham, “the only professorship of campanology at any University in the world” reported the Courier newspaper. He was not only an authority on change-ringing and carillon playing, but also a mechanical expert, and his knowledge of founding and tuning of bells was well-known at foundries in Britain and Europe – he would often actually superintend the casting and tuning of bells at the foundries.

A measure of his fame is surely the fact that Sir Edward ELGAR’s carillon piece Memorial Chimes, composed in 1923 for the inauguration of the Loughborough War Memorial Carillon, was dedicated to him – and played on the occasion by none other than the great Mechlin bellmaster, Jef DENYN.  And indeed only a few years earlier, in 1919, a composition of Starmer’s had featured in Jef DENYN’s “Peace Concert” on the carillon in Mechelen Cathedral.

In 1926, after 38 years at St Mark’s, William Wooding STARMER resigned.  We don’t know why, other than that he was offered a job in East Grinstead by the new vicar there, the Reverend Golding GOLDING-BIRD, a close friend, but it must have been a sad day for St Mark’s and for the town.  The 1907 had article concluded : “Mr Starmer infuses into his work much animation and humour. One cannot imagine any of his pupils being dull.  He attacks his work as if it were play …  Mr Starmer is indeed a real force for good in Tunbridge Wells and is worthy of the great respect and esteem in which he is held as a gentleman and as a musician.  His investigations on bells entitle him to national regard.”

Mr STARMER, in his farewell speech at St Mark’s, quoted in the Courier of 23 April 1926, said that “his decision to go to East Grinstead was arrived at conjointly between the vicar and himself “ and that “he did not want to place any responsibility on the Vicar, but his decision was greatly influenced by considerations that were discussed between them” and that “that was as things should be between a Vicar and the Organist”. 

Sadly William Wooding STARMER must already have been in poor health – maybe he knew? –  as he was to breathe his last in a Tunbridge Wells Nursing Home only 18 months later on 27 October 1927, just short of his 61st birthday and following an operation – from which he had been expected to recover.  His obituary in the Courier (28 October 1927) mentioned that it had been his intention to build a house in East Grinstead, but his address when he died was the town’s Red Lion Hotel.  In the archives at The Keep in Brighton are plans dated 1905 for a charming “arts and crafts” cottage in Hartfield which was never built – was that the property in question?

After our visit to St Mark’s Church, Scott and I set off on pilgrimage to the various addresses in Tunbridge Wells at which “W.W.” had lived – Upper Grosvenor Road where his brother’s wife had had her school, 26 Dudley Road, 6 Warwick Park, 20 Warwick Park, and finally, 52 Warwick Park where he and his wife lived from about 1912 until 1926, and where we spotted a Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society plaque.  “Aha!” we thought!  But no, it wasn’t in honour of our musician, but rather of V.C. recipient Lionel Ernest QUERIPEL, killed at Arnhem in 1944, who had moved here as a child in 1926 – the very year the Starmers moved to East Grinstead.

Our pilgrimage ended at Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery where William Wooding Starmer was laid to rest on 28 October 1927 following a choral funeral service at St Mark’s Church.

“Placed on the grave was a beautiful floral tribute from the widow, son and daughter. This took the form of a large bell in brown and yellow chrysanthemums, with a clapper in red carnations.” (Kent & Sussex Courier, 4 November 1927)

1927 STARMER WW grave

William Wooding STARMER’s grave November 1927 – Photo credit https://www.regionalebeeldbank.be/beeldbank/1386301

In August 1929 the Courier reported that a “movement was on foot” to place a memorial to William Wooding STARMER in St Mark’s Church, the church where he had spent so many years, but sadly it never came to fruition.

Maybe it’s not too late?

2009 04_STARMER WW grave_AM


(1) Kent & Sussex Courier, 27 April 1888 “Mr W. Starmer… who has held the office of organist and choir master at Emmanuel Church during the past two years, has been appointed to a similar position at St Mark’s, Broadwater, and will enter on his duties there next week.”


(2) Sir George Alexander MacFarren (1813-1887), English composer and musicologist, professor of Music at Cambridge University from 1875, and principal of the Royal Academy of Music 1876-1887

(3) I discovered that the Headmaster of Highbury House School from 1870 until around 1877 was the Rev. William WOODING, a Congregational (and later Unitarian) Minister with Wellingborough connections.  I would love to know whether W.W STARMER’s middle name “Wooding” is a reference to this family;  a connection which could also account for George STARMER’s appointment as Music Master at Highbury House.  The Rev. William WOODING married Emily ASQUITH (the sister of future Prime Minister Henry Herbert ASQUITH) in 1878 – they had been neighbours in St Leonards according to the 1871 Census.  Rev. WOODING went on to be a Master at the City of London School – H.H. ASQUITH’s alma mater…

(4) “The Thistle”, Highbury House School Magazines 1876-1888 (East Sussex Records Office, The Keep, Brighton)

(5) From various articles in the Kent & Sussex Courier, I find that the following year, in November 1886, G.H. STARMER took over widow Eleanor NYE’s Grosvenor Music Warehouse business which she and her husband had run at 6-7 Grosvenor Road for many years; by 1896 the business was at 55 Mount Pleasant Road; and in Spring 1909 he took over the Elliott & Son Music dealer’s premises at 46 High Street, and re-opened the shop as Elliott and Starmer.  George STARMER died in 1923 (his wife Annie had predeceased him in 1909) and his music shop was incorporated into Murdoch’s “Great Piano House” at the High Street premises.  In the Courier newspaper of 16 October 1914, G.H. STARMER’s name is on a list of those who had made donations in kind to the Belgian refugees at Clayton’s Farmhouse – I’d like to think that his donation might have been a piano…

Support for a Widow – Well Hall Estate, Eltham

The following reblog is nothing to do with Belgian refugees, in Tunbridge Wells or anywhere else, but it is to do with the First World War and is about my own family – the widow in question, Sarah Ann Jeffery, is/was my great-grandmother and her daughter Nellie my grandmother. My great-grandfather James Henry Jeffery died as a result of injuries received  during a Zeppelin raid on Woolwich Arsenal in October 1915 – the only fatality on that occasion.

I send a retrospective thank you across the years to those who helped the family – and thank you too to the Greenwich Women blog for finding and posting the story.

Here Come The Girls

In November 1915 there was a bit of a local ‘to do’ about some remarks made by the curate at St John the Baptists. Because these remarks were critical of the residents of the estate and the hutments and resulted in a response from the Secretary of the Tenants Association, T.E. Morgan in the form of a letter in ‘The Pioneer’.

On October 20th an Arsenal worker from the estate – James Henry Jeffery of 162 Well Hall Road – had died as the result of an accident leaving a widow, Sarah Anne, and nine fatherless children. Not only did the Arsenal workers make a collection of £20 for the widow before the funeral, but a fund for her collected at the Arsenal later totalled £416. In addition residents on the estate collected some £13 which they asked to be used for clothing for the fatherless family. The Chairman of the Tenants Association states he also helped her…

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Memories of Stuart Low’s Orchid Nurseries

Further to my recent post about Stuart Low’s Orchid Nursery in Jarvis Brook, Crowborough, I have received the following via Facebook from Glenn Standell who worked there :

I worked there in 1970 and it was pretty run down then. Miss LOW was very old so I would say it probably closed in the 70’s. But someone may know differently.

Miss LOW lived in a large house on the end of the driveway opposite Jack DE COENE and his wife on the opposite side.

I worked with Bert JOHNS the head grower at that time.  They apparently grew carnations on one part of the site, but that was derelict when I worked there.

I knew Jack (De Coene) very well with his wit (usually at my expense) and his blue eyes which were quite stunning! I only worked there for 9 months then trained to be an electrician. But I do remember going to an auction at Caxton Hall in London to sell the plants which were mainly Cattleyas.

Still on Facebook, Wendy Rowe today posted a newspaper article about the sale of the land for £62,500 in, she thought, 1972, which directly led to my finding for sale ads in the Kent & Sussex Courier of May/June/July 1972, culminating in this from 28th July 1972 :

1972 07 28 Stuart Low Orchid Nursery sold

The for sale ads mentioned Orchid Lodge, “a modern detached house with 3 bedrooms”, and Brookhurst “an eight-roomed detached Victorian residence for modernisation”, in addition to a paddock, a field, glasshouses, and building plots with outline planning consent for 2 detached dwellings.

I think the Miss LOW mentioned by Glenn above may well have been the aunt of Keith LOW, Miss Winifred LOW who lived at Flat 2, Brookhurst and died on 26th March 1971 [1].

So there we are.  The Nurseries closed in 1971/2.  Thank you to everyone who helped. Maybe one day we’ll also establish exactly when they opened…

[1] Source Information : Ancestry.com. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.   Original data: Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England © Crown copyright. 


Belgians and Orchids in Jarvis Brook

Today I have (almost) become an expert on orchids – ok, let’s just say I certainly know a lot more about them than I did this morning!

A couple of years ago I exchanged emails with the great-granddaughter of Jules Jacques DE COENE, a Belgian who was an orchid grower at the Stuart Low Orchid Nursery in Jarvis Brook from around 1912.  I filed our exchange away for future consideration as Mr De Coene wasn’t a wartime refugee and wasn’t connected with Tunbridge Wells.

Lately I’ve been looking at Belgians in Crowborough and thought I’d take another look.

Well, first of all let me say that I had no idea Jarvis Brook was home to such a prestigious and world-renowned orchid nursery for so many years [1] – or that I lived so close to its former site!  Or for that matter that Belgium had produced such stars in the orchid-growing firmament!

The Orchid Review monthly magazine of July 1914 devoted several pages to the nursery – you can read the complete article here – but in summary, it moved from Bush Hill Park, Enfield, Essex, to Brookhurst, Walshes Road, Crowborough, around 1910 [2], driven away by the deterioration of the orchid-growing environment caused by an increase in building and, it seems, fog. I found this advertisement in the Sussex Agricultural Express of 15th July 1910.  Could that be when Stuart Low moved his nurseries?

1910 07 15 Brookhurst Nursery Jarvis Brook for sale_Sussex Agricultural Express+cropped
Brookhurst Nurseries for sale in 1910 (Sussex Agricultural Express, 15th July 1910)

In Jarvis Brook, Stuart Low’s nursery found a sheltered position “in the Sussex heights” some “500 ft above sea level”, enjoying clear air and sunshine, and protection from the wind.  Twenty-five glasshouses in two blocks were erected, and the orchids thrived in their new home. [3]

“One by one the old Orchid firms are disappearing from the metropolitan area, being driven by the exigencies of space, or the prevalence of fog and the absence of sun during the winter months, to seek fresh fields and pastures new for the culture of their plants.”                                                              The Orchid Review, July 1914

In charge of cultivation in 1914 was Gent-born Edward (Edwin?) TACK“the greatest authority on cattleya orchids in the world” according to his obituary – who had arrived in Britain around 1894 and came to Crowborough in 1908.  He died at his home in Jarvis Brook – Ingleside on Western or possibly Walshes Road – in October 1930 after a long illness, and his funeral was well-covered in the local press [4]. Sadly Edward/Edwin had lost his only son, also Edward, in 1915 at the age of just 11.  The boy was a member of the 1st Crowborough Scout Troop and on the outbreak of war had been among a group who had gone to Newhaven to act as despatch carriers along the coast – though I don’t think that had any direct bearing on his untimely death. Scouts from Crowborough, St Johns, and Withyham made up a guard of honour for his coffin which was draped with the Union flag (Kent & Sussex Courier, 12 March 1915).

Six years later, in November 1936, the daughter of Jules DE COENE married at All Saints Church in Crowborough and one of Edward TACK’s daughters was her bridesmaid.  The DE COENE family had arrived in Jarvis Brook from Essex about the same time as the TACK family – also from the Essex orchid nursery, and Jules DE COENE was eventually to be in charge of the Jarvis Brook nursery according to his obituary in 1943 (Kent & Sussex Courier, 19 March 1943). The family moved into Ingleside at some point, and were still living there in 1939 (next door to the Plough and Horses public house (now flats)).

1939 DE COENE Ingleside Walshes Road
Source : Ancestry.co.uk (Original data: Crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of TNA, London England. 1939 Register (Series RG101), The National Archives, Kew, London, England)

Also employed at the Nursery was another Belgian, George VERBOONEN, who had possibly come to England amongst the refugees when war broke out, as he was at the time visiting Europe from Brazil according to this article about the history of the Etablissement P.M. Binot, later the Orquidario Binot, in Brazil [5] – though in the 1911 England Census he is already living at Orchid Cottage, Western Road, Crowborough, and so presumably already working for Stuart Low. And he had witnessed Jules DE COENE’s marriage in New Cross two years earlier in 1909 (coincidentally in the same church as my great-grandparents’ wedding in 1891!).

Unfortunately I didn’t revisit any of this information before going to the Belgian Archives the other week or I could have looked him up.  Next time…

I do wonder whether any Belgian refugees were employed there, or indeed whether the DE COENE, TACK and VERBOONEN families were involved in helping their compatriots in the town.  Young Edward TACK was a pupil at King Charles the Martyr Boys School in Tunbridge Wells and I know that the school took in one or two Belgian children (see blogpost What about the Belgian children’s education?).

The Memories of Crowborough/Rotherfield Facebook Group alerted me to the fact that during the Second World War, on 26th September 1940, the Nursery was bombed, with two civilian casualties.  Presumably the nearby railway line was the target?  Or maybe the pilot was simply jettisoning his bombs before returning home.  The casualties were 14-year-old nursery assistant Reginald William PAIGE, and nursery Manager Ernest RADFORD who had only been in the post for a year or even less.  His home, the aforementioned Orchid Cottage, took a direct hit (Kent & Sussex Courier, 4th October 1940) – his wife survived, suffering ‘only’ from shock. The Courier reported that in all sixteen bombs fell in the area – a local pub lost roof tiles (the Plough and Horses?) and windows were broken in a nearby Chapel as worshippers were leaving after a thanksgiving service.

I was about to make a crass comparison.  Instead I will simply mention that this land may well be about to disappear under a housing development – plans are in for 163 homes to be built on the site of Orchid Riding Centre.

Let’s hope the Stuart Low Orchid Nursery is at the very least remembered in the road names…

[1] There are even orchids named after Crowborough – here’s one https://www.orchids.org/grexes/laeliocattleya-crowborough …and  Jarvis Brook too… https://www.orchids.org/grexes/cyrtocidium-jarvis-brook

[2] I haven’t yet found the precise date – Edward TACK apparently came to Jarvis Brook in 1908 according to his obituary in the Kent & Sussex Courier, 24th October 1930).  I also don’t know when the Nursery closed, but it was still there in 1965.  Bernard Lorimer JORDAN had been Manager of Brookhurst Nurseries and was there in the 1911 Census.  Was he Manager of Stuart Low’s?  He moved on to Rockington Nurseries, Blackness Road – Jordan’s Nursery – now also closed and earmarked for development.

[3] The 1914 article also has this to say about the Nursery’s location, and travelling there – those familiar with the current Uckfield Line may (or may not) appreciate its sentiments (and if you’re following the directions, don’t forget to stop off at The Wheatsheaf on the way…) : “The journey from London is through some of the most lovely scenery in Surrey and Sussex, and is, in fact, quite a holiday jaunt, whether taken by rail or motor. The London, Brighton, and South-Coast Railway have now started a direct and accelerated service, and most trains avoid the change at Groombridge. The Nurseries are some ten minutes walk from Crowborough Station, on the side of a gentle slope, and are about eleven acres in extent.” 

[4] Edward TACK’s obituary in the Kent & Sussex Courier also mentions that he had worked on the estate of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild in France before coming to England.  A casual google reveals that the de Rothschilds were orchid fanatics.

[5] The Orquidario (Etablissement P.M. Binot) was set up by Pedro BINOT in 1870 and initially imported orchids from Brazil to Belgium. According to this online article, George VERBOONEN was Pedro Binot’s stepson and became director following the death of his step-father in 1911 – perhaps after the Census on 2 April 1911???

Stuart  Low’s Jarvis Brook Orchid Nursery in 19561956 Stuart Low photo


Peace Day 1919

100 years ago today, 19th July 1919, was the day designated as Peace Day and was celebrated in Tunbridge Wells just as it was all over the country.  All of the Belgian Refugees in the town had returned home a couple of months earlier, but nonetheless I thought I couldn’t let the day go by without writing something (mostly a precis of the article which appeared in the Kent & Sussex Courier, 25th July 1919).

Although November 1918 had marked the end of the fighting in Europe, negotiations were to continue at the Paris Peace Conference until 1920, and the Treaty of Versailles (Wikipedia links) wasn’t signed until 28th June 1919.  As negotiations advanced, and a real prospect of peace was in sight, a committee was formed, chaired by Lord CURZON, to decide how to mark and celebrate the end of the war, and Saturday 19th July was declared a Bank Holiday and a public holiday.

‘We, considering that, with a view to the more wide-spread and general celebration of the Conclusion of Peace, it is desirable that Saturday, the Nineteenth day of July instant, should be observed as a Bank Holiday and as a Public Holiday throughout the United Kingdom’

Proclamation by King George V, 11th July 1919 (London Gazette)

Not everyone was happy about the proposed celebrations, considering that the money would better spent supporting returning servicemen.  In addition, the servicemen were not necessarily included in the celebrations – in Tunbridge Wells it was decided to give them their own celebration later in the year when all were returned home, and this seems to have been generally acceptable (though there is some evidence from local press reports that the Mayor, Councillor Robert Vaughan GOWER, OBE,  did receive some criticism for this decision), unlike in Luton for example – as I write I am listening to a report on BBC Radio 4’s World at One about how soldiers, rightly angry at being excluded from the main celebrations in the town, rushed the Town Hall and burnt it down.

Tunbridge Wells celebrations

But not so in Tunbridge Wells, where over six hundred flags were used to decorate the Town Hall on the corner of Calverley Road and Calverley Street – there were Union Flags and French tri-colours, and a “well-arranged group” of flags of the allied nations. There were decorations all over the town – private houses and local businesses alike decorated their buildings and there were Venetian flagpoles and flags and streamers all around the town.  Three stunning triumphant arches were erected on Camden Road, and one at the top of Mount Pleasant.

1919 07 11 Peace Day Preliminary programme heading
Preliminary announcement of events in Kent & Sussex Courier of 11 July 1919 (British Newspaper Archive) – note the choice of border decoration – a symbol of peace and good fortune which only a year later would be usurped by Hitler and the Nazi Party.

When the day came, the whole town celebrated, and many pages of the Kent & Sussex Courier were devoted to accounts of the day in Tunbridge Wells as well as in the surrounding villages.

Festivities began at 8am with a “joy peal” on the newly-re-installed bells of St Peter’s Church, and those of St Augustine’s too, after which there was a short choral service of praise and thanksgiving in a packed King Charles Church where the flags of the Allies were carried in procession by the boys of the choir and their choirmaster.  Early morning services took place in several other churches around the town, before everyone lined up in the streets around Grosvenor Bridge, Quarry Road, for A Grand Procession at 10.30am.

This was, according to the Courier, “one of the longest processions the borough has ever witnessed”, and indeed so long that at one point on its extraordinarily circuitous journey [1] to the Lower Cricket Ground on the Common, “the tail of the procession met its head”.  The Courier was clearly pleased to report that this “familiar incident of the boa constrictor endeavouring to swallow itself” only happened once!

The procession was headed by members of the Borough Police, followed by banner bearers, then the local King’s Rifle Corps cadets.  Next came decorated cars “in the familiar style of decorated automobiles in the South of France at Carnival time” (a point of reference which presumably meant something to the Courier’s readers!).  These carried wounded soldiers and V.A.D. nurses – the only women who took part in the procession, despite the fact that a special request had gone out for women to join its ranks and “demonstrate their share in winning the war”. Maybe they were all holding the fort back home…

The Tunbridge Wells Veterans’ Association and band led a contingent of discharged and demobbed soldiers and sailors, the Skinner’s School OTC and band followed, then the local corps of the Volunteer Battalion of the Royal West Kents.  Next came the youngsters – Boy Scouts, Boys’ Brigade, and the Girls’ Life Brigade – followed by representatives of the Postal Service and the Railwaymen (those who weren’t keeping the trains running).

1919 07 25 Miss Donovan as Britannia
Miss Donovan as Britannia

The town’s Friendly Societies came next with their colourful regalia and banners, alongside 3 tableaux cars: “Peace with Honour”, “Britannia and her Colonies” and the Gardeners’ Society whose float recalled the importance of home food production.

1919 07 25 Miss Godden as Peace
Miss Goddard as Peace

The local tradesmen’s decorated carts included a dray from Messrs E & A Kelsey‘s, a Burlesque Fire Brigade, and a delivery cycle ridden by a small boy, Master Coleman, with the motto “Justice for the Tommies, not Charity”.  School children followed behind, the girls all in white carrying garlands and baskets of flowers, and the boys, Union Flags.  The Local Fire Brigades and the Salvation Army were the last groups before a series of “carriages and motors” brought the Town Council, local magistrates, clergy of all denominations and representatives of local Associations, led by a detachment of the Borough Constabulary including the newly established Policewomen [2].

Three more cars carried the Mayor and Mayoress, Town Clerk, and Mace-bearer; the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress; and former Mayor, Councillor EMSON who had been Mayor 1913-1917 and did so much to help the town’s Belgian refugees, and Mrs EMSON, respectively.

Soon the Lower Cricket Ground was a “sea of faces” in all directions.  Schoolgirls carrying floral letters lined up to form the word “PEACE” and the Memorial Service began with the reading of the King’s Proclamation of Peace, and then of a letter from the King to the Lord Lieutenant, Marquis CAMDEN, expressing his gratitude an admiration for the Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of Kent. Hymns were sung and prayers said, and then came the Last Post and the dipping of the flags, before rousing cheers went up for the King, for the brave men who fought, and for the Mayor and Mayoress.

In the afternoon, there were Old English Sports on the Common for the Adults and amusements in the Calverley Grounds for the children.  It seems the Women’s Tug of War was one of the “most exciting events” of the former (the Married Women’s team beat the Single Women’s…), and their Sack Race “a novelty”.  The children were treated to tea in the schools and parish halls and the leftovers donated to St George’s Home for Boys an the Children’s Convalescent Home in Hawkenbury.

Sadly rain set in in the evening and the Children’s Festival of Song as well as the Fancy Dress Parade had to be postponed till Wednesday 30th.  Instead the Peace Orchestra and Peace Choir of 200 adult voices gave 3 short concerts in the Great Hall, after which judging of the decorated floats took place near the Spa Hotel, young cyclist Master COLEMAN winning second prize in his class.  Despite the rain, the planned bonfire lighting took place at 11pm, and dancing continued until well after midnight.

The postponed Peace Festival of Song took place on 30th July in the Calverley Park Meadow as planned, and the Courier declared  “A prettier spectacle has never been witnessed in Calverley Park”. A Children’s Choir of 2,000 young voices made up of contingents from all the schools in the town sang alongside the Adult Peace Choir under the baton of Mr Francis FOOTE.  The concert was a huge success, and a letter of thanks from Mr Foote, published in the Courier, concluded “I am sure I should be voicing the feelings of thousands of our townspeople when I suggest that we give a similar Festival of Song every year on Peace Thanksgiving Day“…

20 years and 16 days later the country was to be again at war.

[1] The route of the procession was as follows : Grosvenor Bridge, Quarry Road, Camden Road, Town Hall (Calverley Road), Crescent Road, Mount Pleasant, Monson Road, Calverley Road, Mount Pleasant, High Street, Kentish Corner, London Road, Grosvenor Road, General Hospital, Church Road, Common – Lower Cricket Ground.  

[2] Women’s Patrols were recognised by the Home Office in May 1918 and at a meeting of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council on 7th June 1918 a question was raised about the appointment of three policewomen. They were paid 35/- weekly plus war bonus which meant 43/6d per week, and fulfilled the same duties as men (Kent & Sussex Courier).


Julienne Elodie MONIN – a Five Ashes connection, and a guest blog post

During my most recent visit to the Belgian Archives in Brussels, I searched on behalf of Catherine Plowden for any documents concerning her Belgian grandmother, Julienne MONIN, and found that Julienne had spent some time in Five Ashes, just up the road from where I now live, and less than 10 miles from Tunbridge Wells. I like to think she would have at the very least have attended some of the events at the ‘Club Albert’ on Calverley Road!  Catherine very kindly agreed to write about her grandmother and her article is below.

What I found

From October 1917, Julienne MONIN was governess with a family living at The Quarry in Five Ashes, a substantial 11-roomed property on the Mayfield side of Five Ashes.  I believe the family were Ernest and Mary JORGENSEN and their daughter Mary Winifred (b.25th December 1910 [i]), who were listed at this address in the 1911 census and in fact still there in 1939 according to the 1939 England and Wales Register (on Ancestry.co.uk). [ii]

Ernest Stuart Lyon JORGENSEN, son of a Danish corn merchant, married Tunbridge Wells-born Agnes Mary AIRD in 1909, and was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2/11th London Regiment (“Finsbury Rifles” I think) during the war – Territorials, who, if I understand correctly, initially guarded railway stations, but in 1917 were sent to the Western Front. [iii]

A search in the British Newspaper Archive turned up this ad for “a children’s maid” placed by, I assume, Mrs JORGENSEN (“J.”) in the Eastbourne Gazette of 3rd October 1917:

Was this the role Mademoiselle MONIN took on?  The registration documents held in the Archives in Brussels show that she moved to The Quarry 3 weeks later, on 24th October 1917, and stayed there until 17th June the following year when she left to take up employment as a “child’s companion” in Holland Park, London [iv].

Registration document (change of address) for Juliette MONIN
(Ref I 420/862)

Julienne had come to Five Ashes from Abinger Hammer near Dorking having also spent time in Shere near Guildford.  I wonder how she came to take up the post? Did she or the Dorking Refugees’ Committee see the ad in the Eastbourne Gazette?  Was there some connection with the JORGENSEN family?  Or was there a central “database” of domestic employment for which Belgian refugees would be suitable?  Or possibly, quite simply, it was word of mouth amongst “society” folk of Surrey and Sussex…

Julienne’s granddaughter, Catherine Plowden, writes :

I always knew that my grandmother – Julienne Elodie Monin – was a Belgian refugee and had arrived in England sometime during World War I, but I didn’t know anything about her arrival or where she had stayed.

I had been told that she had fled Belgium in a hurry, and alone; one of her sisters had even escaped to Brazil. Apparently, Grandma had left all of her possessions behind, and come with little else other than the clothes she stood up in. I always wanted to know more.

Julie Elodie Monin in her 20s (family photo)

Grandma had been a major figure in my childhood. We saw a lot of her – even though she lived 300 miles away – and apart from everything else, I shall never forget her distinctive accent, her incredible knitting skills and the strong bitter coffee she made with chicory. But although she didn’t die until I was about 18, I had never been brave enough to ask about her life. I knew she had been through some of the horrors of World War I, and that she had also lost one of her children in a tragic incident at school. She had clearly had some highly traumatic experiences.         

She married my late grandfather, Thomas STAINTON, at Rudgwick in Sussex in November 1919. Shortly afterwards, they settled at Kendal in the Lake District, and went on to have four children. Grandma was one of the small number of Belgian refugees who stayed in England, and didn’t go home.

I had managed to find her birth detailed in the Brussels records for July 1890 – which revealed the names of her parents – so at least I knew more about her family, but I still didn’t have any information about her arrival in England. Although I am a professional genealogist, I am ashamed to say that I had never got round to searching for her refugee papers in the archives. So when Alison very kindly offered to look her up for me in the Central Register of Belgian Refugees[1] on a recent visit to the Belgian Archives in Brussels, I was delighted.

After only a short while, Alison contacted me with the wonderful news that she had found my grandmother’s records. I was thrilled; I now had the information I had been looking for, and a bit more….

I was amazed to discover that Grandma had stayed for some months at Five Ashes, near Mayfield in Sussex during 1917 – 18. This is where my elderly father-in-law has owned a holiday home for nearly 60 years!

Catherine Plowden, Devon Family History Research www.devonfamilyhistoryresearch.co.uk

[1] The full inventory title is “Inventaris van het archief van “The Central Register of War Refugees. The Central Register of Belgian Refugees” 1914-1919. B. Symoens”

  • [i] Ancestry.com, 1939 England and Wales Register (Lehi, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2018), Ancestry.com, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/2560A. Record for Ernest S L Jorgensen. http://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=61596&h=3943749&indiv=try.

  • [ii] Ernest JORGENSEN’s sister Beryl was married to Hugh Thomas MANN who lived in and owned Trulls Hatch at Argos Hill, Rotherfield, and (according to his will quoted in the Kent and Sussex Courier of 31 March 1922) also owned The Quarry at Five Ashes, and a house in Eastbourne called “Cheltenham”.  The family were brewers: Mann, Crossman & Paulin (of the Albion Brewery, Whitechapel), Watney Mann from 1958.  (Interestingly, it seems that 3 MANN siblings married 3 JORGENSEN siblings.)  

  • [iii] https://friendsofim.com/2017/05/03/the-finsbury-rifles-our-local-regiment/

  • [iv] The full address was 64 Holland Park, a substantial detached house, and I believe that Julienne may have been employed there by widow Alice HUGHES as a companion to her 6 year old daughter, Alice Mary. Mrs Hughes’s husband, John James HUGHES, had died the previous year, on 26 June 1917, at their home in Cornwall, and there is evidence that a “Mrs HUGHES” was living at 64 Holland Park by 1920 (Source: London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; London City Directories), information confirmed in 1923 when Alice HUGHES’s eldest daughter Gladys’s engagement was announced in The Western Mail (6th February 1923). Discovery of this family sent me off on yet another fascinating tangent as John James HUGHES’s obituary in The Times (28th June 1917) revealed that he was the son of Welshman John HUGHES who had founded the town of Hughesovka (later Stalino, now Donetsk) in Ukraine in 1870. More here https://biography.wales/article/s-HUGH-JOH-1814  – and do follow the links – it’s a fascinating story!

  • “Deaths.” Times, 28 June 1917, p. 1. The Times Digital Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9zNP53. Accessed 10 May 2019.

What a difference a single letter makes!

Since my first visit to the Archives in Brussels three years ago I have been trying to find out more about primary school teacher Palmyre FROIDART with no luck. Today, on re-reading my notes and comparing them with the single registration document I have for her, I discover that her surname was FOIDART – no ‘r’…

While that hasn’t opened hundreds of research doors, a simple Google search of the correct name turns up the information that she was off sick in 1913 and retired from teaching in 1919 – information found in the the Bulletins communaux (1) of the City of Brussels – all helpfully online as PDFs at https://archives.bruxelles.be/bulletins/date

Bulletin communal Bxl 1913
Bulletin communal Bxl 1919

I also found that in September 1915 a (male) friend was looking for her

1915 09 23 L’indépendance_belge (hetarchief.be)

From the afore-mentioned registration document I know that in October that year she was in St Leonards on Sea with distiller Louis BAL from Antwerp, and soon to remove to Tunbridge Wells where she was to live in apartment accommodation at 13 Guildford Road.

After that, I have no idea, but at least I now know that she returned safely (and unmarried) to Belgium.

Registration document (Ref I420/19, National Archives, Brussels)

I also have been reminded of the importance of taking care when transcribing information!


(1) From the City of Brussels website : Bulletins communaux : Les Bulletins communaux de la Ville de Bruxelles contiennent les procès-verbaux des séances du Conseil communal ainsi que les rapports des départements et des services de la Ville depuis le 19e siècle. Ces Bulletins communaux sont publiés par la Ville. Ils donnent une vue globale de ses décisions et des actions qu’elle entreprend. Ils permettent d’appréhender la grande variété des débats et des questions qui préoccupent les édiles communaux et qui touchent à la vie politique, sociale, économique et culturelle à Bruxelles… Pour les périodes plus anciennes, les Bulletins imprimés ont fait l’objet d’une campagne de numérisation par les Archives de la Ville. Ils sont consultables à l’aide d’un moteur de recherche.

“Municipal bulletins : The City of Brussels’ Municipal Bulletins contain the minutes of the meetings of the Municipal Council as well as the reports of the City’s departments and services since the 19th century. These municipal Bulletins are published by the City. They provide an overview of its decisions and actions. They make it possible to understand the wide variety of debates and issues that concern municipal councils and affect political, social, economic and cultural life in Brussels… For older periods, the printed Bulletins have been digitised by the City Archives. They can be consulted online.”










An intriguing postcard

Off piste again today, as I take a detour to Wimbledon! A dear friend has just given me a postcard, found on Ebay, with a Belgian connection, and originating from a photographer there, E. Callcott Quinton.

Wimbledon Postcard

I headed straight to the wonderful British Newspaper Archive where a quick search for the photographer produced nothing, but another for +Belgian +Wimbledon did, and I discovered that the Duchesse de Vendome (Princesse Henriette de Belgique before her marriage), sister of Albert King of the Belgians, had a house on Wimbledon Common.

One Sunday in September 1914, the Duchess herself took the collection at her parish church, the Church of the Sacred Heart, Wimbledon’s impressive Roman Catholic Church, on behalf of the Belgian Relief Fund.

I suspect that this postcard records that event, and that the woman in the centre is none other than the Duchesse de Vendome herself, for on Wikipedia I found this photo of her.

Could the girl next to her, carrying a collecting basket, be one of her daughters, Marie Louise or Sophie?  Both were educated in England and both worshipped with their mother at the Sacred Heart Church.  And maybe the young boy is her son Charles-Philippe who would have been 9 1/2 at the time.

The priest walking with the Duchess I haven’t identified either – the church is next to Jesuit Wimbledon College [1] where 12 Catholic priests are listed  in the 1911 Census.  The Rev Henry HORN S.J. was Headmaster (or Prefect as Studies as he was called) in 1914 – could it be him? Or possibly the Parish priest of the church (who may or may not have been the Rev David BEARNE S.J.)?

I shall certainly be taking this postcard with me for the “show and tell” at the Tracing the Belgian Refugees Workshop in Manchester on Monday!  Maybe someone there will know more…

[1] Not surprised to find this on the Wimbledon College website: During the Great War, the College increased rapidly in size, with 201 boys in 1916-17. This figure included 50 Belgian Catholic refugees who had fled their home country due to the German occupation. According to records under July 1916, 140 Belgian boys had either passed through the College or were being educated there. The sudden influx of students strained the College’s resources, but the Jesuit Fathers still managed to provide a solid education to all its students.

A Belgian family at Heron’s Ghyll

(*Updated 9 November 2018)

It has been such an age since I wrote anything.  Real life has rather got in the way.  There’s plenty in the pipeline though for when things calm down again!

I’m busy just now, helping out with an Armistice Centenary event in the village of Fairwarp in the Ashdown Forest, which prompted me to get side-lined and see if I could find any Belgian families living there during the First World War.

There was just one, living in nearby Heron’s Ghyll, a family of five from a village between Leuven (Louvain) and Mechelen (Malines).  Their story is a horrifying one.  This article from the Sussex Express of 2nd October 1914 says it all :

Newspaper article heading
Article from the Sussex Express, 2nd October 1914 (from British Newspaper Archive)

By the kindness of Mrs F.J. HOPE [1], a peasant family of refugees from Belgium are now comfortably housed at Herons Ghyll near Uckfield.

They arrived on Saturday by the 5.9 train, but their coming was not generally known so that they did not get as warm a reception as would otherwise have been the case. As it was, a small crowd assembled to greet them, and gave visible signs of the welcome which is most assuredly theirs.

On leaving the train it was seen that they comprised a family of five, and all were carrying such of their goods as they possessed, which were tied up in bundles. The father, to the buttonhole of whose coat was tied a label inscribed “Catholic Women’s League” naturally carried the most bulky of the parcels, and the mother, in addition to three bundles tied in cloths, carried an infant. There was a small boy, who looked proudly happy carrying what few of the family possessions he could, while his younger sister, in addition to a doll which she clasped as tightly as if fearing its confiscation, and which by its newness did not suggest its having come from Germany [sic] also bore a small package. They were a forlorn-looking group and pending the departure of the train which brought them, placed themselves and their belongings on a seat on the platform, but it was only a moment before the kindly Stationmaster, Mr PARKER, took them in hand and conducted them to a waiting landau, which was to take them to their new home.  There was an expression of unexpected pleasure as they took their seats in the carriage, and as it drove away a cheer from the spectators followed them.

Like most peasants in Belgium, they speak only the Flemish language which seems to be but little known.  Our representative went to Herons Ghyll on Wednesday to interview them, and found that they were comfortably housed with Mrs DUTTON [2], the wife of the coachman, who is away doing his duty to his country.  French is as unintelligible to these unfortunate people as English, but the Rev. Father BURT [3] was good enough to tell us what he had learnt of their sad history, and what an appalling tale it was.

Their home, he said, had been in a village between Louvain and Malines. The family had originally consisted of six children, but two of them had been killed by the Germans, whilst another had disappeared when they fled from a cellar in which they had been hiding, when opportunity offered for escape.  The parents fear that this child, though only a girl of ten years, has fallen into the hands of the Germans.

The sights of which they were eye witnesses are almost too terrible to relate.  They say that the German soldiers treated those of their Belgian captives in a most inhuman manner.

These refugees, it is said, actually saw the Germans cut off the ears, gouge out the eyes, and split the noses of their hapless prisoners, and in their own village, girls of only 10 years of age had their hands cut off, and even babies were bayonetted.  They were compelled to stand and see their own priest fetched out and shot in the road before their eyes.  On escaping they walked all the way to Ostend, and arrived in England absolutely destitute, the man not even having a shirt to his back.

Of the family the man appears to be the most obsessed with the fate which has befallen them, and spends much time brooding over their awful experiences and the loss of his children.  He has asked to be found some employment with which to occupy his mind, and this, we understand, will be given him on the estate where he is at present a guest.

In November 1914, the following appeared in the Belgian newspaper De stem uit België :

1914 11 13-VAN OOSTERWIJK Mr_Stables_Heron's Ghyll seeks news of family De_stem_uit_België-cropped
from De stem uit België , 13th November 1914 “Mr. A. VAN OOSTERWIJK [seeks news] of his family, c/o Stables, Heron’s Ghyll, Uckfield, Sussex.” (hetarchief.be)
A couple of months later, in January 1915, a longer request is published :

1915 01 15 VAN OOSTERWIJK family_Stables Herens_Uckfield_De stem uit België hetarchief be
from De stem uit België, 15th January 1915

VAN OOSTERWIJK. Alfons, from Campenhout-Sas [4], with wife Josephina Feyaerts and 3 children asks for news of his little girl 9 year old Julia and of his parents and brothers and sisters from Boortmeerbeek and also of Gustaaf van Oosterwijk and wife Louis Feyaerts and child and other members of the van Oosterwijk family and Isabelle de Pris from Wespelaar.  They are staying at Stables Herens, Uckfield (Sussex), England.

I think we can safely assume that this is the family referred to in the article.  I wonder whether they were ever reunited with their little girl?  I would so like to think so.  Perhaps I will find out more on my next visit to the archives in Brussels and Kew.

[1] James Fitzalan HOPE (‘J.F.’ rather than ‘F.J.’), nephew of the Duke of Norfolk, and Conservative MP for Sheffield Brightside 1900-1906 and Sheffield Central 1908-1929, bought the house at Heron’s Ghyll in 1891 from its then-owners, the Duchy of Norfolk,.  A Roman Catholic, he commissioned the building of a Catholic Church near the house.  St John the Evangelist was opened in 1897 and consecrated on 7th September 1904.  The Belgian family very probably worshipped in this church.

Although Heron’s Ghyll strictly-speaking comes under Buxted, that the HOPE family had some connection with the village of Fairwarp is evidenced by the fact that in 1911 J.F. POPE was President of the Fairwarp Cricket Club (Sussex Express, 27th October 1911)

Mrs HOPE – or Lady RANKEILLOUR she would become when her husband was raised to the peerage in 1932 – received the Elisabeth Medal from the King and Queen of the Belgians for humanitarian work during the First World War.  In addition to helping this family of refugees, and maybe others, she was responsible for the work of equipping and running 35 soldiers’ huts in England and France which were organised by the Catholic Women’s League of which she was for a time President.

1911 Census DUTTON Herons Ghyll

[2] The DUTTON family lived at The Stables, Herons Ghyll, where Albert Edward DUTTON was employed as Coachman and chauffeur.  I am not sure where he was in October 1914, but he was first in the Sussex Yeomanry, and then, in June 1915, he was in the Royal Navy, a motor driver serving with the RNAS (Royal Naal Air Service) on HMS President II.  In August 1917 he was posted to the East Mediterranean , where he remained until 31 March 1918, becoming an Air Mechanic with the RAF on its formation the following day* (UK Royal Air Force Airmen‘s records of the First World War – Source:Ancestry/Fold3)

Albert Ernest DUTTON 205948 on RAF Muster Roll (Source:Fold3)

Albert and his wife Caroline (nee STEVENS) had 3 children, Frank (b.1908), Albert (b.1910) and Gladys (b.1911).  It must have been quite a crush in the 5-roomed house when the Belgian family moved in in October 1914.

[3] The Reverend Father Emile BURT was parish priest at St John the Evangelist Heron’s Ghyll from 1910-1922.

[4] In August 1914 the region around Kampenhout-Sas was the scene of fierce fighting. All houses in the vicinity were destroyed, and the hamlet of Relst was totally wiped off the map. In Boortmeerbeek 85 houses were burnt.  In Wespelaar 47. The parish priest of nearby Buken (Bueken), Fr H. DE CLERK, was one of those in the Diocese of Mechelen (Malines) murdered in 1914.

List of priests murdered by Germans_Malines_ Diocese
List of priests murdered in the Diocese of Mechelen (Malines) in the First World War


Belgian National Day 1918

Just one hundred years ago, the Belgian Colony of Tunbridge Wells held its usual celebration of Belgium’s National Day on 21st July – their fourth in exile – but unlike in the early years of the war, it didn’t seem to merit a mention in the local press.  However it was covered in the Belgian newspapers in the UK – in the Metropole d’Anvers of 3rd August, and the Independence belge of 7th August 1918 (source hetarchief.be)

I find the articles particularly interesting as we learn that the ‘flu’ was already in evidence; that M. Florent COOSEMANS was still President of the Club Albert, and the Secretary was now Mr LEFEVER [1]; there is also the first (and so far only) mention I have found of a recently-created Belgian school in the town, under the directorship of Professor WOLVERSPERGES, and thanks to the efforts of M. Albert LE JEUNE, Honorary President of the Club Albert.

July 21st that year fell on a Sunday – it’s not clear whether the celebrations were held on that day, or spread across the week.  There had been no resident Belgian Catholic priest in the town since Abbé LEMMENS had returned to Belgium in August 1915 [2], but Abbé PEETERS, we are told, made a point of travelling up from his home in St Leonards to sing the traditional Te Deum and address his compatriots.

My blog-posting record being currently at an all-time low, I thought that rather than take weeks to write my own account of the festivities, I’d offer a (rough) translation of the article from the Metropole newspaper. Here goes :

From La Metropole d’Anvers, 3rd August 1918

Belgian National Day in the Belgian colony of Tunbridge Wells

“This year, as in previous years, the Belgians of Tunbridge Wells were keen to celebrate their national holiday in a worthy manner.

“Apart from a few “influenced” by the Flu”, all made it their duty to attend the Te Deum sung by Father PEETERS, who had insisted on going to Tunbridge Wells for this purpose, and followed by an address by him full of patriotism, of a sense of resignation to the current sorrows and deprivations but also of hope for the future of Belgium and in the unity of all parties and all opinions to guarantee the rebirth of our dear homeland after the victory.

“A part quelques «influencés» par le « Flu » tous se sont fait un devoir d’assister au Te Deum chanté par M. l’abbé Peeters….”

“The singing of La Brabançonne by all present closed this moving ceremony.

“In addition, a charming little family celebration organised by the Club Albert, with the generous help of M. and Mme Albert LE JEUNE, brought together all the Belgians at the Club’s premises last Saturday.

“Without a doubt, the highlight of this celebration was the distribution of prizes to the pupils of the Belgian school. This school – of recent creation – is also the work of M. Le Jeune. It complements the education most of our children receive in English schools. Professor WOLVERSPERGES has been entrusted with the directorship of the school, and he carries out his task with a rare devotion and a marvellous success

“The ever-increasing number of pupils is evidence of how much his work is appreciated. M. Albert LE JEUNE, the worthy Honorary President of the Club Albert, opened the meeting with a speech reminding us of the importance of the day we were celebrating, as well as our duties as Belgians. M. COOSEMANS, President of the Club, thanked M. LE JEUNE, as well as Mme LE JEUNE who had also made it her duty to attend the meeting, for their tireless devotion to the colony; M. LEFEVER, Secretary of the Club, on behalf of the fathers and mothers of the families, thanked Professor WOLVERSPERGES for his dedication to fulfilling his difficult task, and congratulated him on the results obtained.

“Then M. WOLVERSPERGES, after reading the list of Prize Winners, gave the floor to his pupils, who, in French and Flemish, in verse and prose, provided proof of their declamatory talents.  Finally the distribution of the prizes, followed by the traditional tea, concluded this delightful gathering to the satisfaction of all, young and old.”

La Brabançonne”  – translation by The Times correspondent in Brussels during the war years

[1] Auguste LEFEVER and his wife Gabrielle DECAUX were from Antwerp, and in Tunbridge Wells with their four primary-school-aged children, Jean, Marie-Louise, José, and Albert, and M. Lefever’s sisters.  Clearly the family would have been very pleased that the children were at last able to receive tuition in their own language.  I wonder which Tunbridge Wells school they attended.
[2] Click here to link to an article about the Belgian Comunity and St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church