So, Tunbridge Wells is going a little bit Belgian next month, and as a result this blog has been rather neglected.
We now have a pop-up Info Point in the Royal Victoria Place for Belgian Week and the CREATE/University of Kent “Discovering the Belgian Community of Tunbridge Wells 1914-1919” community research project, and a huge thank you is due to Centre Manager Nicky Blanchard for making the unit available to us. You will find us just inside the entrance from Ely Court.
Today while I was there someone popped in, looked at the map of Tunbridge Wells and the list of properties where accommodation was provided for the Belgians, and asked me who lived at 2 Dorking Road.
We looked through my notes and found that it was the VERSCHUEREN family from Mechelen – boot-seller Jean, his wife Elisabeth (nee MATTHIEUWIS) and their son Josef. They lived at 14 Bailles de Fer (IJzerenleen), just across the road from the DENYN family who were at 21. The entry we have in the Scott Album is this
Jose DEVROEY or DEVRORY, we have discovered, was a 6 year old boy with connections to the MATTHIEUWIS family
I’ve already written briefly about members of the MATTHIEUWIS family from Mechelen who were in Glasgow in October 1914 – possibly the same people who signed the album.
As for the VERSCHUEREN family, the registration documents we found for them in the Archives in Brussels show that they were living in Wadhurst, in “Malines Cottage”, and a quick search of the British Newspaper Archive brings up an article in the Sussex Agricultural Express of Friday 28th October 1914 which mentioned the unexpected arrival of 8 refugees from Belgium who were housed by Mrs Boyd (1) at “the best available cottage at Duneden Place which was re-named Malines Cottage because the eight refugees came from that town”.
However by October 1915, Elisabeth (presumably with their son) was in Tunbridge Wells, while her husband was about to move to Street in Somerset to work at the Clarks Shoe Factory. Did he go I wonder? Another trail to follow!
A year later he and his family were back in Tunbridge Wells living at 60 Newton Road before moving in November 1916 into apartment accommodation provided by the Mayor’s Refugees Committee at 2 Dorking Road. They must have been well settled for a “Verschueren J.” is listed at 2 Dorking Road in Kelly’s Directory for 1917.
In February 1918 they moved north to Manchester, to Cheetham Hill. I wonder why?
(1) Annie Boyd of Hill House was the widow of Robert Fenwick Boyd of Houghton-le-Spring Co. Durham and had moved to Wadhurst 1898 with her son and daughter. Her son Edward was killed soon after the start of the war, and in October 1914 Mrs Boyd converted her house into a hospital. For the first six months the hospital took in Belgian wounded, and from 1915-1919 British wounded. A total of 1100 “war patients” passed through the hospital, and Hill House was still a hospital at the time of Mrs Boyd’s death in 1934.