Artistic connections?

So many potential blogposts are racing around my head that nothing has been written down for months.  Today I came across an interesting connection and thought I’d write it up here while I remember.

In preparation for a talk I shall be giving in Ghent, Belgium, next month, I have been looking at the Belgian artists and musicians who were in Tunbridge Wells during the First World War, and the homes they lived in whilst here.

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, Marie ENSOR, the sister of artist James Ensor, was among those who took refuge in Tunbridge Wells, along with her daughter Alex, son-in-law Richard DAVELUY and grandson Jules. From November 1916 Mme ENSOR and family lived in part of 33 Upper Grosvenor Road, one of the properties rented by the Committee.

Searches in the British Newspaper Archive and of Censuses on Ancestry.co.uk showed that this address was occupied in 1901 by retired surgeon, Dr George ABBOT [sic], and his wife Edith, an “ex-drawing teacher” who were also “of 2 Rusthall Park”.  By 1911 they were living at the latter address, but their name was still linked to the Upper Grosvenor Road house as is evidenced, I believe,  by this advertisement from the 1916 10 27 Chambers to rent 33 Upper Grosvenor

only a month before the DAVELUY-ENSOR family moved in.  I wonder whether they rented all the available rooms or just the flat?

And who was Dr George ABBOT? His obituary in the Kent & Sussex Courier of 16 January 1925 revealed him to be a well-known and highly-respected local resident, retired ophthalmic surgeon, former Town Councillor, and (in some people’s eyes) property speculator, who was also

  • the founder of an eye and ear dispensary for the poor at Sheffield House on The Pantiles which led eventually to the establishment of the Eye and Ear Hospital of which he was Hon. Surgeon 1878-1896;
  • the instigator of Technical Classes in the basement of the hospital in 1890 which eventually grew to such an extent that the Technical Institute was opened at the foot of Mount Sion before being taken over by the Borough Council and moving to new premises first in Calverley Road and then, in 1902, Monson Road;
  • a geologist and founder of the Tunbridge Wells Natural History Society in the early 1880s, and later the South-Eastern Union of Scientific Societies;
  • and most of all, through the Natural History Society, responsible for the establishment and endowment of the local Museum, then at 18 Crescent Road (1).

1919 Museum_18 Crescent Road

“Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery was created by the Tunbridge Wells Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1885, founded by Dr George Abbott. The Museum
was adopted by the Borough Council in 1918, mainly due to the campaigning of Abbott – the Museum’s first curator.”  Anne Nielsen, Museum Visitor Services Assistant, Cultural & Learning Hub Newsletter, August 2017
In 1922, a portrait of him painted by Charles Tattershall DODD was presented to the Borough in recognition of his public services.
Dodd II, Charles Tattershall, 1861-1951; Dr George Abbott
Dr George Abbott by Charles Tattershall Dodd (c) the artist’s estate; photo credit Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery (from ArtUK.org)

His artist wife was the daughter of pioneering photographer Henry Peach ROBINSON (1830-1901). (2)


I’m not sure what the relevance is to the Belgian refugees, other than that Dr ABBOTT was one of their landlords, but I rather like the idea that there is a connection between the founder of the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery and this part of the town’s history.

And maybe the ABBOTT family’s artistic connections made them the perfect landlords for the family of another artist…
Or perhaps it was just coincidence!

Note : There will be an illustrated talk about Tunbridge Wells Museum and its Collection by Dr Ian Beavis, the Museum’s Research Curator, on Tuesday 27 February, 2 – 3pm
Discover more about the history of the Museum and its key collections in this fascinating talk. The Museum holds collections of regional and national importance including outstanding collections of art, natural history, archaeology, photography, craft, toys and much more.
£3 (Friends of the Museum) and £4 (Non-Friends) (payable by cash only on the day)
Booking essential, please contact: events@friendstwmlag.org


(1) In the premises which had been the office of the local branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) 1910-1918 and the NUWSS-run War Relief Clothing Depot 1914-1917 – another coincidence!
(2) Read a biography of Henry Peach ROBINSON on Robert Leggat’s History of Photography website

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