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.
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  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…
 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.
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 :
By the kindness of Mrs F.J. HOPE , 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 , 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  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 :
A couple of months later, in January 1915, a longer request is published :
VAN OOSTERWIJK. Alfons, from Campenhout-Sas , 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.
 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.
 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 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.
 The Reverend Father Emile BURT was parish priest at St John the Evangelist Heron’s Ghyll from 1910-1922.
 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.
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 ; 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 , 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.”
 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.
 Click here to link to an article about the Belgian Comunity and St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church
Yesterday I gave a short talk at a Studienamiddag organised by the Study Centre for Flemish Music (Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Musiek), with specific reference to some of the Belgian musicians and artists who were in Tunbridge Wells during the First World War. It was short and fairly superficial, but I thought I’d post it here for posterity, with some links.
There were a number of very interesting papers delivered, not least one by Jan Dewilde on Belgian women composers Eva Dell’Acqua and Maria Matthijssens which included a performance by Belgian soprano Eloise Mabille of two songs., “Villanelle” (dell’Acqua) and “Chaperon rouge” (Matthijssens).
My own presentation was followed by a performance of Frederic Bonzon’s “En Ardenne” by young oboist Balder Dendievel
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay for the evening concert. Had I done so I would have heard a performance of Peter Benoit’s Troisieme fantaisie, op. 18 which was played in a concert at the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells on 1st January 1916 by Jef Denyn.
Frederic Bonzon (1850-1926) and the Royal Tunbridge Wells Belgian refugees, 1914-1919
Gooie namiddag, damens en herren….
It’s a great honour to be with you today to share in this 20th anniversary celebration and I thank Jan Dewilde for inviting me to speak. I must also thank him for his help in finding out more about Professor Bonzon when all I had was a scrap of music and an address.
But to start at the beginning –
As you will know only too well, during and after the terrible events of August 1914, something like a quarter of the population of Belgium fled, on foot, in carts, taking what they could carry, in many case with only the clothes they stood up in. Perhaps members of your own families were among them. I can’t imagine what it must have been like.
They fled to neutral Holland, to France and to the United Kingdom – 250,000 people – men women and children – made their way across the English Channel by whatever means possible, and in such numbers that in one week after the fall of Antwerp on 10th October 1914, 26,000 fugitives landed at Folkestone.
And among their number were 64 year old Professor Frederic Bonzon, his wife Marie Therese Faviesse and their grown-up daughter Marthe who arrived in Folkestone on 9th October 1914. We don’t know how they travelled, simply that they arrived and were soon in lodgings in the town.
Folkestone had become a veritable “town of refugees”. Many of those arriving were destitute, others were able to support themselves.
In early September the British Government had offered hospitality to any refugees from Belgium for as long as it was needed and soon a Central Refugees Committee was established in London followed by voluntary committees around the country. A scheme was put in place for receiving and registering the refugees.
On arrival in Folkestone, most people were sent to dispersal centres in London set up in public buildings like Alexandra Palace and Earls Court. The local committees around the country identified possible lodgings in their towns and villages and the refugees were then sent on to them.
Others went directly from Folkestone to the care of a local committee, and this was the case for the Bonzon family for in December 1914, just in time for Christmas, they are at a house in Tunbridge Wells – 11 Linden Park – a large 16-roomed house round the corner from the famous Pantiles. Unfortunately the house no longer exists. 
They shared the house with at least two families from Ostend – the Tanghe-Vanhercke-Groven family and the sister of painter James Ensor, her daughter and family and the painter’s friend and muse, Augusta Boogaerts and her nephew.
The house was one of those provided by the local refugees committee and had been lent rent-free by a local builder. The fact that the Bonzon family was given lodgings in one of the houses provided by the Committee suggests that they had left Antwerp with very little and were not able to support themselves.
The Tunbridge Wells committee had been set up by the Mayor in September/October 1914 and during the ensuing 4 1/2 years the committee looked after a total of 297 men, women and children, providing housing, clothing, and schooling, and often helping them find local employment. This number was augmented by those who were able to support themselves or stay with friends.
We learnt recently that one of the self-supporting families – the Meeus-Havenith family from Antwerp, chose to come to Tunbridge Wells simply because the novelist Thackeray had once lived there!
So what was the town the Bonzon family and others found themselves in, like?
Tunbridge Wells in 1914 was – a fashionable spa town,a royal municipal borough and market town, about 55 kms from London and about the same from Folkestone,with a population of about 36,000. It owed its existence to the discovery of its iron-rich spring water (similar to that in Spa here in Belgium) in the 17th century after which it became a favourite destination for royalty and fashionable society. In the 19th century the town began to attract more permanent residents. The surrounding countryside was ideal for walks and rides and early guide books of the town described the country houses that could be visited in the area.
But by the autumn of 1914 it had also become a military centre
with thousands of soldiers encamped in tents on the Common and billeted in empty houses in the town.
A notable feature of the town, was its religious-ness – it was predominantly Church of England and non-conformist, and well-known for its more Puritan tendencies. In 1914 there were 9 Anglican Churches, 9 non-Conformist chapels, a Quaker Meeting House and one Catholic church, St Augustine’s
which became the spiritual home of the Belgian community, the scene of national celebrations such as the Belgian National Day and King’s Day, of marriages and baptisms, and sadly also of funerals.
A refugee priest from Mechelen, from SS Peter and Paul Church, Fr Louis Lemmens , ministered to the refugees until he left the town in mid-1915 when his place was taken by Fr Josef Peeters from Lint.
In November 1914 St Augustine’s was packed for the celebration of King’s Day, the traditional Te Deum was sung, led by a choir under the direction of one of the town’s refugees from Belgium – none other than the great Beiaardeer Josef Denyn who had arrived from Mechelen in October 1914 with his wife, their 6 children and his wife’s sister.
This photo of Jef Denyn and his family – for which I am most grateful to Koen Cosaert of the Koninklijke Beiaardschool in Mechelen – was probably taken some time in late 1917 as missing from it are Mr Denyn’s youngest daughter Emma and his wife Helene who tragically died during the family’s exile in Tunbridge Wells, in 1916 and 1917. Their graves are in the town’s cemetery. 
Tunbridge Wells already had a thriving musical life, with choral societies and orchestras, 2 or 3 theatres, and of course frequent concert parties & this continued throughout the war years, with performances not only by local musicians, professional & amateur, but also by visiting Belgian performers, often themselves refugees, such as Mme Helene Feltesse from the Brussels Opera and the violinist Eugene Ysaye. [In fact, Mr Isaye himself spent a few week in Tunbridge Wells in 1914 with his family (and their cook – and his Stradivarius. according to newspaper accounts) following their dramatic escape from Knokke in a fishing vessel.] And concert programmes in the town included music by Belgian composers such as Peter Benoit and Eva dell’Acqua whose “Villanelle” we will hear later I believe.
Unfortunately I have no found evidence of works by Profesor Bonzon being performed in Tunbridge Wells, nor of any performances given by him or his family – maybe simply because the oboe doesn’t lend itself to solo performance in the same way as piano, violin or voice.
In March 1915 Prof Bonzon was joined in Tunbridge Wells by his son Charles’s wife, Laure, and her 6 year old son Andre – they had been in Manchester, in the north of England – and in May 1915 Laure returned to Belgium, leaving her son with his grandparents and aunt. And the following year the family moved to apartments in a house nearer the centre of the town – just along from the Opera House.
We have a photo of little Andre Bonzon with a group of Belgian children in the garden of a house in Tunbridge Wells.The photo belongs to the LIMPENS family, descendents of the MEEUS-HAVENITH family from Wynegem, whose grandparents are also in the photo – see the little boy in school uniform – probably Frederic MEEUS. Schooling was provided free of charge in local primary and secondary schools, but there was also a Belgian School in Tunbridge Wells, set up – probably in a private house – in early 1918 to provide instruction in French and Flemish to the children, alongside their English education.
And while the children needed to continue their education, the adults wanted and were encouraged to work – though it was made clear not at the expense of local workers. Tunbridge Wells did not have the industry of other parts of the country, where the refugees were employed in munitions or aircraft factories for example, but there were certainly opportunities to work – as domestic staff in one of the big houses for example and Professor Bonzon’s daughter, Marthe, obtained a position as a Governess with the Talbot family in nearby Bidborough – possibly in response to this advertisement placed in the Kent and Sussex Courier of 7th May 1915 :
Marthe worked for them until she and her family returned to Antwerp in April 1919.
Going home was never far from the minds of the refugees, and finally after the Armistice in November 1918, this was possible – thought not until early 1919. The British government chartered ferries to provide free passage first to Antwerp and then also Ostend, The local committee in Tunbridge Wells reported that by May 1919 all the Belgian refugees had returned .
The Belgians had been in Tunbridge Wells for four and a half years and in that time were gradually absorbed into the life of the town. In the first year the newspapers were full of stories and reports of Belgian National Day and King’s Day and social events held at the Belgian social club, the Club Albert.
Their presence now is hardly known about, but they did leave at least two memorials of their stay.
The first is an almost life-size bust of the then Mayor, Mr Whitbourn Emson, who was chair of the refugees committee during the whole period.
It was commissioned and paid for by the Belgian Community from sculptor Paul Van Den Kerckhove, himself a refugee who stayed in the town with his wife and two daughters, and it stands today in the lobby to the Council Chamber in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall.
The other “memorial” is much smaller but perhaps more important – certainly from a researcher’s point of view –
and that is a souvenir album signed by some 180 Belgians and presented to two Tunbridge Wells sisters, Amelia and Louisa Scott, who both worked tirelessly to help the refugees from Belgium.
Indeed Amelia Scott was awarded the Golden Palms of the Order of the Crown by the King of the Belgians for her work.
But the souvenir album was a very special thank you from the people she helped, and it was there that I came across this :
Professor Bonzon’s Oboe piece – En Ardennes – alongside which he wrote Hommage respectueux de l’auteur a Mesdemoiselles Scott Tunbridge Wells le 22 juillet 1916…
…And this seems a fitting place to stop as the moment has arrived for you to hear that very piece of music.
Thank you again for inviting me to speak today. And please don’t hesitate to talk to me or contact me later if you would like to know more, or indeed if you yourselves can add to our research. 
 This morning I found this fascinating blog post by Ed Gilbert about 10 Linden Park – maybe number 11 was similar?
 Afterwards I spoke to a gentleman who believes a member of his family married one of Jef Denyn’s daughters (and will let me know), and to Koen Cosaert, Director of the ‘Jef Denyn’ Beiaardschool in Mechelen, who told me that in letters held in their archives Jef Denyn wrote that the family chose Tunbridge Wells as it was cheaper than London! I also discussed with Mr Cosaert the possibility of a Carillon piece by W.W. Starmer’s being played in Mechelen in June 2019 – fingers crossed…
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.
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
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).
“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
In 1922, a portrait of him painted by Charles Tattershall DODD was presented to the Borough in recognition of his public services.
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: email@example.com
(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!
We are now the other side of Tunbridge Wells Belgian Festival 2017. It was a busy weekend, of beer, Belgians, walking and talking.
There were also some slightly less Belgian elements.
Highlights: Refugee Grandmother hoped they could come to Tunbridge Wells in 1914 after reading Thackeray novels. Reading in a diary about the day the Mayor’s bust was presented to the town in 1915. Going into Wetherspoons (The Opera House). Listening to French and not knowing what was going on.
If you would like to walk the Belgian Community Heritage Trail, there are lots of maps around the town, or download one.
Above image is a photo of a postcard in Tunbridge Wells Museum
Not a lot of blogging has been going on as I recover from our little Belgian Week back in July, but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been busy! I thought I’d share a creative writing piece which was the result of a workshop organised at Tunbridge Wells Museum over the summer by local writer Caroline Auckland for the Friends of the Museum as part of Heritage Open Days 2017.The piece was inspired by the Tunbridge ware exhibits in the Museum – I had previously discovered a link between Tunbridge ware maker Thomas Barton and the town’s refugees from Belgium.
Here it is. I hope you enjoy it…
Inspired by the Thomas Barton Tunbridge ware collection in Tunbridge Wells Museum
As she stood before the cabinet containing her precious Tunbridge ware, Mary Ann Figgett wondered what her guests would be like – well, not exactly guests – they were actually lodgers – but she knew she would have to look after them, treat them like friends. So had said the written instructions she had received from Mrs Guthrie of the Mayor’s Belgian Refugees Committee: treat them like friends, put yourself in their shoes – and please serve them coffee not tea.
Three women were coming to stay, refugees from war-torn Belgium, “plucky little Belgium” whose Army and people had slowed down the German advance across Belgium, at great cost to themselves, and so protected England from invasion. She remembered the Mayor, Charles Whitbourn Emson, saying in the autumn of 1914 that, as the brave Belgians had stood up to the invader, they must all show their gratitude by helping those from that country now taking refuge in Tunbridge Wells.
Miss Figgett was used to lodgers. For many years she and her sister Lizzie had lived with their father’s sister Mary Barton, and her husband Thomas, in their house on Mount Ephraim – the quaint old house known as the Tunbridge Ware Manufactory and Repository – where in addition to working in the shop and around the house, they had helped their aunt run the apartments rented out to visitors. One family she remembered with particular fondness – Mrs Gielgud and her two little boys who with their nursemaid had spent the Easter holidays with them in 1901. They had kept in touch for a while, and she still treasured the photograph Mrs Gielgud had sent her after the birth of little Arthur John some three years later.
Aunt Mary had died in 1891 and Uncle Thomas had felt the blow keenly. He had had a stroke not long after the Gielguds’ stay, and his two nieces had nursed him until he had finally succumbed to his illness on 14th July 1903. He had left everything to Mary Ann. A kind and generous man, well-loved in the town as well as by his family, he had considered his nieces his adopted daughters, and had also been guardian to a young dressmaker, Fanny Thompson, who had lived with her widowed mother in the Gilead Terrace cottages just along Mount Ephraim. Mary Ann remembered Fanny’s wedding – she and Lizzie had been bridesmaids, and Uncle Thomas had proudly walked the bride down the aisle of Christ Church, and afterwards entertained the guests to the wedding breakfast in his own home. He had taught her much about hospitality and generosity and caring for those less fortunate than oneself.
After his death, “the Misses Barton”, as they were known by so many in the town, had stayed on at the Mount Ephraim house, and continued to make up and sell Tunbridge ware items in the shop, as well as rent out the apartments. She remembered how hard it had been to keep everything going, and when her sister Lizzie’s health began to fail they realised the time had come to move to more manageable – and hopefully modern – accommodation.
40 York Road had just nine rooms (as opposed to the fifteen of 86 Mount Ephraim) – space enough for her and Lizzie, and a couple of lodgers. But since Lizzie’s death nearly a year ago in November 1915, the house had seemed too big and very empty, and so she had decided to respond to the Mayor’s request for hospitality for some of the Belgians in the town.
There had been a Belgian family – an aunt and uncle and their half a dozen little nieces and nephews – living two doors down at number 44 the previous year. They had fled the city of Antwerp in the autumn of 1914 and told her many stories of the hardships they had suffered on their journey to England. How she had felt for the little children when they described being taken to say goodbye to their parents who were staying behind, not knowing whether they would ever see them again! They were very interested in the pieces of Tunbridge ware she still owned, and she was able to tell them that there was a connection with their home country as her uncle had always told her that the inspiration for Tunbridge Ware was similar pieces made in the town of Spa in Belgium. They told her that Spa was in the Ardennes mountains near the German border. It was the part of their country first invaded by the Germans and now under occupation. They had told her that Tunbridge Wells reminded them all of holidays they had spent in Spa, that the waters there were just like the Tunbridge Wells water : rich in iron, and just as liable to stain everything a rusty red. The similarities were comforting, but at the same time made them long more and more for home.
Mary Ann hoped that by opening her doors to some of their compatriots she could both give them some comfort in their exile and fill the emptiness in the house. One of her lady guests, Mme Sperlaeken, was, she understood, about her own age and spoke English; the other two were her unmarried daughters. This would be their seventh home in Tunbridge Wells in the two years they had been here. She was determined that they should not have to move again.
It was nearly time. Just one last thing to do, and as she placed three carefully-chosen pieces of Tunbridge ware on the table in the guests’ sitting-room, she heard female voices outside in the street. She took a deep breath, and concentrated very hard as she went to open the door:
“Bonjour Madame. Bienvenue à ma maison. Vous êtes chez vous.”
Alison MacKenzie September 2017
The first Belgian family referred to is the COOSEMANS-BOEYNAEMS family. Read their story in this guest blogpost by Cyriel Boeynaems here
The Belgian town of Spa (Wikipedia link), the original spa town, produced wooden ware (“bois de Spa”) from the early 17th century. The wooden objects were made from natural wood or from wood soaked in the ferruginous spa waters giving it a greyish or brownish tint; many of these objects were subsequently decorated in various ways, mostly with gouache but also with Indian ink, by encrusting mother-of-pearl, ivory or precious metals. Early Tunbridge ware was also painted.
Louise SPERLAEKEN (nee VAN DE WALLE) and her grown-up daughters Georgina and Yvonne were from rue Royale/Koninklijke straat, Ostend, and moved into 40 York Road in September 1916 according to their registration documents (held in the National Archives in Brussels). It’s not clear when they actually arrived in Tunbridge Wells but a list of refugees from Ostend published in “De Vlaamsche Stem” on 26 September 1915 shows that Mme SPERLAEKEN was then at 26 Guildford Road.
According to the registration documents, they also lived at numbers 8, 38 and 58 Upper Grosvenor Road, 20 and 30 Guildford Road (but no mention of 26), and 44 Lime Hill Road… Hopefully they were able to stay at Miss Figgett’s apartments until they left Tunbridge Wells.
Oh and finally, here’s a transcription of the 1901 Census entry for 86 Mount Ephraim (Ref RG13/752) : Kate and Frank GIELGUD’s third child, Arthur John GIELGUD, the future Sir John GIELGUD, actor and director, was born on 14 April 1904, followed by sister Frances Eleanor in 1907. I wonder whether they spent any other holidays in Tunbridge Wells?
*Sarah Elizabeth, known as Lizzie according to an article n the Kent & Sussex Courier which I could probably find if you would like the reference.