Creative Connections

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.creative wrtigin workshop posterThe 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.

Thomas Barton Tunbridgeware
Tunbridge ware exhibits in Tunbridge Wells Museum

Here it is.  I hope you enjoy it…

Connections

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


Notes:

  • 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.

    Spa ware
    Spa ware (from the website of the Museum in Spa http://www.spavillaroyale.be/spip.php?rubrique6

Here’s a link to a film about a present day restorer and maker of Spa ware, Micheline Crouquet  http://www.spavillaroyale.be/spip.php?article304  (in French, but very visual).

  • 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.
    1915 09 26-Refugees from OSTEND_Addresses_De_Vlaamsche_stem__algemeen_Belgisch_dagblad-004-CC_BY-SPERLAEKEN_VAN HERCKE_VANDEVALLE
    From De Vlaamsche Stem (HetArchief.be)

    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) : 1901 Census Barton Gielgud transcription-page-001Kate 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.

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Where to begin? More questions than answers. The joys of research.

On 20th October 1917, Belgian soldier Louis Jean Albert TANGHE, 25, married Jeanne Marie Colette DEMEURISSE, 29, at St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Tunbridge Wells.  The ceremony was conducted by Catholic priest, Fr Joseph PEETERS, and local Registrar Arthur S. WISEMAN.

The marriage certificate is fascinating, not least because it brings together so many strands of our project research, and throws up so many questions.

I do already know the answers to some of them, but I’ll start with some of the questions without the answers, and perhaps the answers will conveniently provide future blog posts either on here or on the project blog which you will find at  http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/rtwbelgians [1]

1917 10 20 TANGHE-DEMEURISSEMarriage 001

Places :

St Augustine’s Church : the old church was on the corner of Hanover Road and Grosvenor Road, and was the spiritual home of most of the Belgian refugees.

  • Do we have an image of the building?
  • Is the wedding noted in St Augustine’s parish records?
  • Was it covered in the local pressBelgian press in exile?
  • What sort of a ceremony would it have been?  What language was it conducted in?
  • Why is the certificate signed by both a priest and a registrar?
  • Were there special regulations regarding the registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths among the refugees?
  • What day of the week was 20th October 1917?  Is that relevant?
  • What was happening in Tunbridge Wells/in Belgium at that time?
  • Not all refugees were Catholics – where did Protestant refugees make their spiritual home?

19 Monson Terrace : is this the same as 19 Monson Road?  If so, it was one of the properties where “apartment accommodation” was provided by the Borough Refugees Committee

  • Can we get a photograph?
  • Can we see inside?
  • Who was the landlord/landlady/owner of the property at the time?
  • Did any other refugees live there?

Rue Stockholm 25, and Rue de la Chapelle 34, Ostend : these are the addresses of the bride and groom.

  • What sort of properties were they and what can they tell us about the families who lived there?
  • Did they survive the two World Wars?
  • Can we get photos of the buildings?

People :

  • Do we have registration documents for the Belgians – Bride, Groom, Witnesses and Priest??
  • Did they have any relatives with them in Tunbridge Wells or elsewhere in the UK?

The Bridegroom : 25 yr-old Louis TANGHE was a Corporal in the Belgian Army, and from Ostend.  He did not sign the Scott Album in July 1916.  

  • Where had he been?  Was he a career soldier or a volunteer?
  • Was he invalided out of the Army to Tunbridge Wells, or simply on leave?   If the former, was he in one of the VAD hospitals in Tunbridge Wells?
  • Did he go/return to the Front after the wedding? Did he survive the war?
  • Were any other members of his family also in Tunbridge Wells?
  • Were there many wounded or medically discharged Belgian soldiers in Tunbridge Wells at that time?  Did they return to the Front?
  • Did refugee men in Tunbridge Wells join the Belgian Army? Were they expected to?

The Bride : Jeanne DEMEURISSE signed the Scott album as did a Mme DEMEURISSE.  They were also from Ostend. DEMEURISSE signature Scott album

The certificate gives the bride’s father Edmond DEMEURISSE’s profession as Professor of Music.  He didn’t sign the album.

  • Is Mme DEMEURISSE her mother?
  • Did the young couple already know each other from Ostend, or did they meet in Tunbridge Wells?
  • What were conditions like in Ostend in August 1914?
  • Where was her father? Can we find out anything about his musical career?  where he taught?
  • Did they have any relatives with them in Tunbridge Wells?  Or elsewhere in the UK?

Witness 1: A. H. J. VANHERCKEN

  • Who was he or she?  Another refugee?  Another soldier?  A relative?

Witness 2:  Oscar GROVEN – an Oscar GROVEN was Treasurer of the “Club Albert” in 1916

Tresorier Monsieur Oscar Groven_SCOTT Album

  • Are they the same person?
  • Is this Oscar GROVEN also the O. GROVEN who signed the Scott album with a drawing (a copy of a Punch cartoon – see below) alongside G. GROVEN and Gladys whose names also feature?
  • They also lived on Rue de Stockholm in Ostend – did they already know the bridegroom?
  • What was the “Club Albert”?

 

GROVEN drawing Scott Album_photo Anne Logan
Image from Album presented to the Misses SCOTT in July 1916 – Women’s Library @ LSE (Photograph (c) Anne Logan)

 

The Priest: Jos PEETERSAbbé PEETERS from Lint near Antwerp  (“Linth (Anvers)”) signed the Scott Album

  • Who was he?
  • Where did he live in Tunbridge Wells?
  • Can we find anything about his life before or after the war?
  • What was his status in the Community? and likely relationship with the Parish Priest, Canon Keatinge?

The Registrar: Arthur S. WISEMAN

  • What can we find out about Mr Wiseman? His family?
  • About the role of the Registrar in registration of war refugees, and of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the Belgian community in Tunbridge Wells, as well as in the UK?

To be continued


Sources :

  • General Register Office (Marriage certificate)           
  • Final Report of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells Belgian Refugees Committee (May 1919) (my own copy)
  • Album given to the Misses Scott by the Belgian Colony of Tunbridge Wells (22 July 1916) – Women’s Library @ LSE   (All photos of the album, apart from the one credited to Anne Logan, were taken by me, Alison Sandford MacKenzie, on a mobile phone – with apologies for the poor quality)

    [1] I will add links to any answers or post them alongside the questions, so do check back!

Births, Marriages and Deaths

Today I stumbled upon another birth in the Tunbridge Wells Belgian Community, that of Françoise Marie Isabelle Louise Madeleine Cornélie, daughter of Jean-Baptiste and Madeleine VAN DE PUT-MEEUS, on 30th April 1915.

The child’s parents had married in Wyneghem near Antwerp on 9th June 1914 – the bride was the daughter of the town’s Mayor, M. Hippolyte MEEUS, and the newspaper Le Courrier d’Anvers devoted a quarter of its front page on 19th June 1914 to coverage of the celebrations, describing how the marriage party made its way from the church to the MEEUS home, their way lined with a large and “sympathique” crowd of well-wishers.

As the young couple set off for their honeymoon in Biarritz and the Swiss Lakes, they couldn’t have known that only a few weeks later they would be fugitives from war.

MEEUS Madeleine_VAN DE PUT Jean_Marriage-Le_courrier_d'Anvers_1914 06 19
Jean Baptiste VAN DE PUT and Madeleine MEEUS in Le Courrier d’Anvers, 19th June 1914

The MEEUS family’s story I have not yet told on this blog, but you will find some of it in the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society book The Shock of War (ed. John Cunningham), in the Chapter I contributed about the Belgian refugees in Tunbridge Wells.  The Mayor and his wife both died in Tunbridge Wells in 1915, six months apart.  Lavish funerals were held at St Augustine’s and their bodies laid to rest in the Cemetery Mortuary Chapel until the end of the war when they were repatriated and buried in the family vault.

————————————-

But I digress.  My intention today was simply to list the Births, Marriages and Deaths I have so far come across and for which I have the certificates, so here goes.

1915

  • January 2nd   Death at 3 Woodbury Park Road of widow Euthalie Amelie BAL-VAN VAERENBERGH, 78, of 112 avenue du Commerce, Antwerp  – she too was repatriated after the war and buried in Antwerp.
  • February 20th   Marriage of Prosper Leopold DEBERGH and Marie RAVIJTS, both from Termonde, at St Augustine’s Catholic Church
  • February 23rd    Marriage of Oscar Edouard GROVEN and Germaine Mathilde Therese TANGHE both from Ostend, and engaged to be married before they left Belgium, at St Paul’s Catholic Church in Dover
  • March 23rd   Death at Tunbridge Wells General Hospital of baby Helene BECKER, 7 months, from measles and broncho-pneumonia.  She lies in an unmarked grave in the cemetery at Hawkenbury.
  • April 30th   Birth of Francoise Marie Isabelle Louise Madeleine Cornélie, daughter of Jean-Baptiste and Madeleine VAN DE PUT-MEEUS, at 4 Nevill Park
  • May 25th   Birth of Jacques Albert Daniel, son of Leon and Laure COEN-CHRISTIAENS from Schaerbeek, Brussels, at “Belle Vue”, 54 Mount Ephraim
  • June 26th   Death of Isabelle Adolphine Marie Ferdinande Josephine MEEUS-de MEURS, 61, the wife of Hippolyte MEEUS, distiller and Mayor of Wyneghem, at 4 Nevill Park
  • October 17th   Birth of Rose Marie, daughter of Paul and Marie Francoise VAN NULAND-HANOCQ, from Antwerp, at 7 Calverley Park Crescent
  • October 26th   Death of Hippolyte Maria Ivo MEEUS, 64, Mayor of Wyneghem, at 4 Nevill Park
  • December 2nd   Birth of Gladys Marie Virginie, daughter of Oscar and Germaine GROVEN-TANGHE (the couple who had married in Dover earlier that year), at 11 Linden Park, Broadwater Down.

1916

  • February 26th   Death at Tonbridge Workhouse Informary of Rosalie GEBRUERS-de PAUW, 58, wife of telephone fitter Sebastien GEBRUERS, who were living at 43 Grosvenor Road
  • April 12th   Marriage of munitions worker Andre VAN DEN EYNDE of Yew Cottages, Powder Mills, Tonbridge, and Annie TAYLOR, spinster, of Maidstone Road, Paddock Wood, at Tonbridge Register Office – not Tunbridge Wells, but he does pop up in the occasional concert in the town (at least I think it’s him/he) so I thought I’d include them.
  • May 1st   Death at 11 Linden Park, Broadwater Down, of Wilhelmina Florentina VANHERCKE, 66, “spinster daughter of Jean VANHERCKE cabinet-maker”
  • September 1st   Death at 154b Upper Grosvenor Road, of Josef Marie Louis , 2, son of Paul and Marie VAN NULAND-HANOCQ, from tubercular meningitis
  • September 28th   Death at 3 East Cliff Road of Emma Caroline, 12, daughter of  Mechelen ‘carilloneur’ Josef  DENYN and his wife Helene DENYN-SCHUERMANS

1917

  • February 1st   Death at 63 Grosvenor Park of Theodore VAN BENEDEN, 66, from Blaseveldt near Antwerp.  He was in Tunbridge Wells with his brother and several cousins.
  • June 13th   Birth of Genevieve Marie Josephe Julie Christiane Ghislaine, daughter of Professor Joseph WILLEMS and his wife Marguerite WILLEMS-BESME – by this time they were living in Folkestone, at 83 Bouverie Road West, where the Professor was an Adjutant in the Belgian Intelligence Service
  • June 22nd   Birth of John Emile Polidore, son of Oscar and Germaine GROVEN-TANGHE and a brother to Gladys, at 55 Culverden Park Road.  Father Oscar is now a munitions worker.
  • July 4th   Birth of Joseph Marie Odilon, son of Paul and Marie VAN NULAND-HANOCQ, at 154b Upper Grosvenor Road
  • September 23rd   Death at 3 East Cliff Road of Helene Theodore Hubertine SCHUERMANS, 55, wife of Mechelen Bellmaster Josef DENYN
  • October 20th   Marriage of Jeanne DEMEURISSE and Louis TANGHE at St Augustine’s Catholic Church

 

 

What are the chances?  The MATTHIEUWIS family from Mechelen

When I was transcribing the 1916 Scott Album a couple of years ago, some of the names were a struggle to decipher.  Such as this one which, after a year or two, and much Googling, I decided was MATTHIEUWIS :p25_matthieuwis

And it stuck in my mind. 

The full entry is :

Matthieuwis jB         J. Verschueren           Mad. Verschueren

Bailles de Fer 14, Malines

Mad.  Matthieuwis        Jos. Verschueren      Jose Devrory

Fast forward to today :

We’re discussing the creation of a database of those who signed the Scott album and what to include, and for reference I turned to one available online for the refugees who were in Glasgow – and got side-tracked. 

I started looking for familiar names, just in case.  I knew the refugees moved around. Not just within Tunbridge Wells, but also the UK.  We’d not yet found any who came to Tunbridge Wells from Glasgow, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any. 

As I scanned the (very long) list of names, one leapt out at me : MATTHIEUWIS, Jean and Barbara, both 66, c/o Little Sisters of the Poor, 180 Garngadhill [1], Glasgow, whence they departed on 16th October 1914 – no onward address given.

But their address in Belgium is given as “Balde Fer 14, Malines” – surely a mis-spelling/transcription of “Bailles de Fer”.  Has to be the same family if not the same people… doesn’t it?


[1] Now Roystonhill

Painter James ENSOR and Tunbridge Wells…

An entry in the Album presented to the Misses SCOTT in July 1916 caught my eye early on : that of a Madame ENSOR from Ostend.

Was there a connection to Ostend resident, the painter James ENSOR (1860-1949), son of an English father and Belgian mother?  His mother perhaps?  An aunt?  Research revealed that he himself stayed in Ostend throughout the war, and that his mother died there in 1915.  So not her.

However, his sister Marie (‘Mietche’), used the name ‘Madame ENSOR’ following a failed marriage to Alfred John Taen-Hee-Tsen.  Could this be her?  It was known that she was in England during the First World War.

And there was more : on the same page was an Augusta BOOGAERTS of 54 rue de Theux, Brussels.  That was the names of James ENSOR’s life-long close friend (some thought mistress) whom he called “La Sirène” and whom he painted on a number of occasions.  And she lived at 54 rue de Theux in Brusssels…

ensor-boogaerts-scott-albym
Augusta BOOGAERTS, 54 rue de Theux, Bruxelles, and Madame ENSOR, 31 Rampe de Flandre, Ostende

And digging a little more I found that Mietche’s daughter Mariette, known as Alex, had married a Richard Jules DAVELUY in 1908 – and that was the name of the Secretary to the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells –

secretaire-daveluy

Monsieur R.J. DAVELUY – later in the album signing his name as Rich. Jules DAVELUY.  And alongside his inscription were Alex and their son Jules.

p06_daveluy
‘Par votre accueil hospitalier Mesdemoiselles vous avez acquis notre plus profonde gratitude‘ Rich Jules DAVELUY, 27 rue de Flandre, Ostende.

Must be them…

27 rue de Flandre is now the Ensor Museum in Ostend.  I visited it last month : what a treat!  (And also a fabulous exhibition at the MuZEE of works by the two great Ostend artists, ENSOR and Leon SPILLIAERT….)

Next stop the Archives in Brussels and the Refugees Registration documents, where I found the confirmation I was after (apologies for the blurred photos…) :

marie-ensor
Mme Marie Ensor, 33 Upper Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells, with Monsieur & Madame Richard J Daveluy and their son Jules
James Ensor's niece 'Alex'
Mariette Alexandrine Jeanne Taen Hee Tseu Daveluy, 27 Rue de Flandre, Ostend, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells
ensor-marie-cert-reg-1-cropped
Marie Ensor of 31 Rue de Flandre, Ostend, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells

Marie ENSOR and her daughter ‘Alex’ had lived with the painter and were very close.  Alex was only 15 when she married Casino croupier Richard DAVELUY.  Her uncle opposed the marriage and there was a falling-out which lasted for a number of years.

ensor-family-tree
James ENSOR Family Tree with “La Sirene” included…
boogaerts
Augusta Melanie Boogaerts of 54 Rue de Theux, Bruxelles, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells

James ENSOR met 18yr old Augusta BOOGAERTS, daughter of an Ostende hotelier, in 1888 in his mother’s shop (where Augusta was working for a short time), and so began a life-long friendship.  The story goes that his mother opposed their friendship, and even after her death, they never lived together.

ensor-nos-deux-portraits
‘Portrait de Mademoiselle B.’ (1905) James Ensor – renamed ‘James Ensor et son amie’ in 1920

And my favourite :

the-call-of-the-sea
L’Appel de la Sirene (La Baignade) James Ensor 1896

COMING SOON to London : An ENSOR Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, 29th October 2016-29th January 2017.  Very excited!

“The theatrical, the satirical and the macabre come together in arresting fashion in the art of James Ensor. Curated by Luc Tuymans, this exhibition will present a truly original body of work, seen through the eyes of one of today’s leading painters.”

Royal Adacemy of Arts website

Lady MATTHEWS meets some of the Belgian refugees

Recently I have had cause to revisit the diaries of Lady MATTHEWS which are kept in the Imperial War Museum in London, and were written particularly with her young children in mind – Stephen and Esther were 3 and 2 respectively when war broke out, and she wanted to leave them a record of what life was like at the time.  The youngest, Bryan, her “war baby” as she called him, was born in 1917.

Annette Amelia MATTHEWS nee KITSON was the second wife of Sir John Bromhead MATTHEWS KC, who in 1914 was was Chairman of the County Bench, and they were both involved with social work in the area. Lady Matthews was also an early feminist, and was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), serving as a Vice-President of the local branch and working in its War Relief Clothing Depot in their premises at 18 Crescent Road during the War.

1914 08 17 Lady MATTHEWS clothing depot
Lady Matthews’ Diary entry for Monday 17th August 1914 (IWM Documents.17087)

The Kent & Sussex Courier of 4th September 1914 announced the opening of the Depot for the collection and distribution of ‘new and partly-worn articles of clothing suitable for convalescent soldiers or their wives and families’.  By late October, the newspaper was reporting that ‘at the request of the Mayor, the Committee of the Clothing Depot of the NUWSS at 18 Crescent Road (a department of the Mayor’s scheme for the relief of distress) has also undertaken the collection and distribution of clothes for refugees, in addition to the collection and distribution for convalescent soldiers and civilians’.

Lady Matthews first records the presence of Belgian refugees in the town on Sunday 4th October, and soon she is writing of their visits to Crescent Road, and the stories they have to tell.

Below are transcriptions of the relevant entries. The stories speak for themselves. I may well add some comments in due course.

Note : other than the young couple Lady Matthews met in February 1915 following their marriage, and about whom I have written in a previous post (and therefore don’t include here) I haven’t (yet) been able to identify any of those she mentions.

Can you help?   Kunt u mij helpen?  Pourriez-vous m’aider a le faire?      Thank you…


Lady MATTHEWS writes…

In early November 1914, young man from Tournai came to the Clothing Depot :

He was 21, of service age, & therefore sent out of Belgium by his parents.  He was too shortsighted for service in his army – he would have been sent to the harvest fields in Germany, had he been caught.  He told me how he & his family hid in a cellar while the Germans entered Tournai. Only 800 soldiers (french) opposed them, but these sufficed to hold up the Germans for the necessary 24 hours, tho’ it meant death or imprisonment to practically all the 800.  The Germans immediately drink all the wine they find, & the burgomaster was taken in a motor to Brussels by an officer with a revolver but so drunk the officer’s head lay on the burgomaster’s shoulder.  At Brussels the burgomaster was asked told to sign a paper stating that the inhabitants of Tournai had fired on the Germans.  He refused, but he was not shot, as he expected to be.  In Tournai, the Germans burned 10 houses out of mere malice.

On Saturday 21st November 1914, it was the turn of a couple from Louvain : 

A young Belgian, an automobile mechanic & his wife came in for clothes to our clothing Depôt this week.  His history was quite a common one among refugees.  He lived near Louvain & fled to Antwerp.  When the bombardment began, this family had to quit owing to military orders.  They took refuge in Ostend and lived in a bathing machine for three weeks, husband wife & two children with one blanket between them.  The rain came through the roof, & they had but bread & water to eat & drink.  Then Ostend became a threatened mark & they left again, and came over to England, where the man says they are ‘very happy’.  We made him comfortable with overcoat, gloves, a suit, etc, & the wife also.

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205286732
© IWM (Q 53223) A Belgian refugee family forced to live in a bathing machine at Ostend, August 1914

Wednesday 25th November 1914 :

This morning I was in our clothing Depôt & dealt with a Belgian, a musical artist who has lost his only son in the War.  His wife had lost her reason, & he did not even know where she is.   

Another man came in, with his family.  He had lived at the ill-fated Malines, where now only a dozen houses are standing.  His home is destroyed, and he & his wife & children fled to Bruges, Antwerp, Ostend, & so to England.

One Sunday in November, Lady Matthews entertained ‘a Belgian barrister and his dainty little wife’ to tea :

Neither can talk English.  They have a villa near Knocke on the Belgian Sea Coast, & a flat in Antwerp.  On Aug 4th they were at Namur with Madame’s parents.  They endeavoured to persuade their parents to leave Namur.  Madame’s father refused.  Madame and her husband reluctantly left, & went to Knocke.  They were warned to leave their villa about Aug 18th, in a hurry.  They left with each a small valise in their summer clothes & went to Ostend.  There an English gunboat consented to take them across.  The transit took 24 hours, owing to difficulties & cautions regarding mines.  They made their way from Chatham to London, where for 3 months they managed to live in a Boarding house on the few pounds they had in an available Bank.  Their income depends on shares in a Factory which is now a heap of ruins.  Their villa, left with unlocked doors, & unshuttered windows, must be looted, if not burnt by bombardment from the English monitors.  Of the parents, & the little sister, remaining at Namur, they have not heard one single word since parting from them.  And Namur was severely bombarded in August. 

M. & Madame get each 7/- a week f. the English Government for food.  The hostels are full of common people, & life is most difficult for differing classes in such close quarters.  We are trying to get some classes up so that by teaching they may earn a little, & a generous old gentleman is paying for some nice rooms where they are.

The Bread of Exile is bitter indeed.


Notes :

  • After February 1915, there seem to be no more mentions of the Clothing Depot or the Belgian refugees.  Maybe Lady Matthews stopped working there?  The Depot closed in December 1917 as the Belgians no longer had need of it and it was felt that the people of Tunbridge Wells could no longer be expected to give away clothes ‘so lavishly’ in face of the national demand for economy. During the years it was open, 11,000 garments had been ‘dealt with’. (Kent & Sussex Courier, 14th December 1917)
  • Private Papers of Lady Matthews – content description on IWM website : Extremely interesting illustrated four volume ms diary (111pp, 140pp, 172pp, and 132pp) written between August 1914 and November 1918 as a record of the First World War for her young children, with a particular focus on Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where she was living at the time, and including descriptions of: rising food prices; rumours over the progress of the war; the good levels of morale of the British and the atmosphere in Britain; the changes to Tunbridge Wells with the influx of soldiers to the town; helping the Red Cross with sewing clothes for wounded men; helping in the soldiers’ canteen; the blackout and Zeppelin raids; soldiers billeted in Tunbridge Wells; the introduction and administration of rationing; women at work in restaurants and as tram conductors (January 1916); wounded men arriving in Kent; seeing the film ‘Battle of the Somme’, and her reaction to it (4 September 1916); the difficulties in finding servants; the progress of the suffrage movement and the enfranchisement of women (26 August 1917); the Spanish Influenza pandemic (July and October 1918); celebrations on Armistice day; and her hopes for the peace (30 November 1918)….In circa 1924 Lady Matthews added brief notes to the text, correcting rumours she had reported and comparing the food prices to those of the 1920s.

 

“Where is my mother and my father?” Arthur GHISLAIN from Quaregnon

In addition to civilians, there were also wounded and medically-discharged (‘réformés’) Belgian soldiers in Tunbridge Wells.  I have already mentioned a couple – Prosper DEBERGH and Richard VAN HAWEGHEM (about whom, I know, I have promised more). Another has occupied my thoughts the past few days – Arthur GHISLAIN of the 9e régiment de ligne, no. 58,855.

At 10pm on Sunday 25th October 1914, Miss Katherine POTT, Commandant of the Speldhurst and District Voluntary Aid Detachment (Kent 74) of the British Red Cross Society [1], received notice to call up her Detachment and prepare for the arrival of wounded Belgian soldiers at the newly converted Bidborough Court – a house to the north of Tunbridge Wells which had been kindly lent by Mr Henry Joseph WOOD J.P. of The Manor House in West Malling.  By 11pm all her staff of 20 qualified members, plus probationers and support staff, had arrived and were ready to receive the wounded.

Forty Belgian soldiers arrived at Tunbridge Wells Central Station around 1 in the morning and were conveyed to Bidborough Court and Royal Victoria Hall Southborough.  By 5am they had all been attended to.

“The first call, on Sunday, October 25th, 1914, would have tested the efficiency of a much more experienced staff, for thirty Belgians were sent at the shortest notice direct from the trenches at Dixmude ; but everything was ready, and all was carried through without a hitch, the Speldhurst Men’s Bearer Squad rendering most useful assistance.”  Kent’s Care for the Wounded (1915)

The Tunbridge Wells Advertiser of 30th October reported that one of the wounded Belgians, “a very young man named Arthur GHISTRAIN”, kept asking “Where is my mother and father?”

He was from the 9th ‘régiment de Ligne’, service no. 58,855, and the article went on to wonder what he would find when he returned to his “beloved chateau” – presumably a reference to the Petit-Château barracks [2] in Brussels where the 9th régiment de ligne was quartered in 1914 before being mobilised, rather than to his family home.

Searches for an Arthur GHISTRAIN proved fruitless, but then I struck gold in the online Archive of Belgian War Press : there I found an Arthur GHISLAIN, same regiment, same service number, and at Bidborough Court.  His home town is given as ‘Quargnon’ and I am guessing it should be ‘Quaregnon’, near Mons – I know, guessing is not an acceptable research method, but…

Arthur Ghislain, 9th regiment de ligne, 58,855, from Quargnon ?(Quaregnon?), seeks his parsnts. Bidborough Court, Tonbridge Wells.
Advertisement placed in L’Independence belge of 4th November 1914

On 6th November 1914, the Kent & Sussex Courier reported that one of the soldiers ‘who speaks a little English’ had discovered the whereabouts of his mother who was at Dover and that she had visited him that week ‘to their mutual delight’.  Was this young Arthur? I hope so…

I wonder what became of him? I believe he survived the war, though only because his name does not appear on the online Belgian War Dead Register

And there’s a tantalising reference on Facebook [3] to an Arthur GHISLAIN in Quaregnon who was a champion ‘balle-pelote’ player in 1934.  Now I wonder…

Please do get in touch if you can add to his story – merci – thank you – dank u well.


[1]  “During WW1, Tunbridge Wells would have a total of 18 VAD hospitals (not all at the same time), since it was particularly suited to VAD World War I criteria:
– being reasonably close to Folkestone and Dover, both major ferry ports;
– it had a great number of large houses, which could be ideal as auxiliary hospitals and many of which were either unoccupied or occupied on only a seasonal basis;
– its population had a significant surplus of women, who were generally seen as the natural carers of the sick and ill and by inference, the wounded.”    from  The Shock of War – Chapter 6: How Tunbridge Wells coped with the military-wounded (John Cunningham and Ed Gilbert) (2014)

[2] From 1950-1985 the ‘Petit Chateau’ in Molenbeek St Jean was the recruiting and selection centre of the Belgian Army.  Since 1986 it has been a reception centre for asylum seekers.

[3] Mons 2015 – Le Grand-Ouest a Quaregnon : Souvenir 103. Je me souviens que le club de jeu de balle du Rivage attribuait chaque année le grand prix Pierre Demars, du nom d’un excellent joueur d’autrefois. Le comité invitait toutes les équipes de nationale. J’avais huit ou neuf ans. C’étaient des équipes de haut niveau, le tournoi attirait la grande foule. C’est ça qui m’a donné l’envie de jouer. Mes camarades et moi, on voulait s’y mettre mais on ne savait pas jouer. Monsieur le curé Van Vlezemans, qui était un amateur de jeu de balle, nous a initiés. Le dimanche (on n’avait rien comme distraction, à l’époque, à part la messe et le patronage), on allait jouer. C’est comme ça que ça a commencé. Et puis, Arthur Ghislain est arrivé. Il avait fait partie de l’équipe de 1934 (qui a joué la finale du championnat de Belgique). Il nous a pris en main. À l’époque, je ne savais pas livrer. Il paraît que je servais comme une fille. Le service, c’est tout un art ! Il faut savoir synchroniser certains mouvements sur un temps très bref : coup de rein, impulsion de la balle, retournement… Il nous a appris tout ça. Et puis, on y a mis du sien. On s’est entraînés : le mur de l’école, c’était notre fronton. Je ne sais pas comment il tient encore ! Un bête mur de briques, pas du tout lisse, donc les balles pouvaient aller n’importe où ! Pas d’autre entraînement que celui-là. Des heures et des heures, on tapait. Boum, boum, boum ! Il nous tombait des gouttes comme ça ! Notre secret, c’était le mur !