King’s Day, 15th November 1914

Sunday 15th November was an important date in the calendar for the Belgian Community : it was (and still is) King’s Day – la Fete du RoiKoningsdag – the King’s feast day [1] – and the day was celebrated in style in 1914 by the refugees and their hosts.

- The World's Work, 1919:Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30736306 https://archive.org/stream/worldswork38gard#page/634/mode/2up,
King Albert I by Richard Neville Speaight

The Belgian flag was flown over most of the town’s public buildings, the Belgians themselves sported ribbons in their national colours of black, gold and red, and a full account of the proceedings was given in the local press the following Friday [2].

The day began with a Mass and the singing of patriotic hymns (though no mention on this occasion of a Te Deum) at St Augustine’s Catholic Church at which the huge congregation spilled out into Hanover Road.  A special choir of Belgian refugees, including the Sisters of Mercy from Malines, was conducted by M. Denyn, and Canon Keatinge preached at length on the debt owed to the Belgian people by English Catholics whose forebears had taken refuge across the Channel during the reign of Elizabeth I.

After the service, the Belgians marched from the church to their temporary homes on Upper Grosvenor Road (at this early stage probably numbers 32 (Cintra House) and 47 (“the Belgian Hostel”), waving Belgian flags and singing their National Anthem, cheered on by crowds of local people who lined their way.

In the afternoon, the Belgian community gathered in the room lent to them for that purpose at the Constitutional Club on Calverley Road, to celebrate “their courageous King Albert”.  M. Ernest KUMPS, provisional President of the newly-formed Belgian Club Albert, expressed their thanks for the “many kind attentions” they were receiving in Tunbridge Wells, and to the Mayor and the Corporation for the telegram they had sent King Albert to mark the occasion.

The next day a grand concert was held in the Pump Room [3] on The Pantiles, organised by Mr Frank HIRD [4] in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress. Nearly 600 people, mostly Belgians, from all parts of the district, attended, according to the Kent & Sussex Courier, which described it as “a gathering unique in the history of the town”. The entire programme was in French with performances by local artistes who kindly gave their services – there was a short play in French [5], a ballet solo (which was so enjoyed it had to be repeated), recitations, piano solos – and an imitation of farmyard animals by a Miss Parbury.

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Mr Hird received the ultimate accolade for the celebration when one of those attending shook him warmly by the hand and delared that it was “just like being at home”.

The occasion ended with the Allies’ National Anthems and was followed by refreshments : coffee, not tea – of course.


[1] King’s Day – 15th November is the feast day of both St Leopold and St Albert, and has been celebrated as King’s Day since 1866, during the reign of Leopold II.  It is not a national public holiday, but is traditionally marked with a Te Deum at the Cathedral in Brussels, and a secular ceremony at the Belgian Federal Parliament.

[2] K & S Courier, Friday 20th November 1914

[3] The Pump Room was demolished in 1964 and replaced by the lovely Union House

[4] Journalist and author Frank (Francis) HIRD was the adopted son and companion of sculptor Sir Ronald Gower of Mayo House on Mount Ephraim.  Frank Hird was well known in the town for “organising amateur entertainments in aid of good works” (Kent & Sussex Courier, July 1915).  In November 1914 he was helping out at West Hall VAD Hospital, and in October 1915 he became Secretary to the newly-opened Kingswood Park VAD Hospital.  From 1917-1918 he was a Church Army Commissioner at the Front.  Sir Ronald died in 1916 and Frank Hird in 1937.  They are buried together at St Paul’s Rusthall.

[5]”Doctoresse et Couturier” by Julien Berr de Turique, a one-act play about a female doctor and a male dressmaker, who, after a series of misunderstandings, end up married – of course.  The part of the dresssmaker was played by the Hon. Stephen Powys.

 

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Cintra House, 32 Upper Grosvenor Road

This house was lent to the Belgian Refugees’ Committee in October 1914 by Canon KEATINGE of St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church, and I have been wondering what the connection might be.

After my talk last month, the answer was given to me by a member of the audience :  it had been owned by Mrs Mary Hannah FENWICK, a generous benefactor, who left it to the parish in her will.

To find out more, I turned first to John Cunningham’s 2013 monograph 175 Years of St. Augustine’s Parish Tunbridge Wells 1838-2013.

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There I learnt that Mrs FENWICK, her husband and son (born 1864, and suffering from some sort of disability) were originally from Yorkshire, had lived first in Tonbridge, and then, from about 1887, at Cintra House.

She and her son converted to Catholicism, and in 1899, after the deaths of both her son and her husband, Mrs FENWICK made generous donations to St Augustine’s Church, and to the Roman Catholic community in Tonbridge for the establishment of Corpus Christi Church, in return for which she would receive an annuity and also have Masses said for her and her family in perpetuity.

“Her offer was quickly accepted” writes John Cunningham, “since no one thought for one moment that she would live for another 16 years.  Her unexpected longevity would largely wipe out any benefit from her offer……In all, Mrs Fenwick gave £8,500 and received back about £7,450 in annuities, as well as at least 2,475 Masses for the repose of her soul and those of her family.”

A mixed blessing indeed!

The parish sold Cintra House in 1918 for £763-8s-0d.

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Cintra House, 32 Upper Grosvenor Road (2016)

Further research in the British Newspaper Archive and on Ancestry fleshed out the picture a little more.

Mrs Fenwick was born Mary Hannah HALLEWELL the oldest of 8 children (6 girls, 2 boys) born to Wine Merchant Benjamin HALLEWELL and his wife Hannah of Leeds, Yorkshire, non-Conformists.  She was 38 when she married Yorkshire farmer William FENWICK, 7 years her junior, in 1862.  Their son Walter was born in Kirkby Moorside 2 years later.

In 1871 the family was still in Yorkshire, but by 1881 they had moved to Dry Hill Park, Tonbridge, to a house called Heather Bank. Walter died at the age of 22 in early 1886, and it was perhaps after that that his parents moved from Tonbridge to Tunbridge Wells.  In 1887 they paid for a classroom to be made in the crypt of St Augustine’s Church in his memory (Kent and Sussex Courier 15 July 1887).

William FENWICK died on 19 September 1890 and was buried in the FENWICK family grave at All Saints Church, Kirkby Moorside. His widow lived on at Cintra House for another 15 years or so, moving in around 1905 to Gensing Lodge Convent in St Leonards on Sea, a home for elderly Catholic ladies run by Augustinian Sisters from France (1).

There she lived until her death on 5 September 1915.  Canon James KEATINGE, parish priest of St Augustine’s, was executor of her will.

However, that was in 1915.  She must already have left Cintra House in the care of Canon KEATINGE when she moved to St Leonards, as it was in October 1914 that the Belgian refugee families moved in.

In the 1911 Census the house was the home of widow Charlotte Georgiana MORRIS from London, but in Kelly’s Directory for 1914, 32 Upper Grosvenor Road has no entry – presumably it was by then one of the many empty houses in Tunbridge Wells.

Among the Belgians who lived there was Prosper DEBERGH from Dendermonde, the subject of an earlier blog post, and also Miss Adele VAN OBBERGEN from Louvain who escaped a fine under the Lighting Order in early 1916, the Mayor reminding her when she appeared before the bench that she was “living in a house which was being kept up by people in the town” and asking her “and the other guests to see that the lights were properly shaded” (Kent & Sussex Courier, 14 February 1916).

So there it is, some of the story of Cintra House.

Thank you to Caroline Auckland for the photos of the house as it is today.


Notes

(1) I think I am right in saying that the building on Upper Maze Hill is now part of St Michael’s Hospice – please correct me if I’m wrong.


 

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