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!

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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Stanton House, Pembury

A quick post about the house in Pembury occupied by refugees M. and Mme. Albert LEJEUNE-KREGLINGER…

A Tweet today about George Llewelyn DAVIES prompted me to re-visit my research into the family who were linked by marriage to the ROBERTS family of Tunbridge Wells.

The Rev. Albert James ROBERTS had been vicar of Tidebrook Church, and his eldest daughter Mary was married to George‘s uncle, Maurice Llewelyn DAVIES.  Another of the Rev. ROBERTS‘s daughters, Lucy Maud ROBERTS, was on the Tunbridge Wells Refugees Committee.

The family were living on the Langton Road in 1901, and by 1911 Rev. ROBERTS had died and Maud was visiting her brother-in-law Maurice who had been widowered in 1902. I’m not sure where her home was, possibly 61 Upper Grosvenor Road, where, in Kelly’s Directory for 1914, a “Miss Roberts” and a C.H. Roberts (the initials of one of her brothers) are listed as living.

Today I discovered from the England & Wales Probate Calendar that Rev. ROBERTS‘s address when he died in 1905 was Stanton House, Pembury.  That was quite exciting – though probably irrelevant!

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In 1911, Stanton House was the home of South African-born businessman Samuel D’Urban SHEARING and his family.1911-stanton-house_pembury_england-census_15

 

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Mr S. D’Urban SHEARING was President of the Pembury Drill and Rifle Club, and in 1917 Monsieur Albert LEJEUNE became a Vice-President and opened the new Club.

“He hoped that after the war the same unity of purpose and brotherly feeling now existing between the Allies would be extended to mutual help in the development of industry and the establishment of a permanent peace.”

Perhaps the LE JEUNE family were staying with the SHEARING family rather than occupying the whole house.


Postscript : I believe one of their sons and his wife & children were fugitives to England in the Second World War – I have found the following account on the Poole Flying Boats Celebration website : How and why we moved to England in 1941


 

 

 

A school assembly, the WILLEMS family Part 2, and a sculpture

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On Monday I spoke to the morning assembly at Beechwood Sacred Heart School about the Belgian refugees and in particular the WILLEMS family – Christiane  and Clementine WILLEMS, aged 8 1/2 and 7 respectively, were the first pupils to arrive at the school when it opened on 2nd February 1915.

Beechwood Sacred Heart School first school photograph : Are these two little girls Christiane and Clementine WILLEMS?beechwood-1st-school-photo_2

Preparing for the talk, I realised that the next instalment of the WILLEMS family’s story is long overdue, and also that I missed the 101st anniversary of the presentation to the town by Tunbridge Wells’s Belgian Colony of the wonderful life-size bronze bust of Mayor Charles Whitbourn Emson on 22nd September 1915 (1)

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Bronze of Mayor Charles Whitbourn Emson by Paul Van De Kerckhove (1915)

This bust was made by Belgian sculptor Paul VAN DE KERCKHOVE (spelling varies) in 1915 while he was staying in Tunbridge Wells.  He undertook the work free of charge, and local artist Alexander H. KIRK (2) lent his studio on Upper Cumberland Walk to the artist.

Paul Armand Van De Kerckhove (1876-?) arrived in Tunbridge Wells from Brussels in September or October 1914, and by 1917 had moved on to London where he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1917, 1918 and 1919.

After consulting Census records in Brussels, I believe he was the son of sculptor J. Antoine VAN DE KERCKHOVE “dit NELSON” (c1849-?) but I have yet to prove it…

The bust was presented to the town of Tunbridge Wells with great pomp and ceremony at the Great Hall by President of the Club Albert, Professor Joseph WILLEMS.  There were speeches and then a concert at which leading Belgian artistes performed, not least Monsieur Jean DELVILLE (Wikipedia link), himself a refugee in London, who recited “several of his dramatic and patriotic poems” (Kent & Sussex Courier 25 September 1915).(3)

“It was the whole of Great Britain which rose vibrating with indignation at the violation of our peaceful land – it is she who called, and took under her protection, the uprooted inhabitants of our unfortunate Belgium.” Professor Joseph WILLEMS

Professor WILLEMS made a most eloquent speech at the presentation ceremony, and I offer here the translation which was published in full in the Kent and Sussex Courier on  25 September 1915 :

“The Belgian Colony feel a profound joy in being able to express today in a special manner the sentiments which animate the hearts of all its members in regard to the hospitality of England. The Belgians are glad, Mr. Mayor, to express their gratitude for the persevering self-denial with which you have devoted yourself to their interests in the painful trials they have experiences. You have in Tunbridge Wells organised a scheme carried out in a most generous and considerate way, assisting thereby a very large number of Belgians. You have maintained this work, not during some weeks or some months only (the extreme limit to which Belgium assigned her exile), but for more than a year already. My compatriots will carry away with them, as I shall, the touching remembrance of the courtesy with which you have met all our requests, the excellence of your advice, and the unvarying kindness with which you have always received us.

“In the thanks which we address to you, Mr. Mayor, we associate all those who have supported your initiative in so wonderfully generous a manner, and who continue to aid you in the task you have so nobly undertaken. We thank in the warmest manner the Belgian Refugees’ Committee which has seconded your efforts with so much tact and devotion. Their many delicate attentions, their kindly encouraging visits, each of us recalls with emotion. Our thanks also are proffered to your colleagues of the Town Hall whose obliging kindness, often put to the proof, was never found lacking; to your physicians, your surgeons, your nurses, whose devotion has called forth our deep admiration; to your fellow-citizens, who have provided us with places for re-union and amusement; to all these generous hearts, who by a thousand considerate attentions have alleviated our sufferings – in a word, to all the inhabitants of Tunbridge Wells who have done their best to soften our lot, we say with all our hearts “We thank you”.

“But, ladies and gentlemen, that which we have before our eyes in Tunbridge Wells is but an isolated example of the magnificent work which the whole of Great Britain has presented to us. Yes, it is to her our deep gratitude goes forth. It was the whole of Great Britain which rose vibrating with indignation at the violation of our peaceful land – it is she who called, and took under her protection the uprooted inhabitants of our unfortunate Belgium.

“Finally, we are proud of being able to express our feelings in a durable and appropriate memorial. We have had the good fortune of possessing amongst us a talented artist, who, with delightful spontaneity, offered to undertake a work which the Belgian Colony could never have ventured to propose to him. Sprung from a family of artists, Monsieur Vande Kerckhove, by his individual genius, has attained the highest rank in his profession. His works are amongst those which enforce attention, and you will see for yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, that in the execution of the bust of the Mayor the artist has proved himself worthy of his high reputation. This work, Mr. Mayor, we express the hope of seeing placed in the Council Chamber of your Town Hall. It will be a public proof of our gratitude, a souvenir of the stirring times in which our countries have aided each other; and after our return to our devastated but indomitable land, freed from the odious barbarian yoke, when any of you cast your eyes on this gift, you will recall with gratification the signification of this bronze, and will give a thought to the exiles of today whom you comforted so greatly in the time of their distress. In the name of the Belgian Colony, and as a token of our gratitude, I present to the town of Tunbridge Wells the bust of its respected Mayor.”


(1)  The bust is on display in the lobby of the Council Chamber in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall. Do go and see it.
(2) Alexander Horace KIRK and his wife Constance MORTIMORE lived at Brook Cottage, Upper Cumberland Walk, and were both artists.  Alexander Kirk painted a notable portrait of  W.C.CRIPPS in 1914 on the occasion of Mr Cripps’s Silver Jubilee as Town Clerk. Constance Mortimore described herself as a “miniature painter” on the 1911 Census. Their only son, John Alexander Carnegie, tragically died at the age of 8 on 29 January 1918.
(3) The Mayor also received a commemorative album signed by all members of the Belgian community of Tunbridge Wells and district – no doubt similar to those presented to Amelia and Louisa Scott and the other ladies of the committee in 1916.

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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…

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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 –

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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.

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‘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…) :

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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
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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.

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James ENSOR Family Tree with “La Sirene” included…
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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.

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‘Portrait de Mademoiselle B.’ (1905) James Ensor – renamed ‘James Ensor et son amie’ in 1920

And my favourite :

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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

What about the Belgian children’s education?

This blog is as much an aide memoire for myself as anything else – somewhere for me to record what I still have to research.

And schooling is a whole area still to be explored.

In all, 75 Belgian refugee children passed through Tunbridge Wells (though the maximum at any one time was only 35), and arrangements were made with the Borough’s schools to give them free education as required [1].

Some were taught by Belgian nuns staying at at Clayton’s Farm, and most of the younger children attended St Augustine’s Catholic Primary School. However, King Charles and Murray House Church of England Schools certainly took in one boy and two girls, and the Girls’ High School had one pupil who was being supported by the Old Girls of the school.  There were boys at Skinners’ School and also at Tonbridge School (see note [3]), and from February 1915 a number of Belgian refugee children attended the newly-opened Sacred Heart Convent School at Beechwood on Pembury Road [2].

This contemplation of the Belgian children’s schooling has been prompted by my discovery this morning while sorting papers of some forgotten notes made from the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser some years ago (only consultable on microfilm in the library – sadly not (yet?) on the wonderful British Newspaper Archive).

“Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, 18th May 1917:  Mariette CARMON joined Murray House School in October 1914.  Kent Higher Education Committee consented in July last that she be educated at the County School in recognition of her good work.”

In July 1916, according to the Kent and Sussex Courier (which is on the British Newspaper Archive) Murray House School Annual Sports afternoon at the Nevill Ground included the presentation of ‘a charming scene’ from Hiawatha in which Mariette CARMON played Chibiabos, musician and close friend of Hiawatha, and an M. Carmon – Mariette? – was awarded a swimming certificate and badge.

Now here’s the thing: is she a Belgian refugee?  Did I assume she was because of her name? Or did the newspaper say that she was?  A slap on the wrist for poor note-taking and back to the library and the microfilm machine! [Update: see comments below]

And then on to the school records in Maidstone, at the Kent History and Library Centre, where the records for the other local schools are also held…

Meanwhile, if you can help, please do get in touch!  Thank you.


Interestingly, only in early 1918 was a Belgian School started up in Tunbridge Wells, and that thanks to Mr Albert LE JEUNE [3], Honorary President of the Club Albert.  Head of the school was Professor Gaston WOLVERSPERGES, a refugee from Antwerp, who with his wife Irma had arrived in Tunbridge Wells from Leicester in August 1917.  His registration papers show frequent visits to the LE JEUNE family residence, Stanton House in Pembury, which suggests they already kinew each other – maybe Mr Le Jeune arranged for him to come to Tunbridge Wells especially to set up the school?

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Extract from the reverse of Mr WOLVERSPERGES’s registration document in the Belgian National Archives

I found no record of this school in the local Kent press or records. It was an article in L’Independence belge of 7th August 1918 which alerted me to its existence.  It seems that that year the celebrations for Belgian National Day on 21st July had included the school prize-giving and recitations in French and Flemish of poetry and prose by the children.  The purpose of the school, the article explained, was to complement the ‘instruction’ the children were already receiving in English schools.  Pupil numbers were growing, and the mothers and fathers were very grateful to Professor WOLVERSPERGES for the devotion with which he carried out his difficult task.

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Refugee Registration Form – undated but probably 14/15 given Prof WOLVERSPERGES’ age

The registrations documents I consulted show that Gaston WOLVERSPERGES was born in Schaerbeek, Brussels, on 8th June 1875 and that his home address was 11 rue du Lys, Berchem, Antwerp.  A teacher of Geography and History, he spoke both French and Flemish.  Once in the Tunbridge Wells area he and his wife lived first at 16 Meadow Road in Southborough, and later, from February 1918, at 9 Cambridge Street.  He was employed as a teacher at ‘Lingfield School’ and if that’s Lingfield in Surrey, those records are in Woking!


Notes

[1] Report of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells Refugees Committee, May 1919, a copy of which was found for me by Michael Amara of the Belgian National Archives.

[2] Information gleaned from the local newspapers, and from the Beechwood Sacred Heart Convent & School Archives held at Barat House, Roehampton.

[3] Albert LE JEUNE was a future Belgian senator and apparently had an English grandmother whose identity I have still to discover. He and his wife Gabrielle played an active part in both the local and Belgian communities. Their sons attended Tonbridge School.  More about the family in a future post.

 

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.

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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.