Since my first visit to the Archives in Brussels three years ago I have been trying to find out more about primary school teacher Palmyre FROIDART with no luck. Today, on re-reading my notes and comparing them with the single registration document I have for her, I discover that her surname was FOIDART – no ‘r’…
While that hasn’t opened hundreds of research doors, a simple Google search of the correct name turns up the information that she was off sick in 1913 and retired from teaching in 1919 – information found in the the Bulletins communaux (1) of the City of Brussels – all helpfully online as PDFs at https://archives.bruxelles.be/bulletins/date
I also found that in September 1915 a (male) friend was looking for her
From the afore-mentioned registration document I know that in October that year she was in St Leonards on Sea with distiller Louis BAL from Antwerp, and soon to remove to Tunbridge Wells where she was to live in apartment accommodation at 13 Guildford Road.
After that, I have no idea, but at least I now know that she returned safely (and unmarried) to Belgium.
I also have been reminded of the importance of taking care when transcribing information!
(1) From the City of Brussels website : Bulletins communaux : Les Bulletins communaux de la Ville de Bruxelles contiennent les procès-verbaux des séances du Conseil communal ainsi que les rapports des départements et des services de la Ville depuis le 19e siècle. Ces Bulletins communaux sont publiés par la Ville. Ils donnent une vue globale de ses décisions et des actions qu’elle entreprend. Ils permettent d’appréhender la grande variété des débats et des questions qui préoccupent les édiles communaux et qui touchent à la vie politique, sociale, économique et culturelle à Bruxelles… Pour les périodes plus anciennes, les Bulletins imprimés ont fait l’objet d’une campagne de numérisation par les Archives de la Ville. Ils sont consultables à l’aide d’un moteur de recherche.
“Municipal bulletins : The City of Brussels’ Municipal Bulletins contain the minutes of the meetings of the Municipal Council as well as the reports of the City’s departments and services since the 19th century. These municipal Bulletins are published by the City. They provide an overview of its decisions and actions. They make it possible to understand the wide variety of debates and issues that concern municipal councils and affect political, social, economic and cultural life in Brussels… For older periods, the printed Bulletins have been digitised by the City Archives. They can be consulted online.”
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.
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.
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 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 30thBirth 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.
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.
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
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
Ernest Jean Pierre KUMPS and his wife Jeanne Josephine Marie (nee VAN BRIEN) came to Tunbridge Wells with their daughters Sylvie (15), Julienne (14), Madeleine (12), Elisa (9) and Jeanne (4) from their home at 239 rue de Merode in Brussels, not far from the Palais de Justice – the Law Courts – where M. KUMPS was employed.
Mme KUMPS was from Lier near Antwerp, and the couple had married in Antwerp on New Year’s Eve 1892. Daughters Sylvie and Julienne had been employed as shop assistants at the A l’Innovation department store on the rue Neuve in Brussels.
A home was found for them all at 40 Upper Grosvenor Road.
This 10-roomed house was offered by Miss CANDLER in late October 1914 on behalf of the Society of Friends – a fact mentioned in the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, but not, so far as I can see, in the Kent & Sussex Courier – and had been the home of a leading member of the Society, Thomas Ashby WOOD, until his death at the age of 79 on 26 August 1914. According to his will, he left the house to his daughter Kate who had looked after him and the house since his wife’s death in 1912 – I’d thought maybe he’d left it to the Society of Friends.
I wonder where his daughter lived while it was home to the KUMPS family and others. And why it was left to Miss CANDLER to oversee its use as housing for the Belgian families. Anyone?
Mr KUMPS became the first President of the Belgian community’s Club Albert when it was set up in November 1914; he was President when the bust of the Mayor was presented to the town in September 1915, and continued in the role until January 1916 when he joined the Belgian Army and left for the Front. He was by then 6 months short of his 45th birthday.
His family left Tunbridge Wells for France from Southampton in May 1916.
Little Jeanne KUMPS must have made her mark on the town – not least when in March 1915 this “tiny mite of four years” sang the British National Anthem in English at a concert at St Luke’s School – a concert at which all the performers were Belgian refugees resident in the town (Kent & Sussex Courier, 26th March 1915).
In July 1917, the Courier reported that Bro. E. KUMPS of the Belgian Army sent fraternal greetings to the “Royal Victoria” Lodge of the Druids.
I have traced the family in the Brussels Censuses at the City of Brussels Archives (3) and find that they all returned safely to Brussels after the war.
I wonder what became of little Jeanne?
(1) Sarah CANDLER and her sisters, Lucy and Phillis, strongly influenced by their Quaker beliefs, were actively involved in Tunbridge Wells in a wide range of political and social causes. They ran the Woodlands Steam Laundry at 104 Upper Grosvenor Road. Read more about them on the University of Kent’s Inspiring Women website. Their older sister Elizabeth married an ASHBY but I have yet to find a connection with Thomas Ashby WOOD though I’m convinced there is one – ASHBY was his mother’s maiden name…
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?
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)
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.”
(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.
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…
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 –
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.
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 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.
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.
And my favourite :
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.”
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 .
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 ), and from February 1915 a number of Belgian refugee children attended the newly-opened Sacred Heart Convent School at Beechwood on Pembury Road .
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]
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 , 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?
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.
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!
 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.
 Information gleaned from the local newspapers, and from the Beechwood Sacred Heart Convent & School Archives held at Barat House, Roehampton.
 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The writings of Irish Roman Catholic Katharine Tynan-Hinkson have distracted me this morning, and I have come across the following moving extract which has both a Belgian and a Tunbridge Wells and Southborough connection.
Katharine Tynan and her family lived for less than a year (1910-1911) in Southborough and in 1916 she published a volume of reminiscences entitled ‘The Middle Years’ in which she was less than complimentary about the townspeople. There were however a number of exceptions as the extract shows : the Irish curate in question was the Rev. Horace Stirling Townsend Gahan, Curate of St Thomas’s Church, who went on to be Anglican Chaplain in Brussels in 1914.
“There was another person who came and went that summer and played cricket with the children on the Common, who has recently acted a part which shall not be forgotten. Some time in the preceding winter the vicar’s wife had asked me to tea to meet the new curate. “Such a good Irishman !” she said. “You will be so much interested in each other.” I was rather doubtful about it. The new curate belonged to a militant Irish Low Church family, and since I had come to Southborough I had become militant on my own side — at least when I came up against the other militancy. Still the Vicar’s wife and I were friends, so I agreed to go, having protested that we should probably make a battle-ground of her drawing-room.
“The new curate was certainly very Irish to look at – he had in fact the face of an Irish priest: he was Irish, although he hated the Pope ; and there was enough kindly Irish about him to make me forget my antipathies. And I really think he forgot his.
“Of course, his views were very narrow – too narrow even for Southborough – and he banned other people’s cakes and ale in a way which made other people rather indignant. But – perhaps it was the Irish – beginning with a strong prepossession against him, I came in time to like him. There was a streak of the poet in him and the visionary. I used to meet him on the Common talking to the cows, and he would observe the birds by the hour together.
“It was an odd association between him and the Catholic Irish children, who, as soon as they were free, would sally down the Common to his lodgings and call to him peremptorily to come and play cricket. He used to come as soon as he could and play as seriously as though he were playing for his school or ‘varsity. Other children came and joined in, and Father Pat, as we had learnt to call him, used to keep them in order, even the small boy who owned the ball and wanted to go home with it when he was “Out.”
“Southborough generally came to call him Father Pat, and when he was so addressed publicly he took it very well, ascribing its origin to the proper source, but bearing no malice.
“The other day Father Pat, the Rev. Horace Gahan, turned up as the fearless and faithful chaplain of Edith Cavell’s last hours, the man to whom we owe an immense debt for his witnessing to that lofty soul. I could have foretold it of him. He would be perfectly fearless, devoted and sincere. A good hand to hold in those last moments on earth. For what he was to Edith Cavell, for the immeasurable service he rendered us by setting her there on her pedestal for us to see plain – Sancta Editha – let us remember and praise Father Pat of the Great Summer.”
During the years 1914-1919 the Kent town of Tunbridge Wells was home to some 300 Belgian refugees, men, women and children. This blog will be a random selection of research into the families, and their lives in exile.
I discovered the Belgians’ story in 2008 during research for a Community Play “The Vanishing Elephant”, written and directed by Jon Oram ofClaque Theatre, which dramatised some of the history of the Camden Road area of Tunbridge Wells in the years 1880-1918.
Subsequently I was asked by The Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society to contribute a chapter on the Belgian refugees to a local history monograph, “THE SHOCK OF WAR – Tunbridge Wells on the Home Front 1914-1918” which was published in 2014.
Since then I have continued to research the individual families and have set myself the task of tracing them all.
Extract from Chapter 8 of “The Shock of War” :
“On 4th August 1914 the German Army crossed into Belgium, and by 15th October, Zeebrugge and Ostend on the Belgian coast were under German occupation. During those two and a half months, town and cities were besieged and captured – Liege, Brussels, Namur, Louvain, Malines, Termonde, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, and town and villages in between, were overrun and in many cases all but destroyed. The British newspapers were full of the brutality of the invading army – innocent civilians killed and tortured, their homes ransacked and razed to the ground, women and children used as human shields – and of the bravery of “gallant little Belgium” in holding up the Uhlans, thereby buying time for Britain and France.
“On 17th August, the Belgian Government left Brussels to set up first in Antwerp, then Ostend, and finally on 13th October in the French port of Le Havre. And 1½ million Belgians – almost a quarter of the population – also fled their country to escape the terror – to Holland, to France, and about 225,000 of them to Britain.
“There were many tales of brutality by the invading forces and while some of the worst of these were subsequently discredited, they were a useful propaganda tool at the time. The personal stories of those refugees who arrived in Tunbridge Wells bear witness to what happened. Some 300 Belgians spent time in Tunbridge Wells between 1914 and 1919 . Though relatively small in number, this self-styled “Belgian Colony” made a huge impact on the life of the town at the time, but has been largely forgotten since.”
This is their story.
 Note re place-names: where there is no obvious Anglicised version of a Belgian place-name, the version most commonly used by the Tunbridge Wells refugees themselves at the time has been opted for, almost invariably the French rather than Flemish version.
 The congregation of St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Tunbridge Wells had a particular interest in the sacking of the University city of Louvain (Leuven) on 26th August 1914 as the church’s assistant priest, Fr Calnan, had gone to the University there in October 1913.
 In total 78 men, 144 women, 35 boys, and 40 girls were looked after by the Tunbridge Wells Belgian Refugees Committee [Archives de la Guerre. Comité officiel belge pour l’Angleterre (réfugiés belges en Angleterre). Archives Générales du Royaume, Bruxelles]. The maximum at any one time was 96 adults and 35 children [1919 Report of Belgian Refugees Committee, Borough of Royal Tunbridge Wells] This number was augmented by those who were able to support themselves, or who were given hospitality privately.