Peace Day 1919

100 years ago today, 19th July 1919, was the day designated as Peace Day and was celebrated in Tunbridge Wells just as it was all over the country.  All of the Belgian Refugees in the town had returned home a couple of months earlier, but nonetheless I thought I couldn’t let the day go by without writing something (mostly a precis of the article which appeared in the Kent & Sussex Courier, 25th July 1919).

Although November 1918 had marked the end of the fighting in Europe, negotiations were to continue at the Paris Peace Conference until 1920, and the Treaty of Versailles (Wikipedia links) wasn’t signed until 28th June 1919.  As negotiations advanced, and a real prospect of peace was in sight, a committee was formed, chaired by Lord CURZON, to decide how to mark and celebrate the end of the war, and Saturday 19th July was declared a Bank Holiday and a public holiday.

‘We, considering that, with a view to the more wide-spread and general celebration of the Conclusion of Peace, it is desirable that Saturday, the Nineteenth day of July instant, should be observed as a Bank Holiday and as a Public Holiday throughout the United Kingdom’

Proclamation by King George V, 11th July 1919 (London Gazette)

Not everyone was happy about the proposed celebrations, considering that the money would better spent supporting returning servicemen.  In addition, the servicemen were not necessarily included in the celebrations – in Tunbridge Wells it was decided to give them their own celebration later in the year when all were returned home, and this seems to have been generally acceptable (though there is some evidence from local press reports that the Mayor, Councillor Robert Vaughan GOWER, OBE,  did receive some criticism for this decision), unlike in Luton for example – as I write I am listening to a report on BBC Radio 4’s World at One about how soldiers, rightly angry at being excluded from the main celebrations in the town, rushed the Town Hall and burnt it down.

Tunbridge Wells celebrations

But not so in Tunbridge Wells, where over six hundred flags were used to decorate the Town Hall on the corner of Calverley Road and Calverley Street – there were Union Flags and French tri-colours, and a “well-arranged group” of flags of the allied nations. There were decorations all over the town – private houses and local businesses alike decorated their buildings and there were Venetian flagpoles and flags and streamers all around the town.  Three stunning triumphant arches were erected on Camden Road, and one at the top of Mount Pleasant.

1919 07 11 Peace Day Preliminary programme heading
Preliminary announcement of events in Kent & Sussex Courier of 11 July 1919 (British Newspaper Archive) – note the choice of border decoration – a symbol of peace and good fortune which only a year later would be usurped by Hitler and the Nazi Party.

When the day came, the whole town celebrated, and many pages of the Kent & Sussex Courier were devoted to accounts of the day in Tunbridge Wells as well as in the surrounding villages.

Festivities began at 8am with a “joy peal” on the newly-re-installed bells of St Peter’s Church, and those of St Augustine’s too, after which there was a short choral service of praise and thanksgiving in a packed King Charles Church where the flags of the Allies were carried in procession by the boys of the choir and their choirmaster.  Early morning services took place in several other churches around the town, before everyone lined up in the streets around Grosvenor Bridge, Quarry Road, for A Grand Procession at 10.30am.

This was, according to the Courier, “one of the longest processions the borough has ever witnessed”, and indeed so long that at one point on its extraordinarily circuitous journey [1] to the Lower Cricket Ground on the Common, “the tail of the procession met its head”.  The Courier was clearly pleased to report that this “familiar incident of the boa constrictor endeavouring to swallow itself” only happened once!

The procession was headed by members of the Borough Police, followed by banner bearers, then the local King’s Rifle Corps cadets.  Next came decorated cars “in the familiar style of decorated automobiles in the South of France at Carnival time” (a point of reference which presumably meant something to the Courier’s readers!).  These carried wounded soldiers and V.A.D. nurses – the only women who took part in the procession, despite the fact that a special request had gone out for women to join its ranks and “demonstrate their share in winning the war”. Maybe they were all holding the fort back home…

The Tunbridge Wells Veterans’ Association and band led a contingent of discharged and demobbed soldiers and sailors, the Skinner’s School OTC and band followed, then the local corps of the Volunteer Battalion of the Royal West Kents.  Next came the youngsters – Boy Scouts, Boys’ Brigade, and the Girls’ Life Brigade – followed by representatives of the Postal Service and the Railwaymen (those who weren’t keeping the trains running).

1919 07 25 Miss Donovan as Britannia
Miss Donovan as Britannia

The town’s Friendly Societies came next with their colourful regalia and banners, alongside 3 tableaux cars: “Peace with Honour”, “Britannia and her Colonies” and the Gardeners’ Society whose float recalled the importance of home food production.

1919 07 25 Miss Godden as Peace
Miss Goddard as Peace

The local tradesmen’s decorated carts included a dray from Messrs E & A Kelsey‘s, a Burlesque Fire Brigade, and a delivery cycle ridden by a small boy, Master Coleman, with the motto “Justice for the Tommies, not Charity”.  School children followed behind, the girls all in white carrying garlands and baskets of flowers, and the boys, Union Flags.  The Local Fire Brigades and the Salvation Army were the last groups before a series of “carriages and motors” brought the Town Council, local magistrates, clergy of all denominations and representatives of local Associations, led by a detachment of the Borough Constabulary including the newly established Policewomen [2].

Three more cars carried the Mayor and Mayoress, Town Clerk, and Mace-bearer; the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress; and former Mayor, Councillor EMSON who had been Mayor 1913-1917 and did so much to help the town’s Belgian refugees, and Mrs EMSON, respectively.

Soon the Lower Cricket Ground was a “sea of faces” in all directions.  Schoolgirls carrying floral letters lined up to form the word “PEACE” and the Memorial Service began with the reading of the King’s Proclamation of Peace, and then of a letter from the King to the Lord Lieutenant, Marquis CAMDEN, expressing his gratitude an admiration for the Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of Kent. Hymns were sung and prayers said, and then came the Last Post and the dipping of the flags, before rousing cheers went up for the King, for the brave men who fought, and for the Mayor and Mayoress.

In the afternoon, there were Old English Sports on the Common for the Adults and amusements in the Calverley Grounds for the children.  It seems the Women’s Tug of War was one of the “most exciting events” of the former (the Married Women’s team beat the Single Women’s…), and their Sack Race “a novelty”.  The children were treated to tea in the schools and parish halls and the leftovers donated to St George’s Home for Boys an the Children’s Convalescent Home in Hawkenbury.

Sadly rain set in in the evening and the Children’s Festival of Song as well as the Fancy Dress Parade had to be postponed till Wednesday 30th.  Instead the Peace Orchestra and Peace Choir of 200 adult voices gave 3 short concerts in the Great Hall, after which judging of the decorated floats took place near the Spa Hotel, young cyclist Master COLEMAN winning second prize in his class.  Despite the rain, the planned bonfire lighting took place at 11pm, and dancing continued until well after midnight.

The postponed Peace Festival of Song took place on 30th July in the Calverley Park Meadow as planned, and the Courier declared  “A prettier spectacle has never been witnessed in Calverley Park”. A Children’s Choir of 2,000 young voices made up of contingents from all the schools in the town sang alongside the Adult Peace Choir under the baton of Mr Francis FOOTE.  The concert was a huge success, and a letter of thanks from Mr Foote, published in the Courier, concluded “I am sure I should be voicing the feelings of thousands of our townspeople when I suggest that we give a similar Festival of Song every year on Peace Thanksgiving Day“…

20 years and 16 days later the country was to be again at war.


[1] The route of the procession was as follows : Grosvenor Bridge, Quarry Road, Camden Road, Town Hall (Calverley Road), Crescent Road, Mount Pleasant, Monson Road, Calverley Road, Mount Pleasant, High Street, Kentish Corner, London Road, Grosvenor Road, General Hospital, Church Road, Common – Lower Cricket Ground.  

[2] Women’s Patrols were recognised by the Home Office in May 1918 and at a meeting of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council on 7th June 1918 a question was raised about the appointment of three policewomen. They were paid 35/- weekly plus war bonus which meant 43/6d per week, and fulfilled the same duties as men (Kent & Sussex Courier).


 

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Artistic connections?

So many potential blogposts are racing around my head that nothing has been written down for months.  Today I came across an interesting connection and thought I’d write it up here while I remember.

In preparation for a talk I shall be giving in Ghent, Belgium, next month, I have been looking at the Belgian artists and musicians who were in Tunbridge Wells during the First World War, and the homes they lived in whilst here.

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, Marie ENSOR, the sister of artist James Ensor, was among those who took refuge in Tunbridge Wells, along with her daughter Alex, son-in-law Richard DAVELUY and grandson Jules. From November 1916 Mme ENSOR and family lived in part of 33 Upper Grosvenor Road, one of the properties rented by the Committee.

Searches in the British Newspaper Archive and of Censuses on Ancestry.co.uk showed that this address was occupied in 1901 by retired surgeon, Dr George ABBOT [sic], and his wife Edith, an “ex-drawing teacher” who were also “of 2 Rusthall Park”.  By 1911 they were living at the latter address, but their name was still linked to the Upper Grosvenor Road house as is evidenced, I believe,  by this advertisement from the 1916 10 27 Chambers to rent 33 Upper Grosvenor

only a month before the DAVELUY-ENSOR family moved in.  I wonder whether they rented all the available rooms or just the flat?

And who was Dr George ABBOT? His obituary in the Kent & Sussex Courier of 16 January 1925 revealed him to be a well-known and highly-respected local resident, retired ophthalmic surgeon, former Town Councillor, and (in some people’s eyes) property speculator, who was also

  • the founder of an eye and ear dispensary for the poor at Sheffield House on The Pantiles which led eventually to the establishment of the Eye and Ear Hospital of which he was Hon. Surgeon 1878-1896;
  • the instigator of Technical Classes in the basement of the hospital in 1890 which eventually grew to such an extent that the Technical Institute was opened at the foot of Mount Sion before being taken over by the Borough Council and moving to new premises first in Calverley Road and then, in 1902, Monson Road;
  • a geologist and founder of the Tunbridge Wells Natural History Society in the early 1880s, and later the South-Eastern Union of Scientific Societies;
  • and most of all, through the Natural History Society, responsible for the establishment and endowment of the local Museum, then at 18 Crescent Road (1).

1919 Museum_18 Crescent Road

“Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery was created by the Tunbridge Wells Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1885, founded by Dr George Abbott. The Museum
was adopted by the Borough Council in 1918, mainly due to the campaigning of Abbott – the Museum’s first curator.”  Anne Nielsen, Museum Visitor Services Assistant, Cultural & Learning Hub Newsletter, August 2017
In 1922, a portrait of him painted by Charles Tattershall DODD was presented to the Borough in recognition of his public services.
Dodd II, Charles Tattershall, 1861-1951; Dr George Abbott
Dr George Abbott by Charles Tattershall Dodd (c) the artist’s estate; photo credit Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery (from ArtUK.org)

His artist wife was the daughter of pioneering photographer Henry Peach ROBINSON (1830-1901). (2)


I’m not sure what the relevance is to the Belgian refugees, other than that Dr ABBOTT was one of their landlords, but I rather like the idea that there is a connection between the founder of the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery and this part of the town’s history.

And maybe the ABBOTT family’s artistic connections made them the perfect landlords for the family of another artist…
Or perhaps it was just coincidence!

Note : There will be an illustrated talk about Tunbridge Wells Museum and its Collection by Dr Ian Beavis, the Museum’s Research Curator, on Tuesday 27 February, 2 – 3pm
Discover more about the history of the Museum and its key collections in this fascinating talk. The Museum holds collections of regional and national importance including outstanding collections of art, natural history, archaeology, photography, craft, toys and much more.
£3 (Friends of the Museum) and £4 (Non-Friends) (payable by cash only on the day)
Booking essential, please contact: events@friendstwmlag.org


(1) In the premises which had been the office of the local branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) 1910-1918 and the NUWSS-run War Relief Clothing Depot 1914-1917 – another coincidence!
(2) Read a biography of Henry Peach ROBINSON on Robert Leggat’s History of Photography website

Calverley Park, Calverley Grounds – and Calverley Park Grounds + a wartime Carnival

Local history is a minefield!  Luckily there are experts on hand, and I had cause to be most grateful to one of them this week when I muddled up parks with Calverley in their names.

In June 1915, despite reservations from some quarters – in particular objections to “masquerading in the streets in wartime” (1) – Tunbridge Wells Charity Carnival went ahead, raising money for local Hospitals, the Surgical Aid Society and the Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund of the National Fire Brigades’ Union.  There was the usual early evening procession through the town (2), and – a new departure that year – afternoon attractions  in the Calverley Park Grounds.

Aha, I assumed, clearly the present-day Calverley Grounds.  But no – those didn’t exist until 1921, and in 1915 were still the grounds of then Calverley Hotel (now Hotel du Vin).

The clue is in the “the” – it seems the grounds referred to are those belonging to Decimus Burton’s  Calverley Park development.

So now I know!

“You are not going to have a Carnival in a War-time?”

“Rather!  If anything we would have two Carnivals, because many of our good boys who have gone to the Front are in the Hospitals, and if we cannot support the Hospitals, the Hospitals cannot help them when they return home wounded.”

Mr Edward SKILLEN, Hon. Chairman and Treasurer, quoted in The Courier newspaper

My interest in this event stems from the fact that Belgian refugees were involved in the day’s fun.

There was a open air Whist Drive organised by Mrs E. KEMPSELL in which 200 players took part.  Among the winners was Mrs NEEVES – the “Highest Lady playing as a Gentleman”.

A Baby Show attracted 50 entries.  There were two categories – Infants under 1 year, and Infants under 2 years – and it seems some “particularly healthy-looking and lusty infants were on exhibition”.  Winners were the babies of Mrs REYNOLDS, 13 Nursery Road, High Brooms; Mrs RICHARDS, 4 Upper Street, Denny Bottom; Mrs EDGAR, 7 York Road; and Mrs KNIGHT, 55 Beulah Road.  The babies were all photographed by well-known local photographer Percy LANKESTER.  If any of these babies are still alive now they would be 102-104 years old… I wonder…

lankester-percy-stamp-from-photo
LANKESTER stamp on reverse of family photo

There was a series of Old English Sports which was apparently “highly diverting”: Boxing (Blindfold), Skipping and Running were the sports on offer.  The men ran 100 yards, the women and girls only 50… and the Married Men’s 100yds was won by Belgian refugee Richard VAN HAUWEGHEM, one of the wounded soldiers convalescing in Tunbridge Wells who would re-join the Belgian Army in 1916.

During the afternoon, musical entertainment was provided by the Ceylon Band (3).  And two Belgian vocalists also entertained the crowds: the afore-mentioned Mr VAN HAUWEGHEM, and the President of the Club Albert, Ernest KUMPS, who would himself join the Army later that year.

For the younger carnival-goers there were “swings, roundabouts etc.” – I wonder what the “etc.” referred to?

The weather remained fair until the end when a “heavy downpour of rain…caused the crowd to very quickly disperse”.

The Kent & Sussex Courier of 13th August 1915 reported the dispersal of the £53.5s.6d profit : £10 to the General Hospital, 8 guineas to the Surgical Aid Society, 6 guineas to the Eye and Ear Hospital, £5 to the Fire Brigades’ Widows and Orphans, 4 guineas to the Nursing Institution, 1 guinea to the St John’s Ambulance Brigade, and a 3 guinea Honorarium to the Secretary. (Note: adds up to a total of only £37.19s – the Courier must have missed some off the list…)

Not as much raised as in previous years, apparently, but a very successful day nonetheless.

How I would love to recreate this event!  But a modern-day Health and Safety nightmare, I suspect – particularly the Blindfold Boxing!

on_the_merry-go-round_at_deepwater_races_-_deepwater_nsw_c-_1910_g_robertson-cuninghame_from_the_state_library_of_new_south_wales
All the fun of the fair! (1910 New South Wales)

(1) All “quotations” are from the Kent & Sussex Courier of 11 June 1915

(2) The procession went from Grosvenor Bridge along Camden Road, Calverley Road, Crescent Road, Mount Pleasant Road, Monson Road, Calverley Road, Grosvenor Road, Mount Ephraim, London Road and High Street to the Calverley Park Grounds…

(3) Does anyone know anything about this band?

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.

2016-08-25-11-05-32

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.