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…

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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!

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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?

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King’s Day, 15th November 1914

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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