Belgians and Orchids in Jarvis Brook

Today I have (almost) become an expert on orchids – ok, let’s just say I certainly know a lot more about them than I did this morning!

A couple of years ago I exchanged emails with the great-granddaughter of Jules Jacques DE COENE, a Belgian who was an orchid grower at the Stuart Low Orchid Nursery in Jarvis Brook from around 1912.  I filed our exchange away for future consideration as Mr De Coene wasn’t a wartime refugee and wasn’t connected with Tunbridge Wells.

Lately I’ve been looking at Belgians in Crowborough and thought I’d take another look.

Well, first of all let me say that I had no idea Jarvis Brook was home to such a prestigious and world-renowned orchid nursery for so many years [1] – or that I lived so close to its former site!  Or for that matter that Belgium had produced such stars in the orchid-growing firmament!

The Orchid Review monthly magazine of July 1914 devoted several pages to the nursery – you can read the complete article here – but in summary, it moved from Bush Hill Park, Enfield, Essex, to Brookhurst, Walshes Road, Crowborough, around 1910 [2], driven away by the deterioration of the orchid-growing environment caused by an increase in building and, it seems, fog. I found this advertisement in the Sussex Agricultural Express of 15th July 1910.  Could that be when Stuart Low moved his nurseries?

1910 07 15 Brookhurst Nursery Jarvis Brook for sale_Sussex Agricultural Express+cropped
Brookhurst Nurseries for sale in 1910 (Sussex Agricultural Express, 15th July 1910)

In Jarvis Brook, Stuart Low’s nursery found a sheltered position “in the Sussex heights” some “500 ft above sea level”, enjoying clear air and sunshine, and protection from the wind.  Twenty-five glasshouses in two blocks were erected, and the orchids thrived in their new home. [3]

“One by one the old Orchid firms are disappearing from the metropolitan area, being driven by the exigencies of space, or the prevalence of fog and the absence of sun during the winter months, to seek fresh fields and pastures new for the culture of their plants.”                                                              The Orchid Review, July 1914

In charge of cultivation in 1914 was Gent-born Edward (Edwin?) TACK“the greatest authority on cattleya orchids in the world” according to his obituary – who had arrived in Britain around 1894 and came to Crowborough in 1908.  He died at his home in Jarvis Brook – Ingleside on Western or possibly Walshes Road – in October 1930 after a long illness, and his funeral was well-covered in the local press [4]. Sadly Edward/Edwin had lost his only son, also Edward, in 1915 at the age of just 11.  The boy was a member of the 1st Crowborough Scout Troop and on the outbreak of war had been among a group who had gone to Newhaven to act as despatch carriers along the coast – though I don’t think that had any direct bearing on his untimely death. Scouts from Crowborough, St Johns, and Withyham made up a guard of honour for his coffin which was draped with the Union flag (Kent & Sussex Courier, 12 March 1915).

Six years later, in November 1936, the daughter of Jules DE COENE married at All Saints Church in Crowborough and one of Edward TACK’s daughters was her bridesmaid.  The DE COENE family had arrived in Jarvis Brook from Essex about the same time as the TACK family – also from the Essex orchid nursery, and Jules DE COENE was eventually to be in charge of the Jarvis Brook nursery according to his obituary in 1943 (Kent & Sussex Courier, 19 March 1943). The family moved into Ingleside at some point, and were still living there in 1939 (next door to the Plough and Horses public house (now flats)).

1939 DE COENE Ingleside Walshes Road
Source : Ancestry.co.uk (Original data: Crown copyright images reproduced by courtesy of TNA, London England. 1939 Register (Series RG101), The National Archives, Kew, London, England)

Also employed at the Nursery was another Belgian, George VERBOONEN, who had possibly come to England amongst the refugees when war broke out, as he was at the time visiting Europe from Brazil according to this article about the history of the Etablissement P.M. Binot, later the Orquidario Binot, in Brazil [5] – though in the 1911 England Census he is already living at Orchid Cottage, Western Road, Crowborough, and so presumably already working for Stuart Low. And he had witnessed Jules DE COENE’s marriage in New Cross two years earlier in 1909 (coincidentally in the same church as my great-grandparents’ wedding in 1891!).

Unfortunately I didn’t revisit any of this information before going to the Belgian Archives the other week or I could have looked him up.  Next time…

I do wonder whether any Belgian refugees were employed there, or indeed whether the DE COENE, TACK and VERBOONEN families were involved in helping their compatriots in the town.  Young Edward TACK was a pupil at King Charles the Martyr Boys School in Tunbridge Wells and I know that the school took in one or two Belgian children (see blogpost What about the Belgian children’s education?).

The Memories of Crowborough/Rotherfield Facebook Group alerted me to the fact that during the Second World War, on 26th September 1940, the Nursery was bombed, with two civilian casualties.  Presumably the nearby railway line was the target?  Or maybe the pilot was simply jettisoning his bombs before returning home.  The casualties were 14-year-old nursery assistant Reginald William PAIGE, and nursery Manager Ernest RADFORD who had only been in the post for a year or even less.  His home, the aforementioned Orchid Cottage, took a direct hit (Kent & Sussex Courier, 4th October 1940) – his wife survived, suffering ‘only’ from shock. The Courier reported that in all sixteen bombs fell in the area – a local pub lost roof tiles (the Plough and Horses?) and windows were broken in a nearby Chapel as worshippers were leaving after a thanksgiving service.

I was about to make a crass comparison.  Instead I will simply mention that this land may well be about to disappear under a housing development – plans are in for 163 homes to be built on the site of Orchid Riding Centre.

Let’s hope the Stuart Low Orchid Nursery is at the very least remembered in the road names…


[1] There are even orchids named after Crowborough – here’s one https://www.orchids.org/grexes/laeliocattleya-crowborough …and  Jarvis Brook too… https://www.orchids.org/grexes/cyrtocidium-jarvis-brook

[2] I haven’t yet found the precise date – Edward TACK apparently came to Jarvis Brook in 1908 according to his obituary in the Kent & Sussex Courier, 24th October 1930).  I also don’t know when the Nursery closed, but it was still there in 1965.  Bernard Lorimer JORDAN had been Manager of Brookhurst Nurseries and was there in the 1911 Census.  Was he Manager of Stuart Low’s?  He moved on to Rockington Nurseries, Blackness Road – Jordan’s Nursery – now also closed and earmarked for development.

[3] The 1914 article also has this to say about the Nursery’s location, and travelling there – those familiar with the current Uckfield Line may (or may not) appreciate its sentiments (and if you’re following the directions, don’t forget to stop off at The Wheatsheaf on the way…) : “The journey from London is through some of the most lovely scenery in Surrey and Sussex, and is, in fact, quite a holiday jaunt, whether taken by rail or motor. The London, Brighton, and South-Coast Railway have now started a direct and accelerated service, and most trains avoid the change at Groombridge. The Nurseries are some ten minutes walk from Crowborough Station, on the side of a gentle slope, and are about eleven acres in extent.” 

[4] Edward TACK’s obituary in the Kent & Sussex Courier also mentions that he had worked on the estate of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild in France before coming to England.  A casual google reveals that the de Rothschilds were orchid fanatics.

[5] The Orquidario (Etablissement P.M. Binot) was set up by Pedro BINOT in 1870 and initially imported orchids from Brazil to Belgium. According to this online article, George VERBOONEN was Pedro Binot’s stepson and became director following the death of his step-father in 1911 – perhaps after the Census on 2 April 1911???


Stuart  Low’s Jarvis Brook Orchid Nursery in 19561956 Stuart Low photo


 

Guest blog post by Cyriel Boeynaems : The Boeynaems family during the First World War

It is a pity that we no longer have the complete correspondence to and from the Boeynaems family who fled to England during WW1, especially as the letters sent from the refugees’ addresses in England may contain important material. But that exchange of letters has not yet been found. Only seven letters and a dozen postcards, all sent to England, have been preserved. This was enough to make up a puzzle, one with many missing pieces. No full story, rather a list of events and locations.

At the outbreak of the First World War the family of Florent Boeynaems and his wife Marie Coosemans had 14 children. They lived in Antwerp at no 5 Prinsstraat. By profession father Florent Boeynaems was a notary.

Florent Boeynaems     X     Marie Coosemans

         1860-1915                            1866-1946

Their children Age in 1914
Ferdinand (Fernand)                   1889-1918 25
Paul                                                1891-1958 23
Hélène                                           1892-1944 22
Hubert                                           1893-1961 21
Marthe                                          1895-1940 19
Jean (Jan)                                      1897-1969 17
Suzanne                                        1898-1982 16
Yvonne                                          1900-1986 14
Florent (Flor)                                1901-1980 13
Pierre (Piet)                                  1903-1986 11
Joseph (Jos)                                  1906-1984 8
Marie Louise (Mimi)                   1908-2004 6
Jacques (Jaak)                              1909-1995 5
Ludovic                                          1910-1996 4

Mother Marie Coosemans was the half-sister of Florent Coosemans, chairman of the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells during WW1. Florent Coosemans was married to Louise Martin. His father Ferdinand Coosemans married twice. His first wife passed away shortly after Marie Coosemans’s birth in 1866.

Ferdinand Coosemans 1°X  Maria Van Welde

    1828-1926                                1829-1866

Their children Married to
Constant Coosemans 1861-1923 Marie Van Goethem
Marie Coosemans 1866-1946 Florent Boeynaems

Ferdinand Coosemans 2°X  Anne Cornélie Van de Wiel

       1828-1926                                 1836 – 1906

Their children Married to
Caroline Coosemans 1871-1959 Charles Cnoops
Florent Coosemans 1872-1947 Louise Martin
HortenseCoosemans 1873-1935 Felix Goris
BertheCoosemans 1875-1950 Alfons Steyaert

1913 was a glorious year for the Boeynaems-Coosemans family. Two silver jubilees. Father Florent Boeynaems celebrated his 25th anniversary as a notary. And the couple also celebrated 25 years of marriage in November.This seemed the best moment to gather the children together for a family photo. A unique picture because the Boeynaems children looked as they did just before leaving for England.

Boeynaems photo 1

When the German troops were on the outskirts of the city of Antwerp on 7 October 1914, the Civil Guard of the city of Antwerp was dissolved. Paul Boeynaems had served in the Civil Guard since 1912 as an artilleryman. In the grip of fear and horrible stories, people fled to the Netherlands in panic and large numbers.This was also the case with the Boeynaems family.

The Boeynaems children left without their parents. According to a story recorded by Marie-Louise Boeynaems in 1999, the children gathered back in the parental house in the Prinsstraat and had to say good-bye one after the other to their father and mother. From the Netherlands they travelled to England. Some of their uncles and aunts also fled to England: Uncle Florent and Aunt Louise (Coosemans-Martin), Uncle Charles and Aunt Caroline (Cnoops-Coosemans) and Uncle Gustave and Aunt Marie (Simons-Boeynaems / Marie was the sister of Florent Boeynaems). It is not clear whether other family members followed and if everyone left together with the children. Even the exact date of departure remains unknown.

 

1914 The Boeynaems children were certainly all at a permanent address, either in the Netherlands or in England, by 13 October 1914. Other family members, including possibly their mother, Marie Coosemans, left the city when the first bomb hit Blindestraat in Antwerp. They stayed in Standdaarbuiten and Oudenbosch in the Netherlands. In a letter dated 13 October 1914 (from Standdaarbuiten), the children were informed about the confused situation in the Netherlands. Everyone was looking for family members there. The van Meerbeeck family of Wilrijk near Antwerp was also being sought by other relatives. Hélène Boeynaems was engaged to, and married in 1915, René van Meerbeeck, son of the family in question. Due to fear and on the advice of the local authorities, Ferdinand and Paul were advised not to return to Belgium. But before the end of February 1915, the parents and Ferdinand were already back at home in Antwerp. Son Ferdinand returned home to help his father Florent Boeynaems who was in ill health.

(Cfr. Letters dated  October 13, 1914 and March 2, 1915)

1915  To avoid censorship and loss of mail, the letters were sent to and from Belgium via intermediaries in the Netherlands. In the first months of the war, the Boeynaems family had two intermediaries Mr. Reinemund and Mr. Mattheezen in Bergen op Zoom. Paul and Jean Boeynaems left England and travelled to France to offer themselves as volunteers in the Belgian Army. Paul signed up in Rouen on 19 February 1915 and Jean did the same in Parigné-l’Evêque on 29 April 1915. Both brothers kept in touch with the rest of the family in England via their sister Marthe. She became the point of contact of the family in England. From the address on a card from Paul Boeynaems it becomes clear that Marthe and probably the other children were at 22 Alwine Mansions, Wimbledon, London on 14 March 1915. Was this the first refugee address in England? Meanwhile, the state of health of father  Florent Boeynaems deteriorated. He had already received the last rites. Hélène Boeynaems and her brother Hubert had to return urgently to help in the family. The letter asking for help was dated 26 March 1915 and was addressed to Hélène Boeynaems at 44 York Road,Tunbridge Wells via an intermediary, Mr. Van Nieuwenhuize. The trip was arranged in collaboration with Mr. Léon Van Nieuwenhuize who stayed at 8 College Road, Harrow, London.The brother of Alice Van Nieuwenhuize also had to return to Belgium and it is probable one of the small Boeynaems children travelled with them. The journey was via Vlissingen (Flushing) in the Netherlands.

 Boeynaems 3a  Boeynaems 3b

In Antwerp, the brothers Ferdinand and Hubert tried to save their father’s notarial practice. Ferdinand was training to be a notary and was a welcome help in the practice. Brother Hubert  mainly helped in the administration. As planned Hélène married René van Meerbeeck in the summer. Paul Boeynaems started officer training in Bayeux (F) in July 1915. As an ex-civil guard he was deployed as an instructor. Jean Boeynaems left for the Front.The brothers kept in touch and saw each other during a military leave in De Panne in Belgium. The Boeynaems children moved from York Road to Capilano, 154B Upper Grosvernor Road, Tunbridge Wells. They were there certainly in August 1915. Sometime later in the year they moved to 19 Beltring Road, Tunbridge Wells. Here they definitely were on 26 November 1915. At the end of August 1915, Marthe Boeynaems received a postcard from her sister Hélène in which she told her about her marriage with René van Meerbeeck. The postcard was sent via an intermediary in Moensel near Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

Ludovic /Marie-Louise/JacquesBoeynaems 4 The three youngest Boeynaems children posing in Spring /Summer in St. John’s Recreation Ground in the immediate vicinity of 19 Beltring Road in Tunbridge Wells

Jacques and Ludovic wore their sailor suits as in the picture from 1913.

The war year of 1915 ended on a sad note. Father Florent Boeynaems and the children in England never saw each other again. Florent Boeynaems died on Christmas Eve 1915. He was just 55 years old.

 

(cfr. Letters dated 2 March 1915 and 26 March 1915 –  postcards dated 14 March 1915, 20 April 1915, 1 August 1915,  16 August 1915, 26 November 1915 and17 December  1915)

1916  Paul Boeynaems requested his transfer to the Front and in February 1916 he joined the same regiment as his brother Jean. In a letter of 6 September 1916 we read that mother Marie Coosemans and her son Joseph Boeynaems were in Kerkom (Boutersem) in Belgium to visit Aunt Regina Van Welde. Regina was the sister of Maria Van Welde, the deceased mother of Marie Coosemans. They stayed for a few days. Joseph Boeynaems was no longer in England. Either he had always stayed at home, or he went to Antwerp with Hélène and Hubert in 1915. After the death of their father, the children in England received extra moral support from their uncle Gustave and Aunt Marie (Simons – Boeynaems). In Tunbridge Wells the Belgian refugees regularly paid tribute to the members of their reception committee. In July 1916 two special members of the Mayor’s Belgian Refugees Committee were honoured for their care, reception and committed engagement towards the refugees: the sisters Amelia and Louisa Scott. They received an album filled with all kinds of drawings, paintings, texts, poems and musical pieces, and the signatures and names of the Belgian refugees. In this album, “The Misses Scott Album”, were texts written by Florent Coosemans and his wife Louise Martin and also name cards with the names of the Boeynaems children, Marthe, Suzanne, Florent, Yvonne, Pierre, Jacques, Marie-Louise and Ludovic.In a letter to his sister Marthe, Ferdinand Boeynaems tried to make it clear that life in occupied Belgium was much worse than in England. There was a lot of hardship and scarcity. Forced by circumstances and in their own best interests, the children were encouraged by Ferdinand to stay in England. If necessary, they could move to another location and might also ask for advice from the rest of the family who were in situ or even from their brother Paul. Marthe was temporarily employed as a volunteer at the West Hall Hospital in Tunbridge Wells. It was one of the Red Cross’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals in Tunbridge Wells. Marthe was not a nurse but the hospital could use all available help; in the hospitals there were also Belgian wounded. She probably remained there for a while because her brother Paul sent her a postcard at that address in September 1916:  West Hall Hospital, Chilston Road, Tunbridge Wells.

(Cfr.Postcards of 16 February 1916, 2 March 1916, 7 September 1916 and a letter of 8 September 1916)

 1917  The children left Tunbridge Wells late in 1916 or early 1917. They moved to London and first settled in South Kensington: at 18 Onslow Gardens and 2 Gledhow Gardens. In that same year, they moved to  21 Russell Square in central London. This was their last address in England. They moved in above the offices of the newspaper “De Stem uit België” (trans: “The Voice of Belgium”) published by Canon Floris Prims, well known to the family Boeynaems. Suzanne and possibly Marthe and Yvonne Boeynaems were also employed there in the office. In January or February 1917, Jean and Paul Boeynaems were on leave in England and were photographed with their brothers and sisters for a family photo. The photo was taken by Sketches – 72 Oxford Street, London.

Boeynaems 6

 

 

 

-Yvonne/Florent/Suzanne/Paul-

 

-Jean/Marthe/Pierre/Marie-Louise-

 

-Jacques/Ludovic-

 

 

In May 1917 a first child was born to Hélène Boeynaems and René van Meerbeeck: Monique van Meerbeeck. In that same year, the Boeynaems children learned of the death of their great uncle and great aunt Jean Hagenaers and his wife Louise Boeynaems, their great aunt Régina Van Welde and their aunts Marguerite Boeynaems and Marie Boeynaems. At the end of 1917 Marie-Louise Boeynaems had fallen ill at St Leonards-on-Sea School and spent a week recuperating with her sisters in London. Son Florent who was on school holidays in London wrote a long letter to his brother Pierre with all the news from 21 Russell Square and his experiences at his new school in Norwood.

(Cfr. Postcard of 25 March  1917, letter of 10 December 1917)

1918  In January Marthe Boeynaems received news from Antwerp from her sister Hélène and her brother Joseph. The postcards were sent from the Netherlands through the intermediary of Mr. Van Herck, a stone merchant in Sluiskil Terneuzen. To mislead the German occupier and to make  the name of the final recipient clear in writing the address, Marthe’s first name was linked to the intermediary’s last name. Hubert sent a postcard to Eug. De Roeck in England for news about the death of Marie Boeynaems, the wife of Gustave Simons. This card also went through Terneuzen.

Boeynaems 7a boeynaems 7b

Hélène van Meerbeeck and little daughter Monique were visiting the family in Prinsstraat.

 boeynaems 8

Hubert – Ferdinand

Hélène – mother Marie Coosemans – Monique – Joseph

In the background, between Joseph and Ferdinand, is Paul Boeynaems’s picture in military uniform

Jean Boeynaems was wounded in the war and taken to a hospital in Le Havre (F) on 1 October. Paul Boeynaems was mentioned in dispatches on November 8 during the liberation of the Ertvelde canal during the final offensive. Yvonne Boeynaems returned to Antwerp in late 1918.

On the day of the Armistice Ferdinand Boeynaems died, as a result of the Spanish flu. Joy quickly turned to sadness. Not long before, he was smiling in a family photo at home in Prinsstraat.

1919  Two letters of 9 and 10 January were the only letters from England to home in Belgium that have been preserved. In these we read that Suzanne Boeynaems was still in London. She wrote to her sister Yvonne that many refugees had already left. She also announced the departure of the René Dieltiens family,of the Denijn family and also of Mrs. Brusselmans. It is not known when all the Boeynaems children followed. After the Christmas holidays 1918/1919, Pierre and Florent Boeynaems went back to school in Upper Norwood. Jean Boeynaems left the army on 6 August 1919 and Paul on 15 August 1919. Not everyone returned to Antwerp. Marthe Boeynaems had become engaged in the meantime to a doctor from Kortrijk, Karel Depla. They married in London in 1920 and had six children. But fate struck again. The Second World War proved fatal for her. She died during a bombing raid in London in 1940. Her children and grandchildren remained in England.
(cfr Letters of  9 and 10 January 1919)

Education

As soon as it was possible the children were sent to boarding schools in England. The boys Florent, Pierre, Jacques and Ludovic Boeynaems first went to school in Stroud in Gloucestershire. Florent left the school in Stroud and moved to St Mary’s College in Upper Norwood in southeast London. Later Pierre, Jacques and Ludovic went to St Joseph’s College in Malvern Wells in Worcestershire. In 1919 Pierre and Florent Boeynaems were in St Mary’s College in Upper Norwood. Ludovic stayed for some time at St Paul’s Convent in Brighton. Marie-Louise went to Convent school in St Leonards-on-Sea, Hastings, in the county of Sussex.

Who is who

Many letters and postcards mention names that to date remain unidentified. Some readers may be able to clarify some of these names. And some names may also belong in another story.  Comments are always welcome.

The unknown individuals mentioned:

* On the flight from Belgium in 1914: Nuchelmans, Sluyts, Scrivener?
* In a letter of March 26, 1915: Leo or Léon Van Nieuwenhuize, Alice Van Nieuwenhuize and her brother?
* On a postcard of November 1915 from Jean Boeynaems: René De Jongh and Etienne?
* On a postcard of 16 February 1916 from Jean Boeynaems: Adolphe, Emmanuel, Arnold Van Kerkhoven, Lahaye, Dupuis?
* On a postcard of March 25, 1917 from Jean Boeynaems: Miss Lombart (sent a package to him)?
* In a letter of 10 December 1917 from son Florent Boeynaems:
Mrs Maria Van Bavel (was employed by ” De Stem uit België”)?
Mme. Josephine (was employed by “De Stem uit België”)?
Bouveroux, Willemsen, Maes, teachers?
Arsène, Piesen, Cornelius, fellow students of Florent and Pierre Boeynaems?
Mr. Fernand Robert?


Cyriel Boeynaems                                                                                                        

13 June 2017


I am so grateful to Cyriel for this moving and personal account of his family’s experiences.  If you can help with any of his queries, or can add to his family’s story, please contact him via this blog’s Contact page.  Thank you.

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?

WOLVERSPERGES Gaston Cert Reg reverse
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.

WOLVERSPERGES Gaston cropped
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.