Tunbridge Wells goes to Belgium…

Yesterday I gave a short talk at a Studienamiddag organised by the Study Centre for Flemish Music (Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Musiek), with specific reference to some of the Belgian musicians and artists who were in Tunbridge Wells during the First World War.  It was short and fairly superficial, but I thought I’d post it here for posterity, with some links.

There were a number of very interesting papers delivered, not least one by Jan Dewilde on Belgian women composers Eva Dell’Acqua and Maria Matthijssens which included a performance by Belgian soprano Eloise Mabille of two songs., “Villanelle” (dell’Acqua) and “Chaperon rouge” (Matthijssens).

My own presentation was followed by a performance of Frederic Bonzon’s “En Ardenne” by young oboist Balder DendievelYoung oboist Balder Dendievel and pianist Kristien Devolder take their bows after a performance of Frederic Bonzon's "En Ardennes" in Ghent in February 2018

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay for the evening concert.  Had I done so I would have heard a performance of Peter Benoit’s Troisieme fantaisie, op. 18 which was played in a concert at the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells on 1st January 1916 by Jef Denyn.


Frederic Bonzon (1850-1926) and the Royal Tunbridge Wells Belgian refugees, 1914-1919

Gooie namiddag, damens en herren….

It’s a great honour to be with you today to share in this 20th anniversary celebration and I thank Jan Dewilde for inviting me to speak. I must also thank him for his help in finding out more about Professor Bonzon when all I had was a scrap of music and an address.

But to start at the beginning –

As you will know only too well, during and after the terrible events of August 1914, something like a quarter of the population of Belgium fled, on foot, in carts, taking what they could carry, in many case with only the clothes they stood up in. Perhaps members of your own families were among them.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like.

They fled to neutral Holland, to France and to the United Kingdom – 250,000 people – men women and children – made their way across the English Channel by whatever means possible, and in such numbers that in one week after the fall of Antwerp on 10th October 1914, 26,000 fugitives landed at Folkestone.

And among their number were 64 year old Professor Frederic Bonzon, his wife Marie Therese Faviesse and their grown-up daughter Marthe who arrived in Folkestone on 9th October 1914. We don’t know how they travelled, simply that they arrived and were soon in lodgings in the town.

Folkestone had become a veritable “town of refugees”.  Many of those arriving were destitute, others were able to support themselves.

In early September the British Government had offered hospitality to any refugees from Belgium for as long as it was needed and soon a Central Refugees Committee was established in London followed by voluntary committees around the country.  A scheme was put in place for receiving and registering the refugees.

On arrival in Folkestone, most people were sent to dispersal centres in London set up in public buildings like Alexandra Palace and Earls Court. The local committees around the country identified possible lodgings in their towns and villages and the refugees were then sent on to them.

Others went directly from Folkestone to the care of a local committee, and this was the case for the Bonzon family for in December 1914, just in time for Christmas, they are at a house in Tunbridge Wells – 11 Linden Park – a large 16-roomed house round the corner from the famous Pantiles. Unfortunately the house no longer exists. [1]

They shared the house with at least two families from Ostend  – the Tanghe-Vanhercke-Groven family and the sister of painter James Ensor, her daughter and family and the painter’s friend and muse, Augusta Boogaerts and her nephew.

The house was one of those provided by the local refugees committee and had been lent rent-free by a local builder.  The fact that the Bonzon family was given lodgings in one of the houses provided by the Committee suggests that they had left Antwerp with very little and were not able to support themselves.

The Tunbridge Wells committee had been set up by the Mayor in September/October 1914 and during the ensuing 4 1/2 years the committee looked after a total of 297 men, women and children, providing housing, clothing, and schooling, and often helping them find local employment.  This number was augmented by those who were able to support themselves or stay with friends.

We learnt recently that one of the self-supporting families – the Meeus-Havenith family from Antwerp, chose to come to Tunbridge Wells simply because the novelist Thackeray had once lived there!

So what was the town the Bonzon family and others found themselves in, like?

the_pantiles2c_28royal29_tunbridge_wells2c_kent2c_england2c_ca-_1895
The Pantiles (Wikipedia)

Tunbridge Wells in 1914 was – a fashionable spa town,a royal municipal borough and market town, about  55 kms from London and about the same from Folkestone,with a population of about 36,000. It owed its existence to the discovery of its iron-rich spring water (similar to that in Spa here in Belgium) in the 17th century after which  it became a favourite destination for royalty and fashionable society. In the 19th century the town began to attract more permanent residents. The surrounding countryside was ideal for walks and rides and early guide books of the town described the country houses that could be visited in the area.

But by the autumn of 1914 it had also become a military centre

Soldiers encamped on Tunbridge Wells Common 1914
Photo: Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery

with thousands of soldiers encamped in tents on the Common and billeted in empty houses in the town.

A notable feature of the town, was its religious-ness – it was predominantly Church of England and non-conformist, and well-known for its more Puritan tendencies. In 1914 there were 9 Anglican Churches, 9 non-Conformist chapels, a Quaker Meeting House and one Catholic church, St Augustine’s

St. Augustine's with school
St Augustine’s Church and school

which became the spiritual home of the Belgian community, the scene of national celebrations such as the Belgian National Day and King’s Day, of marriages and baptisms, and sadly also of funerals.

A refugee priest from Mechelen, from SS Peter and Paul Church, Fr Louis Lemmens , ministered to the refugees until he left the town in mid-1915 when his place was taken by Fr Josef Peeters from Lint.

In November 1914 St Augustine’s was packed for the celebration of King’s Day, the traditional Te Deum was sung, led by a choir under the direction of one of the town’s refugees from Belgium – none other than the great Beiaardeer Josef Denyn who had arrived from Mechelen in October 1914 with his wife, their 6 children and his wife’s sister.

Denyn family

This photo of Jef Denyn and his family – for which I am most grateful to Koen Cosaert of the Koninklijke Beiaardschool in Mechelen – was probably taken some time in late 1917 as missing from it are Mr Denyn’s  youngest daughter Emma and his wife Helene who tragically died during the family’s exile in Tunbridge Wells, in 1916 and 1917.  Their graves are in the town’s cemetery. [2]

Tunbridge Wells already had a thriving musical life, with choral societies and orchestras, 2 or 3 theatres, and of course frequent concert parties & this continued throughout the war years,  with performances not only by local musicians, professional & amateur, but also by visiting Belgian performers, often themselves refugees, such as Mme Helene Feltesse from the Brussels Opera and the violinist Eugene Ysaye.  [In fact, Mr Isaye himself spent a few week in Tunbridge Wells in 1914 with his family (and their cook – and his Stradivarius. according to newspaper accounts) following their dramatic escape from Knokke in a fishing vessel.]  And concert programmes in the town included music by Belgian composers such as Peter Benoit and Eva dell’Acqua whose “Villanelle” we will hear later I believe.

Unfortunately I have no found evidence of works by Profesor Bonzon being performed in Tunbridge Wells, nor of any performances given by him or his family – maybe simply because the oboe doesn’t lend itself to solo performance in the same way as piano, violin or voice.

In March 1915 Prof Bonzon was joined in Tunbridge Wells by his son Charles’s wife, Laure, and her 6 year old son Andre – they had been in Manchester, in the north of England – and in May 1915 Laure returned to Belgium, leaving her son with his grandparents and aunt. And the following year the family moved to apartments in a house nearer the centre of the town – just along from the Opera House.

28 Dudley Road
28 Dudley Road (Photo Caroline Auckland)

We have a photo of little Andre Bonzon with a group of Belgian children in the garden of a house in Tunbridge Wells.Belgian ChildrenThe photo belongs to the LIMPENS family, descendents of the MEEUS-HAVENITH family from Wynegem, whose grandparents are also in the photo – see the little boy in school uniform – probably Frederic MEEUS.  Schooling was provided free of charge in local primary and secondary schools, but there was also a Belgian School in Tunbridge Wells, set up – probably in a private house – in  early 1918 to provide instruction in French and Flemish to the children, alongside their English education.

And while the children needed to continue their education, the adults wanted and were encouraged to work – though it was made clear not at the expense of local workers.  Tunbridge Wells did not have the industry of other parts of the country, where the refugees were employed in munitions or aircraft factories for example, but there were certainly opportunities to work – as domestic staff in one of the big houses for example and Professor Bonzon’s daughter, Marthe, obtained a position as a Governess with the Talbot family in nearby Bidborough – possibly in response to this advertisement placed in the Kent and Sussex Courier of 7th May 1915 :

Newspaper Ad Required immediately young French of Belgian lady to take charge of one little girl - Mrs Talbot, The Grey Lodge, Bidborough

BONZON Marthe 1919 04 17 CoA Blue cropped
Marthe Bonzon Registration document

Marthe worked for them until  she and her family returned to Antwerp in April 1919.

Going home was never far from the minds of the refugees, and finally after the Armistice in November 1918, this was possible – thought not until early 1919. The British government chartered ferries to provide free passage first to Antwerp and then also Ostend,   The local committee in Tunbridge Wells reported that by May 1919 all the Belgian refugees had returned .

The Belgians had been in Tunbridge Wells for four and a half years and in that time were gradually absorbed into the life of the town.  In the first year the newspapers were full of stories and reports of Belgian National Day and King’s Day and social events held at the Belgian social club, the Club Albert.

Their presence now is hardly known about, but they did leave at least two memorials of their stay.

cw-emson-bust

 

The first is an almost life-size bust of the then Mayor, Mr Whitbourn Emson, who was chair of the refugees committee during the whole period.

It was commissioned and paid for by the Belgian Community from sculptor Paul Van Den Kerckhove, himself a refugee who stayed in the town with his wife and two daughters, and it stands today in the lobby to the Council Chamber in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall.

 

The other “memorial” is much smaller but perhaps more important – certainly from a researcher’s point of view –

SCOTT cover 1and that is a souvenir album signed by some 180 Belgians and presented to two Tunbridge Wells sisters, Amelia and Louisa Scott, who both worked tirelessly to help the refugees from Belgium.

Indeed Amelia Scott was awarded the Golden Palms of the Order of the Crown by the King of the Belgians for her work.

But the souvenir album was a very special thank you from the people she helped, and it was there that I came across this :

BONZON_Music 8

Professor Bonzon’s Oboe piece – En Ardennes – alongside which he wrote Hommage respectueux de l’auteur a Mesdemoiselles Scott Tunbridge Wells le 22 juillet 1916…

…And this seems a fitting place to stop as the moment has arrived for you to hear that very piece of music.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak today.  And please don’t hesitate to talk to me or contact me later if you would like to know more, or indeed if you yourselves can add to our research. [3]

Thank you.


[1] This morning  I found this fascinating blog post by Ed Gilbert about 10 Linden Park – maybe number 11 was similar?

[2] See earlier blog The refugees who never went home

[3]  Afterwards I spoke to a gentleman who believes a member of his family married one of Jef Denyn’s daughters (and will let me know), and to Koen Cosaert, Director of the ‘Jef Denyn’ Beiaardschool in Mechelen, who told me that in letters held in their archives Jef Denyn wrote that the family chose Tunbridge Wells as it was cheaper than London!  I also discussed with Mr Cosaert the possibility of a Carillon piece by W.W. Starmer’s being played in Mechelen in June 2019 – fingers crossed…

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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

Painter James ENSOR and Tunbridge Wells…

An entry in the Album presented to the Misses SCOTT in July 1916 caught my eye early on : that of a Madame ENSOR from Ostend.

Was there a connection to Ostend resident, the painter James ENSOR (1860-1949), son of an English father and Belgian mother?  His mother perhaps?  An aunt?  Research revealed that he himself stayed in Ostend throughout the war, and that his mother died there in 1915.  So not her.

However, his sister Marie (‘Mietche’), used the name ‘Madame ENSOR’ following a failed marriage to Alfred John Taen-Hee-Tsen.  Could this be her?  It was known that she was in England during the First World War.

And there was more : on the same page was an Augusta BOOGAERTS of 54 rue de Theux, Brussels.  That was the names of James ENSOR’s life-long close friend (some thought mistress) whom he called “La Sirène” and whom he painted on a number of occasions.  And she lived at 54 rue de Theux in Brusssels…

ensor-boogaerts-scott-albym
Augusta BOOGAERTS, 54 rue de Theux, Bruxelles, and Madame ENSOR, 31 Rampe de Flandre, Ostende

And digging a little more I found that Mietche’s daughter Mariette, known as Alex, had married a Richard Jules DAVELUY in 1908 – and that was the name of the Secretary to the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells –

secretaire-daveluy

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.

p06_daveluy
‘Par votre accueil hospitalier Mesdemoiselles vous avez acquis notre plus profonde gratitude‘ Rich Jules DAVELUY, 27 rue de Flandre, Ostende.

Must be them…

27 rue de Flandre is now the Ensor Museum in Ostend.  I visited it last month : what a treat!  (And also a fabulous exhibition at the MuZEE of works by the two great Ostend artists, ENSOR and Leon SPILLIAERT….)

Next stop the Archives in Brussels and the Refugees Registration documents, where I found the confirmation I was after (apologies for the blurred photos…) :

marie-ensor
Mme Marie Ensor, 33 Upper Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells, with Monsieur & Madame Richard J Daveluy and their son Jules
James Ensor's niece 'Alex'
Mariette Alexandrine Jeanne Taen Hee Tseu Daveluy, 27 Rue de Flandre, Ostend, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells
ensor-marie-cert-reg-1-cropped
Marie Ensor of 31 Rue de Flandre, Ostend, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells

Marie ENSOR and her daughter ‘Alex’ had lived with the painter and were very close.  Alex was only 15 when she married Casino croupier Richard DAVELUY.  Her uncle opposed the marriage and there was a falling-out which lasted for a number of years.

ensor-family-tree
James ENSOR Family Tree with “La Sirene” included…
boogaerts
Augusta Melanie Boogaerts of 54 Rue de Theux, Bruxelles, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells

James ENSOR met 18yr old Augusta BOOGAERTS, daughter of an Ostende hotelier, in 1888 in his mother’s shop (where Augusta was working for a short time), and so began a life-long friendship.  The story goes that his mother opposed their friendship, and even after her death, they never lived together.

ensor-nos-deux-portraits
‘Portrait de Mademoiselle B.’ (1905) James Ensor – renamed ‘James Ensor et son amie’ in 1920

And my favourite :

the-call-of-the-sea
L’Appel de la Sirene (La Baignade) James Ensor 1896

COMING SOON to London : An ENSOR Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, 29th October 2016-29th January 2017.  Very excited!

“The theatrical, the satirical and the macabre come together in arresting fashion in the art of James Ensor. Curated by Luc Tuymans, this exhibition will present a truly original body of work, seen through the eyes of one of today’s leading painters.”

Royal Adacemy of Arts website

100 years ago today – à Mesdemoiselles SCOTT

Updated 21 August 2016

On 22nd July 1916, the Belgian Colony of Tunbridge Wells celebrated their National Day (21st July) by honouring the ladies of the Mayor’s Refugee Committee – Mrs BURTON, Mrs GUTHRIE, Miss POWER, Mrs Le LACHEUR, Mme Le JEUNE, Miss McCLEAN, Mrs WILSON and the Misses SCOTT – and the local Doctors – WILSON, C. SMITH and GUTHRIE – who ministered to the refugees free of charge.

A ceremony and celebration was held in the Town Hall on Calverley Road to which townspeople and Belgian refugees were invited. On the evening in question the hall was packed.

At 7.30pm precisely the Mayor, Councillor Charles Whitbourn EMSON with his wife, Margaret, and Miss EMSON (presumably their elder daughter, Marjorie), arrived in the hall and were welcomed by Monsieur Florent COOSEMANS, Mrs EMSON then being presented with a floral arrangement of orchids and roses by one of the Belgian children.  Monsieur Albert LE JEUNE, Honorary President of the ‘Club Albert’ spoke patriotically of his country’s history and its links with Britain, and Monsieur COOSEMANS then spoke of the two years they had spent in exile and of the kindness afforded to them by the people of Tunbridge Wells, and by the ladies and doctors of the Committee in particular.

The reception received in this lovely county, rightly named the Garden of England, was above what the Belgian people could have expected… It took all the dexterity and amiability of the British, whose noble and chivalrous character was proverbial, to sweeten their troubles and suffering. (Kent & Sussex Courier, 28 July 1916)

While the Kent and Sussex Courier reported that a commemorative album, to which all the Belgians in the area had contributed, was then presented to Mrs EMSON as the representative of the ladies of the Committee, the Belgian press-in-exile reported that albums were given to each of the ladies of the Committee – including Belgian refugee Mme LE JEUNE – , along with bouquets of flowers.

What we know for certain is that an album was presented to the Misses SCOTT -Amelia and Louisa.  Because it still exists – in the Papers of Amelia Scott which are held in the Women’s Library @ LSE [1]

SCOTT Cover
The Album

It is an amazing resource, providing as it does a list of names of possibly all, maybe most, certainly some, of those in the area at the time.  Some entries take up a whole page – there are patriotic poems, poems of gratitude, drawings and paintings. I will never forget my excitement when I first held it in my hands back in December 2013!

I have transcribed this wonderful album, and to mark its Centenary I am today posting a new page with the names and addresses of all the signatories (see tabs above).

SCOTT3
‘Club Albert’ Committee 1916

And some fascinating discoveries as I research the names.  Among them is Josef DENYN, the famous ‘carilloneur’ of Malines, who was a close friend of local musician and composer, William Wooding STARMER, and spent the whole period of the war in Tunbridge Wells with his family;

p10_DENYN Music
Carillon Music by ‘Mechlin Bellmaster’ Josef DENYN

members of the family of painter James ENSOR of Ostend were here, and possibly his companion and muse, Augusta BOOGAERTS;

p18_Ensor_Boogaerts2
Augusta BOOGAERTS and Madame ENSOR

Albert LE JEUNE, Hon. President of the Club Albert of Tunbridge Wells, went on to be a Belgian Senator for the Antwerp region – my photo of his family’s entry is very blurred, so here instead is Madame Florent COOSEMANS’ painting of Bruges and a poem of homage to Great Britain which I presume she wrote herself since she doesn’t credit anyone else…

p4_Coosemans_Mme - Bruges cropped
Contribution from Madame Florent COOSEMANS

Mayor EMSON and Doctor WILSON thanked the gathering on behalf of the Committee and the doctors, and the evening concluded with a concert and the National Anthems of Belgium and Britain.

concert 1916
Concert programme, Belgian National Day 1916
Concert performers :
Mons. J. DENYN, Mr. O. GROVEN, Madame O. GROVEN, Mlle & Mme DENYN, Mons. DELATTRE, Mons. R. DAVELUY, Mons. R. CLAEYS, Mr WHITBURN, Miss Sylvia WRIGHT, Miss Suzy SWAN.

SCOTT invitation 2 cropped
Invitation to the Misses SCOTT for the event on 22 July 1916

Notes:

[1] Photos taken on my mobile phone

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