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]
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 , 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.