Extracting detail from newspapers on http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Extracting Detail from Newspapers on http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Caroline Auckland

Following on from the Weekes advertisement for British Toys for British & Belgian Children, I continued to study the rest of the newspaper (Kent & Sussex Courier, Friday 27 November 1914) to see what else could be found relating to Tunbridge Wells and its Belgian refugee connection.  Music seemed to play a part in building up a sense of patriotism with general benevolent acts of fundraising toward the war effort in general being evident. The Tunbridge Wells Opera House, built in 1902, was the centre for all things musical.


Figure 1, Tunbridge Wells Opera House, Photochrom.Co.,Ltd. London, 1905.

 The concert involving Clara Butt and Kennerley Rumford (her husband, a baritone) was mentioned twice in this edition of the Kent & Sussex Courier.


     Figure 2, Kent & Sussex Courier, Friday 27 November 1914, p.4.

Extracts of interest: ‘The programme includes items which appeal to our pity and to patriotism…’


        Figure 3, Kent & Sussex Courier, Friday 27 November 1914, p.4.

Madame Clara Butt (1872-1936) would later become a Dame. A renowned contralto singer she was involved with many concerts raising money for the Red Cross and other charities.

Here is a You tube link to Madame Clara Butt ‘God shall wipe away all tears.’

                Figure 4, Kent & Sussex Courier, Friday 27 November 1914, p.5.



We shall be glad to receive contributions of eighteen-pence for the Special Xmas Boxes to be sent to soldiers at the Front …’

One of the subscribers was the Opera House:


Opera House (per Mr. Harry Ball) Profits on sale of Fred Elton’s song. ‘Bravo, Little Belgium!’

Here is the text of Elton’s song:

Bravo! Little Belgium, it’s proud we are of you

Bravo! Little Belgium, you’d the pluck to see it through

Hats off to Little Belgium,

You’re a fighting race sublime!

Your flag is still unfurled

In front of all the world

And we’re with you all the time.[1]

 John Mullen (2011) suggests music hall songs were for ‘uniting the British [sic] nation and its allies’[2]


Figure 5, The Opera House as it appears today without the statue of Mercury upon its dome. 

So these entries can be interpreted as contributing to the town’s general feeling of support and friendship towards all war efforts and refugees by extension of this attitude.

Perhaps this community project could look at reviving performances of these songs?[3]

I like to imagine this cherub-like statue from the roof-line is watching all the 21st Century developments with great interest. I wonder at all the events and people he has observed over one hundred plus years.


     Figure 6, Dome detail of cherub.

[1] Andre de Vries, Flanders: A Cultural History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 17.

[2] John Mullen, ‘Propaganda and Dissent in British Popular Song during the Great War.’, Discours autoritaires et résistances aux XXe et XXIe siècles, Centre Interlangues, non paginé, (2011), p.6. <https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00682095/document>[accessed 4 March 2017]

[3] This link suggests Fred Elton’s song is out of copyright.


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Week One: First thoughts

The Belgian Refugees in Tunbridge Wells: A Weekly Diary by Caroline Auckland

The very first thing I decided to do after joining this community project was turn to the written past. We had been asked to think about what we might like to work on, research or how we might contribute.

I decided to scan the local newspaper, the Kent & Sussex Courier, of 1914, for references to Belgian refugees in the area. Firstly to see if there were any and secondly to isolate themes. Yes, there were references and now I have a file full of themes with columns of text waiting to be dissected.

But, unexpectedly the major item which jumped out of the editions I scanned digitally on British Newspaper Archives on-line was not an editorial piece, it was an advertisement.

An ephemeral filler, the search function had located the word ‘Belgian’ and provided me with the first challenge to my perception of this project.


Figure 1 Kent & Sussex Courier, Advertisement for Weekes Department Store, Friday 27 November 1914, p.4.


Full transcript:

Now Open

R.W. Weekes’

Grand Christmas Bazaar.

British Toys for British & Belgian Children.

Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!

British, French, Belgian, Russian and Indian Soldiers.

R.H. Artillery. Boy Scouts and Transport.

Naval Landing Parties. 4.7 Guns.

English Castles as Fort

British Squawk-a-Boo   Fur Animals

All Kinds of Games   Dean’s Books and Rag Toys.

‘Meccano’ for model construction, a splendid pastime for Boys.

Please enquire about the £200 ‘Meccano’ prize Competition.

Christmas cards and Calendars.

Tom Smith’s Crackers Lanterns and decorations.

R.W Weekes

Opposite S.E. & C.R. Station, Tunbridge Wells



An advertisement for Christmas toys is worded ‘British Toys for British & Belgian Children’.

This posed the following issues:

A respectable shop advertises its wares. Seasonally marketing products to increase its own profits.

By introducing a nationalistic title to ‘children’, defining them as either British or Belgian within the same sentence, both groups them as a collective – ‘children’ and separates them as different from each other within that definition. ‘British Toys for British & Belgian Children’ also promotes home produced items, but by prefixing the child with a country of origin suggests that the child from one country is different to another.

Do they need different toys?

Implicit is gender reference.

The advertisement suggests they need: ‘Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!

‘British, French, Belgian, Russian and Indian Soldiers.’ The miniature toys of war, but even they are defined by race.

Is this to appeal to the Belgian families to come and buy toys for their children?

Or is this an altruistic appeal to the local community to visit the store to buy toys to donate to the refugees who have arrived with very little and are being provided with clothing and homes by local committees, families and the church?

Have their children become objects of social curiosity, almost playthings, a counter celebrity status, and the children of war. They become the ‘other’ the outsiders, their needs defined by their place of birth or departure and slightly exotic in their differences.

Dolls are not listed by type but toy soldiers are- all from the same side of the war but still distinguished by nationality with no opposition mentioned- no Germans, Turks or Austrians?

Here is a postcard of Weekes– with it awnings. Its close proximity to the railway station is also interesting. This station is where many of the refugees arrived in Tunbridge Wells and it is also the main travel artery to London and the coast. Which, significantly, is even mentioned in the advertisement ‘R.W. Weekes Opposite S.E.& C.R. Station, Tunbridge Wells’ therefore it could be suggested positioning itself as a symbol of modernity, movement and connections.



Figure 2 1911 Postcard, Unknown Publisher. Weekes, Tunbridge Wells

It is also important to consider the rest of the page, what is this advertisement placed next to? What is the editorial content of the rest of the page? What other editorials also appear?

I would love to know if Tunbridge Wells Museums has a selection of dolls and toy soldiers from this period, plus the other toys mentioned. This could make an interesting small exhibition to run in conjunction with this project.

All questions to mull over during the next week.

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Introducing the Project

This project uses a variety of historical sources to reveal the largely forgotten history of the Belgian community in Tunbridge Wells, Kent and surrounding areas during the First World War.  Building on research mainly done by local resident Alison Sandford Mackenzie and working with volunteers from the Camden Road Education, Arts and Theatre Enterprise (CREATE) the project will recover the largely forgotten story of the Belgian refugees who sojourned in the area, the ‘colony’ that they built, and their interactions with the host community.  Volunteers will utilise digital and archival resources to make posts to this blog about the refugees and their hosts and to produce a local Belgian Community Heritage Trail, which will be available to local people, school students and visitors to use free of charge by the end of July 2017.  It is intended that versions of the Heritage Trail will be available not only in English but also (through this blog) in Belgium’s official languages, Dutch, French, and German.

The starting point for the project is the souvenir album which belonged to the Tunbridge Wells resident, feminist and social activist, Amelia Scott and her sister, Louisa, and is held in the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics, together with press reports listing those who – like the  Scotts – formed committees and/or subscribed to the relief of refugees.    Recent research published in a special issue of Immigrants and Minorities (2016), together with earlier publications (e.g. Cahalan, 1982) has identified and analysed substantial Belgian communities during the First World War in industrial areas, centres of munitions manufacture, outer London, Scotland, and rural Wales, but there is a research gap regarding the experiences of refugees in smaller, provincial towns.  Provisional investigation reveals that, as an established spa resort, Tunbridge Wells not only attracted some wealthy, self-supporting Belgian guests, but also played host to refugees from more diverse social backgrounds.

For more information about the project, please contact RTWBelgians1914@kent.ac.uk

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