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