Who lived at Broadwater Court during the First World War? by Jan Wright

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While compiling the database from the documents in the Brussels archive, I noticed that violinist Eugene Ysaye and sculptor Paul van den Kerckhove and their families both stayed for a short time at Broadwater Court on Broadwater Down, at the time, the country house of the Van Den Bergh family.

Henry Van Den Bergh was born in 1851 in Maasdonk, The Netherlands, of Jewish origin.  His family were butter wholesalers; in 1870, he moved to London to carry on the business, which by now also sold margarine.    Henry married Henrietta (nee Spanjaard) in 1887, when he was 35 and she was just 19.   Their London home was at 8 Kensington Palace Gardens, in an area once known as ‘Billionaire’s Row’.

Henry Van den Bergh also owned (or leased) a large property in Broadwater Down, Tunbridge Wells, which had been a portion of the Abergavenny Estate.  Forty-six mansions were built there after 1860, as well as St Mark’s Church.  The area became part of Royal Tunbridge Wells Conservation Area.



Henry and Henrietta’s sons were Donald Stanley, born in 1888, Seymour James Henry, born in 1890, who became a Captain in the Middlesex Hussars, and Robert James Henry, born in 1893, who served in the 6th London Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.  Dorrit Rosa Henriette was born in 1897, and another daughter Joan, was married in 1931, at the new West London Synagogue.





  Seymour (geni.com)

The family had a presence in Tunbridge Wells.  It is unclear when and for how long Henry’s sons lived at Broadwater Court, but the two younger boys were players with Tonbridge Rugby Club in 1913 and 1914, as reported in the Kent and Sussex Courier.  In 1908, Henry supported a sports day on the Nevill Ground by donating a prize.  In the same year, a cricket match was held between teams of ‘Broadwater Court’ and ‘Van Den Bergh’.

Before the onset of the First World War, the local newspaper reported that Mr and Mrs Van Den Bergh attended the Mayoral Garden Party in July 1912.   Their silver wedding party was held at Broadwater Court in August 1912.  The celebration included a cricket match, and after tea, the guests were driven out to local scenic places, including High Rocks.   Gifts were given to charitable institutions, one of which was the Veterans Association.   In 1913, Henry was one of the subscribers to a local railway company.  During those years, London newspapers recorded Van Den Bergh Ltd as enjoying increased trade expansion and factory production in margarine and butter substitutes, butter, condensed milk, bacon and soup manufacture, and increasing its capital by a share issue in July 1913.  In June 1914, the Van Den Berghs held a Garden Party at the Spa Hotel, Tunbridge Wells.

During the war years, Henry’s efforts moved away from society gatherings.  He subscribed to the Belgian Refugee Fund and to the War Hospital Supply Depot.  In January 1915 the family provided entertainment for the ‘Barnado’s Home for Incurables’ in Park Road, with a Punch and Judy Show and Miss Dorrit presenting gifts and tea.  In May 1916, Mrs Van Den Bergh, Donald and Dorrit provided refreshments and entertainment for soldiers at the St Mark’s VAD military hospital.

Only a few days later came the sad news that their third son, Robert, had died on 21 May 1916 age 23 at Vimy Ridge in France.  Seymour died on 27 October 1917 age 27 at the Battle of El Buqqar Ridge, and was buried in Israel.  As residents of Broadwater Court, both sons’ deaths were recorded in the Kent and Sussex Courier.  They are commemorated on the First World War plaque in St Marks Church, and on the Tunbridge Wells war memorial.  In their memory, Henry donated various objets d’art to the Ashmolean, Victoria and Albert and British Museums.  In particular, a fine collection of Dutch tiles of 16th/ 17th century can be seen in Room 137 of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

St Marks, Broadwater Down First World War Memorial      (kentfallen.org)

There is no evidence that the Van Den Berghs used Broadwater Court to house Belgian refugees.  However, registration forms refer to the families of Eugene Ysaye, the world famous violinist and conductor, and Paul van den Kerckhove, a sculptor.  Eugene Ysaye, his wife two daughters and a servant were certainly at Broadwater Court in 1914.  They then moved to London. According to newspapers accounts Eugene and his brother Theophile, a noted pianist and composer had appeared in concerts in England since 1896, and they performed around the country between November 1914 and February 1916.  They both performed at the Great Hall in Tunbridge Wells on 26 November 1915. .  However, one member of the Ysaye group was registered to Broadwater Court in 1916, their maid and cook, Zoe Ottart, age 25, probably employed as a servant to the household.  She later returned to France.

The registration forms show that Paul van den Kerckhove, Louise and their two daughters arrived in England around September 2014 seeking temporary accommodation.  They moved from a London Hotel to Broadwater Court in March 1915.  By September 2015, Paul’s sculpture of Mayor Emson had been presented.  By January 2016 the family lived in Garden Road Tunbridge Wells.  However, Louise and the girls then relocated to Blackpool, without Paul, whilst he moved to hotels first in London, then Teddington.

My guess is that given Henry’s interest in arts and music, he opened his Tunbridge Wells doors to these notable artistes and their families, who needed accommodation whilst fulfilling their concert and work engagements

Details of ownership of Broadwater Court can be found at the East Sussex Record Office (in the Archives of the Nevill Family of Eridge Castle in Frant, Marquesses of Abergavenny).


Belgian National Archives, Brussels.

British Newspaper Archive:

The Sketch

Kent and Sussex Courier

The Globe

The Graphic

West London Observer

Morning Post

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