The Club Albert: by Jan Wright

In November 1914, Belgian Refugees in Tunbridge Wells decided to form a club.  They were able to use premises at 32 Calverley Road which belonged to the Constitutional Club, on the first and second floor where Waterstones and Hotter are now.   The President of the Constitutional Club was Colonel H H Spender.   In 1913, the premises had been gutted by a fire, which had started in the Art Gallery upstairs.  When it reopened on 1 April 1914, there were rooms for billiards, cards, reading, a lounge and a Committee area.

After the 1913 fire at the Constitutional Club on Calverley Road (Photo Fred Scales Collection)

The Belgians’ club was named Club Albert, after King Albert of Belgium.  A Committee was formed on 9 November, led by M. Ernst Kumps, who identified himself on his registration form as  an ‘Agent de Police’ and was the Club’s first President.  He and his family lived at 40 Upper Grosvenor Road, and returned to France in 1916 to join the army.

The joint Honorary Presidents were Mayor Whitbourn Emson and Hippolyte Meeus (Mayor of Wynegem near Antwerp and owner of a large ‘Jenever’ distillery, the Stokerij Meeus).   M. Meeus died in Tunbridge Wells in October 1915, only a few months after his wife Isabelle; both he and his wife were embalmed and returned to Wynegem after the war.

Hippolyte Meeus (Photo courtesy of the Wynegem Local History Society)

“L’Independence belge” of 10 December 1914 reported that the Committee members of the new Club Albert were

  • President (with M. Kumps) Joseph Willems (Liege University Professor)
  • Secretary M or Mme Van Loven
  • Secretary Auguste Van Obbergen (Government Service)
  • Treasurer Eugene Van Den Wijngaerts
  • Members Josef Denyn (Carilloneur), Armand Van Noyen (Banker) (more on Denyn and Van Noyen here), Alfred Lacourt (Car Manufacturer), Mme Raes, Mme Burlyon, Mme Pierlot

The Club was established in December 1914 and opened each day from 3pm – 4pm.  All Belgians in the Tunbridge Wells area were invited to belong.  Its aim was to be a central meeting point, to arrange social functions and entertainment, to inform the Refugee Committee of unmet needs, and to channel important information to members.  In addition, discounts were available in certain shops.

On the ground floor of the building was the Kosmos Kinema. By November 1915, all Club members were admitted free to the cinema between 3 – 5pm, twice a week, on presentation of their membership card.

One of the first social events was held for “The Kings Day” on 15 November 1914.  Canon Keatinge preached, and a Mass was sung with a choir of Belgian refugees, conducted by M. Denyn.  The refugees then marched to their home in Upper Grosvenor Road, and later gathered at Club Albert.  A day or so later a Grand Concert took place at the Pump Room on the Pantiles, attended by 600 people, nearly all Belgians.  The performance was in French with local artistes.  The Allies’ National Anthems were played, then coffee and refreshments were served.

On 22 May 1915 a fete took place at Club Albert, and in June, members and Belgian soldiers in Tunbridge Wells expressed their gratitude for shoes and clothes donated by the London Committee.    In December, M. Kumps alongside Club Albert Committee members organised a house-to-house collection, raising £36.  Further events were arranged to celebrate the King’s birthday and a concert took place in January 1916, when M. Florent Coosemans became the new President as M Kumps had left to join the Belgian Army.

Florent Coosemans (family photo)

In July 1916 the Club Albert presented a souvenir album to the Mayoress and the Misses Scott, as well as the other lady committee members, recording members’ heartfelt gratitude for the generosity and kindness of the people of Tunbridge Wells towards Belgian refugees.   The album contained poems, paintings, pieces of music, messages and writings.   It contained the names and addresses of around 170 refugees, and has proved a valuable resource for further research.  Thanks must go to Alison Sandford Mackenzie for her transcription.

It is unclear whether Club Albert continued operating much beyond 1917.  By Spring 1919 practically all Belgian refugees had returned home.


Alison Sandford Mackenzie ‘Belgian refugees in Tunbridge Wells’ in J.Cunningham (ed) The Shock of War, Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society, 2014

British Newspaper Archive

Belgian Press in Exile

Refugee Registrations documents held in the National Archives in Brussels

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Wounded Belgian Heroes in Tonbridge, 1914: by Pam Mills

Following the Siege of Antwerp, many Belgians fled for their lives coming to the UK. On 16th October 1914, a ‘special’ Ambulance train arrived at Tonbridge Station in the early hours of the morning carrying several wounded Belgian soldiers & one French soldier. Tonbridge was one of only 200 stops in the country for this special service. A large number of volunteers met the arrival of this train with cars, stretchers and an ambulance and transported the men as comfortably as they were able to Tonbridge School sanatorium, located in Rowan Mews, Dernier Road.

The sanitorium had been generously been offered for use until the Red Cross hospital at Quarry Hill House had been furnished.

According to the Tonbridge Free Press, on arrival the men were treated to a beef tea prepared by the ladies of the detachment, while a Belgian newspaper published a full list of the wounded accommodated in Tonbridge.



A selection of photographs taken at the school sanatorium. Source- private collection

After a week the Red Cross hospital (VAD 44, shown below) was ready to accommodate the wounded, and all but one was transferred.  Due to his deterioration, one soldier called Louis Marx was kept at the sanatorium but after a few weeks he asked to be moved to be near his friends.

On 20th November 1914 Marx sadly died aged 24. There was a very impressive Military funeral in his honour (see photo below) with a procession behind the hearse, three volleys fired over the grave by Tonbridge Officer Cadets and the last post being played. The coffin was covered with the Belgian flag and the Rev Walsh from Corpus Christi Church officiated.

The grave (pictured below) is in Tonbridge cemetery.

Photo by Pam Mills

Every effort has been made to trace this soldier’s family to no avail, but although there is no family to tend his grave, every year on Remembrance Sunday a poppy is placed upon his grave, along with all the other heroes that lost their lives in WW1.


Belgian archives, Brussels.

L’Independence Belge, 20th November 1914.

Kent and Sussex Courier, 27th November 1914.

Tonbridgian [Tonbridge School magazine] December 1914.

Tonbridge Free Press, October and November 1914.

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Housing the Refugees: by Anne Logan

The most basic necessity for the Belgian refugees when they arrived in the UK was a place to live. Families for example needed to find somewhere to stay where their children could be educated nearby.

Some refugees were fortunate enough to be able to provide for themselves or to turn to English friends or relatives. Others had to rely on the efforts of the voluntary committees.

This blog post looks at the work of the Royal Tunbridge Wells refugee committee in providing accommodation and at the experience of one Belgian family who came to the town and were looked after by the committee, the Van Aerschots, from Werchter.

In its final report the committee explained that the maximum number of refugees under their care was 131, made up of 96 adults and 35 children. The total cost of maintaining these people was estimated at £80 per week. In 2017 money, this is roughly between £5000 and £8,500 per week.

The map below shows the location of most of the 36 properties used by the committee. It can be seen that the majority were to be found in the town centre, with a smaller concentration in the High Brooms end of Upper Grosvenor Road, and another in the St John’s area.  (Three properties in Southborough were listed but I can only locate two of them). The accommodation was divided into three categories: houses which were offered by the owners rent-free, houses which were rented by the committee (some furnished and some unfurnished), and apartment accommodation provided by the committee.

Map showing location of properties used by the Tunbridge Wells Refugees Committee (click here to explore the map)

The first house made available in the town itself was Grosvenor Lodge, which was offered free of charge by the Dodd family. One of the first families accommodated there was the Van Aerschot family. According to their registration forms, they arrived in London on 26 September 1914 and were accommodated at Alexandra Palace, which had been requisitioned by the government as one of the largest refugee reception centres. Official documents record on 2 October that the family were to be placed in the care of ‘Miss Le Lacheur’ of the Wilderness, Tunbridge Wells. In fact it was Mrs Lydia Le Lacheur who welcomed them to Grosvenor Lodge. It is highly likely that they were among the group of refugees whose arrival was reported in the Courier on 9 October ‘for whom arrangements have been made by Mrs Le Lacheur’.

The newspaper reported that ‘every provision has been made for [the refugees’] comfort’. An appeal had gone out for donations of furniture and for a cornucopia of household items, including bed, table and house linen, cutlery, crockery, coffee pots, candlesticks and toasting forks.

Grosvenor Lodge c.1910, showing members of the Dodd family

In addition to Grosvenor Lodge, the committee was also offered rent-free number 32, Upper Grosvenor Road by the Reverend Canon Keatinge. Both these properties were used to house refugees from October 1914 right through until April or May 1919. The Church Army home, also in Upper Grosvenor Road, was rented by the committee for £1 a week.

Grosvenor Lodge today (photograph by Anne Logan)

In addition to hostel accommodation (where, the committee admitted, there had been ‘some little difficulty in meeting the different views and habits of the Flemings and Walloons’), local people offered furnished and unfurnished houses and apartments. Where the committee had to furnish premises, they received the items needed either as gifts or as loans. Much thought was given to the comfort of those seeking refuge: the committee even appealed for donations of pianos and games, although these were in the category of ‘extras, not necessities’.

Generally speaking it was not uncommon for Belgians in First World War Britain to move premises or even locations, sometimes several times. Every time they did so they had to register with the local police. The Van Aerschot family moved to 194 Silverdale Road in 1916, which was another property maintained by the committee. From there, the thirteen-year-old Maria continued to attend the girls’ county school, now Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School.

Members of the Van Aerschot family. Source: private collection

The Tunbridge Wells Belgian refugee committee continued to provide accommodation until the early months of 1919, by which time the premises’ inhabitants had mainly returned home. However Maria Van Aerschot’s temporary sojourn in Tunbridge Wells left her with a lifelong friend, Enid Lakeman, who she met at school. Enid made many visits to Antwerp over the years to visit her Maria and her family.

With grateful thanks to Willy Van Leemput.


Borough of Tunbridge Wells Belgian Refugee Committee Report, Belgian National Archives, Brussels.

Registration documents, Belgian National Archives.

Kent and Sussex Courier, 9 October 1914.

Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, 16 October 1914.

Personal communication.


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Mayor Charles Emson: by Anne Carwardine

When Charles Emson died in 1936, the Kent & Sussex Courier’s obituary described him thus:

Tall, upright and of striking appearance, Mr Emson commanded the respect and highest esteem of everyone associated with the social and governing life of the town, and although many years have passed since the Great War his four years of engrossing work as Mayor during those anxious days are remembered with gratitude by many of his old colleagues.

The ‘engrossing work’ Charles undertook during the war included a prominent role in supporting the Belgian refugees who came to Tunbridge Wells.

Charles Whitbourn Emson, a cordwainer’s son, was born in 1855 in Bow, East London. He lived in Kennington and then Surrey, working mainly in insurance. In around 1907, when he was 52 years old, he moved to Tunbridge Wells, together with his wife Margaret and two young daughters, Marjorie and Barbara.

Charles had retired from business by this time, but became involved in local affairs. In 1909 he was elected to the Tunbridge Wells District Council (he had previously been a local councillor in Surrey) and in November 1913 he was appointed as Mayor. Less than a year later he would be called on to play a key role in the town’s war effort.

On 13 October 1914 Charles wrote to Secretary of the Belgian War Relief Committee in Folkestone:

I am pleased to inform you that arrangements have been made to accommodate 30 Belgian Refugees, not of the peasant type, but of the middle class and tradespeople.

Soon after this he set up the local Belgian Refugees Committee and published a newspaper appeal, in which he called for financial donations, saying ‘these brave Belgian people have nobly done their share in opposing the German aggression, and let us do our best to show our gratitude.’

As a result of the work that followed, the local Belgian community commissioned sculptor Paul Van De Kerckhove to create a life-size bronze bust of Charles, which was presented to the town at a ceremony in the Great Hall on 22 September 1915. The Belgian professor who made the presentation spoke of Charles’s courtesy, kindness and persevering self-denial. In responding, Charles referred to the pleasant time he had had with the Belgians, despite the unfortunate circumstances which had brought them to the town.

The bust of Mayor Emson (Photo © Alison MacKenzie 2013)

In November 1917, Charles was replaced as Mayor (after an unprecedented four years in the post). However, he continued as Chairman of the Belgian Refugees Committee for the rest of its life. When the committee met for the last time on 23 May 1919 (by which time all of the town’s refugees had returned home) a vote of thanks was made to him for his key role and the assiduous manner in which he had undertaken it.

In May 1919 the Courier recorded that Charles had received the decoration of the Chevalier de L’ordre de la Couronne, bestowed on him by King Albert of Belgium, in recognition of the help he had given to Belgian refugees and soldiers. The article continued that the honour was full deserved, due to the close personal attention Charles had devoted to the welfare – economic, social and educational – of a large number of men, women and children in enforced exile from their native land. He had raised over £6,000 for their support, but it was perhaps as guide, philosopher and friend that he was so beloved by the Belgians.

Charles continued to be interested in the Belgian connection; in March 1920 he arranged a series of lectures by the Anglo-Belgian Union, intended to promote a better understanding of their country’s history.

In the years that followed the war, Charles served as a magistrate, on the General Hospital Board and as a churchwarden at St Mark’s church. He died at his home on Broadwater Down in 1936, at the age of 80. His obituary also described him as an ‘excellent Mayor, a most likeable gentleman’ and observed that ‘No Mayor has worked with more untiring energy than he did.’


  • Kent & Sussex Courier (via British Newspaper Archive)
  • Tunbridge Wells Advertiser
  • Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society. The Shock of War: Tunbridge Wells: Life on the Home Front 1914-1919, Local History Monograph No. 13.
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The Suffragist Clothing Depot: by Anne Carwardine

From 1906 onwards, Tunbridge Wells was home to an extraordinarily active Votes for Women campaign. The largest and busiest organisation in town was the local branch of the NUWSS (the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) whose non-militant members were known as ‘suffragists.’

When war was declared the suffragists were clear on what they should do. They immediately placed a notice in the window of their shop on Crescent Road, which read ‘All Political and Propaganda Work is suspended,’ and declared themselves available to support the local war effort. Following a request from Mayor Charles Emson, they re-opened their premises shortly afterwards as a depot where a team of volunteers sorted, mended and pressed clothes, which were then issued to convalescent soldiers and local families in need. Contributions of any ‘fashion, shape or size’ were welcomed.

NUWSS shop, Crescent Road (Women’s Library)

By the end of October 1914, the NUWSS depot was also providing clothing to the Belgian refugees who had begun arriving in town. On 11 December the Kent & Sussex Courier reported that in its first three months the depot had supplied 659 items of clothing to Belgians in Tunbridge Wells and 210 to the Belgian Committee at Folkestone. Items which were needed at that time included men’s pants, large skirts for women and pocket handkerchiefs.

The suffragists posted regular announcements in the press, reporting the numbers of items received and distributed and specific items that were required. At various points they requested boots (preferably well-mended and ready to wear), shoes, children’s clothes, men’s suits, women’s nightdresses and underwear (or calico for making it). On one occasion they even appealed for a bicycle on behalf of a Belgian girl who had been ordered to take exercise.

The local suffragists, who were mostly veteran campaigners, were not a young group. At a meeting in June 1915, their President Sarah Grand observed that older volunteers could sometimes be over-serious and appealed for younger ones ‘who could run up and down stairs and smile when Belgians came in.’

Lady Annette Matthews, Vice Chair of the local NUWSS branch, described some of the refugees who visited the depot in her war diary. These included a 21-year-old who had been too short-sighted for military service, a motor mechanic and his wife and a musician who had separated from his wife.

In February 1916 the Courier published a letter to Clothing Depot Secretary Gertrude Mosely from a Monsieur Raes, whose wife had both received and given assistance during her stay in Tunbridge Wells. He wrote (in French):

I take this opportunity to thank you, as well as the other ‘Misses’ and ladies of the depot, for all you did for my wife during her exile in England, and am also grateful for your kindnesses which greatly reassured her during those unhappy times.’

Demand for clothing from the Belgians diminished during 1916, although the depot continued operating until the end of 1917, by which time the needs of local families had also reduced. In three years over 11,000 garments passed through the suffragists’ hands.

The war effort brought together people who held differing views. Members of the Mayor’s Belgian Refugees Committee, which co-ordinated support in Tunbridge Wells, included Amelia Scott, Lydia Le Lacheur and several other local suffragists. In contrast the Mayor, his wife Margaret and at least one other lady member (Louisa Lushington) had until recently been actively involved in the local anti-suffrage organisation and campaigning against women having the vote. The experience of working together seems to have influenced the outlook of at least one of them; in January 1916 Margaret Emson’s views had changed to such an extent that she took the chair at a local suffragist meeting.


  • In suspending campaigning and entering into the war effort, the Tunbridge Wells suffragists were following the line taken by their national organisation, the NUWSS.
  • Individual suffragists were active in supporting the Belgian Refugees in many different ways. Notable amongst them was Amelia Scott who, together with her sister and in recognition of her contribution, was presented with a souvenir album by the Club Albert and Palme D’Or by the King and Queen of the Belgians.


  • Kent & Sussex Courier (via British Newspaper Archive)
  • Tunbridge Wells Advertiser
  • Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society. The Shock of War: Tunbridge Wells: Life on the Home Front 1914-1919, Local History Monograph No. 13


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The ‘Scott’ Album: by Alison MacKenzie


Invitation to the Misses SCOTT for the event on 22 July 1916

(Photograph ©Alison MacKenzie 2013)

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 had 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 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)

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.

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.

Extract from La Metropole newspaper (27th July 1916)

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

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.  Other pages are covered with the signatures of several families.  There are patriotic poems, poems of gratitude, drawings and paintings.

The Misses Scotts’ Album (Photo ©Alison MacKenzie 2013)

This album is the starting point for this community research Project.  A database of all the names has been created by one of our volunteers, Jan Wright, and analysis of the 170 names inscribed therein will provide a snapshot of the Belgian Community in Tunbridge Wells in July 1916.

‘Club Albert’ Committee 1916 (Photo © Alison MacKenzie 2013)

And some fascinating discoveries are being made as we research the names.

Albert LE JEUNE, Hon. President of the Club Albert of Tunbridge Wells, went on to be a Belgian Senator for the Antwerp region.  At the end of the war, he sent £50 back to Tunbridge Wells to be used for “educational purposes” It funded historical essay prizes – known as the Le Jeune History Prize – at Skinners School and the County School for Girls (now TWGGS) for many years.  Albert Le Jeune’s wife Gabrielle was a member of the Mayor’s Belgian Refugee Committee.

Josef DENYN was the famous ‘carilloneur’ of Malines, who was a close friend of local musician, composer and campanologist, William Wooding STARMER, and spent the whole period of the war in Tunbridge Wells with his family.

Carillon Music by ‘Mechlin Bellmaster’ Josef DENYN

(Photograph © Alison MacKenzie 2013)

Members of the family of painter James ENSOR of Ostend were here – his divorced sister Mariette (known as Mietje or Mitche), her daughter Alex and son-in-law, and their son; and also the artist’s companion and muse, Augusta BOOGAERTS, with her nephew, Pierre GOVAERTS.

Augusta BOOGAERTS and Madame ENSOR

(Photograph ©Alison MacKenzie 2013)

Committee member Georges CANTILLON was a medically-discharged Belgian soldier who had been awarded the Order of Leopold II for bravery on two occasions, in August and October 1914.  He was an artist, employed as a painter on glass in civilian life, and while in Tunbridge Wells he was employed as an artist by W.T. Waters, wood letter manufacturer, of 39 Culverden Avenue and Tunnel Road.  I wonder whether any of his work still exists?  His contribution to the album was a beautifully-illustrated message of gratitude on behalf of all the Belgian soldiers convalescing in the town.

(Photograph ©Alison MacKenzie 2013)


Adapted from an article by Alison MacKenzie on her blog

Sources :

  • Papers of Amelia Scott held at The Women’s Library @ LSE
  • Kent and Sussex Courier (British Newspaper Archive)
  • be (digital collection of Belgian newspapers)



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The villages of West Kent’s response to the Belgian Refugee Crisis: by Anne Logan

As refugees from Belgium poured into England in the autumn of 1914 – many of whom arrived at the Kentish ports of Dover and Folkestone – the towns and villages of West Kent swung into action, offering shelter, raising money, collecting household items, and providing medical care to the wounded. The local press reported a range of initiatives by local authorities and voluntary groups alike.

In Maidstone – as in Tunbridge Wells – the council announced that unoccupied properties which were used to house refugees would be exempt from rates. The local teachers’ association raised money to provide a house and concerts were held to raise money, for example at the Wesleyan church. In late September a party of refugees from Louvain arrived (via Antwerp and Alexandra Palace) and were housed at the Kent Adult School Union Guesthouse in Barming, a village just outside the county town.

Village dwellers were every bit as involved as townsfolk. In Marden the parish council organized a house-to-house collection which raised over £100 for the Belgian Relief Fund. Similarly in East Peckham the whole village was asked to contribute (though in this village there seems to have been two committees: a general one and another run by the Salvation Army). In Pembury a whist drive was organized in aid of the Relief Fund. As refugees arrived in the villages they were often greeted by enthusiastic crowds, as in the case of Lamberhurst.

Source: South East Gazette, 3 November 1914

Some of the Belgian arrivals into the county were wounded soldiers in need of medical treatment. It was reported that there were 2500 wounded men at Folkestone who had to be found places to recover in. Among the venues West Kent venues where they quickly received help were Hayle Place, a mansion near Maidstone, and the Tonbridge School sanatorium. In addition, twenty of the injured were sent to Hawkhurst.

Source: Private Collection

The Kent and Sussex Courier carried a vivid account of the arrival of a group of wounded Belgian soldiers at Paddock Wood in October 1914. The Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment commandant, Dr Crawford of Pembury, was asked to make provision for some of the wounded men so he took over the parochial hall at Paddock Wood. Aided by the local builder and undertaker, Mr Penn, and four of his men to act as stretcher-bearers, and some ‘working women’ who scrubbed the hall floor, Dr Crawford had the hall ready by 8am the next morning when the soldiers were due to arrive at the station. Crowds of people turned out to greet the men. The Courier reported that:

The scene of the arrival of the wounded soldiers was one that will not soon be forgotten in Paddock Wood… It was not long before every one of the heroes was snugly ensconced in his little camp bed.

Gradually, most of the wounded recovered and the nature of the help that refugees required changed. On 21st May 1915 the Courier reported that the last of the wounded Belgians had left the VAD hospital which had been set up in Pembury. Some soldiers returned to the army, while others moved elsewhere to work. An example is Andre Vandeneynde, a Belgian soldier who was registered as residing in Pembury in December 1914. Andre took up munitions work and moved first to Tonbridge (where he married a young woman from Paddock Wood in 1916) and later to Letchworth, where he worked for the Belgian-run firm, Kryn and Lahy.

The rest of the refugees also had to find some form of support. Some, for example, a young lady, also residing in Pembury, advertised for private pupils to teach them French. However, the charitable efforts of the people of West Kent remained important. In December 1915 Tunbridge Wells’ women’s suffrage society claimed that its clothing depot had helped refugees as far afield as Folkestone and even Holland, as well as in nearby villages such as Pembury and Frant.

Locally as well as nationally, the amount of press attention to the refugees decreased as the war went on. However, the evidence from the early months of the war suggests that the towns and villages of West Kent made noticeable efforts to deal with the crisis and that there cannot have been many settlements – however small – that did not do something to help.



Belgian National Archives, Brussels.

South East Gazette, 3 November 1914, 10 November 1914, 14 November 1914.

Kent Messenger, 26 September 1914, 10 October 1914.

Kent and Sussex Courier, 16 October 1914, 18 December 1914, 21 May 1915, 28 May 1915, 10 December 1915.

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

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 (

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      (

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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Making a database from the refugees’ forms: by Jan Wright

The task I had was to compile a database of all those Belgian refugees who signed the Club Albert album presented to the Misses Scott in July 1916.  The aim is to provide a snapshot for statistical purposes of Belgian refugees living in Tunbridge Wells who attended the Club at 32 Calverley Road (where Waterstones and Hotter are now).  They would go there to obtain advice, support, to make contact with their community group, enjoy friendship and gain material help.  The photo below shows the street as it would have looked 100 years ago.

Alison Sandford Mackenzie rigorously transcribed the contents of the album, and that transcription was my starting point. In addition, Alison, Anne Logan, and Kate Bradley had previously travelled to Brussels and managed to photograph some 717 registration forms, letters and scraps of paper, which related to those refugees who spent time in Tunbridge Wells (and some who didn’t).

Refugees were required to register their presence in England from December 1914, and also when they changed address, even for a short period of time.  Some frequently moved around the country, and a form was supposed to be filled out every time.  We were bemused to find a family having to register before going on a two week holiday to Bournemouth.

The registration form system was a chaotic one and by no means comprehensive.  Reasons to relocate were many and various, such as joining relatives, finding work elsewhere, and moving from hostel-type accommodation into a lodging house, or private home.  And of course many returned to Belgium to join the military, or carry out war work.   The vast majority of Belgian refugees had returned home by 1919.

The Club Albert signatories’ documentation did not always include such information as ages and previous occupation, so I had to scour the forms for those missing details.  There were sometimes vague cross references to family members, relationships and connections.

More practical difficulties I encountered with the registration forms were that a great many were undated, the handwriting was very faint, there were lots of crossings out, and refugees spoke no English, only French and/or Flemish, so their answers had to be translated or interpreted by the registrars themselves. The photo below is one of the initial refugee centre registration forms and it illustrated some of the difficulties of working with photos of such old, faint, and fragile documents.

Along the way I found it easier to create a card index of names of all the Club Albert signatories, writing out the information gained alongside numbered references of the registration form photos.  If anyone is researching a particular family staying in Tunbridge Wells or outlying area, they are very welcome to contact me and find out if I have any extra information noted down on my cards.  I can also point them towards the relevant photographed registration forms for a closer look

Comparing the forms and the Club album, I came across all sorts of intriguing information, such as a young woman married at age 15, and references to a young female noted as a ‘companion’ of a male refugee.

The database is now complete as far as it goes, but although all refugees were supposed to be registered, there are around twenty signatories of the Club Albert album, for whom we did not find a registration form, and so information about them is incomplete.  The search continues.

The registration forms are often confusing and muddled.  I suppose that reflects the trauma and awful life changes experienced by those Belgian refugees fleeing to and staying in England during the First World War.  Compiling this information has brought home to me the reality of life as a refugee, having to account for your whereabouts and very existence.  How traumatic it must have been to be separated from your loved ones, lose contact with family, friends and the life you had known, and to make decisions about the future, amidst such an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.

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Extracting detail from newspapers on by 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. <>[accessed 4 March 2017]

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


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