Adjacent to Dunorlan Park in Tunbridge Wells is an oasis of humming activity.
Humming, because it is full of bees and insects visiting over 300 plots hidden behind a hedge and various locked gates. Plots are marked with various signs, honeysuckle rambling around these outside homesteads.
Today and next Saturday the 15th September you can visit this green and vibrant haven and admire marrows, pumpkins, apples and sunflowers whose heads are turning towards the ground heavy with their seeds.
You will be shown around by knowledgeable Dr. Janet Sturgis.
Beds of blackberries, cabbages, beetroots in ordered rows are next to vibrant dahlias the size of dinner plates- yes, really that size and damson trees and cooking apples drop their excess fruits onto the grass below to become compost.
Beautiful, each plot individual, unusual forms of recycling and bordering. Raised beds and those just taken over and showing signs of new ownership are fitting tributes to those who sat under an oak tree in 1930 and dreamed of a community space where those who had no gardens could come and grow produce and wear ties on Sundays. Yes, there were and are regulations. No ties need in the 21st century, but maybe someone could start that trend again.
Now it is a place to come and be, to grow plants, vegetables and flowers, to sit in the sun and watch the sky, to talk to your neighbours who share your passions.
We left, talking to those who came to pick their gladiolas, their apples and rhubarb for the Sunday crumble and I took a backward glance and thought how heavenly to have a wheelbarrow and walk through this special place,
affectionately called the Haha on the edge of this busy town.
There is a waiting list for plots but you can visit this Heritage Open Days.
What started as International Women's Day 2018 in Tunbridge Wells with a quickly scrawled placard and a little reenactment costume snowballed into joining with 30,000 women and girls in London for Processions 2018. Processions 2018 This event was taking place in 4 cities across Great Britain at the same time- London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.
When I first booked an entry I was not sure if anyone would come with me but as usual the Soroptimists at Si Tunbridge Wells: Soroptimist International Tunbridge Wells were up for it. So armed with a new banner which is the more permanent fabric design we boarded the train from Tunbridge Wells armed with Ask me why I am a Soroptimist badges and our postcards and there the conversation started and it continued all day.
People were curious- where were we going and what was a Soroptimist? From a little boy who wanted to discuss the meaning of the colours green, white and purple, to the ladies from Australia and Sevenoaks on the number 9 bus from Charing Cross to Hyde Park, who didn't know us or each other, but they did by the end of our journey- we left them with postcards and a wave.We emerged from the bus momentarily pausing to take in our surrounds greeting other women who were dressed in similar colours as if we have known them for ever. From the young girls from Manchester who had left home at 7 am to travel to London to Ruth who was on her own from Norfolk but soon became one of our group. We all momentarily disappeared into a group of vibrant women all milling around the Dorchester Hotel seeking shade under the dappled trees on a Park Lane cleared of cars.
More and more women arrived, with banners and outfits and smiles and we streamed toward pantechnicons to collect our scarves of green, white and violet, chatting all the time, handing out postcards and sharing stories. It was jubilant, expressive, emotional, hot and freeing. We are so lucky to be able to vote, to celebrate that fact and to be actively encouraged by all the organisations who helped make the day so successful. We have come a long way since women (over 30) were first able to vote in 1918 but still have a long way to go and yet here we were being able to shout about it all in major cities, cleared of traffic to make our voices heard.
Being a Soroptimist is about sisterhood, and yesterday felt very positive. We had found our tribe for that day and met some fellow clubs along the way, Soroptimist International Folkestone, St Albans and Sevenoaks. We also talked to nurses, midwives, parliamentarians, feminist publishers, children, girl guides, seamstresses, WI Groups, journalists, jewellery designers, women on Mum's Net and the list goes on.
We saw amazing banners:
Everyone wanted to see
and heard, others came to support
We all had our quiet moments for reflection
At the end of the non finish line many paid respects at the monuments to Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett.
Even on the train home, when our costumes and banners were dishevelled the day continued as other participants joined us on the train and we heard their stories of community involvement and research.
Why they had come to spend the day with strangers to celebrate the rights of women all started so long ago by one of the first feminists ,Mary Wollstonecraft with her Vindications of the Rights of Woman.
The train dropped us at Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells and continued to Hastings with women talking and making connections.
A great day and as I took my shoes off and rubbed my tired feet I reflected on one image I had seen, a tiny pebble, picked from some beach by an anonymous person and placed in London with the words suffragette painted on. We are all alone, until we find our tribe. On this day with my Soroptimist sisters we were a group who became a larger collective and together we made a noise and celebrated our rights and dreams for the future. When I became a Soroptimist I had no idea what would happen but so far it has been an amazing journey.
A crack has appeared in our kitchen ceiling. I had spent anxious times wondering why? Is there too much weight on the floor above? Do I have too many things? (Well, yes is the answer to that!) Today the first question was answered as the crack seemed larger.
So I pondered out loud, was it possible we had a water leak?
Yes, it turns out, we have.
A leaking water tank and now no hot water. For how long I don't know.
In my frustration I decided to sort out a few drawers and cupboards and so started with my scarves and as I was refolding the ones I no longer wear to donate to the charity shop, I remembered I had ordered a new one!
Here it is-
The white jiffy envelope revealed the most beautifully wrapped retail purchase I have ever received.A personal card and a double tied ribbon box.
Inside the tissue a glimpse of the contents.
The silk cascaded over the bed in all its glorious indigo and gold richness and the irony of situation was not lost on me.
I had been cursing the water and the now urgent need for a replacement water tank and possibly a new ceiling and here I am about to wear water!
This scarf is a based on a photographic impression of the water reflection of the Golden Hinds rigging against a blue clouded sky.
I also received this book for Christmas- How to Tie a Scarf
So I am off to play with my gifts I had put to one side in the busyness of everyday life and remember that old cliche- every cloud has a silver lining.
This year, 2018, I will be visiting local cemeteries and churches in search of the beautiful, the interesting and the poignant. First stop is St Peter's Church Southborough. In the corner near the boundary wall I found what I believe is the only surviving Angel within the grounds. In Memory of Clara, she is framed by beautiful orange lichen, or Xanthoria parietina. British Newspaper Archive research reveals that on the 16th May 1875 Clara, the 'beloved wife of George Delves' died at Grove Lodge, Southborough.
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.
The concert involving Clara Butt and Kennerley
Rumford (her husband, a baritone) was mentioned twice in this edition of the Kent &
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.
John Mullen (2011) suggests music hall songs
were for ‘uniting the British [sic] nation and its allies’
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?
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
6, Dome detail of cherub.
Andre de Vries, Flanders: A Cultural History (New York: Oxford University Press,
2007), p. 17.
Mullen, ‘Propaganda and Dissent in British Popular Song during the Great War.’,
Discours autoritaires et r´esistances aux XXe et XXIe si`ecles, Centre
Interlangues, non pagin´e, (2011), p.6. <https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00682095/document>[accessed
4 March 2017]
suggests Fred Elton’s song is out of copyright:
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
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,
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.
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
Tom Smith’s Crackers
Lanterns and decorations.
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
A respectable shop
advertises its wares. Seasonally marketing products to increase its own
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
Implicit is gender
suggests they need: ‘Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!
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
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
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.
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
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.