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Discover the fascinating people and places of Tunbridge Wells.Take a journey back in time to the 19th and early 20th century. See what the town was like in the days of the horse and carriage and what the people did who lived there. See the vintage postcards and photographs.Read the articles about the different trades and professions and the people who worked in them.Learn about the historic buildings and the town's colourful history.

With the New Year upon us, this month I feature two postcard views of Tunbridge Wells bearing a New Year message. The one above is a postcard by Valentines showing Mount Pleasant Road looking north from its intersection with Crescent Road. In the foreground on the right is John Ward's Calverley Parade later demolished in the 1930's to make way for the Civic Centre. Just past it at the intersection of Monson Road is the Opera House with its domed roof. Note the ladies with the child covered up from head to foot in attire typical of the times and the commercial wagon pulled by a white horse, behind which is a horse drawn fly heading off with a passenger perhaps to meet the train at the bottom of Mount Pleasant Road. My how the view and times have changed! Shown below this image is one of Mount Pleasant Road looking north from its intersection with Grove Hill Road leading up Mount Pleasant Hill to the site depicted in the first featured postcard. In this view one can see the Central Railway Station in the foreground on the left and opposite it is the Weekes shop with the awning and at the corner, south of it,  the Railway Bell Hotel/pub later acquired by Mr Weekes and demolished to make way for an expansion of his shop down to and around the corner of Grove Hill Road. Today the Weekes shop is that of Hoopers, a shop my friend Susan Prince and I enjoyed doing some shopping in during our visit to the town in 2015. Susan and I made many trips up and down the steep Mount Pleasant Hill, stopping as we went to look in the shops that lined it up to Crescent Road. It was a bit of a workout for two seniors walking up and down Mount Pleasant Hill, especially when Susan loaded me down with her shopping bags. I often joked with her saying that we should have packed our hiking boots and that after carrying all those shopping bags that upon my return to Canada my arms seemed a little longer than they were before the trip, stretched by the heavy load being carried. We can laugh about it now but it wasn't so funny then, especially for Susan who broke one of her toes before the trip-OUCH !


The articles on this site are replaced by new ones on the first of the month, so come back and visit this site often. Feel free to copy any text and images of interest to you.Due to the quantity and size of the images in this website users will find that some of them are slow to appear. Please be patient, as they are worth waiting for.Those without high speed internet service will no doubt have to wait longer than others. To move from one page of the website to the next simply click on the page number in the bar at the top of the page-not the "Go To" instruction at the bottom of the page.

Also note that if you attempt to print any pages from this website before the page has fully loaded, some images may not be printed and the layout of the page may be distorted, as the text and images are repositioned during loading. For the best copy wait for the page to fully load.

There is no provision for contacting me from this website. If you wish to contact me I would suggest contacting the Tunbridge Wells Reference Library or the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society who will forward your inquiry to me. Their contact details can be found on their websites.


I am a researcher and writer of articles about the history of Tunbridge Wells and was a member of the Tunbridge Wells Family History Society (TWFHS) until its recent demise. I had been a regular contributer to the TWFHS Guestbook and Journal. I assist others with their genealogical inquiries on various websites such as Rootschat and the Kent & Sussex History Forum. I have had many articles published in various society journals, Newsletters and Magazines in England and Canada. I am decended from three generation of Gilberts who lived in Tunbridge Wells since 1881.

Shown here is a photograph of me taken in July 2015 proudly displaying my T-shirt. I was trained and worked as a Civil Engineer and in the late 1980's changed careers and became the owner of two corporations engaged in General Contracting and the supply of building materials. Upon my retirement in 1998 I devoted my spare time to research,writing and gardening. I lived in southern Ontario from 1950 to 1981 but moved to Thunder Bay,Ontario (about 950 miles north of Toronto) to work as a Supervising Engineer in NorthWestern Ontario. My father Douglas Edward Gilbert (1916-2009) came to live with me in 1983. He had been born in Tunbridge Wells but came to Canada with his parents/siblings in the early 1920's. All but one my relatives (mostly second cousins, none of which have the surname of Gilbert) live in England and some still live in Tunbridge Wells. The only Gilberts from my family line in Canada are me (born in Canada 1950). My dads sister Mabel Joan Gilbert, born in Tunbridge Wells in 1921 died October 2017 in Barrie, Ontario. Her only child Garry Williamson is living in Barrie with his wife and two adopted sons. Since I never got married I am the last of the family with the surname of Gilbert in Canada and England and I am the self appointed genealogist of my family line. Although my greatgrandfather of Tunbridge Wells had three sons and four daughters I am the only surviving descendent with the surname of Gilbert. A complete family tree of my family going back five generations can be found on the Ancestry UK website.

I established this website in 2011. Every month I replace all of the articles with new ones so please come back and visit again. If there are any articles you wish to keep for your records feel free to copy them. There is no archive of older articles on this site but the Tunbridge Wells Library and the Museum retain copies of my articles for their local history files,so please contact them to see them. I am in regular contact with the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society (Chris Jones) who takes an interest in my work and may have some of my articles in his files. Occasionally I republish older articles that have been updated with new information.

On October 9,2014 I was presented with a Civic Society Community Contribution Award in recognition of the contribution that this website has made to the town, especially in the field of history and family history. In the summer of 2015 I had the pleasure of visiting Tunbridge Wells and seeing first hand all of the places I had written about and those which will be featured in future articles. Shown above (left)is a photo taken during this trip at Hever Castle by Alan Harrison in July 2015 in which I am wearing my "I Love Royal Tunbridge Wells" T-Shirt, a slogan which accurately expresses my great interest in the town and its history. Shown with me is my good friend and neighbour Mrs Susan Prince of Thunder Bay,Ontario, who organized the trip,and the lady in dark blue on the right is my second cousin Mrs Christine Harrison of Tunbridge Wells. Christine's grandfather Robert Herbert Gilbert is my grandfathers eldest brother.Christine and her husband were kind enough to drive us around Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area. It was a memorable holiday, and one that will be reported on in various articles of this website. Also shown above right is a photograph of me that appeared in the Kent & Sussex Courier in August 2015 from an article written about my visit to the town.This photograph was taken by the Courier photographer at the Victorian B&B, 22 Lansdowne Road, where I stayed during my visit. A reception was also held on June 30,2015  to commemorate my visit  and my work in writing about the history of the town by the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society in the garden at the home of John Cunningham,who is a member of the Civic Society.John, Chris Jones and some 30 others came out for the reception and afterwards Susan Prince and I had a lovely meal and evening with John and Chris and their wives at John's home.

I hope you enjoy reading about my family and the articles I have written about the history of Tunbridge Wells.


Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: December 1,2018


The history of brass bands and the creation of bandstands in the town for entertainment purposes date back to the Victorian Era (1837-1901) however Military bands date back much further in time. The local Band Committee was responsible for organizing musical events at the towns bandstands, located in the Pantiles, the Calverley Grounds, the Commons, the Grosvenor & Hilbert Recreation Grounds and the St John’s Recreation Grounds.

Although brass bands exist today their popularity waned with the introduction of the radio, television and inexpensive recordings and sadly many of the fine old bandstands, that in most cases were erected in parks, were left in a state of disrepair and eventually torn down. Bandstands were traditionally a quintessential feature of the park and a place that provided both shelter to the band and improved the acoustics of the sound.

A third type of band which had widespread popularity throughout the UK and certainly in Tunbridge Wells was the Salvation Army Band, dating back to about 1879, which was created after recognizing the ‘power of music’ in the advancement of the Salvation Army’s cause.

In this article I report on the activities of the of the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band which as expected is closely linked to the existence and activities of the Fire Brigade itself, as some members of the Fire Brigade were members of the band.  The activities of the Fire Brigade Band were twofold. Firstly they joined with members of the Fire Brigade in in parades and in official events of the Fire Brigade, including, but not limited to parades for the death of a member of the Fire Brigade. The Fire Brigade Bank was perhaps more noticeable from their presence in such events as the annual Hospital Sunday Parade, an event organized to gain financial support to the local hospital. The band also performed in other parades in the town and at fetes, sporting events, flower shows and various other public gatherings where they provided music to entertain the crowd.

The existence of the band is well documented in newspaper accounts of the Kent & Sussex Courier throughout the period of 1902 to 1920. When the band was officially created and when it ended was not definitively established.

Further information on the various bandstands in the town and the general topic of local brass bands and details about specific bands can be found in my article ‘ History of Tunbridge Wells Brass Bands And Bandstands’ dated December 26,2012. Shown above is an undated photograph of the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band.


A website dedicated to listing and reporting on bass bands in England provided no image of the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band but listed it and stated that the band was active from 1902 through the years of WW1.  In the absence of any located written history about the band the researcher undertook a review of local newspapers from the period of 1890 to 1930 to identify the documented existence of the band and its activities. The earliest newspaper report about them was dated 1903 and the last 1916 but as you will see in a later section a postcard showing a drummer in the band was postmarked 1917 suggesting that the end of the band coincided with the end of WW1. Another photo of the band is shown opposite dated circa 1891.  Although the same image as that given in the 'overview' it is somewhat clearer and has the caption from the book 'Tales of Old' by Frank Chapman.

The Courier of  July 25,1902 reported on the Tonbridge Hospital Sunday parade and that a number of bands formed the procession including the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band under Mr Wickens.

The Courier of February 27,1903 reported that “ The annual parade of the Tunbridge Wells and District Fire Brigade took place Sunday. The weather was exceedingly unfavourable. The parade was caught in a heavy downpour”  The Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade band was reported to have taken part in this parade along with others. Although not connected directly to that article shown opposite is a great photo of the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade in Pembury.

The Courier of November 10,1905 reported in part “ Headed by the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band,with whom everybody was well pleased, started from the Village Greemn 6:15, went up to Coleman’s Hatch, through the village to the Rectory, and from there round the bondfire. After a few words from Captain…..”

The Courier of June 26,1908 reported “ High Brooms- The band of the Queens Own RWK Regiment, Ambulance Corps, the Southborough Local Lad’s Brigade Bugle Band and the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band attended, and the following societies….”

The Courier of July 24,1908 reported that the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band  formed part of the Tunbridge Wells Hospital Sunday parade through the town.

The Courier of July 31,1908 reported “Langton and District- The Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band will play selections in the afternoon. Dancing after tea, Village sports events. Admission 2 to 3…”

The Courier of August 6,1909 reported “Flower Show- The Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band played a selection of music during the day and an interesting series of sports was arranged by special committee”. It is believed that this event took place in the grounds of the Spa Hotel for it was often the site selected for the Flower Show put on by the Tunbridge Wells Horticultural Society.

The Courier of June 26,1914 reported “ High Brooms Hospital Sunday…the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band formed part of the parade.”

The Courier of October 23,1914 reported  “Two members of the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band met in their band room on Tuesday evening, when they were visited by three of their members Messrs Usherwood, King and Norman”.

The Courier of June 11,1915 reported on a parade through the town of Tunbridge Wells and that the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band was part of it.

The Courier of July 14,1916 reported on the Southborough Hospital Sunday parade and that among the bands in the parade was the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band.

The Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band frequently participated in local parades and also had the sad duty of performing during upon the death of one of the members of the Fire Brigade on the long slow march from the church to the cemetery. One example of this was the funeral of Captain Edward Westbrook (1853-1906) who passed away April 1,1906.The Kent & Sussex Courier gave a detailed description of his funeral and stated in part “ The funeral procession started at the church on Mount Pleasant Road. First came the police followed by the Fire Brigade Band…” “The Fire Brigade Band which was augmented by members of the Military Band and the Volunteer Drummers with muffed drum, led the group to the strains of the Death March”. Shown opposite is a 1911 postcard by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn on the occasion of the Coronation of King George V in which a band and members of the police and fire brigade (with their bright chrome helmets) can be seen.

A postcard dated 1920  on eBay shows a photograph with the “Caption Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band at the Railway Station” but I was unable to obtain permission to use the image.

Although many articles were found referring to the Fire Brigade none were found pre 1902 and post 1916 making reference to their band.

Given above is a postcard by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold, one of a series of views he produced for the Coronation of King George V in 1911. This image shows members of the police and fire departments and a band proceeding them.


In November 2018 a postcard was offered for sale on Ebay showing a drummer with the Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band. The front and back of this postcard is shown in this section. Although the quality of the image leaves a lot to be desired the name on the drum clearly reads  (under magnification) "Tunbridge Wells Fire Brigade Band".

The postcard was franked in 1917 and sent from “M.B”. to a Mrs Swain of 80 Osborne Villas on St Mary’s Road in the town of Tonbridge. As can be seen from the back of the card there is an ink stamp on the top left that reads “ H. Berry” who was Herbert Berry and the “M.B” at the botton was his wife Mabel Berry.

The Berry family were longtime residents of the town of Tonbridge and it was while there that they became friends with the Swain family. Who the drummer was in the postcard was has not been established but Herbert and his wife did not have a son the young man is too young to be Herbert himself.  He is however most likely to be a family member.

Herbert Berry was born February 3,1881 at Findsbury, Kent, one of ten children born to master baker Thomas Charles Berry (1850-1904) and Jane Emma Berry, nee Fletcher (1849-1913). A 1911 census for the family noted that Thomas and Jane had been married in 1871 and had ten children but only eight were still living in 1911.

The 1881 census, taken at 17 Windmill Street in Findsbury, Kent gave Herbert living with his parentgs and siblings.

The 1891 census, taken at Medway House in Findsbury gave Thomas Berry as a master baker. With him was his wife Jane and eight of their children , including Herbert. Two of Thomas’s sons were working for him as bakers apprencices.

The 1901 census, taken at 1 Barden Road in Tonbridge gave Herbert living as a boarder with Rose Hannah Lauben, a 61 year old widow who was a pastry baker. Herbert was working for her as a journeyman baker. Other relatives of Rose were also there and assisting in the business.

The 1911 census, taken at premises of 6 rooms at 36 Glanville Road in Strood, Rochester gave Jane Emma Berry as a widow and a baker. With her was her son Herbert who was also a baker and two of her daughters who were assisting in the business.

In the 1st qtr of 1912 Herbert married Mabel Snelling (1882-1947) in Tonbridge. Details about their children, if any, were not researched.

Mabel Snelling had been born 1882 in Tonbridge . The 1901 census, taken at 62 Priory Road in Tonbridge gave Thomas Snelling as a blacksmith born 1846 in Tonbridge. With him was his wife Elizabeth, born 1845 at Foots Cray, Kent and five of their children, including Mabel . One of Mabels brothers at that time was working as a postman and another as a railway engine fireman.

The directories of 1918-1922 gave Herbert Berry as a beer retailer at 17 St John’s Road ,Tunbridge Wells. When he and his wife moved to Tunbridge Wells was not established but clearly from the postcard featured they were living in Tunbridge Wells in 1917 and most likely at 17 St John’s  Road. The 1911 census, taken at 17 St. John’s  Road gave Horace John Binskin as the publican of the establishment. His wife Clara Rose was assisting her husband in the business. The census recorded that the premises were of 8 rooms.

A review of directories and other records for 17 St John’s Road noted that it was a pub called The Queens Head. William Brown was the publican from records of 1881 and 1891. The 1903 directory gave Mrs C. Hemaley there  with Jorace Jon Binskin listed as the publican in 1911. He was followed by Herbert Berry who was listed there in 1913 and 1918.No records of the pub were located after 1918.

A directory of 1939 gave Herbert Berry as born February 3,1881 and working as a beer house keeper at 52 Lionel Road in Tonbridge. With him was his wife Mabel given as born March 5,1882 with the occupation of “unpaid domestic duties” Also there was one boarder who was attending school.

Mabel Berry died in Tonbridge in the 4th qtr of 1947. Probate records for Herbert Berry gave him of 73A Golsmid Road, Tonbridge when he died April 13,1973 leaving an estate valued at 637 pounds.

Turning now to Mrs Swain, the recipient of the drummer postcard, the following information was recorded.

The Mrs Swain referred to was Mrs Ann Swain who was born 1869 in Tonbridge, the wife of Charles W.Swain born 1869 in Tonbridge.

The 1881 census, taken at the cottage at Quarry Hill, Woodlands. Tonbridge gave William Swain born 1845 in Tonbridge, with the occupation of railway stoker. With him was his wife Sarah, born 1846 in Pembury and two of their sons, including Charles who was in school.

The 1891 census, taken at Railway Cottage in Westerham, Kent gave Charles Swain as a visitor to the Joy family and working as a stoker on the railway.

In the 4th qtr of 1897 at Tonbridge Charles married Ann Snelling and with her had two children namely (1) Elise S. born August 5,1899 in Tonbridge (2) Ethel M. born October 27,1900 in Tonbridge. The two girls were born as Ashford, Kent.

The 1901 census, taken in Ashford, Kent gave Charles W. Swain as a railway engine driver. With him was his wife Ann and their two daughters.

The 1911 census, taken at 80 St Mary’s Road (the same address as the 1917 postcard) in Tonbridge gave Charles W. Swin as a railway engine driver. With him was his wife Ann and their two children in premises of five rooms. The census recorded that the couple had been married thirteen years and had just the two daughters.

The 1939 listing gave Ann Swain as a widow born August 14,1869 in Tonbridge with the occupation of “unpaid domestic duties”. With her were her two spinster daughters, both of whom were dressmakers.

Ann Swain died at age 93 in the 3rd qtr of 1962 in Tonbridge. Her husband Charles was of 80 Saint Mary’s Road, Tonbridge when he died January 24,1935 at the Pembury Hospital. His widow, Ann, was the executor of his 2,240 pound estate.



Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: December 3,2018


The Tunbridge Wells Vocal Association (TWVA)began under that name in 1870 but that year represents the year in which their name changed from the Tunbridge Wells Choral Society (TWCS),which society, according to the Kent & Sussex Courier, was originally founded in 1852.

Newspaper reports of the Tunbridge Wells Coral Society between 1852 and 1870 reported on their vocal and instrumental performances at a number of places but most notably at  the Sussex Hotel Assembly Rooms in the Pantiles, which performances were well attended and enjoyed by all. During that time members of the society met regularly to practice at the Mechanics Institute on Monson Road and at the old Town Hall on Calverley Road. Shown below is an image of the old Town Hall , original the Calverley Market.

In the 1870’s and 1880’s the TWVA put on ,at various times, grand evening concerts, many of which were organized to raise funds in support of the hospital and during that time its performances were under the conductorship of Nelson Elvy Irons(1836-1894). Mr Irons was  the accomplished organist (from 1867 to 1882) of St Mark’s Church in Broadwater Down.   The TWVA continued to hold their practices at the old Town Hall and on occasion at the Mechanics Institute. During his time the tradition of grand annual concerts began, which were held on most occasions at the Great Hall. A memorial window to Mr. Irons was installed in St Mark’s Church. Further details about him are given in this article.

In 1888 William Wooding Starmer (1866-1927) became the organist of St Mark’s Church and in 1893 he took over as the conductor of the TWVA from Mr Irons. Mr Starmer , who held the position of conductor of the TWVA up to the time of his death ,was well recognized in musical circles as an eminent authority and lecturer on bells, carillons and chimes and the author of many articles related to music. He was also the founder and proprietor of Starmer’s Music Shop in Tunbridge Wells. Further details about him are given in this article.

In researching the TWVA  (formerly the TWCA) newspaper records were reviewed covering the period of 1852 to 1930 and in this article I provide a sample of newspaper accounts about their activities. In the period of 1893 to 1927, during the time of Mr Starmer, detailed accounts were found in the Courier and The Musical Times about the group’s annual concerts, practices, evening and other performances and it was noted that their performances were always well attended and praised by the audience. Although the central core of the TWVA was made up of local citizens with vocal and instrumental talents, their concerts were in almost all cases supported by special vocalists and instrumentalists from outside the community.

In 1904 a rival coral group under the name of the Tunbridge Wells Coral Society was formed under the energetic leadership of Francis Foote, who gave his first performance, Brahms’ Requiem, in May 1905. As the TWVA was still operating in the town a rivalry between the two groups arose and was reported on in the local media. Some mention of Mr Foote and his Coral Society are given in this article as it relates to this rivalty and its impact on the TWVA. No detailed report about Mr Foote and his Coral Society are given however, but details on that topic are well given on the website of the current Tunbridge Wells Coral Society. An article, entitled ‘RTW Choral Society-A Century of Singing’ that can be found online in the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society newsletter of Spring 2004 should also be read.

The Courier of October 6,1922 reported in part that “ After a lapse in music it was decided to revive the well-known Tunbridge Wells Vocal Association at a meeting held at Christ Church Parish Hall…” This suggests that the activities of the TWVA had waned and that a decision was taken to resurrect it.

Local newspaper reports on the activities of the TWVA ,and those  of the Musical Times ,note that it was still going strong in November 1925 under the leadership of Mr Starmer and that in March 1925 a performance was given by the group at the Pump Room. During the 1920’s the group’s practices and meetings were held at Congregational Church on Mount Pleasant Road. It appears from several newspaper reports during the latter part of 1925 that the TWVA was in need of financial support, for at that time , beginning in September, articles appeared announcing  a series if Whist Drives being held “in connection with the TWVA that were held at King Charles Parish Hall. The Courier of December 9,1927 reported that these Whist Drives were still being held at that hall “for the TWVA”. The last newspaper report about the TWVA was that of March 30,1928 when it was reported that Mr Bertram Hudson, the organist at St Mark’s Church was also the conductor of the TWVA, having taken over from Mr Starmer. Some brief information about him is also given in this article.

C.H. Strange in his account ‘ Royal Tunbridge Wells-Past and Present’ (1946) stated “ In musical matters Tunbridge Wells may claim to have done much to foster the taste for good music and to encourage its persuit. During the inter-war years there was no choral society of any size in the town, but interest in choral singing was transferred to the annual Musical Festival, founded by Mrs Wace in 1912. This Festival had come to draw on a wide area of Kent and Sussex for competitions and those taking part in its concerts, at each of which there were some 250 to 300 performers. When WW2 broke out the Festival had to be dropped on account of the back-out, Civil Defence activities etc. The Music Club is another medium by which front-rank performers, vocalists and instrumentalists, are often heard in Tunbridge Wells. This was formed by Mrs Oswald Smith in 1929 and there has been no break in its valuable work.” Mr Strange also refers to the late F.C.W. Hunnibell, the gifted organist of St James’ Church who also conducted a choral society and was the first to get together a band of amateur instrumentalists to give orchestral concerts and its counterpart the Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra arranges monthly concerts at the Assembly Hall. Mr Strange also made reference to Mr Foote and his Coral Society being formed in 1903 rather than 1904 as reported in other sources. He also incorrectly stated that the TWVA was formed in 1863 rather than 1852 but that “ Under the late W.W. Starmer it continued as the Vocal Association and had many successful seasons”.

If the above more formal musical events were not enough to satisfy the musical interests of the community and its many visitors then there were outdoor events by various bands  who were organized by the local Band Committee to perform at the towns various bandstands and there was an annual band competition held in the town, usually in the Calverley Grounds where local bands and those from other communities competed and entertained their large audiences. Musical entertainment in its various forms were an important part of life and in this article I report on the TWVA who helped to satisfy this appetite for music.

Unfortunately no photographs have been found to date of the TWVA but shown above is a 1909 image of the Choral Society of Ipswich.


Nelson formed the Tunbridge Wells Coral Society (TWCA), known as the Tunbridge Wells Vocal Association(TWVA) from 1870 onwards, in 1852. Details about him are given in the next section of this article.

The following three references were found regarding when the society was formed.

1)    As noted in the overview C.H.Strange in his 1946 recollections stated “ The first choral society was founded in 1863…”

2)    The Courier of April 3,1914 stated in part “Another year has rapidly passed bringing with it the continuing annual concert by that veteran society (the TWVA) established as far back as 1863…”. It continues by stating they gave a concert at the Great Hall.

3)    The Courier of October 14,1892 reported in part that the TWVA was established in 1870 but more clearly should have announced that 1870 was actually the year in which name Tunbridge Wells Vocal Association was adopted in place of its former name the Tunbridge Wells Coral Society.

4)    The Courier of February 1922 reported in part that “The Tunbridge Wells Vocal Association began as the Choral Society in 1852.

The report that the society was formed in 1852 is supported by various newspaper accounts from the 1850’s such as the Maidstone Journal of June 5,1855 which reported that a concert of the TWCS with vocalists and instrumentalists was to take place at the Sussex Hotel…”

A number of newspaper reports from the 1850’s and 1860’s were found referring to the existence of this society ,a sample of which are given below.

The Maidstone Journal of May 25 and 29,1855 reported on a concert by the TWCS, vocalists and instrumentalists to be held Monday at the Royal Victoria and Sussex Hotel Assembly Rooms.

The Southeastern Gazette of February 5,1861 referred to two members of the TWCS and that “The concert passed off most satisfactorily”

The Maidstone Journal of December 4,1865 reported that the TWCA gave a mixed concert at the Sussex Hotel Assembly Rooms and that there was a good attendance. Shown opposite is an image of the Sussex Hotel in the Pantiles.

The Maidstone Journal of June 10,1870 reported that the TWCS held a practice at the Mechanics Institute and at the Town Hall with W. Trustam in the chair. Some members of the TWCS kindly gave their services and greatly added to the enjoyment of the evening…”

In the 1870’s several announcements were made under the societies new name The Tunbridge Wells Vocal Association under the conductorship of Nelson Evly Irons (most often referred to simply as “Mr Irons”) . A sample of these articles are given below.

The Courier of April 13,1873 gave in part “ Great Hall-The committee of the TWVA annual concert in aid of the funds of the Tunbridge Wells Infirmary”.

The Courier of April 1 ,14 and 19,1876 referred to the “grand annual concert” of the TWVA “held at the Great Hall in aid of the funds of the Infirmary dispensary Friday April 16th. Shown opposite is a postcard view of the Infirmary ( The General Hospital on Mount Pleasant Road).

The Courier of October 25,1876 referred to “their 6th season” in connection with their annual concert.

Peltons 1876 guide gave “ Vocal Association-During the winter month the members of this association meet at the Town Hall for the practice of vocal music, comprising selections from oratorius,contatas, glees, part songs etc under the conductorship of Mr N.E. Irons, organist of St Mark’s Church Broadwater Down”. 

The Courier of March 29,1878 reported on their concert at the Great Hall. Shown opposite is a view of the Great Hall on Mount Pleasant Road.

The Musical Times of May 1,1879 referred to the annual concert of the TWVA and that “the success it achieved induced the committee this year to fix on the same season for the performance of Handels sacred oratoriua, the Messiah, which took place at the Great Hall on the evening of March 31st before a crowded audience…” The performace was sung with much precision and effect. Mr Irons conducted and Mr Clark (organist of the Rusthall Church) presided at the harmonium”. Throughout the 1880’s a number of newspaper articles referred to the activities of the TWVA, a sample of which is given below.

The Courier of February 13,1880 reported that “the committee of the TWVA informs members of the choir that Mr Irons has arranged for the following extra practices to take place at the Town Hall at a quarter past eight in addition to the usual Monday night practice…”

The Musical Times of April 9,1881 (from an article in the Courier) reported that the TWVA gave their annual concert at the Great Hall March 28th and gave details about the performance and the certain vocalists and instrumentalists “with the conductors baton in the hands of Mr N.E. Irons “ and that the “success of the performance as a whole was entirely due in great measure to the experience and energy of the conductor and the head of an accomplished musician, who imparts a unity of spirit to his choir and band which was essential to the general effect…”

The Courier of March 2,1883 reported on their performance at “the Great Hall Friday evening”.


Details about Nelson given here are from my article entitled ‘ The History of St Mark’s Church-Broadwater Down’ dated November 20,2013. Rev Townsend , who was a vicar of the church stated in his account about the history of St Marks that “Nelson Elvey Irons was the first organist of the church and that a window was erected by subscription to his memory in the church.”

When researching Mr Irons a reference to him was found on the Worthpoint website as it related to the recent sale of a framed painting of a stained glass window (photo opposite). The painting had been sold for an undisclosed amount on December 4,2011 and this was the description given for the item. “ Heaton,Butler & Bayne’s executed original watercolour painting on paper on Heaton,Butler & Bayne’s blindstampsed paper, numbered in ink lower left, inscribed inch scale lower right.Framed in a beautiful revival gilt frame…Painting size-15x11cm; Frame size-27x23.5cm. Heaton,Butler and Bayne stained glass window in memory of Nelson Elvey Irons, Organist of St Mark’s Church,Tunbridge Wells. Heaton,Butler and Bayne were a famous English firm who produced stained glass windows from 1855 onwards.

Nelson Elvey Irons was born 1836 in Canterbury,Kent, one of six children born to John Irons(1810-1864) and Ann Elvey(1897-1850).

The 1841 census, taken at Broad Street,Canterbury, gave John Irons as a lay clerk. With him was his wife Ann, born 1811; their children Herbert, Nelson and Stephen, and one domestic servant.

The 1851 census records Nelson as a pupil of music living with his father(widower), two siblings and an aunt,at 82 Broad Street,Canterbury,Kent.His father at that time was a lay clerk at Canterbury Cathedral. 

Nelsons first wife was Jane Smith, born 1833 at Canterbury.At the time of the 1851 census, taken at St Dunstan Street, St Dunstan,Canterbury, Jane Smith was living with her parents John Smith,age 54, a lesee of tolls employing about 90 men, and Mary A Smith,age 51. Also present were four of Janes siblings. Jane died in the 1st qtr of 1860 at Blean,Kent and was buried March 30,1860 at St Andrew,Canterbury.

In the 1861 census, taken at Rose Cottage,Canterbury Nelson , age 25, widow, is living with John smith, widow and Nelson is given as the son in law of John Smith and working as a professor of music. The 1862 Kelly directory gave “Nelson Elvey Irons, teacher of music, 11 St Dunstan’s Terrace,Canterbury”.

On April 5, 1865 Nelson married Harriet Branford (born 1853 Canterbury) at Cantebury,Kent and with her had a son Arthur Herbert Irons, born in 1868. They also had a son Nelson but it appears he died young.

The 1871 census, taken at 4 Claremont Villas, Claremont Road,Tunbridge Wells gave Nelson as head of the household and working as a music teacher. Living with him was his wife Harriet Irons, nee Brantford, and son Arthur and his brother John  (an undergraduate at Oxford)plus one servant.

In the 1881 census, taken at Meadow Lodge Road,Tunbridge Wells, Nelson is a professor of music. Living with him was his wife Harriet ; their son Arthur; his father in law John Barnford,age 77, formerly a plumber, and one domestic servant.

The 1891 census, taken at 53 Mount Ephraim,Tunbridge Wells, lists Nelson and his wife plus one servant and two boarders with Nelson working as a professor of music.

Directories record Nelson in  1867 at 11 St Dunstan’s Terrace, Canterbury,Kent which means that unless the directory is incorrect he was still living in Canterbury when St Mark’s opened in 1866 and therefore could not be the first organist. However directories are sometimes out of date and so this would not be considered by me to be conclusive proof. The 1874 directory of Tunbridge Wells has Nelson at 2 Claremont Road as a professor of music and in 1882 at 23 Grove Hill Road.

Nelson died in the 1st qtr of 1894 in Tunbridge Wells and was buried in the Tunbridge Wells cemetery on April 5th.Probate records gave Nelson Elvey Irons of St Dunstans Terrace, Canterbury, and that he died April 1,1894 at Hill Lodge, Mount Ephraim,Tunbridge Wells. The executor of his 405 pound estate was Harriet Mansergh (wife of James Mansergh).

In the 3rd qtr of 1898 Harriet Irons married James Mansergh (1834-1905) and she was his second wife. James Mansergh was a civil engineer of note and was high sheriff of Radnorshire in 1901-2 and J.P. for that county as well. Considerable detail about his life and career can be found on the internet on such sites as Wikisource and the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Probate records show that she was of Bryngwy Rhayyader Radonshire, a widow, at the time of her death October 6,1916 at The Links, Newport,Essex. The executor of her 1,427 pound estate was Walter Leahy Mansergh, engineer. She was buried at Newport Essex. Her headstone gave her date of birth as April 26,1843. A photograph of her headstone is shown above.

THE W.W. STARMER ERA 1893-1927

From the 1890’s it can be seen that the TWVA continued to hold weekly practices at the Town Hall and that they continued to hold their annual concerts, in addition to other evening performances.  In 1893 William Wooding Starmer (1866-1927) took over from Mr Irons as the conductor of the TWVA. Details about him are given in the next section of this article.

The Musical Times of October 1,1893 reported on one of their concerts.

Peltons 1896 guide gave “ During the winter season the members of the TWVA meet at the Town Hall for the practice of vocal and instrumental music, comprising oratorios, contatas etc.”

The Courier of March 20,1896 reported that on Monday evening March 23rd the TWVA will hold their Grand Annual Concert”…

In the 20th century the number of reports about the TWVA declined somewhat, but given below are a few examples.

Shown opposite is a programme of their concert to be held at the Great Hall on April 30,1901. At that time Mr. F.W. Stone was the president of the TWVA and the conductor was Mr W.W. Starmer.

Perhaps the greatest, and no doubt troubling event to occur in the early 20th century was the formation of a rival choral society by Francis Foote in 1904 ( C.H. Strange states 1903 as the year). The Civic Society newsletter of Spring 2004 gave “ The Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society was formed in 1904 under the energetic leadership of Francis Foote, and gave its first performance , Brahm’s Requiem, on May 10, 1905 in the Great Hall.  However, there was already an established choir in the town, the Tunbridge Wells Vocal Association, and this led to a certain amount of rivalry, Mr Foote made the mistake of announcing, after that first performance, that he would begin rehearsing Elgar’s dream of Gerontius. The Tunbridge Wells Vocal Association got in first though, giving the piece its first local performance and stealing the audience. Mr Foote was not to be stopped. Over the next thirty five years the Society performed a range of works, in a variety of venues…” The Elgar performance  referred to above was given by the TWVA March 22,1905 by a band and choir of 150 performers. Until 1920 the choir was known as the Francis Foote Choir but in that year its name became The Tunbridge Wells Choral Society. Mr Foote continued as the conductor until he retired in 1942 and subsequent replacements for him continued over the years. Today the this society is still going strong. Shown opposite is one of their programs from November 4,1925.

The Courier of April 23,1902 reported on the annual meeting of the TWVA chaired by then president Mr R. Pelton.

The Courier of May 1,1903 reported on the annual meeting at the Mechanics Institure of the TWVA chaired by Mr F.W.Stone, the president.

The Courier of April 1,1905 reported on the annual meeting of the TWVA at the Mechanics Institute on Tuesday evening with the President Mr. F.W. Stone in the chair. Shown opposite is an image of the Mechanics Institute (the tall building on the far left). Their annual meeting of 1906 was held at the same place.

The Courier of March 20,1908 reported on a “performance by the TWVA to be held at the Great Hall  March 30,1908 at 7:45”

The London Standard of October 11,1909 reported that the TWVA were putting on a performance of “two well -known works-Sir Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius and one by Mendelson”.

No newspaper accounts were found for the TWVA throughout WW1. The last article located was for 1914 and the first in 1922 and therefore one can conclude that they were not active during that time.

The Courier of October 6,1922, which I referred to in the ‘overview’ reported “ After a lapse of music it was decided to revive the once well-known TWVA at a meeting held at Christ Church Parish Hall”. This suggests that the TWVA had declined in the previous years and that it was to be revived.

The Courier of October 5,1923 reported on the annual meeting of the TWVA at the Lecture Hall of the Mount Pleasant Congregational Church (image opposite). The meeting was chaired by Mr Thomas Sleddall, the Hon. Treasurer of the society and supported by W.W. Starmer. The hall referred to was located to the rear of the church itself.  This is the same church shown in the view of the Mechanics Institute above.

The Courier of December 7,1923 reported on a performance given by the TWVA at the Pump Room (image opposite) on Tuesday evening and that the performance was well received and recognized by much applause.

The Courier of March 20,1925 reported on a concert by the TWVA at the Pump Room.  And another reference to their existence appeared in the Courier April 3,1925.

The Courier of September 25,1926 reported ‘ The first in a series of Whist drives in connection with the TWVA was held at the King Charles Parish Hall (image opposite) last Thursday night.”

A February 1926 edition of the Courier referred to  Mr Starmer being the conductor of the TWVA from 1893 up to his death in 1927.

The Courier of April 8,1927 reported on a concert by the TWVA. The Courier of December 9,1927 reported that “ A Whist drive for the TWVA was to be held at King Charles Parish Hall and that there were 22 tables for the event.

The last article located referring to the TWVA was the Courier of March 30,1928 that stated “Mr R.Bertram Hudson (organist at St Marks Church and conductor of the TWVA) was Mrs Clayton’s singing master”.

Mr R. Bertram Hudson F.R.C.O. is found referred to in the Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kent & Sussex Courier throughout the 1920’s  and 1930’s as a pianist and organist who participated in a number of concerts including on announced in the Courier of April 8,1932 “In Aid of Parish Hall” where he played the organ. Obviously he was an accomplished musician. No further research was undertaken by the researcher about his life and career for it appears that this involvement with the TWVA ended sometime in 1928 when the TWVA came to an end.


Details about William were given in two of my articles namely (1) The History of St Mark’s Church-Broadwater Down’ dated November 20,2013 (2) The Life and Times of William Wooding Starmer’ dated August 17,2012.

William Wooding Starmer is in my view noted for four things, firstly he was an undisputed authority in Britain about all things pertaining to bells and carillons, secondly he was the author of many publications and books on the topics of these melodious objects as well as someone well known in musical circles as a man who produced music for the organ. The third thing he is noted for at least locally is that he was an accomplished musician who’s claim to fame in Tunbridge Wells,at least among those who attended St Marks Church, was that he was the organist there. Those in the church congregation must have sat in amazement at the sound of the organ and left being thoroughly impressed by the skill he displayed. Last but not least he became the conductor of the Tunbridge Wells Vocal Association (TWVA)in 1893 and continued in that capacity up to the time of his death. He was spoken of in glowing terms in articles about the TWVA.

William was born November 4,1866 at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, one of four children born to Edwin W Starmer(1827-1893) and Emma Jones, born 1830. His brother George Henry Starmer,born 1851, will perhaps also be familiar to those who study Tunbridge Wells history for he on his own initially and later in partnership with Thomas W. Elliot established a successful business in town as pianoforte dealers on the High Street and in other locations in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

The 1871 census taken at 41 West Street Wellingborough records the Starmer family. Edwin W. Starmer born 1827 at Kettering was a boot maker as was his wife Emma,age 42 and their son George Henry,age 20. Other members of the household included their son Walter,age 18; daughter Morgann,age 14 and last but not least William Wooding Starmer age 4. Of the three sons in the family George Henry gave up bootmaking and went on for a career as a pianoforte dealer ; Walter who was an Engineers apprentice in 1871 went on to be an Engineer and William, the focus of this article, went on to a have a very successful career in the field of music.

The 1901 census taken at #6 Warwick Place,Broadwater Down,Tunbridge Wells recorded William W. Starmer,age 34 as an "organist, music". Living with him is only one domestic servant. On April 9,1901 William married Florence Emily Frances Somerville at Ealing,Middlesex. She had been born March 12,1869 at Somerville, Kentstown, Meath, England. She was the daughter of William Meredyth Somerville(1802-1873) and Maria Georgina Elizabeth Jones(1831-1899).William and Florence only had one child namely William Lionel Meredyth Starmer who later married Marjorie Dudley Lyon and who passed away July 18,1970 at Purley,Surrey.

The following reference to William comes from the Wikepedia website and reads in part " Jef Denyn (1862-1941) was a carillon player from Mechelen,Belgium.In 1922 he founded the world's first and most renouned international higher institute of campanology, later named after him, the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" in Mechelen. During WW1 he, his wife Helen, son and four daughters were among those Belgium refugees who fled to England. The Denyn family were taken in by organist and musicologist William Wooding Starmer in his home in Tunbridge Wells..."

The website of St Lukes Church in Tunbridge Wells provides a good historical account of the church over the years. On this site is the following reference to William. " Gillett & Johnston cast a new chime for the church in 1919.The bells were installed October 12,1919.Of interest is that they were provided with ringing clappers. The tenor is inscribed with the name of William W. Starmer. He was organist at St Peters Church in Tunbridge Wells and lectured in campanolody at Birmingham University. He is described on the bell as "Campanis Perito(expert in bells) on both tenors. However he is a big fan of Taylors (another company that made bells) which leads one to wonder how Gillett & Johnston got these two jobs,particularly in this town". The "Dictionary of Organ and Organists" published 1912 gives the following information about the organ at St Marks's Church and the organist. " Organ built 1867 by Walker;enlarged 1884 and 1896; rebuilt 1906 by Walker;3 manuals,28 speaking stops and 5 other stops.Very fine diapasons and flutes. Organist: William Wooding Starmer F.R.A.M. L.Mus. T.c.L. ".

Another reference to William is found from an online account of the history of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society. The account mentions that this choral society was established in 1870 and that "their first conductor was Mr Nelson Elvey Irons. He had been succeeded by Mr William W.Wooding Starmer F.R.A.M. who was connected with Elliott and Starmer's music shop in town. Shown opposite is a view of Starmers shop opposite the Opera House.

Another local reference to William is found in a recently published book by the title of "The First Lady of Fleet Street; The Life of Rachel Beer". It’s a fascinating account of the life of the first women proprietor of newspapers (The Observer and the Sunday Times) of whom I have written a separate article about for she spent the last years of her life (about 1904 to 1927) in Tunbridge Wells as the resident of Chancellor House in Mount Ephraim. She had been declared insane under pressure from her family and lived in Tunbridge Wells under the care of a personal assistant and two mental nurses. In this book is the following reference to William. " To the three pianos that she had brought from her house in London, Rachel now added a new two-manned chamber organ, which had been especially built by Walker and Sons to suit the acoustics of her lounge, She herself played the grand instrument and she would also invite the organist of St Mark;s Church,William Wooding Starmer, to entertain small groups of guests for the sake of charity...."

In 1926 there was a discussion in London about the Coventry Bells at the Cathedral Church of St Michael. The discussion centered around the problem they were having with the tonal quality of the bells and whether or not they should have them recast. A number of people appeared at the meeting to give their opinions and be questioned. Dr William Wooding Starmer was there who at the time was a professor of music of Campanology at Birmingham University. He said he was a "writer of articles about bells and found the tones of the bells to be irregular".He recommended that the bells be recast.William was often called upon because of his knowledge and experience to offer views as "an expert or authority" in the field of bells and carillons.William was also an accomplished musician and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music.

With respect to William's career as a writer of books and music it can be best summed up by saying he was very prolific especially during the early 1900's. Some of his works include a 1905 publication entitled "Siciliano (Scarlatti, Domenico)". In 1915 he authored a book about music for the organ (a 4 part harmony with organ accompaniment for unison singing). He authored and had published two books about bells namely "Quarter Chimes and Chime Tones" in 1910 and "Carillons" in 1915. Between 1901 and 1917 he had published in the Journal of The Royal Musical Association Journal five works named  Carillons, Bells and Bell Tones, Chimes,Continental Chimes and Chime Tones and The Clock Jacks of England.In 1901 he penned a hymn written and set to music with Mountain James published in 1901 with the title "Sleep, Noble Queen; In Memory of our beloved sovereign Queen Victoria, who entered into rest on Tuesday January 22,1901". William also had two works from April and June 1915 published in "Musical Times". The items I have listed here are only a partial list of his extensive work and were presented only as some examples of his written works. More examples can be found on the internet or in books about him or on the topic of bells,carillons and organ music.

The Loughborough Roll of Honor under the heading of "Carillon Bell Inscriptions" gives William Wooding Starmer F.R.A.M. Honorary Campanoligist. This information was inscribed on a plaque.

William Wooding Starmer passed away October 27,1927.Probate records give that he was of the Lion Hotel,East Grimstead,Sussex who died on the above date at Tweedale Nursing Home in Tunbridge Wells. Probate was to his wife Florence Emily Frances Starmer and his estate was valued at just over 2,400 pounds. William was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Cemetery on October 29,1927. The Chronicle published a lengthy obituary for him which was given in my article ' The Life and Times of William Wooding Starmer'.Shown above is a photograph of his grave. and the Tweedale Nursing Home, a postcard by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn.


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