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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.

This month I feature a "Real Photo Picture Postcard" by James Richards of 85 Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells, showing a view of Garden Road. Mr Richards ran a library and newsagents business but also produced a large number of postcard views of the town in the early 19th century. This postcard was franked Tunbridge Wells September 24,1908 and was sent by Marianna to a Miss Elsie Leedham in Leicester. Above the door of the house behind the group of children is a large sign that reads " J. Brooker Fly Proprietor". This gentleman was John Brooker (1842-1916) who was born at Hoxton, Middlesex. At the time of the 1861 census John and his first wife Lucy were living at No. 1 Calverley Mews behind the Calverley Parade ( later demolished to make way for the Civic Centre in the 1930's). At that time John was working as a fly proprietor. When the 1871 census was taken at 91 Camden Road, John was a fly proprietor. Living with him was his second wife Elizabeth (1842-1916) who was born in Egerton.  Also at that address was John's three brothers-William,age 27, a fly proprietor; Samual,age 17 of no occupation and Thomas,age 14, an errand boy. A directory of 1874 gave John Brooker as a fly proprietor of 90 Camden Road.The 1881 census, taken at 34 Garden Road (the house in the photo above) gave John as a fly proprietor employing three men. With him was his wife Elizabeth ; his brother William (flydriver); Thomas (greengrocers assistant) and Richard,age 22 (flydriver). All of John's brothers had been born in Tunbridge Wells. Directories of 1882 to 1903 listed John Brooker as a fly proprietor of 34 Garden Road.  The 1911 census, taken at 38 Stanley Road,Tunbridge Wells, gave John Brooker as "retired through ill health formerly fly proprietor". With him was his wife Elizabeth. This census recorded that John and Elizabeth had been married in 1868 and that they had no children. John Brooker died in Tunbridge Wells in the 3rd qtr of 1916 and his wife Elizabeth died in the 4th qtr of 1916.


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: September 3,2018


High Rocks (between Tunbridge Wells and Groombridge) has been a popular destination for visitors to the area since the 17th century. High Rocks is a natural and interesting sandstone formation that juts up from the landscape. At the entrance to High Rocks was built a hostelry in the 17th century which was renamed the High Rocks Hotel by the beginning of the 20th century, and is now the High Rocks Inn. This Inn and the rocks themselves have been featured in hundreds of postcards, such as the two opposite.

Upon the rocks of this tourist and climbing attraction can be found evidence of visitations in the form of graffiti and more poetic messages carved into them. Among them are the two below dated 1702 on Bell Rock and another dated March 21,1831 by James Phippen (1786-1862)on Warning Rock, which inscription was inspired by the writings of Dr Isaac Watts (1674-1748) who visited Tunbridge Wells for health reasons and saw the High Rocks in the 1700’s.

(1) Bell Rock                        1702

                   This scratch I make that you may know

                   On this rock lyes the beauteous Bow;

                    Reader, this Rock is the Bow's Bell,

                    Strike't with thy stick and ring his knell."

 (2) Warning Rock 

                     Infidel! who, with thy finite wisdom,

                     Wouldst grasp things Infinite, and dost    become

                      A scoffer of God's holiest Mysteries,

                      Behold this Rock, then tremble and rejoice,

                      Tremble! for HE who formed the mighty mass,

                      Could, in His justice, crush the where thou art:

                       Rejoice that still His mercy spares thee.

                                              March 21,1831    J. Phippen

Bell Rock was located near Warning Rock. The postcard shown opposite of Warning Rock shows the Phippen inscription and to the right of it is a sign with an arrow pointing to Bell Rock. Shown above is a postcard with the caption "Bell Rock's but actually shows Warning Rock.

The central focus of this article is on the 1831 inscription by James Phippen who was a resident of Tunbridge Wells from the late 1820’s to the  1840’s and worked as an accountant, journalist, newsagent, as well as the editor of “The Visitor” and various guide books of Tunbridge Wells by Colbran. Later in his career he moved to Maidstone  and produced guides of Maidstone, Rochester and Folkestone. He had an interesting and financially troubled career and died July 29,1862 (registered at Medway). This article also provides information about Dr Isaac Watts, who’s writings were the inspiration for Phippen’s inscription.

Further information about High Rocks can be found in my articles ‘ The History of the High Rocks Hotel’ dated January 27,2013 and ‘High Rocks Lake’ dated August 25,2016. Both of these articles include a large number of postcard views of the hotel,the lake and the famous rocks.

JAMES PHIPPEN (1786-1862) 

Details about the life and career of James Phippen were given in my article ‘ The Life and Times of James Phippen’ dated October 30,2017. For that reason only an overview is given below. Shown opposite is a print from 1864 showing the Phippen inscription and below are a sample of postcards showing Warning Rock, one of which dated from the 1860’s showing a man wearing a stovepipe hat standing at this rock. The Phippen inscription is still visible today although somewhat weathered over time.

James Phippen (1796-1862) was born in Bristol, Somerset, the son of William Phippen(1765-1819), an accountant, and Sarah Anne Phippen, nee Mitchell(1769-cira 1820.

James Phippen came from a long line of Phippen Quakers in Bristol, the Quakers having  established themselves in great numbers in Bristol since 1654. A review of genealogical records for Bristol shows members of the Phippen clan in all manner of occupations with one Robert Phippen becoming a Sheriff and Mayor of Bristol in 1840. Phippen Street in Bristol was named after Mayor Robert Phippen. Maps illustrating the distribution of the Phippen clan show the largest concentration of them in England lumped together in Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire.

James became noted as an accountant, bookseller, stationer, journalist, printer, and newspaper agent throughout his career. In the 1830’s up to 1841 he lived and worked in Tunbridge Wells and began ‘The Visitor” in 1833, stated to be Tunbridge Wells first newspaper (although not technically a newspaper).

While in Tunbridge Wells he had a shop at No. 1 Montgomery Place and lived in various places in Mount Sion, Grosvenor Road and Monson Road. He had been hired by John Colbran, the publisher of Colbrans Guides, as an editor and the name of James Phippen appears as such in his guides of Tunbridge Wells. He also wrote an account about the installation of The Grove in the Common.

Throughout his life James Phippen experienced financial troubles, having to borrow money from a bank and others in the 1820’s, which debt he could not repay and had to be bailed out by his siblings.In 1838, while a resident of Tunbridge Wells he went bankrupt, his case appearing in the London Gazette and The Jurist. In 1842 while in Maidstone he went bankrupt again and it appears that he may have spent time in a debtors prison in London.

In 1842 James was living with his wife Elizabeth and two children in Maidstone and was still there at the time of the 1851 census. By 1861 he was living in Rochester where he died in 1862 and where his wife died also. His son James Frederick Phippen (1827-1872), born in London, went on to work with his father as a stationer, bookseller and printer under the name of J & JF Phippen and carried on his father’s business after his father’s death.

His obituary, which appeared in The Gentlemans Magazine summed it all up by stating “ Mr James Phippen, who died July 29,1862 was well-known for years past in connection with the newspaper press, and was the author of many local publications relating to Kent & Sussex. He was born in Bristol, where his family occupied a very respectable position among the citizens and he was widely known in Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells, Rochester and Folkestone, the history of each of which has been illustrated by his pen. His latest work was recently noticed in our pages”.

Apart from his name appearing on various guide books and other publications, perhaps the most notable local record of Phippen’s  existence are the words carved on Warning Rock, at High Rocks (see the Introduction) dated March 21,1831.  James of course was not the carver of the words himself but the author of them. He had, at considerable expense and trouble arranged with a local stonemason to travel to High Rocks to chisel his words into the stone.

One has to wonder what Phippen’s motivation was for having this work done. Was it his intention to have his name preserved in stone for all to see, or was the message conveyed in the carving of greater importance. It is clear, as several 19th century accounts reflect, that Phippen had drawn upon the earlier writings of Dr Isaac Watts to convey his message. Phippen was a devoutly religious man and the religious writings of Dr Watts would have been familiar to Phippen.  In a later section I report on Dr Isaac Watts and his writings as they relate to Phippen’s message. Shown above is a postcard No. 56 showing Phippen's inscription by Tunbridge Wells photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn.


The name of the stonemason who did the carving has not been preserved. Pigots 1824 directory of Tunbridge Wells did not list any stonemasons in the town but Pigots 1840 directory listed the following, (1) George Cole, stonemason and builder, Calverley Road (1) William Jeffery, the Common (3) Thomas M’Swiney, Essex Place (4) Jabez Scholes, stonemason and statuary, Mount Pleasant (5) Edward Thorpe, stonemason and builder, Grange yard. 

Of these, the most likely stonemason who did the carving for Phippen was Jabez Scholes who’s work was well known in the town regarding the construction of buildings in stone( such as the Congregational Church 1845-1848 and the terraces  at 6-14 York Road in 1847) but also his work in statuary (such as the George Whitfield monument circa 1869) and the carving of headstones in the Woodbury Park Cemetery , a skill necessary for carving Phippen’s words on Warning Rock.  

From my article ‘ The Congregational Church-Mount Pleasant Road’ dated November 27,2012 is the following information about Jabez Scholes (1803-1875) who came from a strong Methodist family.

The Tunbridge Wells stonemason Jabez Scholes is often credited, as the designer of the Congregational Church on Mount Pleasant Road but it has been established that he was the stonemason that undertook its construction. The website of “Wikepedia” states “ Jabez  may have been the original architect of the large classical-style chapel erected for 3,700 pounds in 1845-1848”.Peltons 1912 directory further states “ Jabez Scholes Congregational Church, York Road/Mount Pleasant was built 1845-1848.The stonemason built the first houses in York Road (terrace No’s 6-14 York Road)”.

In the book of Charles Hilbert Strange is given the following; “ The name of the architect is unknown, if indeed any professional man was employed at all. It is possible the plans were drawn by Jabez Scholes, the stonemason to whom the erection of the building was entrusted. This worthy forerunner of a long line of devoted Church Secretaries and Sunday School workers enjoyed a considerable reputation as a master stonemason. Whatever may be said in criticism of the interior, no one can withhold his admiration of the exterior, which is well proportioned and correctly detailed…”

So what is known about Jabez Scholes? Well he is known to have been a resident of Tunbridge Wells since the 1830’s  and is found in the town in Pigots 1840 directory. In Kelly’s 1862 directory he is found at Camden Road. He was as that time just one of three stonemasons in the town, the others being Thomas Harland on London Road and Henry Card on Stone Street. In the 1867 Kelly directory the only stonemasons listed in Tunbridge Wells are Jabez Scholes a marble and stone worker on Camden Road ,Thomas Harland, a stone an monumental mason on London Road, and Henry Card at Garden Road and Victoria Road. Card and Harland are still found in 1874 but Jabez Scholes is not.

Jabez Scholes was born October 25,1803 at Mosley,Yorkshire. He was one of 10 children born to David Scholes(1784-1850), a stone mason /dealer, and Elizabeth Scholes, nee Dickinson born 1779.Jabez was baptised November 27,1803 at Morley, the ceremony being conducted by W. John Stamp. On July 21,1823 he married Mary Bryerley(1803-1841), one of four children born to James Bryerley  and Betty Bryerley,nee Anderton. She had been born April 20,1803 at Wigan.Lancashire and was baptised May 15th of that year.With Mary Jabez had two children namely Ellen(1831-1838) and Jabez (1834-1893). His son Jabez also became a stonemason.

Sometime in the late 1830’s the Scholes family moved to Tunbridge Wells and Jabez started his business in the town. Among the siblings of Jabez were brothers Adam(1811-1871) and Paul who also became stonemasons. It is known that his brother Adam came to Tunbridge Wells, perhaps a short time after Jabez, and it is believed, with some degree of certainty, that Adam assisted Jabez in the construction of the Congregational Church and perhaps with other projects . A complete list of projects attributed to Jabez is beyond the scope of this article but he is known to have made many monuments in the Woodbury Park Cemetery. Jabez is also well known as being the stonemason who built circa 1847 the first houses on York Road.They were constructed on leased land owned by the Rev. Benjamin Slight with addresses of No 6 to 14 York Road, which were listed by British Heritage as a Terrace of five houses  on August 2,1974.

Church records give the following; (1) Jabez Scholes of Alpha House, Grosvenor Road, a stonemason,admission March 1832 (2) Sarah Scholes(wife) of alpha House, Grosvenor Road admission April 1836.

The 1841 census, taken in Tunbridge Wells records Jabez as a stonemason but by the time of the census his wife Mary had passed away. On December 10,1846 Jabez remarried, this time to Sarah Stapley(1813-1875).The marriage took place in St Peter and St Paul Tonbridge. The marriage was witnessed by Henry Stapley,Margaret Jane smith and Fanny Stapley.With her he produced a daughter Annie(1854-1929) and daughter Ellen (twin sister to Annie).Sarah Stapley  had been born October 20,1813 in Tunbridge Wells and was baptised the same day.She was the daughter of Michael Taylor Stapley,born 1785,an upholsterer,  and Sarah Stapley, nee Chapman, born 1785.An 1840 Pigots directory lists a total of five stonemasons in Tunbridge Wells, among which is Jabez Scholes (stone and statuary) with premises at Mount Pleasant.

In the 1851 census taken at Lelwles(sp) Cottage, Tunbridge Wells, Jabez is given as age 47, a builder employing 10 men. Living with him is his wife Sarah, age 47, and two servants. The 1858 Melville directory records Jabez as a stonemason at Jack Wood’s Lane. The 1861 census taken at Alpha House, Tunbridge Wells records Jabez ,age 57, a builder and stone mason. Living with him was his wife Sarah,daughter Annie and two servants. The 1871 census taken at 2 Vale Place, Tunbridge Wells, records Jabez,age 67, a retired builder. Living with him is his wife Sarah and daughters Annie and Ellen born 1855.

On December 5,1875 Jabez passed away while residing at #1 Richmond villas, Upper Grosvenor Road,Tunbridge Wells. Probate records confirm this information and state his estate was valued at under 1.500 pounds.Jabez passed away as a result of chronic asthma and bronchitis, a condition he had suffered from for many years but what finally did him in was nervous shock for 6 days and congestion of the lungs for 4 days.His death was registered by Ruth Kemp of Crescent Road who was present at his death. His wife Sarah died November 30,1875 age 62 years at Richmond Villas, Upper Grosvenor Road,Tunbridge Wells. She had died of heart disease,pneumonia and bronchitis.Her death was registered by E. Moore of 3 Baltic Road, Tunbridge Wells who was present at her death.It was perhaps the shock of his wifes death that resulted in the shortened life of Jabez.Jabez was buried at St Alban’s Church,Frant on December 9,1875.The wives of Jabez were also buried at St Alban’s Church (image above).

DR ISAAC WATTS (1674-1748) 

Isaac Watts (17 July 1674 – 25 November 1748) was an English Christian minister (Congregational), hymn writer, theologian, and logician. He was a prolific and popular hymn writer and is credited with some 750 hymns. He is recognised as the "Godfather of English Hymnody;" many of his hymns remain in use today and have been translated into numerous languages.

Much has been written about Dr Isaac Watts (image opposite) and for that reason only an overview of his life and career are presented here with a particular emphasis on his visitations to Tunbridge Wells; his viewing of the High Rocks; and his writings about them, the latter being drawn upon by James Phippen in writing the words of the inscription he had placed on Warning Rock, a name derived from the text of the inscription. Some refer to Warning Rock as the Hanging Rock but that name applies more accurately to the overhanging rock perched on top of Warning Rock.

Isaac Watts was born in Southampton. His father kept a boarding-school at Southampton and was a deacon at a chapel and a stedfast Dissenter and on more than once occasion was placed in prison whilst his property was sequestrated.

Isaac had a classical education at King Edward VI School, learning Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and from an early age displayed a propensity for rhyme.

Watts could not attend Oxford or Cambridge because he was a noncomformist and these universities were restricted to Anglicans—as were government positions at the time. He went to the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690. Much of the remainder of his life centred on that village, which is now part of Inner London.

Following his education, Watts was called as pastor of a large independent chapel in London, Mark Lane Congregational Chapel, where he helped train preachers, despite his poor health. He held religious opinions that were more nondenominational or ecumenical than was common for a nonconformist Congregationalist. He had a greater interest in promoting education and scholarship than preaching for any particular sect.

Watts took work as a private tutor and lived with the Nonconformist Hartopp family at Fleetwood House on Church Street in Stoke Newington. Through them, he became acquainted with their immediate neighbours Sir Thomas Abney and Lady Mary. He eventually lived for a total of 36 years in the Abney household, most of the time at Abney House, their second residence. (Lady Mary had inherited the manor of Stoke Newington in 1701 from her late brother Thomas Gunston.)

On the death of Sir Thomas Abney in 1722, his widow Lady Mary and her unmarried daughter Elizabeth moved all her household to Abney House from Hertfordshire, and she invited Watts to continue with them. He particularly enjoyed the grounds at Abney Park, which Lady Mary planted with two elm walks leading down to an island heronry in the Hackney Brook, and he often sought inspiration there for the many books and hymns that he wrote.

Watts lived at Abney Hall in Stoke Newington until his death in 1748; he was buried in Bunhill Fields. He left an extensive legacy of hymns, treatises, educational works, and essays. His work was influential amongst Nonconformist independents and religious revivalists of the 18th century, such as Philip Doddridge, who dedicated his best-known work to Watts. A photo of Watts statue at the Abney Park Cemetery is shown above.

Of all his work some examples that apply to the inscription of James Phippen are referred to below. The first is Watts Revelations 6  15-17, the original text of which reads “ And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond-man, and every free-man hid themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” This text is referred to as “Discourse V-The Wrath of the Lamb”.

The ‘New International Version’ of the above reads “ Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

The Cyclopedia Biographica (pg 1762) on The Holy Scriptures gave “ Revelation 6 15-17 Isaac Watts D.D. The Wrath of the Lamb-The vain refuge of sinners, or, a meditation on the rocks near Tunbridge Wells”.

From an early age Isaac Watts experienced health problems and as noted in the book ‘ Isaac Watts; A lifes Work (1674-1748)’  his doctor recommended that he go to Tunbridge Wells to restore his health. It appears that his first visit to Tunbridge Wells was in 1712 and from that time up to the time of his death he made an annual pilgrimage to the town to “take the waters “ and receive the benefits of the clean air and favourable climate. During that time he frequented the Pantiles and came to know Dr Samuel Johnson who is shown with others in the Pantiles in the 1748 image opposite. On at least one occasion he took a carriage or rode a horse to High Rocks and while there marvelled at the rocks and captured his views in his “ Meditation on the rocks near Tunbridge Wells”.

One good source of information on Dr Watts in general, but more specifically his visits to Tunbridge Wells, is found in the book ‘ Isaac Watts, His Life and Writings, his homes and friends’ published in London by the Religious Tract Society in 1875.  In part it states “ The place to which we frequently find Watts retreating for the benefit of his health was Tunbridge Wells”….”The place exited his imagination and we read how Watts regarded it”. “The rocks of Tunbridge seemed to Watts so wild and fearful that they furnished him with a subject for a sermon, “ On the vain Refuge of Sinners,” from the text reciting the condition of those who said to the mountains and rocks, “ Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne.” The sermon is expressly called “ A Meditation upon the rocks near Tunbridge Wells” and Watts says: “ When I see such awful appearances in nature, huge and lofty rocks hanging over my head, and at every step of my approach they seem to nod upon me with overwhelming ruin; when my curiosity searches far into hollow clefts, their dark and deep caverns of solitude and desolation, methinks, whilst I stand amongst them, I can hardly think myself in safety, and, at best, they give a sort of solemn and dreadful delight. Let me improve the scene to religious purposes, and raise a Divine meditation. Am I one of those wretches who shall call to these huge impending rocks to fall upon me? “

The aforementioned book also gave “ It was in the summer of 1712, when Watts was at Tunbridge Wells, that he wrote the following lines in honour of Lady Sunderland, one of the daughters of the Duke of Marlborough…..”  The book records that Watts frequented the coffee-house in the Pantiles where “I entertained some of my friends with these lines”. His verse was entitled “ Ode to Lady Sutherland, 1712”.

It is clear that Isaac Watts visit to Tunbridge Wells ,and more specifically to High Rocks, left a lasting impression on him and no doubt James Phippen had the same experience and for that reason commissioned the inscription on Warning Rock that visitors to the place have seen and read since it was carved into the rock in 1831. Shown above is a modern view of Warning Rock on which Phippens inscription is still visible.



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

Date: August 30,2018


The name of Cadogan dates back to the early 19th century in Tunbridge Wells when Lady Louisa Cadogan resided in a grand home on large landscaped grounds on the north side of Crescent Road opposite the Calverley Hotel.

The name “Holly Bank” was given to this home by Lady Louisa Cadogan who resided there with her husband from time to time, and used it as the families country home or summer residence. Lady Cadogan had married Rev. William Marsh in 1840 and she died in 1843.In the 1830’s Holy Bank was referred to on maps as” Lady Louisa Cadogan’s “ Upon her death Holly Bank was sold. In the 1840’s the part of the grounds extending down to Crescent Road was sold off and became part of the working class housing development known as Hervey Town, as was part of the church vicarage property.

After the demise of Lady Louisa Cadogan Holly Bank passed through a number of different hands, with wealthy sprinsters and widows being the predominant occupants of it.

In 1905 Edward Jeffrey Strange, the managing director of the local building firm Strange & Sons purchased the old vicarage next to Holly Bank and renamed it Cadogan House. Even though Lady Cadogan was long gone her name continued with references in Tunbridge Wells to the residential development of Cadogan Gardens (1906), the Cadogan Playing Fields on St John’s Road(1928), Cadogan Villa at 68 St James Road (circa 1896)and Cadogan House (a large office building constructed on Calverley Road in the 1990’s). Other examples of the name Cadogan being in use in the town can be found.

In the post WW II era Holly Bank and other buildings were demolished to make way for a large ground floor car park which itself became the site in October 1968 of the town’s first multi-storey car park.

It was Edward Jeffrey Strange who donated four acres of  land to the town in 1928 for use as playing fields on St John’s Road and who was responsible for naming it the Cadogan Playing Fields.

The official opening of the Cadogan Playing Fields took place on July 27,1928 during the two hours that Edward, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, was in Tunbridge Wells. Edward had first attended the Diamond Jubilee of the Tunbridge Wells and South-Eastern Counties Agricultural Society  agricultural show (an annual event) at the Showgrounds on Eridge Road.  He had lunched with the Marquis and Marchioness Camden at Bayham Abbey before going by motorcar to the show. Along the route from the agricultural show to the Cadogan Playing Fields, the streets were lined by cheering crowds and upon his arrival at the playing fields was met by the Mayor and Edward Jeffrey Strange. A special  souvenir supplement marking this historic event was given in the Courier and reported on in an article in the Courier July 27,1928.

Since its creation the Cadogan Playing Fields has been in continual use for many events, most notably for sports, and today consists of two football pitches and change rooms.

Shown above (very top)is a photograph taken at the official opening of the Playing Fields in which can be seen the Prince of Wales passing through the gates to the site. As noted in my article ‘The Holly Bank Joinery Works’ dated  August 27,2018 the gates shown in this image were made by that company of English Oak from their large joinery premises on Crescent Road. The managing director of that company at the time was Alexander Findlay (1870-1928) who before going into business for himself worked many years as a foreman for Strange and Sons. Shown below this image is another photograph of the Prince of Wales in the Pantiles during a visit to the town in 1922. The Prince of Wales was but one of many Royal visitors to the town, but seems to have been a particular favourite and always heartily welcomed. There used to be a pub in the town called the Prince of Wales at 9 Camden Road.

In this article I provide some brief information about Edward Jeffrey Strange, who donated the land; information about the playing fields site and use and details with images of the official opening of the playing fields.  


The following information about the Strange family comes from a recent edition of ‘The Town Crier’.

“E. J. Strange (image opposite) was born in 1869 and his maternal grandfather, William Hilbert, was the engineer behind the Calverley Waterworks, on which Grosvenor and Hilbert Park is founded.

His paternal grandfather, also called Edward Jeffrey Strange, was a plumber by trade, starting work in 1824 in Pembury. In 1856 he built the impressive building, No 8 London Road, as this work premises, the business expanding into all building trades as Tunbridge Wells grew in size. His wife, Mary, ran a hosiery shop at 9 The Parade, The Pantiles, and the family lived first, above the shop, and then at Nevill Lodge, more or less where Union Square now is. They had ten children, and the fifth, Charles Matthew Strange carried on the family business. Charles married Lydia Hilbert, William’s daughter and they lived at 4 Cumberland Gardens. Lydia died not long after giving birth to their fourth child. Within three years Charles had remarried, to his second cousin Mary Anne Price.”

“The younger E.J. Strange was apprenticed as a joiner and carpenter and went on to became Managing Director of the family building firm, Strange and Sons. He was involved in several trade organisations, and Tunbridge Wells activities. He was one of the founders of the Tunbridge Wells Rotary Club, and a Freemason, where he was a donor to various charities. In 1929 he was elected Councillor for the South Ward, and he became Mayor in 1936. He was created a Justice of the Peace in 1925 and an Alderman in 1939. He was a member of the Mount Pleasant Congregationalist Church, now known to us as Cotswold and Ismail shops. As well as all the other activities he was involved in, he still had time to give to the Church, serving as a deacon, treasurer and a supporter of the Sunday School.”

“In 1928 he donated the land known as Cadogan Playing Fields, in St John’s Road, and in 1931 a large part of Charity Farm to the Local Authority to form the parkland to be known as Hilbert Recreation Ground, in memory of his mother, Lydia. In 1933 he was appointed a life member of the National Playing Fields Association.”

“In 1894 he married Maude Helen Coulson, and they lived in Cadogan House in the centre of the town, where the Crescent Road car park now is. They had four daughters, the eldest two moving to Australia. Maude died in February 1940, and Edward on December 24th 1941. They are buried together in Tunbridge Wells Cemetery, next to the grave of Maude’s mother Annie and her elder sister Alice. The graves are as photographed, there are no headstones, but lettering around the rectangular sides. This has meant that over the years some of the lettering has been obscured, most notably that of Edward Jeffrey Strange J.P. There are several other members of the Strange family at the cemetery, including Edward’s brother, Charles Hilbert Strange, and their father Charles Matthew Strange, who lived to the grand age of 86.”

Two business advertisments were found pertaining to the Strange family in 1928 namely (1) Strange & Sons, building contractors, decorators, heating, lighting,sanitation, at 34 London Road (business established 1824) (2) Strange and Sons Electrical Engineering Ltd, 34 London Road, Tunbridge Wells; 37 High St Sevenoaks and High Street Cranbrook.


The Kent & Sussex Courier ran an article dated July 27, 1928 entitled “ The Prince’s Visit” which reported on his activities at the Agricultural Show and at the opening of the Cadogan Playing Fields, and other events. The following information is from that article.

Tunbridge Wells was in a gay mood on Wednesday for the visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and the distinguished visitor was given a right royal welcome. The Prince, having lunched with the Marquis and Marchioness Camden at Bayham Abbey, Lamberhurst, motored to the annual show of the Tunbridge Wells and South-Eastern Counties Agricultural Society, which is celebrating the diamond jubilee this year. Although his stay in the town lasted only two hours, the Prince managed to see a great deal within that time and to declare open the new playing field at St John’s, which was generously presented to the town by Mr. E.J. Strange, J.P. The Large crowds at the Show Ground gave the Prince an enthusiastic welcome, and he was obviously pleased with the reception accorded him. The Lord Lieutenant of Sussex, Lord Leconfield, and also the Marquess of Abergavenny, Mayor Guy Larnach-Nevill, Sir George Courthope and others had the honour of receiving the Prince, and a particularly pleasing feature of the visit was the presentation to him of the winners of prizes for long service on one estate or farm or with one master or mistress.

The diamond jubilee show created various records, and an exceptionally high standard was reached in many of the classes. The cups and medals were, as usual, eagerly competed for, and the long list of prize winners contains many well-known names……… (see the original article for the full account). Shown above is the front and back of a press photograph of the Prince at this show.

Regarding the Playing Fields the Courier reported “ AT THE PLAYING FIELD’- The streets were lined with cheering crowds as the Prince drove to St John’s and here a vast congregation of people had assembled. The Mayor and Miss Parsonage received the Royal visitor, and there was general regret that the Mayoress was not well enough to have the honour of meeting the Prince. He evinced great interest in the Cadogan Playing Field, and talked with Mr. E.J.Strange for some time in regard to various details of Mr. Strange’s most acceptable and useful gift. The school children, the Guides and the Scouts and the Special Constables were all there. It was an inspiring scene with over two thousand children cheering the Prince. The arrangements for the ceremony had been admirable made, and the visit of the Heir to the Throne will be long remembered. It was a historic occasion, and in order that it may be worthily recorded, readers will find as part of the ‘Courier’ this week a special souvenir supplement. The varied and comprehensive selection of exclusive photographs of the Prince’s visit will, we are sure, be welcomed, and the supplement will be treasured and preserved in hundreds of households”.

From the same edition of the Courier was a more detailed account under the heading of ‘ Cadogan Playing Field’ which I give below.

“ The Prince of Wales,at the request of the National Playing Fields Association, stopped on his return journey from the Show Ground to open the Cadogan Playing Field in the St John’s Road. This thoughtful action on the part of his Royal Highness was greatly appreciated, and afforded another opportunity for crowds to see and cheer the most popular young man in the Empire.”

“It was in November last that Mr E.J. Strange wrote to the Town Clerk and pointed out that during the Mayoralty of Alderman C.E. Westbrook he and Captain the Hon. W.S. Cornwallis made strong appeals on behalf of the Kent Playing Fields Association. In response to those appeals Mr Strange offered to the Corporation the gift of approximately four acres of freehold land at St John’s, adjoining the Tunbridge Wells Bowling and Tennis Ground for the purpose of primarily providing a playing field for boys and girls of the present (or future) school age”.

“ Mr Strange added that St. John’s Recreation Ground appeared to admirably provide tennis and other forms of recreation for adults, but he believed so greatly in the value of organized games for the school boy and school girl that a playing field appeared to him to be4 a necessity. He did not wish to minimize the value of school playgrounds, when he suggested that a playing field might be more valuable as a means of cultivating the ‘team spirit’ upon which educationalists laid so much stress”.

“ It was unanimously decided to accept Mr Strange’s offer with sincere thanks, and the Town Clerk was instructed to convey to him the Council’s deep appreciation of his generous and public-spirited action”.

“The Playing Field stands well back from the main road and adjoins the Tunbridge Wells Bowling and Tennis Grounds. The Field is approached by a wide path on the right of which is a green, which was occupied on Wednesday by the large crowd of guests who had been invited to witness the ceremony”.

“ The Field is entered through large gates which hang on stout posts by black iron hinges. The gates, which were the gift of Mr. E. J. Strange, are made of seasoned oak. They have copper plate, on which are the words “ The Cadogan Playing Field” in raised letters”.

“ There are excellent paths running through the field, one leading to the girls’ and boy’s accommodation which has been erected on the right. The structure is of brick with a tiled roof, and has stout oak pillars in the front. The paths are of bitumen covered with Kent ragstone”.

“All around the Field and inside were gaily decorated posts with numerous rows of flags and other decorations. The shrubs which are dotted around the Field and along the paths add greatly to the attractiveness of the scene. During the morning and the early part of the afternoon workmen were busy watering the grounds and putting the finishing touches to the decorations”.

“There is a cricket pitch already laid out on the field and part is to be reserved for football later”.

“Members of the local Division of St John Ambulance were on duty, including Corporal C. Baresfield (Divisional Secretary), Private H.A. Stonham and Private F.W. Smewing. The Vulcan ambulance belonging to the Brigade was also on duty patrolling the road to and from the Playing Field, and the Ambulance motor cycle combination was also used”.

“Early in the afternoon a large crowd assembled along both sides of St John’s Road, and especially around the entrance to the playing fields. There were hundreds of children, many waving flags, and both adults and children watched with great interest the arrival of those who had been invited to witness the ceremony”.

“ An amusing incident was provided for the crowd. A carpet of red felt had been laid at the entrance to the path leading to the gates, and an attempt was made by the workmen and others to prevent those who arrived early from walking on it in order that the carpeting might be in better condition when the Prince appeared. Very few people succeeded in avoiding the cloth, and much laughter was caused by the attempts of ladies and gentlemen to get round the cloth and avoid the “wrath” of the workmen, one assumed a quite comical expression every time marks were made on the cloth”.

“ About 3.30 contingents of Girl Guides and Boy Scouts arrived, and took up their positions along the path leading to the gates of the field. There were 120 Scouts, 120 Guides, 25 Brownies, and 25 Cubs. Immediately at the entrance leading from the pavement Guides and Scouts were stationed with banners. There were six Guide banners and six Scout banners”.

“ Commissioner Stanley White was in charge of the Scouts and Commissioner Miss Evelyn Barnes was in charge of the Girl Guides”.

“ About four o’clock the Mayor and Miss Parsonage arrived and stood at the entrance for a while chatting with various fiends. Shortly afterwards Colonel and the Hon. Mrs Spender-Clay arrived and were greeted with cheers. They shook hands with the Mayor and Miss Parsonage and Mrs Spender-Clay had a brief conversation with Miss Evelyn Barnes”.

“Afterwards the Mayor and Miss Parsonage chatted with Miss Barnes, while Col. and Mrs Speder-Clay were conducted to their seats”

“ Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Strange arrived at the ground accompanied by their two daughters, and before taking their seats Mr. and Mrs. Strange shook hands with various friends who were assembled”.

“ In the field some 2,400 elementary school children were gathered with their teachers, and they sat on the ground talking and laughing lustily whilst awaiting the arrival of the Prince. There was also a crowd gathered on the grounds of the Bowling Green”.

“On the left of the path leading to the gates of the playing field a house is in course of erection  and a party of workers, standing on the scaffolding, had an excellent view of the proceedings”.

“As the time drew near for the arrival of the Prince the crush in the road became intense and the crowd pressed round in such an extent that a number of Scouts were hurriedly placed in position in order to keep the pathway clear. A number of women and children became faint and some of the children were given special positions behind the Boy Scouts”.

“ Loud sounds of cheering were heard showing that the Prince was arriving. The crowd pressed closer, the cheering grew louder, and the flags were waved with great enthusiasm. Some of the children jumped on each other’s backs in order to get a better view. The cheering grew louder and at last the Royal car arrived .Out stepped the Prince and shook hands with the Mayor and Miss Parsonage. Behind them were the Marquis and Marchioness Camden, His Royal Highnesses Equerry and others. The enthusiasm of the crowd expressed itself in deafening cheers and the press around the Royal visitor was almost too great for the Special Constables and Boy Scouts”.

“His Royal Highness walked smartly through the ranks of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides until he drew near to the gates of the Playing Field”.

“ Here the Mayor presented Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Strange and His Royal Highness shook hands with them both”.

“The Prince was attired in a grey suit with deep red rose in his buttonhole. He had on a pair of buff coloured suede shoes, and wore a grey striped shirt and collar with a bow tie to match, and carried a bowler hat. He looked very fit and his face was quite tanned”.

“The Prince and Mr Strange stood talking for a few moments, Mr Strange briefly explaining the details of the Playing Field and the purpose for which it was to be used. The Mayor stood close by, holding his hat, and the others stood round”.

“ Mr Strange handed to His Royal Highness a special gold key, with which the Prince, having walked up the gates, opened them amid deafening cheers. He walked through the gates and faced a crowd of children who were cheering in their utmost capacity. The Scout’s Band, which had been drawn up just inside the gates, struck up and the Prince acknowledged the royal welcome with which he had been received”.

“ For a few minutes the Prince stood talking to the Mayor and Mr Strange. He examined the key with which he had opened the gate and slipped it into his coat pocket”.

“ The children cheered, and a few courageous adults, as well as a number of young people quietly drew closer to get a photograph of the Heir to the Throne”.

“ Then the case for the key was placed in front of him and with the remark “Oh yes” the Prince took the key from his pocket, placed it in the case and handed it to the Mayor in trust for the town”.

“ With the remark: “Where do we go now” the Prince walked along the path through the field and up to the boy’s and girl’s accommodation. The children who were seated in the field crowded along the path and kept cheering continuously. School teachers and others saluted and the Prince continuously acknowledged the reception”.

“ Then the party returned to the entrance gates, up the path and into the main thoroughfare. The crowd had now grown to a great size and it was with much difficulty that His Royal Highness’s car was able to reach the spot where the Prince stood. He chatted for a few moments with Lord and Lady Camden and signed the visitor’s book which had been placed in front of him by the Macebearer”.

“ Then amid continual cheers, the Prince stepped into his car, which was a Rolls Royce and had as its mascot a figure of a British Tommy in full kit”.

“The Police had great difficulty in clearing a way for the car, but at last a clear space was made and the car was able to proceed in the direction of Southborough, though at a very slow pace”.

“ There were eight Special Constables on duty under the direction of Sergt. Blackman. They were the Rev. D.P. D. Budworth, and Messrs E.J. Cooke, W.J. Wheatly, J.F. Downes, W.J. Gillett, S.C. Irby, J. Watson, and C.W. Barnard”.

“ After the departure of the Prince, Mrs E, J. Strange kindly entertained the school children to tea in the playing field. The catering was admirably carried out by the Carlton Café. Later the children proceeded to the Calverley Grounds, where they heard music and enjoyed a special display of daylight fireworks by kind invitation of Councillor E. Merritt”.

The article ended with a long list of guests at this event. Shown above are the photographs of the event from the Courier.

Reference was made above to a visitors book that the Prince signed. The Kent and Sussex Courier of July 27,1928 stated “ The book which the Prince signed before he left the Cadogan Playing Field was the visitor’s book belonging to the Mayor which he keeps at his residence, Rusthall Place. It contains the signatures of many distinguished visitors”.

The opening of the Playing Field by the Prince in 1928 was not the only occasion he did so. The Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, for example,  of January 24,1936 reported “ Opening Cadogan Playing Field- Here the new king is seen (in this unconventional photograph )entering the grounds with the Mayor (the late Councillor S. Parsonage) and immediately afterwards being occupied by the donor Councillor E. J. Strange. The Prince had visited the Tunbridge Wells and South Eastern Counties Agricultural show and then opened the Playing Fields”.


Today the Cadogan Playing Fields is shown on maps being on the east side of St John’s Road between New England Road on the south and St Augustine’s RC School on the north. Shown opposite is a modern view of the playing fields.  When initially installed the Playing Field was located next to the Tunbridge Wells Bowling and Tennis Grounds.

Regulations governing the use of the towns pleasure grounds dated December 2,1977 included the Cadogan Playing Fields. These fields became a registered charity (302867) January 16,1967.


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