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

Date: August 6,2018


Clare Lodge, located at 13B Langton Road,opposite the Spa Hotel, dates back to the 19th century and still exists today, although modernized and enlarged from the time it was built.

Although this 3 sty home is not a listed building, and is not of any particular architectural significance, it has been occupied over the years by several interesting residents, among which were (1) Vice Admiral Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt (1811-1888) and his wife Sophia D. Spratt, nee Price (1816-1900) who lived there from 1870 to about 1890 (2) William Rogers (1843-1906), a hardware merchant, and his wife Harriett H. Rogers (1847-1933), who lived at Clare Lodge from 1890  until 1933. William had died at Clare Lodge in 1906 and his widow continued to lived there until her death. (3) Robert Hewson who purchased Clare Lodge in 1933 and lived there for a few years (4) Doris Ida Maud Johnson(1901-1975) a well off spinster, who died at Clare Lodge. 

In this article I present information about Clare Lodge itself and some of its occupants. Shown above  is a postcard view of Langton Road looking west from Major Yorke’s Road, in which is featured a tea house (later a pub) at this intersection. Clare Lodge can be seen in the background on the left just beyond the tall evergreen tree.


Shown opposite from the Planning Authority files is a map showing the various buildings located on the south west corner of Langton Road and Major Yorke’s Road. Highlighted in red at 13B Langton Road is Clare Lodge.

Bowra’s map of the area dated 1738 shows that the site of Clare Lodge was occupied by a residence fronting on Langton Road, which in its early history also went by the name of Shady Lane. Other buildings to the east and west of it are also shown on this map but it is unlikely that what today is Clare Lodge dates back to that time. A Tithe map of Speldhurst from the early 19th century does not indicate the presence of Clare Lodge, but does show other buildings in the vicinity of it.

Maps of the 1830’s and 1840’s do not show the existence of Clare Lodge however Colbrans map of 1850 clearly shows the residence, which suggests that Clare Lodge was built sometime after 1847 and before 1850. 

Recently Clare Lodge was listed for sale at a price of 900,000 pounds by an estate agent. Shown here from the listing is a photograph and a set of floor plans for the home. The estate agent gave the following description “ Clare Lodge 13B Langton Road-A substantial attached period property offering spacious family accommodation arranged over 3 floors, surrounded by well -established gardens which include a secluded larger summer house. Contains hall, cloakroom, drawing room, sitting room, dining room, kitchen/breakfast room, utility room, 4 bedrooms, bathroom, shower room, bedroom 5/office, detached summer house with entertaining deck with well- established garden. Excellent off-road parking including garage, gross internal area 2,123 sf”. 


Vice Admiral Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt (1811-1888) and his wife Sophia D. Spratt, nee Price (1816-1900) lived at Clare Lodge  from 1870 to about 1890. Shown opposite is a CDV of Thomas taken in Malta in the 1860’s and later is given an image of him taken later in life.

The Friends of the Commons Warden Report of Winter 2014 made reference to Clare Lodge stating in part that “Thomas was a naval officer and made a major contribution to the Black Sea Campaign during the Crimea war of the 1850’s. He was an accomplished hydrographer and geologist and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1856. In 1877, while living in Clare Lodge, he was in correspondence with Charles Darwin concerning researches he had made in the island of Crete. He died at Clare Lodge in 1888”.

Thomas had been born 1811 at Teignmouth,Devon. He was baptised at East Teignmouth August 2,1811 and given as the son of James Spratt of the Royal Navy and Jane Spratt,nee Brimage.  Thomas grew up in Woodway House, a modern view of which is shown opposite. His father had the house built for the family. Details about the history of this residence with references to the Spratt family can be found on the Wikipedia website.

Thomas married Sophia Deater Prince (1816-1900) in the 1st qtr of 1844 and with her had at least six children. Two of them, born in Malta, died in infancy and were buried in Malta in 1852. Sophia was the daughter of Edward Price, esquire. They were in Malta in 1845 and 1855 but in England between these dates. Thomas was employed in the naval surveying service of the Medittanean and there is much literature available online about him.

The 1851 census, taken at Clear View House in Newton Abbot,Teignmouth gave Thomas as a commander with the Royal Navy on half pay. With him was his wife Sophia given as born 1816 in Lambeth, Surrey. Also there were his three sons Frederick,age 3, born in London; William, age 1 born in Teignmouth and Sidney,under 1 mth, born in Tiegnmouth. Also there were two nurses and two domestic servants.  No 1861 census was found for the family, as they were in Malta at that time.

The 1871 census, taken at the Royal Hotel in Somerset, gave Thomas as married and living at the hotel as a guest. He was listed as a Captain with the Royal Navy Commission of Fisheries. While he was staying at the hotel his wife and her son Arthur G. Spratt, age 16, born in Malta, were found living at Clare Lodge. Also there were two servants.

The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of 1880 gave the listings (1) Lieut Frederick Thomas Nelson Spratt R.E. Clare Lodge, Tunbridge Wells (elected 1880) (2) Rear Admiral Thomas A.B. Spratt C.B. F.R.C.S Clare Lodge Nevill Park Tunbridge Wells (elected 1859).

Thomas was also found listed in the period of 1883 to 1888 in The Scientists International Directory and The Naturalists Directory.

The 1881 census taken at Clare Lodge gave Thomas as retired. With him was his wife Sophia and two servants.

The Dictionary of National Biography and other records noted that Thomas died March 19,1888 at Clare Lodge leaving an estate valued at just over 7,000 pounds. The executor of his estate was his wife Sophia.

The 1891 census, taken at Kingskerswell, Devon, on the Main Street, gave Sophia D. Spratt , widow, living on own means as a lodger at the premises of Janet Ford.  Sophia died February 16,1900 at Newton Abbot, Devonshire. The executor of her over 9,000 pound estate was her son Edward James Henry Spratt, colonel in H.M. army.

Thomas had a distinguished naval career. Records indicate that he was last at sea in 1866 and that he had retired from the navy in 1870 and at that time moved to Tunbridge Wells when he remained until his death in 1888.

Several websites, including Wikipedia, provide extensive information about his life and  career. 

William Rogers (1843-1906), a hardware merchant, and his wife Harriett H. Rogers (1847-1933), lived at Clare Lodge from 1890  until 1933. William had died at Clare Lodge in 1906 and his widow continued to lived there until her death. Upon her death Clare Lodge was sold to Robert Hewson.

William Rogers was born 1842 in Birmingham and his wife Harriett had been born 1847 at Wolverhampton.

Local directories of 1891 to 1903 gave “William Rogers, Clare Lodge, Langton Road”. Directories of 1913 to 1930 gave “ Mrs Rogers, Clare Lodge, Langton Road”.

The 1871 census, taken at Wolverhampton gave William Rogers as a merchant. With him was his wife, four servants and a cousin.

The 1881 census, taken at ‘Westbourne’ Staffordshire gave William Rogers as a hardware merchant. With him was his wife, one visitor and four servants.

The 1891 census, taken at Clare Lodge, Langton Road gave William Rogers as a general merchant employing others. With him was his wife  and three servants. Although no 1901 census was found for William Rogers his wife and servants were still living at Clare Lodge.

The Monthly C.T.C Gazette of May 1897 gave the listing “ Mrs W. Rogers, Clare Lodge, Tunbridge Wells”.

In the 1st qtr of 1906 William Rogers died at Clare Lodge. After his death his wife continued to live at Clare Lodge.

The 1911 census, taken at Clare Lodge gave Harriet (Helen) H. Rogers as a widow living on private means in a residence of eleven rooms. With her were three servants. Harriett died at Clare Lodge in the 4th qtr of 1933. Shown above is a postcard mailed in 1913 to a Miss Edie Colstock at Clare Lodge. The front of the postcard shows a view of the promenade at Eversfield Place, Hastings. Miss Edie Colstock was a friend of Mrs Rogers and at the time the postcard was mailed she was visiting Mrs Rogers. Shown below is the front and back of this postcard.




The only definitive information about Robert was found in the records of the National Archives which under the heading of “Clare Lodge, Langton Road, Tunbridge Wells recorded that they had records for the years 1903 to 1934 and that Robert Hewson had purchased Clare Lodge on June 9,1933. It appears that he lived at Clare Lodge during the years leading up to WWII.


Doris  was born August 22,1901. She was a spinster of independent means and appears to have moved to Tunbridge Wells and settled in Clare Lodge by the 1970’s.

Little definitive information was found for her but the Gazette reported that she was of Clare Lodge on Langton Road when she died September 5,1975. She was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on September 9,1975.



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

Date: July 21,2018


Although she has always enjoyed some fame as a poet, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea(1661-1720) has only recently received greater praise and renewed attention. Her diverse and considerable body of work records her private thoughts and personal struggles but also illustrates her awareness of the social and political climate of her era. Not only do Finch’s poems reveal a sensitive mind and a religious soul, but they exhibit great generic range and demonstrate her fluent use of Augustan diction and forms.

My interest in Anne Finch relates to at least two visits she made to Tunbridge Wells firstly in 1685 and again in 1706. These dates are based on surviving dated examples of her literary work. Her purpose for visiting Tunbridge Wells was primarily for health reasons for ‘taking the waters’ at the Pantiles was both fashionable at that time and believed to be beneficial to one’s health.

In this article some brief biographical information is given about Anne as well as examples of her writing from Tunbridge Wells. An image of her is shown above.


Born Anne Kingsmill at Sydmonton, near Newbury in April 1661 , she was the third and   youngest child of Sir William Kingsmill (1613-61) and Anne Haslewood (d. 1664). The young Anne never knew her father, as he died only five months after she was born. In his will, he specified that his daughters receive financial support equal to that of their brother for their education, which was an "unusually enlightened view for the times. Her mother remarried in 1662 but died two years later.

Anne was privately educated. In 1682 Anne became a maid of honour to Mary of Modena (1658-1718), wife of James, Duke of York, later King James II. She entered the circle of Restoration court wits and began to write poetry. On  May 15,1684 she married Heneage Finch (1657-1726), second son of the third earl of Winchilsea, one of the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber to the Duke of York. An image of him dated circa 1688 is shown opposite. The couple lived in Westminster Palace. Many of her early poems were domestic in nature, her husband often features in pastoral guise as "Daphnis", she adopted the pseudonym "Ardelia". She also wrote songs, pindarics, fables, epistles, translations, satires, and religious verses. Loyal to the Stuart cause, the couple fled London after the revolution of 1688 and for the next 20 years lived in the countryside in the hamlet of Eastwell, Kent about 3 miles north of Ashford.

Anne's husband was arrested in 1690, but later released. Anne wrote several political poems during this period, such as "The Change". Finch's poems circulated in manuscript and only occasionally appeared in miscellanies or magazines. Her best-known poem "The Spleen" (1701) was first published anonymously in Charles Gildon's New Miscellany of Original Poems (1701). After the accession of Queen Anne, the Finches returned to London. In 1712 Heneage succeeded as fifth earl of Winchilsea, Anne becoming countess. In 1713 she published Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions, a collection of 86 poems, covering a wide range of subjects and written in a variety of genres. Finch's authorship was widely known, and many poets, including Nicholas Rowe, Swift, Pope, and later William Wordsworth, praised her as a poet. Finch continued writing poetry until the time of her death August 5, 1720. She was survived by her husband who died September 30,1726. The couple had no children.

Another book entitled ‘The Tunbridge-miscellany, consisting of poems etc, written at Tunbridge Wells In the year 1713’ is stated to contain at least one poem by Anne Finch. This book was printed for E. Curil and sold at his shop “upon the Tunbridge Wells Walk” (The Pantiles).

The Dictionary of National Biography stated in part “Another poem, entitled 'The Prodigy,' written at Tunbridge Wells, called forth Cibber's regret that the countess's rank made her only write occasionally as a pastime.” This poem was written in 1706.

Anne was an unfortunate victim of the “Spleen”, a fashionable eighteenth century distemper described as a condition of melancholy “ a great depression of spirits”. She believed that visits to the fashionable spas of the time would provide a cure or at least some relief from this condition. It is documented that to this end she visited Tunbridge Wells in 1685 and 1706 and while staying in the town penned some of her literary works.


The following reference to her health and visits to Tunbridge Wells in search of a cure by ‘taking the waters’ at the Pantiles states in part

“Visits to the more noted watering-places were not infrequent. We have seen the depression of spirit engendered by the public and private disasters incident on the revolution. But Ardelia's (Anne’s) peace of mind was assailed by another and even more insidious foe. That "anxious Rebell," her heart, was reinforced by another enemy within the gates. She was, in fact, an unfortunate victim of the Spleen, a fashionable eighteenth century distemper, the protean woes of which had early cradled her into song. Many were her ineffectual attempts to find relief through visits to various health resorts. Of these Tunbridge Wells with its "quick spring of spiriteous water " was the most fashionable, and its fame as a cure for the Spleen was long-lived. We find Lady Winchilsea here once in 1685 and again in 1706

Details about the waters of Tunbridge Wells were given ,with several images of the dispensing of the water, in my article ‘Taking The Waters of Tunbridge Wells’ dated June 2,2016.  In the introduction to that article I wrote “Tunbridge Wells in 1606 ,when Lord Dudley North (image opposite) visited the area, had no name and was a barren little place some five miles uphill from the old Saxon town of Tunbridge (later Tonbridge). Lord North, not feeling well from too much drink, sampled the strange tasting water handed to him in a bowl by Mrs Humphreys, a local cottager. Feeling better afterwards he attributed his recovery to having “Taken the Waters” and after singing its praises his friends and others who heard about this magical liquid flocked to the town to sample it. Blessed with an abundance of natural springs this spot on the map became known as the “Wells” or the “Wells of Tunbridge” and later still “Tunbridge Wells”.

Mrs Humphreys was appointed the first “dipper”, doling out water in a ceremony that has been passed down from one generation to the next and still survives today as a curiosity to entertain summer tourists. Mrs Humphreys died in 1678 ,age of 102 and Lord North went on to be 85. Did their longevity have anything to do with “Taking the Waters”-not likely but it’s an interesting nonetheless. Shown above is a plaque in The Pantiles that recounts the history of Lord North and the town’s waters.


Given here is a fragment of Anne’s writing to her husband from Tunbridge Wells dated August 17,1685 entitled “ A Letter to Mr Finch” in the form of a partly reconstructed poem .

Daphnis no more your wish repeat

For my return nor mourn my stay,

Lest my wise Purpose you defeat,

And urg'd by Love I come away

My own desires I now can resist

But blindly yield if you persist

Not the reflections on… p[...]

Or Singing… which I ad[...]

But that my Love will… the y[...]

Thus Separate… Daphnis…

Restor'd to health… I

May all my Soul… Love apply.

Diss… did with… but Love

And by Prevailing in the Strife

Make… Joyfull… approve

Wee taste and find the Springs of Life

And thought the Muses…

Not… from Heaven… [...]d y[...]

All… d[...]y… expire

And… bus[...]… by [hk] [hurt?]

Joy with its… into the Fire

And beauty Triumphs… [inexpert?]

Then…, beautous,… justly Charmes

Which… she'll yield to Daphnis armes.

A reviewer of this poem commented “Every attempt has been made to obliterate this poem; heavy crossed hatchwork, crosscrossing over this, covers each line; yet she could have ripped the sheet out. The poem suggests that Anne Finch had chosen what both she and Heneage regarded as a temporary separation; they were living apart and she argues this momentary respite (to restore her health) is necessary. She has been hurt again, although she says that "reflections" on things she admires (poems, singing?), did not lead to her "Wise Purpose" (the separation). She promises to return to his bed once she has gotten over some (inward) strife. There is an allusion here to the myth of Proserpina. Anne makes an analogy between Heneage and Diss, the ruler of the underworld who ruthlessly carried off Anne as Proserpina: "Diss ... did with ... but Love/And by Prevailing in the Strife/Make ... Joyfull ... approve/Wee taste and find the Springs of Life". She also seems to deprecate some compliment on beauty. Every young couple has its problems; why should the young Finches living at a backbiting intrigue-filled ambition-driven court on a limited income be any different? The line “Wee taste and find the Springs of Life” refers to ‘taking the waters’ from the spring in the Pantiles.


Given here from a manuscript by Anne is ‘A Fragment from Tunbridge Wells’ written it is believed upon the occasion of her second recorded visit to Tunbridge Wells in 1706.

“ FOR He, that made, must new create us,

Ere Seneca, or Epictetus, {1}

With all their serious Admonitions,

Can, for the Spleen, prove good Physicians. {2}

The Heart's unruly Palpitation

Will not be laid by a Quotation;

Nor will the Spirits move the lighter

For the most celebrated Writer.

Sweats, Swoonings, and convulsive Motions

Will not be cur'd by Words, and Notions.

Then live, old Brown! with thy Chalybeats,{3}

Which keep us from becoming Idiots.

At Tunbridge let us still be Drinking, {4}

Though 'tis the Antipodes to Thinking:

Such Hurry, whilst the Spirit's flying,

Such Stupefaction, when 'tis dying;

Yet these, and not sententious Papers,

Must brighten Life, and cure the Vapours, &c.


1.Seneca and Epictetus were Stoic philosophers of Rome and Greece. 

2.Anne Finch suffered from recurrent bouts of depression, also known as 'spleen', 'melancholy', or the 'vapours'. 

3.Chalybeats were liquids or medicines impregnated with salts of iron or tasting of iron.  

4.Tunbridge-Wells was a popular health resort in Kent, where people went to take the waters.


The town of Tunbridge Wells began with a chalybeate spring. Chalybeate means it contains iron. Rainwater fell on ground containing iron deposits, soaked through them then rose in a spring. The iron deposits in the spring water stained the ground around the spring a rusty colour. The spring stood by a common where local people grazed their livestock.

In the early 17th century people believed that they would be healed from diseases if they bathed in or drank from certain spas. In the year 1606 a nobleman, Lord North, who was staying at Edridge was out for a ride. He came across the spring with rust colored edges and wondered if it had health giving properties. (At the time he was suffering from tuberculosis or some similar disease). He drank some of the spring water and was, he said, healed from his illness. When he returned to London he told all his rich friends about the spring and soon many people flocked to drink from it.

After 1608 wells were dug and a pavement was laid but there were no actual buildings at Tunbridge until 1636. In that year 2 houses were built, one for ladies and one for gentlemen. In the late 17th century these developed into coffee houses. A coffee house was a place where you could drink coffee (a new drink at the time) or chocolate and read a newspaper. You could also socialize with other visitors.

In 1638 a walk was laid out at Tunbridge with 2 rows of trees on either side. Local tradesmen began setting up stalls and selling goods between the trees.

Meanwhile Tunbridge Wells had its first royal visitor in 1630 when Queen Henrietta Maria, came after the birth of her son, the future Charles II. Furthermore in 1632 a book was written praising the wells and their supposed health giving properties. It was called 'The Queens Wells, that is a treatise of the nature and virtues of Tunbridge Water'.

In the late 17th century Tunbridge developed rapidly. In 1663 Charles II and his queen came and camped near the wells. Then in 1678 the Chapel of King Charles the Martyr was built. After 1680 houses were built at Mount Ephraim. In 1682 land near the common was sold. After 1682 houses were built in the area of Mount Sion. In 1687 the shops were burned in a fire but the owner rebuilt them, this time with a colonnade in front of their entrances.

At the end of the 17th century a travel writer named Celia Fiennes visited Tunbridge Wells. She said: 'The water I have drunk for many years with great advantage. It is from the steel and iron mines'. She also said 'They have made the wells very commodious by the many good building all about it and 2 or 3 miles around which are lodgings for the company that drink the waters'. Also 'All the people buy their own provisions at the market, which is just by the wells and is furnished with great plenty of all sorts of fish and foul.' She also described 'The walk which is between high trees on the market side which are shops full of all sorts of toys, silver, china, milliners and all sorts of curious wooden ware besides which there are 2 large coffee houses for tea, chocolate etc and 2 rooms for the lottery and hazard board (i.e. for gambling). 'At the lower end of the walk you go straight along to a chapel (King Charles the Martyr). Furthermore: 'There are several bowling greens about the wells'

In 1698 Princess Anne (she became Queen in 1702) was visiting Tunbridge Wells and her son fell over while playing. The Queen commanded that the walk where he fell should be paved. This had not been done by her next visit to Tunbridge in 1699 much to her annoyance. The offended princess left. After she had gone the authorities quickly paved the area with pantiles but the Princess/Queen never returned. The pantiles were later replaced with stone but the name has remained.


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

Date: July 11,2018


The Great Hall on the east side of Mount Pleasant Road near the SER Station opened in 1872, built by Messrs Willicombe and Oakley at a cost of £11,000.

In its early years the Great Hall was put to various uses such as lectures, magic lantern shows and a variety of musical and theatrical performances, just to name a few of the events held there.  Among them was a six day theatrical performance that ran from August 4-9, 1879 . This performance, which is the central focus of this article, was one of several similar performances put on by the Wallace Roberts and Charles Archer’s Company  and later by Roberts, Archer & Bartlett as part of their Grand Provincial Tour.

The Robert’s and Archer Company was formed in 1876 and the performance at the Great Hall was identified as the 3rd year of this Grand Tour. The principals of this company were Wallace Roberts (1849-1890) and Charles John Archer (1845-circa 1910). Both Roberts and Archer were theatrical managers and leasees of the Theatre Royal in Lincoln and the Theatre Royal in Croydon. Shown in this article are images pertaining to the 1879 performance at the Great Hall in Tunbridge Wells.

Upon the death of Wallace Roberts in October 1890, caused by blood poisioning from a severe cut on one of his fingers, the theatrical company was carried on by his partners Charles John Archer and Fred(Frederick) Bartlett(1850-1912). Fred Bartlett was a noted theatrical performer with various theatrical companies, including that of Roberts and Archer. For a time in the period of at least 1891 to 1903 Fred Bartlett and Charles John Archer both lived at 4 Walpole Road in Croydon, both with the occupation of theatrical manager.


As noted in the 1879 performance of this company at the Great Hall in Tunbridge Wells, it was their third year making 1876 their first year. Performances held at other venues in 1879 and in the 1880’s confirm the date of 1876.  The performance at the Great Hall ran for six nights from August 4-9 with ticket prices ranging from 6d to 3s depending on the seating selected. The Courier provided a number of articles describing  the event and reported in part that it was well received by the audience and was well attended. Carriages could be seen arriving and departing one after the other on Mount Pleasant Road, with those attending dressed in their finest clothing and hats. Given  below is the advertisement for this performance.

The Grand Provincial Tour began under the name of “ Wallace Roberts & Charles Archer’s Company and below is some brief information about Wallace Roberts and Charles John Archer.  Of course this theatrical tour was not the only one providing entertainment at that time. Newspaper announcements of performances in various towns refers to the name of the tour variously as “The Grand Provincial Tour” or the “Royal Standard Dramatic Corps”, a name derived from the Royal Standard Flag (image above) that was flown above Buckingham Palace and at other Royal premises.

A detailed genealogical investigation was not conducted on the principles of this theatrical company nor was research conducted on those who participated in the performance at the Great Hall.

Wallace Robert’s was found in the 1881 census as a single gentleman living as a visitor at the Kings Head pub on Norwich Street, East Dereham,Norfolk. He was given as a theatrical manager born 1849 in Exeter, Devon. His birth is also sometimes given as 1843 in Exeter, Devon and with a birth in 1843 was given as the son of William Thomas Roberts, a bookseller and Mary Ann Roberts. Wallace was living in Exeter with his parents at the time of the 1851 to 1871 census. Since Wallace was at least age 32 in 1881 and single it appears that he never married. The publication ‘Dramatic Notes’ of October 1890 reported “ On the 29th death of Wallace Roberts, partner in the firm of Roberts, Archer & Bartlett, managers of the Croydon Theatre, resulted from blood poisoning arising from a severe cut on one of the fingers”.

The publication “The Stage” of London November 7,1890 reported “ Roberts, Archer & Bartlett- In accordance with the expressed desire of our late partner Mr Wallace Roberts, the business of the firm will be conducted as usual under the same style and title (Roberts, Archer & Bartlett) as before”. This announcement was signed Charles J. Archer and Fred Bartlett.

Turning now to Charles John Archer, he is found  is the 1891 census at 4 Walpole Road, Croydon. He was given as born 1845 in London with the occupation of Theatrical Manager employing others. With his was his business partner Fred Bartlett, given as a boarder, and born 1848 in London with the occupation of Theatrical Manager. Also there was one domestic servant. Both Archer and Bartlett were single gentlemen. Both Charles Archer and Fred (Frederick) Bartlett were still living together at 4 Walpole road in 1900. A directory of 1903 shows that Charles Archer was still at 4 Walpole Road but Fred Archer was not there. In 1885 Charles Archer was living at the Crown Hill Theatre in Croydon. Charles Archer was still in the theatrical business in 1896 but what became of him after that time was not established.

Turning now to Fred (Frederick Bartlett) it was noted from accounts that he began is theatrical career as an actor but became a partner as a theatrical manager with Wallace Roberts and Charles John Archer sometime after 1881 and before 1883 and conducted business under the name of Roberts, Archer & Bartlett. As noted above Fred Bartlett was born 1848/1850 in London. At the time of the 1881 census he was single and living as a boarder at 94 Castlereagh Street, Barnsley, Yorkshire and working as a theatrical manager. At the time of the 1891 census he was living as a boarder with Charles John Archer at 4 Walpole Road, Croydon with the occupation of theatrical manager. He was still living at 4 Walpole Road in 1900 but by 1903 had left that address. The Eastern Gazette of June 21,1911 reported “ Fred Bartlett, a provincial actor of sterling merit who won considerable distinction during his day visited every theatre in the UK while with Messrs Roberts and Archer”. The Norwood News,London dated October 19,1912 reported “ Mr Fred Bartlett formerly an actor and member of the firm of Roberts, Archer and Bartlett, proprietors of the old Theatre Royal, Croydon, died at Croydon on Saturday in his 74th year. He had been intimately acquainted with many leading actors during his career”.

Newspapers and other theatrical publications from 1876 onwards were found making reference to the principals of this theatrical group. A sample of a few of them are given below.

1)    Western Times, Devon March 23,1878. Last night of Messrs Wallace Roberts & Charles Archer’s (Royal Standard Dramatic Company) tonight (Saturday).

2)    Western Times, Devon October 23,1878. Ten nights only of Messrs Wallace Roberts & Charles Archer’s Royal Standard Dramatic Company.

3)    1879- 6 nights at the Assembly Rooms, Chichester-Roberts & Archer’s Grand Provincial Tour, the Royal Standard Dramatic Corps.

4)    Western Mercury, Somerset April 12,1879. Wallace Roberts & Charles Arther’ grand illuminated morning performance.

5)    An advertisement appeared dated 1879 Hastings, Sussex for a performance by Wallace Roberts and Charles Archer’s Royal Standard Dramatic Company in their 3rd year. Among the performers listed was Mr Fred Bartlett. The stage manager was listed as Mr Charles J. Archer and the manager as Wallace Roberts. The event was held at the Music Hall in Hastings starting June 2nd and ran for 6 nights.

6)    The Era, London July 23,1881 referred to a theatrical performance by Wallace Roberts and Charles Archer’s Royal Standared Dramatic Company.

7)    The Era, London November 5,1881 reported “ At Theatre Royal, Norwich, Wallace Roberts and Charles Archers’ company in their 5th year of tour.

8)    The Stage, London November 4,1881 referred to a performance at the Theatre Royal by the company of Wallace Roberts and Charles Archer.

9)    The Era, London dated January 1,1881 and also September 12,1880 gave “ Wallace Roberts and  Charles Archer are lessees and managers of the Theatre Royal, Lincoln and proprietors of the Royal Standard Dramatic Company in their 4th year of tour.

10)     A Book about the acting career of Stan Laurel ( of Laurel and Hardy fame) stated he was the son of Arthur Jefferson who performed in 1883 at the Theater Royal in Croydon with Roberts, Archers and Bartletts Royal Standard Dramatic Company.

11)     The Era, London of December 1,1883 referred to Roberts, Archer and Bartlett as leseess of the Theatre Royal in Lincoln and at Croydon.

12)    A stage publication of 1884 referred to “ Roberts, Archer, Bartlett’s Pantomine Company.

13)    In January 1888 it was announced that a pantomime was performed in Bournemouth by Roberts, Archer and Bartlett.

14)   The Sussex Agricultural Express of August 15,1890 gave “ Theatre Royal and Opera House, Eastbourne, Sussex .Sole lessees and managers Messrs Roberts, Archer and Bartlett. Resident manager Mr Fred Bartlett.

15)   The Dramatic Yearbook of 1891 gave the following (1) In Eastbourne Susssex was the Theatre Royal and Opera House on Seaside Road. The lessees were Messrs Roberts, Archer and Bartlett. This theatre was built about 1880. The resident manager was Mr Fred Bartlett (2) In Croydon, The Theatre Royal on Crown Hill. Leseess were Messrs Roberts, Archer and Bartless. Built about 1866 it held 1,500 people. The Acting manager was Mr W.H. Cousins.


Details about the history of the Great Hall on Mount Pleasant Road were given in my article ‘ The Great Hall’ dated February 9,2012 (updated December 4,2013).

Given below is another account, this one by Sue Brown of the Civic Society, which is entitled ‘My Favourite Building’ and which appeared in the Civic Society Newsletter of Spring 2004. I have supplemented her article with some photographs from my collection.

Taste in architecture, as in many things, is subjective and what appeals to one person is another’s pet hate. If pushed to choose a favourite building in Tunbridge Wells my choice would be the Great Hall – although in 1997 Frank Chapman described it in The Courier as having “a clumsy Victorian design of uncompromising ugliness”.

When the “New Public Rooms” opened in 1872, The Builder described the architectural style as “Byzantine”. Today the influence seen in the Great Hall is usually referred to as the French Empire style – a sort of modest version of the Louvre extension. The design is usually said to be by H.H. Cronk but both The Builder and the Tunbridge Wells Journal attribute it to Messrs Wilson and Wilcox of Bath. Certainly it was Messrs Willicombe and Oakley who built it, at the cost of £11,000. The two wings had Mansard roofs (a roof having two slopes on each face: the lower one very steep and the upper one of low pitch) crowned with ornamental railings. The central façade was originally set further back than today and had a grand porte-cochere (a large porch to shelter people alighting from carriages). The Hall was built of white brick with Bath stone settings. The design was chosen from among eleven sets of plans originally submitted to the Committee of the Public Hall Company in 1862, but seems to have been odds-on favourite from the start. At its opening the Hall was rather disparagingly described by the Tunbridge Wells Journal as “having been placed in a hole” and therefore presenting a “somewhat squatty appearance”. However the report did go on to extol the pilasters with richly carved vases, keystones of appropriate style and the “tastily moulded bases” of the circular headed windows. The roofs had ornamental bands of green.

The North wing was originally taken by the photographers Robinson and Cherrill (late of Upper Grosvenor Road, it will be remembered), who erected additional glass houses round the side of the building in order to carry on business on a larger scale. The other wing was taken by the proprietor of the Clarence Hotel, Mr Terry, as a restaurant and coffee room. The Hall itself was 100 feet long, 42 feet wide and 35 feet high and had a large central gilt chandelier with 63 gas jets. The panelled ceiling and walls were lavishly decorated. It must have looked grand indeed, though perhaps a little heavy for modern taste. Upstairs were a clubroom, a reading room, a billiard room and a library, all reached by a handsome staircase.

In its early years the Great Hall was put to various uses – the Wesleyan Methodists held services there while their chapel was being built and Messrs. Poole and Young provided entertainment in the form of painted panoramas of Paris and other European cities. Subsequently various cultural events took place – plays, concerts, popular readings (by Mrs Scott Siddon for example) and lectures (including Stanley the explorer). The exclusive Tunbridge Wells Club (gentlemen of the aristocracy only) occupied the upper rooms.

The Great Hall Restaurant almost came to an untimely end in 1887 when a passing policeman spotted smoke issuing from the fanlight of the bar door. Fighting his way through thick smoke he found the coconut matting and the floor boards on fire. A couple of buckets of water did the trick, though the floor had burned through.

By the 1920’s the future of the Great Hall had become a question of heated debate in Council meetings. The leasehold had been bought by V.M. Worsdale, who was accused of having bought it over the heads of the Council. He said he was willing to consider enlarging the Hall to accommodate more people and to let it to the Corporation for the season at a fair rent. He would have liked them to sell him their freehold interest but the idea was rejected in favour of building the Calverley Grounds Pavilion.

By this time a cinema had been opened in the Hall, which lasted through until the late 1950’s. In 1928 the Council again debated an offer for the property of £18,000 when the leasehold interests were for sale. Cllr Snell contended that it was an unjustifiable speculation and Cllr. Gower agreed with him. Cllr Weeks said they should buy the place and have done with it but the opportunity was not pursued at that time.

In 1943 real-life drama almost excelled the thrills of the gangster movies when, during the screening of “Pardon my stripes”, a soldier asked the cashier whether she had any cigarettes for sale. While her attention was distracted he broke the glass of the pay box window with a rock and grabbed two bundles of notes. The Commissionaire gave chase but the soldier and two accomplices slammed a door in his face and vanished into the black-out.

The 1948 Kelly Directory lists the occupants of the Great Hall as being the Clarendon Hotel, the Great Hall Cinema, the Kent and Sussex Club Ltd and the auctioneers Richardson & Pierce Ltd. The Cinema, which was called The Roxy from 1955, closed around 1959 and the Court School of Dancing took over the main Hall.

By 1972 the Great Hall was beginning to get dilapidated, but it was still occupied by the Court School of Dancing, the Clarendon Bar, the Kent and Sussex Club and various financial offices. As the owner of the site Tunbridge Wells Borough Council intended to lease the ground to a developer. Kent County Council gave permission in August for the Hall to be demolished to make way for a complex of modern shops and offices four storeys tall but the work was delayed by the need to secure an office development permit from the Government. The scheme was keenly opposed by some councillors and a section of the public who wanted the building preserved.

Various plans were discussed during 1973 and 1974, particularly a redevelopment by the Commercial Union, and public objection grew. Pupils of the Court School of Dancing sent in a petition to the Council. Amongst the councillors who opposed the scheme was Cllr. Arthur Cottam who in February 1974 complained that the public were being kept in the dark about what was going on. In the end Whitehall turned down the application for an office Development Permit and the Great Hall re-opened as Carriages Night Club in 1979.

Carriages, developed by Larry and Mike Goodmaker at the cost of £100,000, was plush and exclusive to begin with, but it transpired that local demand was more for disco-type entertainment than for London-style opulence and the brothers adapted accordingly. Dogged by fires right from the beginning Carriages was finally destroyed by what appeared to be an arson attack in September 1980.

Demolition and redevelopment were back on the agenda. The Civic Society put up a defence against the former and the Council delayed making a decision until the nature of the Torrington development next to the Central Station became clear. Finally, in November 1983, planning permission was granted to Speyhawk Land and Estates Ltd to redevelop the site, retaining the original façade. The scheme incorporated a Victorian style shopping arcade of twelve units and a multi-storey car park at the rear. The architects were Essex Goodman and Suggitt, who had also designed the Safeways development, and the shopping arcade opened in time for Christmas 1985. A third floor was added to the centre of the façade, increasing office space and arguably improving the proportions of the building, as the flanking wings had always had three storeys (or four if you count the dormer window level).

Personally I always enjoy stepping into our mini Burlington Arcade, which still has a smart, new feel to it – though I rarely venture further than the BBC shop. I think that Speyhawk did an excellent job of rebuilding the burned-out and crumbling shell of the Great Hall in a manner quite in keeping with its grand origins. A crinoline would not look too out of place.


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