ALL ABOUT
TUNBRIDGE WELLS

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THE TUNBRIDGE WELLS AMATEUR FILM UNIT

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

Date: September 21,2018

INTRODUCTION

Motion pictures began in the late 19th century but it was not until the 1920’s that they included sound. Like most new inventions motion picture cameras were expensive and used exclusively by professional photographers.

Captivated by motion pictures it was not long before Amateur film makers sprang up across Britain who purchased used camera equipment and worked out of small home studios.  With the passage of time the quality of motion picture cameras improved and became less expensive, allowing more film makers to enter this industry. Such was the case in the Borough of Tunbridge Wells, when two film buffs David George Edwards (1938-1974) and Basil F.A. Cooper (1924-2013) met in 1950 and set up a film studio in the home of David’s mother Winifred Matilda Edwards (1906-2003) in Hawkenbury. These two young men founded the Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit (later known as the Regency Film Unit) and produced some fifteen silent black and white films depicting events in the town of Tunbridge Wells during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

In this article I present information about the founders of this film unit and information (with images) about the films they produced. I would like to thank Karen Wallace, who’s uncle was David George Edwards, for supplying valuable information and family photographs for this article.

FILM UNIT’S HISTORY

The Regency Film Unit was an alternative title for The Tunbridge Wells Film Unit and the title page of their films from the 1950’s and 1960’s give one name or the other. The earliest films appear under the name of The Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit .

The name Regency Film Unit was adopted afterwards when members of the Amateur Film Club met in a room of the same name in Hawkenbury.

The club filmed many creative portraits of the town of Tunbridge Wells and its residents as well as filming various events such as fetes, parades, agricultural shows and fireworks displays. They also made amusing and often sophisticated amateur dramas and trick films like ‘Backwards’. As amateur films the film quality is largely of high quality.

Today a collection of fifteen of their amateur dramas and factual films can be found in the Southeast Film Archive in Brighton (covering Kent, Sussex and Surrey).  Jane King of this organization reported to me that Basil F.A. Cooper provided a list of the film clubs films and the films themselves to the Centre for Kentish Studies who in 2000 turned the works over to the Southeast Film Archive for preservation. This collection of films provides an interesting view of Tunbridge Wells during the 1950’s and 1960’s, views of people and places in the town not found elsewhere.

Their films ‘Round the Town’ (1950s) and ‘A View of the Wells’ (ca 1960’s) offer creative and well-structured portraits of the town of Tunbridge Wells and its residents. Their fictional films offer amusing amateur dramas on subjects as varied as a bomb plot against the cricket club, a ‘Cowboys and Indians’ style drama filmed amongst the sandstone rocks on Tunbridge Wells Common, and amusing consequences of incompetent administering of first aid.

The films in this collection include the following. All of the films can be seen in their entirety on the website of the Screen Archive South East.

[1] DUNORLAN PARK (ca 1950’s)

This film shows scenes of people enjoying events of the annual fete and fireworks at Dunorlan Park. Shown opposite are two stills from the film showing ladies and gentlemen dancing with spectators in the background and diver entering Dunorlan lake. The film’s opening title states “The Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit presents”. This is followed by a sign post reading “Borough of Royal Tunbridge Wells Dunorlan Park”. The film shows scenes at the fete including children in fancy dress costume, crowds in the park, a fun fair, a dancing demonstration, boating on the lake, a man in a diving suit entering the water, and finishes with fireworks. The film is 3 minutes in length. The cameraman was David George Edwards.

[2] AGRICULTURAL SHOW (ca 1950’s) 

This film provides scenes from one of the annual Agricultural Shows of the 1950’s held at the Showgrounds on Eridge Road. Among the images is a grand display of a group of stunt motorcyclists performing riding tricks; a parade of horse drawn carriages, equestrian events, the showing of livestock etc. Shown opposite are two stills from the film. The film shows the people and crowds at the show at Eridge Show Ground, including: a woman with a baby; children at a fountain; a man with a pig; a horse and carriage riding display; brief shots of a Victorian style photographic camera and a man filming with a cine camera; various scenes of women at the event; a fox hunt group display with horses, riders and hounds; and a motorcycle stunt display team perform various stunts. The cameraman was David George Edwards. The film is 2minutes 30 seconds long.

[3] ROUND THE TOWN (1951)

This film produced in 1951 shows various views of the town of Tunbridge Wells including the Festival of Britain Parade of 1951.  The film shows a cine camera man as he films scenes around the town of Tunbridge Wells , including Trinity Church, the Town Hall, the Opera House, the Pantiles and the Chalybeate Spring. The Main titles announce: “The Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit presents” and “Round the town, a glimpse of Royal Tunbridge Wells”. A man is seen filming the town from a hill top, followed by shots of the town including: the skyline; Trinity Church; The Town Hall; the Opera House; the War Memorial with a close up of the inscription; general views of the streets and shops at Five Ways, Calverley Road and Mount Pleasant with scenes of shoppers in the street. The man with the camera is followed as he walks along the street.

An intertitle reads “The Festival Week Gala Procession”. A marching band is followed by carnival floats including the Royal Observer Corps; nurses; The Ancient Order of Foresters dressed as Maid Marion, Robin Hood and his merry men; other historical figures; and the Girl Guides.

The man with the camera walks past Binns Corner House and looks up at a sign saying “To the Pantiles”. Scenes of people walking through the Pantiles are followed by views of the colonnaded walkway and the man as he films the colonnades. The entrance to ‘The Original Chalybeate Spring’ is shown and the man drinks a cup of the spring water. The man then walks across a road, and catches a bus. “The End”. The cameraman was David George Edwards and the film is 5 minutes 30 seconds long. The 1951 Festival of Britain segment of this film is most interesting.

[4] BACKWARDS (ca 1950’s) 

The film shows various every day activities in the town of Tunbridge Wells shown in reverse motion.

The Regency Film Unit illustrates the film trick of reverse motion, showing; children at the playground; a dog and a man walking; a cyclist; cars; various street scenes at Mount Pleasant and Five Ways in Tunbridge Wells; a woman arriving home; a game of bowls; a man digging; a sweet machine; a milk delivery and a boy getting ready for school - all in reverse.

The film is 4 minutes and 40 seconds in length, produced by the Regency Film Unit with camera work by J. Taylor and A. Angel as the director.

[5] OTHER FISH (ca 1950’s)

This film is a drama about a man who goes fishing and meets a girl but they go their separate ways.

[6] INTERVIEW (ca 1950’s )

This film  is a drama about a man  who goes for an interview but things take a very strange turn.  The cameraman was Edward Gibson; the director was David Constable; the producer was the Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit and the cast was Joy Vice. The film lasts four minutes and 20 seconds. The cameraman was G. Gilbert; the producer was The Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit with D. G. Edwards playing the role of the boy.

[7] IS THERE A DOCTOR?

A drama about a women who reads a little about first aid, spots a man who falls over in the street and makes a very bad job of bandaging him up. The producer of this 2 minute and 20 second film was The Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit with Pat Muir in the cast.

[8] ODD MAN IN (ca 1950’s)

A drama about a man with no money in Tunbridge Wells who tries various modes of transport and finishes at a cricket match. The drama follows a man who leaves the YMCA, tries to catch a bus in Mount Pleasant Road, realises he has no money tries to get a lift with a car, rides a bicycle on the Boyne Road and The Five Ways, gets a coin but loses it again, catches a bus but is thrown off in Major Yorks Road, runs across The Common and ends up at a cricket match where he is given the bat but finishes eating a sandwich. This film of 5 minutes was produced by the Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit. The cameramen were Philip Frost and David Constable with the director given as Norman Wormleighton.

[9] DEAD MAN’S GOLD (Ca 1950’s)

A ‘Cowboys and Indians’ western style drama filmed at High Rocks, Groombridge, near Tunbridge Wells. Two ‘Cowboys’ take gold from a dead man, fight each other over whether to help an injured woman or leave with the gold, and are ambushed and killed by Apaches. The producer of this 6 minute and 20 second film was The Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit directed by E. Gibson.

[10] THE LADDER (Ca 1950’s)

A ‘chase’ drama about a man and women who are locked out of their house and need a ladder.

[11] FOOTBALL SUPPORTERS CLUB GALA & FETE (dated June 2,1952)

Various scenes at a gala at the Eridge Show Ground (the Agricultural Show) including a parade, dancing, a cowboy display by Cal McCord, and fun races. The film opens with the following titles: “Tunbridge Wells Amateur Cine Unit presents”; “football supporters club gala & fete”; “June 2nd 1952”; “parade through Church Road”. The film shows scenes of the parade through Church Road in Tunbridge Wells, including horse drawn carriages, children in the crowd, a marching band, people in fancy dress costumes, and carnival floats. An intertitle announces “Conibear dancing” followed by scenes of girls from the Tunbridge Wells Conibear School of Dancing on a stage in a field. This is followed by scenes of Morris dancing and sword dancing. The intertitle “Cal Mc’Cord” is shown followed by Cal McCord performing his variety cowboy act of lasso skills and horse riding, followed by signing autographs. Other events at the gala include a ‘him and her race’, a ‘potato race’, ‘lucky ticket draw’, and ‘presenting the prizes. This 6 minute and 20 second film was produced by The Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit with David George Edwards the cameraman with Cal McCord as a participant.

[12]BANG ON ( dated 1954)

A drama about a bomb plot against the Tunbridge Wells Cricket Ground during Cricket Week. The Bomber listens to a radio broadcast about a Cricket Match, at Neville Cricket Ground during Royal Tunbridge Wells Cricket Week. He makes a bomb, dons a disguise and heads for the Cricket Ground. The police call on the services of two private detectives. The detectives bump into the bomber and he is chased on foot and on bicycles through the streets of Tunbridge Wells including The Five Ways, Calverley Road, Carr’s Corner, Crescent Road, Mount Pleasant Avenue, and Warwick Park. They catch him at the Nevill Cricket Ground but after his arrest, his bomb sits smouldering on the Police officer’s desk. This film of 11 minutes and 20 seconds features Norman Wormleighton as the bomber.

[13] A VIEW OF THE WELLS (ca 1960) 

A film made by the Regency Film Unit of Tunbridge Wells, following people and scenes around Tunbridge Wells in the early 1960’s. Many of the scenes make visual connections to from a loose narrative. One image from the film is shown opposite.

[14] THE TURN OF THE CARD (ca 1960’s)

A drama about a game of cards which ends in violence.

[15] CITY GENTS ( Ca 1960’s)

A drama about a man who dresses like a ‘city gent’ with a bowler hat and briefcase but actually works in the gent’s toilets.

The man gets up and gets dressed, putting on a bowler hat. He cycles to work on a fold away bicycle. He rides down a “No Cycling” path and knocks over a vicar on a bicycle coming the other way. He stops to help a girl who has a shoe stuck in the pavement, and leaves his briefcase on the back of a car (a Mini). The car drives off with his briefcase on it, but after a chase he retrieves it. He finally arrives to start work in his job cleaning the gents toilets. This film was produced by the Tunbridge Wells & Regency Film Unit and is 8 minutes in length.

BOOK DEDICATIONS

Apart from his interest and active participation in film Basil F.A Cooper became an important author. Details about him are given in a later section but below is some information that connects his books with the Edwards family.

Mark Conway of Richard Dalby’s Library reported to me in September 2018 that he has a collection of books by Basil F.A Cooper (1924-2013) dedicated to David George Edwards before David passed away in 1974 and later some of Cooper’s books were dedicated to David’s mother Winifred. Mark made contact with a Karen (who’s uncle was David George Edwards) and she provided him with the following information. “ Winifred Edwards lived in Hawkenbury, which is part of Tunbridge Wells, and which is where my mum and uncle (David Edwards) grew up. David and Basil met at an amateur film club and they became close friends, making amateur films together and collecting old films too. David had converted the garage in the house to a cinema for them to make films. You’ll see the first few books by Basil Cooper are dedicated to my uncle David who died in 1973 aged around 35. At that point, Basil and his wife Annie remained close friends with Winifred and this is why the dedications change from David to Winifred”. Shown above are two examples of Cooper’s books dedicated to Winifred Edwards. Shown below is a photograph of Winifred Edwards and Annie Cooper that was sent to me by Karen Wallace.
From an email to me Karen supplemented the above comments with the following. “ Winifred Edwards lived at 12 Boundary Road in Hawkenbury. The garage at her home was converted into a cinema with a screen and some old red velvet cinema seats and that home/garage became the home base of David and Basils film work. David was educated from the ages of 5 to 11 at the Blessed Sacrament Convent in Tunbridge Wells. At the age of 11 he attended Skinners School in Tunbridge Wells until he was 18. David went to work for Rank Precision Industries Ltd where he did a ‘sandwich’ course from January 1958 to December 1961 in conjunction with Brunel College of Technology (now Brunel University) where he gained a Diploma in Technology (Electrical Engineering)-this was later amended to a B Tech. David lodged in Shepherd’s Bush in London during the week and came home at weekends. Later, he bought a house in East Sheen, London. David never married”.

BASIL F.A COOPER (1924-2013)

Basil Cooper along with his friend David George Edwards founded The Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film unit in 1950.

Basil was born February 5,1924 in London. His mother’s maiden name was Miller. Basil moved with his family to Kent as a boy. “Little Willy”, as he was affectionately known, attended the local grammar school, where he contributed fiction to the school magazine, took part in amateur dramatics and was a member of a football team.  A voracious reader, Cooper also started haunting bookshops and libraries and soon discovered the works of MR James and Edgar Allan Poe.  At a local commercial college, he learned bookkeeping, economics and shorthand and touch-typing. Cooper began training as an apprentice journalist, but with the outbreak of WW II many reporters were conscripted, and he soon found himself in charge of the local newspaper branch office at the age of 17, while also serving in the Home Guard.

Cooper then joined the Royal Navy and was a radio operator with a motor gunboat flotilla off the Normandy beaches during the D Day invasion. He subsequently spent two years on radio stations in Egypt, Malta and Gilbraltar, before demobilisation.

Cooper resumed his career in the regional press, becoming editor of the Sevenoaks edition of the Kent Messenger.

In 1950 Basil met David George Edwards and his mother Winifred, who were living in Hawkenbury at the time and with Edwards formed The Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit. Basil and David became good friends and shared an interest in film making. Shown opposite is a photograph of Basil Cooper on the right and David George Edwards on the left.

In the 2nd quarter of 1960 Basil married French born Annie Renee A. Guerin in Tunbridge Wells. He had met Annie while she was a student learning English.

Cooper made his fiction debut in The Fifth Book of Pan Horror Stories (1964) with The Spider, for which he was paid 10 pounds. He then set out to write a novel called The Dark Mirror which was turned down by 32 publishers because it was too long, before3 Robert Hale eventually published a cut-down version. Four years later Cooper gave up journalism to write full –time. Details about his book production can be found on the internet. Basil became a British author, producing a large body of work. He wrote several horror and detective stories and novels. He was perhaps best known for his series of Solar Pons stories continuing the character created as a tribute to Sherlock Holmes

When David George Edwards died in 1974 Basil and his wife Annie remained close friends with Winifred Edwards and as noted in the previous section a number of his books were dedicated variously to David Edwards and his mother Winifred. Shown opposite is one of Basil’s books entitled The Dark Mirror.

When David Edwards died Basil made a list of the films they had produced and donated the films along with the list to the Centre for Kentish Studies (now in the collection of the Screen Archive South East in Brighton.

Basil F.A. Cooper died April 3,2013. An obituary for him appeared in The Guardian April 14,2013, noting that Basil had died at age 89 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The photograph of Basil, given at the top of this section came from The Guardian article.

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in Cooper’s work and in 2008 PS Publishing brought out a ‘Basil Cooper: A Life in Books”. Cooper’s story ‘Camera Obscura’ was dramatized for the TV series Rod Sterling’s Night Gallery in 1971 and there was also a BBC production in 1991. Basil had been a member of the Crime Writers’ Association for more than 30 years, serving as its chairman form 1981 until 1982 and on its committee for seven years. In 2010 he was presented with the inaugural lifetime achievement award of the World Horror Convention in Brighton. He was survived by his wife Annie.

From the website ‘ Encyclopedia.com’ (which provides details of all his literary work )it was noted that Basil’s education included the Glasgow Wireless College and that his hobby was old films and was a member of the British Film Institute and and founder of the Tunbridge Wells Vintage Film Society and a member of the Vintage Film Circle. He had received several awards for his writing.

DAVID GEORGE EDWARDS (1938-1974)

David was born April 8,1938 at The Maternity Home in Tunbridge Wells His birth was registered in the Tonbridge District with his mother’s maiden name given as Coomber on April 18, 1938.  

David  and his sister Jennifer P. Edwards (born 1946 reg. Tonbridge) were the only known children born to Winifred Matilda Edwards, nee Coomber, and Alfred George Edwards. Winifred had married Alfred in the 4th qtr of 1931 at East Grinstead.

I begin may account of David with some background information about his parents and ancestors.

Alfred George Edwards was born April 5,1898 in Sevenoaks and died in Tunbridge Wells in the 4th qtr of 1971. He was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on October 25,1971. Alfred was related to his wife’s maternal branch of the Edwards family.

Winifred Matilda Edwards, nee Coomber was born December 8,1906 in Penshurst with her death registered in the 2nd qtr of 2003 in Kent. Winifred was the daughter of Henry Coomber (born 1881 in Penshurst) and Kate Caroline Coomber, nee Edwards born 1881 at Ivy Church,Kent who’s death was registered in Tonbridge in 1971. Kate Caroline Edwards was one of several children born to Thomas and Mary Ann Edwards and her brother was Charles David Edwards (1883-1970).

Henry Coomber (1881 Penshurst-1949 East Grinstead) was the son of John Thomas Coomber a stockman on a farm in Penshurst who was born 1858 in Penshurst. Henry’s mother was Deenes Coomber born 1858 in Chidddingstone, Kent. The 1881 census taken at Poundsbridge, Kent gave John T. Coomber as a bricklayer labourer. With him was his wife Dennes and their two sons John T and Henry. Moving ahead to the 1901 census John T. Coomber and his family were living at Marlpitt Corner in Penshurst and working as a stockman on a farm. With him was his wife Deenes,; one granddaughter and their three sons John T (a gardeners assistant); Henry (a gardeners assistant) and Ernest, age 15, a greengrocer worker.  On April 4,1904 Henry Coomber married Kate Caroline Edwards at Bidborough,Kent. Henry’s father was given as John Thomas Coomber and Kate’s father was given as Thomas Edwards(1856-1905). More about Thomas Edwards and his family are given later.  The 1911 census taken at Thimble Hall, Penshurst, gave Henry Coomber as a gardener. With him was his wife Kate Caroline and their daughter Winifred Matilda. The census recorded that the family were living in premises of 4 rooms; that the couple had been marrie4d 7 years and that they had just the one child.

Probate records gave Henry Coomber of Quarry Cottage, Wall Hill Road, East Grinstead when he died March 7,1949 at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. The executors of his estate were his widow Kate Caroline Coomber and Winifred Matilda Edwards (wife of Alfred George Edwards and daughter of Henry Coomber). Henry’s wife Kate Caroline Coomber, nee Edwards, born January 15,1881 in Ivy Church, Kent (baptised March 27,1881 at Ivy Church,Kent ) died in 1971 with her death registered in the Tonbridge District.

Returning to Thomas Edwards (1856-1905) a family tree noted that he had been born August 20,1856 in Ivy Church, Kent and died February 10,1905 in Romney Marsh. His wife was Mary Anny Martin born 1857 in Stone, Kent, who died May 25,1945 in Tonbridge. Thomas and his wife had 10 children including a daughter Kate Caroline Edwards(1881-1971) and a son Charles David Edwards born November 8,1883 at Ivy Church and died in the 2nd qtr of 1970 at Surrey. The 1891 census, taken at Brenzett Green, Brenzett, Kent gave Thomas Edwards as an agricultural labourer. With him was his wife Mary Ann and seven or their children including their daughter Kate Caroline Edwards and their son Charles David Edwards.

David Charles Edwards had married May Theresa Coster (1881-1952) on November 17,1906 at Bryanston Square St Mary and with her had a daughter Anita M. Edwards (born 1913) who later married and became Anita M. Gittings. Charles also had a son Frederick E. Edwards born in 1920.

Winifred Matilda Coomber, the daughter of Henry Coomber and Kate Caroline Coomber ,nee Edwards, was born December 8,1906 in Penshurst. Her birth was registered in Sevenoaks in the 1st qtr of 1907. Decendents of Winifred state that her father Henry went on to be the head gardener at Penshurst Place and that Winifred used to play with the De L’ Isle children. In the 4th qtr of 1931 her marriage to Alfred George Edwards (1898-1971)was registered in East Grinstead. From the probate record of her father Henry it appears most likely that Winnifred was living with her parents in East Grinstead at the time of her marriage. A directory of 1939 taken for 1 Quarry Cottage, Wall Hill Road, East Grinstead listed Henry Coomber, born September 27,1880, a gardener. With him was his wife Kate Caroline Coomber born January 15,1881 (unpaid domestic work) and Winifred Matilda Edwards, a married lady born December 8,1906 (unpaid domestic duties) . Also there was Winifred’s son (the central figure in this article) David George Edwards born April 8,1938. Shown above is a photograph provided by Karen Wallace of David George Edwards on the left holding the camera and his mother Winifred. This photograph was taken on the occasion of the wedding of Karen’s mum at St Marks Church, Tunbridge Wells on March 22,1969.

A second directory of 1939 provides information about where Alfred George Edwards (the husband of Winifred Matilda Edwards) was and what his occupation was. The directory gave a listing for the premises at 12 Boundary Road, Tunbridge Wells and gave Alfred George Edwards as born April 5,1898 , married, and working as a “S Class clerk for the Ministry of Labour”. With him was his maternal relative Charles David Edwards,married, born November 8,1883, a chauffeur and Charles wife May Theresa Edwards born April 10,1881 (unpaid domestic work) and Charles daughter Anita M. Edwards, single, a dressmaker. The Ministry of Labour was a British government department established by the New Ministries and Secretaries Act 1916 and later morphed into the Department of Employment. Most of its functions are now performed by the Department for Work and Pensions. The Gazette recorded an appointment dated December 9,1924 for Alfred George Edwards with the Ministry of Labour.

Winifred and Alfred are known from birth records to have had a second child, namely Jennifer P. Edwards who’s birth was registered at Tonbridge in 1946. By 1950 at the latest Winifred,Alfred and their children David George Edwards and Jennifer P. Edwards were living in Hawkenbury and it was while there that David and Basil Cooper started up their film studio. Hawkenbury,a small village south east of Tunbridge Wells was settled before Tunbridge Wells itself was founded in the 17th century, and at one time fell within the parish of Frant, lying as it then did in Sussex. It was originally known as "Hockenbury". A photo dated 1960 given opposite provides a view of Hawkenbury Road.  

Bacon's 1912 map of Tunbridge Wells shows the centre of Hawkenbury lying along Hawkenbury Road, being that area currently lying south of the recreation ground.

Winifred Matilda Edwards died May 14,2003. Her death was registered in Kent. She was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on May 22,2003.

David George Edward’s death was registered in the 2nd qtr of 1974 at Lambeth, London but was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on January 15,1974. He had a short life, passing away at only age 36. The Courier of January 18,1974 reported “ David George Edwards of 12 Boundary Road, Tunbridge Wells passed away January 9th at King’s College Hospital, London after a sudden illness. Always Remembered”.

Alfred George Edwards later to be the husband of Winifred Matilda Edwards may be the Alfred George Edwards baptised May 29,1898 at Staplehurst, Kent, given as the son of George and Lily Martha Edwards. It is known from the 1939 directory that Alfred was born April 5,1898. The 1901 census, taken at Chiddingstone in the district of Sevenoaks gave George Edwards as born 1870 in Chiddingstone and working as a bricklayer foreman. With him was his wife Lily M. Edwards, born 1875 in Staplehurst and their children Alfred George Edwards, given as born 1899 in Chiddingston  and Ivy E Edwards born 1900 in Chiddingstone. Also there was a sister in law Florence E. Foreman,age 15 bon 1886 in Staplehurst. The 1911 census, taken at Wellers Tavern in Chiddingstone gave George Edwards as a bricklayers foreman and with him in premises of 3 rooms was his wife Lily Martha Edwards and their children Alfred George, age 12; Ivy,age 11 and Clarence, age 10. The census recorded that George and Ivy had been married 14 years and had just the three children listed in this census.

Alfred George Edwards  died in Tunbridge Wells in the 4th qtr of 1971 and was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on October 25,1971. The Courier of October 29,1971 reported” Death of Alfred George Edwards October 21st age 73 of 12 Boundary Road, Tunbridge Wells.”

THE OBITUARY OF DAVID GEORGE EDWARDS

The following obituary (forward to me by Karen Wallace) was written by Basil Cooper and appeared in a magazine for cine enthusiasts called ‘9.5 Magazine’ in the Winter 1973/1974 edition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


TWO GIRLS ON A BENCH

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

Date: September 19,2018

INTRODUCTION 

In September 2018 and interesting postcard was offered for sale on eBay showing two cute little girls named Sylvia and Winnie (Winifred) with a connection to Tunbridge Wells. This postcard peaked my curiosity to discover who the girls were and where the photograph was taken. Fortunately the Tunbridge Wells postmark of 1921 and the postage stamp itself (issued in 1921)gave some clues as to the timeframe the image was taken. The written note on the back showed that the postcard had been mailed by a lady from her home at 6 Dunstan Road, Tunbridge Wells, and that the two girls in the photo were her daughters. Mention of her husband Wilf (Wilfred) and his new motor car was also made. The postcard was mailed to a Miss M. Franklin of 2 Granby Gardens in Reading, Berkshire, information that led me to investigate who Miss Franklin was and what connection she had with the sender.

In this brief article I present the results of my research and serves in some measure as an example of what can be learned from a photograph and what steps can be taken in conducting a genealogical study from slim information.

Shown above is the front of the postcard and in the next section I present the back of it and the results of my research.

A POSTCARD STUDY

The front of the postcard shows two little girls sitting on a bench in the garden. The back of the postcard gave the address of the sender as 6 Dunstan Road, Tunbridge Wells and this was the place from which the photograph of the two girls was taken. Who the photographer was could not be determined as the back of the postcard (shown opposite) provided no information in this regard nor the name of the company who printed/published the postcard. Tunbridge Wells was blessed with a number of skilled photographers at that time and although most of them concentrated on providing portrait studio photographs some also did field photography.

The back of the postcard shows only that it was a divided back card, typical of most postcards produced in the 20th century. Regarding dating it was noted from the 1p red postage stamp and a stamp catalogue that this stamp was first issued in 1921  and although the complete date on the Tunbridge Wells postmark was not visible it was determined by contacting the sender that it was franked on May 23,1921.

The postcard noted that it had been mailed to a Miss M. Franklin of 2 Granby Gardens, Reading, Berkshire and from that a search was made for her. Below is what I found.

The 1911 census, taken at 2 Granby Gardens, Reading gave Harry Franklin born 1872 in Reading with the occupation of publican. With him was his wife Alice, born 1874 in Wargrave, Berkshire and their children Rosa,age 13; Jessica,age 9; Irene,age 7; Ketty,age 5 and Dorothy,age 2. Also there was Horace Perkins, born 1871, given as a brother in law/boarder and labourer. No “ M. Franklin” was found listed but the surname and address matched the information on the postcard. The census recorded that the Franklin family were living in premises of 5 rooms.

The 1901 census, taken at 3 Nursery Road in Berkshire gave the answer as to who Miss M. Franklin was. The census gave Harry Franklin,age 30 as tin cleaner in a bisquit factory. With him was his wife Alice, age 20; their daughter MILDRED FRANKLIN born 1895 in Sulhampshire, Berkshire and their daughters Rosa,age 3 and Jessie,age 11 mths.

A birth record for Mildred gave her full name as Mildred Augusta P. Franklin, who’s birth was registered in the second qtr of1895 in Bradfield, Berkshire, the daughter of Harry and Alice Franklin.

At the time the postcard was sent in 1921 to Miss M. Franklin she was back living with her parents at 2 Granby Gardens. Having established who the recipient of the postcard was, I then moved on to find out more about 6 Dunstan Road.

Dunstan Road is found on maps in the area of Woodbury Park and runs north from the intersection of Woodbury Park Road and Upper Grosvenor Road up to Queens Road. A modern photograph of 6 Dunstan Road is shown opposite, a modest home described in the 1911 census as a residence of 7 rooms. At the time of the 1911 census, 6 Dunstan Road was the residence of James Eadd, born 1869 in Wadhurst, Sussex (a general building bricklayer) and his wife given only a K.A, born 1869. Also there was E.B. age 20, a provision clerk and K.M. Eadd,age 12.Also there were two boarders. None of the initials of the occupants match the first name of the sender of the postcard (Mabel ?) or the names of the two little girls Sylvia and Winnie,  or the husband Wilf (Wilfred)and from that one can conclude that Eadd was not the surname of the postcard sender and that the sender of the postcard did not occupy 6 Dunstan Road until sometime after 1911 but at least by 1921.  A review of other occupants of Dunstan Road in 1911 indicated that they were largely from the working class and so one can conclude both from the occupation of them and from the occupation of the recipient of the postcard that the family of the sender were also from the working class.

The book, ‘The Residential Parks of Tunbridge Wells’ by the Civic Society provide a chapter (6)  on the Woodbury Park development written by Susan Brown and Ann Bates. It noted that the first development was the Woodbury Park Cemetery in 1849. In 1856 the Conservative Land Society became owners of large part of the estate and developed the 60 acre site  into building lots for homes under the name of “The Woodbury Park Estate”. Advertisments for homes in the development began to appear in 1856 with the development proceeding in stages from John Street Road in an easterly direction.

In 1863 the final allotment of 37 plots in the development came available and the ordnance map of 1867 shows Dunstan Road and a sales record of 1883 noted that there were few remaining sites left to build on. One can conclude that 6 Dunstan Road was most likely built in the 1870’s.

No. 6 Dunstan Road was one of the terraced homes in the development. It was a 2 sty residence built of red brick and still exists today and is found at the north end of Dunstan Road just south of Queens Road on the east side, next door to and just north of Dunstan Hill House (today flats). An image of 6 Dunstan Road is shown above.

In the 1930’s 6 Dunstan Road was the residence of the Allen and Maxwell families.

Returning now to the sender of the postcard  it was signed “ Love to all May…? (indecipherable) X” . The writing refers to her daughters Winnie and Sylvia and to “Wilf” (Wilfred) who is most likely the senders husband. Much is made in the note about a new small two seater motorcar. The two girls in the image appear to be about age 5-7 making their birth (if the photo was taken in 1921) about 1914-1916. As few people could afford to own a motor car at that time the purchase of a “new” one suggests that the families financial fortunes had improved and may have placed them among the few working class families with a motor car at that time. The fact that the surname of the sender was not given made researching the sender extremely difficult and a reply to the sender from Miss Franklin was not located, which would have provided an important missing part of the puzzle.  As a result no definitive information was found about the family who sent the postcard.

HIGHWAYMEN AND SMUGGLERS

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

Date: October 1,2018

INTRODUCTION  

My interest in highwaymen was aroused by a recent BBC production aired in Canada about the notorious highwaymen of England; the methods used by them to relieve travellers of their valuable possessions; and the steps that were taken to bring this form of crime to an end.

Various accounts have been written about the history of highwaymen and occasionally some references to highwaymen operating in the vicinity of Tunbridge Wells were found.

Highwaymen operated on the roads leading to and from Tunbridge Wells since the waters of the town were discovered in the 17th century. Until the arrival of the railway in Tunbridge Wells travel to and from the town was a long, expensive and tedious journey by horse drawn coach or by horse alone. Along the route were a series of inns spaced out in accordance with the need to change horses and these inns became favourite haunts of highwaymen who sought food and refreshment and an opportunity to assess the travellers and what valuables they might have. As tolls had to be paid along the route it was necessary for travellers to carry money and most travellers carried other valuables such as jewellery and watches, all of which attracted highwaymen who intended to relieve them of their possessions. The mail coaches themselves carried mail and packages, items often worthy of stealing.

Another aspect of crime was smuggling, largely brought about by the high taxes levied on certain goods, and a desire to avoid paying them. Much of these goods arrived by ship on the coast of Kent and transported secretly by smugglers inland. The destination of some of these goods were Tunbridge Wells, and much speculation has been made about so called smugglers caves and a network of smugglers tunnels. These have been claimed to run from Mount Ephraim through the commons, a claim which to this date has not been proven, although it is true from inspecting the basements of buildings on Mount Ephraim and elsewhere in the town that some tunnels exist, but why they are there/ where they go/ and what they were used for has not been definitively determined. Many of them were no doubt were used for the underground storage of wine (wine vaults).

In this article I provide some brief information on highwaymen and smuggling as it applies to Tunbridge Wells.

SMUGGLING IN KENT

The close proximity to continental Europe, good roads to London, and a poor domestic economy at the end of 17th century created ideal conditions for organised smuggling to flourish. At its height, the illegal trade was controlled by ruthless gangs who did not hesitate to commit murder, violence, blackmail and bribery. So secure was their position that they transported goods in broad daylight in convoys of hundreds of heavily armed men. At a time when most people went no more than a few miles from home, they thought nothing of travelling from one side of Britain to another. This was organised crime on a massive scale. Government figures from 1782 estimated that a quarter of all the vessels engaged in smuggling nationwide were based in Kent and Sussex. Half the gin smuggled into England was landed here.

Kentish smuggling first grew from the illegal exportation of wool. The government imposed restrictions on the trade, and by 1700 up to 150,000 'packs' of wool a year were being shipped from the area days after shearing. From these beginnings the Huguenot families who controlled the trade grew into the first smuggling gangs. As import taxes on luxury items were imposed, gangs, large and small, adapted and by 1720 the emphasis was on bringing in tea, spirits, tobacco and other goods. The black economy pervaded all social levels and it has been claimed that Sir Robert Whalpole (Whig Prime Minister) amassed much of his fortune from the trade. Smugglers soon became involved in other enterprises, including the Jacobite rebellion, international espionage, military campaigns (Nelson employed smugglers from the town of Deal as pilots due to their experience) and highway robbery. Conflicts with the French throughout the late 1700s made smuggling harder, but despite the efforts of William Pitt and the Napoleon, 'classic' smuggling continued in the southeast until the 1830s.

Sea smugglers brought goods ashore (a process known as landing), before inland gangs took over to hide, distribute and sell the contraband. Hence many of the gangs operated in towns and villages miles from the sea. Kent's coastline encompasses muddy tidal creeks in the north, sandy coves and chalk cliffs to the east, and long shingle beaches and brooding marshes to the south. These differences in terrain led to the development of different techniques for landing and hiding good. Even so, the gangs could not have operated without significant financial backing; some shipments required an initial outlay of more than £10,000.

LANGTON GREEN

Langton Green, just 2 miles from the town of Tunbridge Wells was blessed with natural springs throughout the village although on dark nights some of the lanes were best avoided in case one should be accosted by highwaymen. One of these springs was at Gipps Cross ( also referred to as Gibbets Cross) which in the past accused highwaymen and other criminals were hung up in chains so to warn others not to offend.

COACHES TO LONDON

From the ‘Snailway Guide to Tunbridge Wells’ by Joseph Ashby-Sterry (1884) was the following regarding travelling by coach between Tunbridge Wells and London. “ There were all sorts of adventures that might befall one-an axle might break, a horse or two might go lame, a coach might upset, or we might meet a couple of highwaymen, with black crape masks, on Hounslow Heath. All this gave an air of adventure to the journey and a smack of tragedy which was vastly pleasant”.

Another article about the history of turnpike roads gave “Last and not least was the danger from highwaymen and footpads. London was surrounded by heaths and commons. The road to Truro had to pass through Hounslow Heath and Maidenhead Thicket, both notorious for highwaymen. The introduction of armed guards on mail and stage coaches reduced the risks and the introduction of the turnpikes with the manned toll houses reduced the risks still further and by the 1820's attacks were rare.”

THE SPREAD EAGLE PUB IN HAWKENBURY

Given in this section is an article about this pub dated August 31,2011 which included the photo opposite.

Legend has it that The Spread Eagle pub on Forest Road has been the haunt of quite a few famous faces over the years. The historic inn dates back to the 16th Century and is one of the oldest local buildings.  Many royals are said to have dined here, highwaymen have been refreshed on this spot and weary travellers stopped on their way through the village.

Edward VII is thought to have had a friend (no more details are known) who lived nearby and often graced the pub’s doorstep to meet with them. Edward ruled for just nine years, despite being an heir for over 60. He became a leader of London society before he was crowned in 1901 and was known for his gambling, shooting and drinking. Hence his visits to The Spread Eagle.

Despite marrying Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863 and having six children, he enjoyed a well- publicised string of long term mistresses. These included a scandalous dalliance with the popular actress, Lily Langtry. His father, Prince Albert died shortly after this humiliation, leaving his mother, Queen Victoria, blaming Edward for her husband’s demise. 

Incidentally, it was Edward who had a hand in recognising the high reputation and distinguished clientele that our town attracted. After many years of entertaining the aristocracy and countless noblemen, Tunbridge Wells was allowed the prefix ‘Royal’ in 1909.

Popping in to The Spread Eagle meant the future King was following in the footsteps of the notorious Dick Turpin, a dashing and daring highway man born in 1705. As a young man he bought himself a horse called Black Bess plus a gun, cloak and a mask all to help him rob coaches on the roads into London.

He was one of the most wanted men in the country and built up a fearful reputation, along with a relationship with a young lady friend who lived in Rusthall, just a couple of miles from Hawkenbury.  Indeed, it was after paying her a visit he would be seen enjoying a restorative ale at The Spread Eagle.

Looking through our records we have also discovered that Dick Turpin may not have been quite such a legend as some people would make out. One of his most famous achievements was said to be riding from London to York in less than 24 hours. In reality this journey was made by 17th Century highwayman John ‘Swift Nick’ Nevison, as he attempted to create an alibi after robbing a sailor.

It wasn’t until Turpin was waiting to be hung at York racecourse that he exhibited any of the arrogant nonchalance that was accredited to him.

Further details about this pub can be found in my article ‘ The Spread Eagle Public House’ dated May 11,2013.

SMUGGLERS CAVES AND TUNNELS

From my research on various businesses in Tunbridge Wells frequent reference was found to the existence of wine vaults and tunnels, and although most had a legitimate use for the storage of wine purchased by the vendor on legitimate grounds, it is expected due to high taxes on wine that they also served as a place where smuggled wine was kept.  Many of these vaults and tunnels today have been bricked over and little if any information is known about them. References to their existence are given for such businesses in the Pantiles and also near or connected to the hotels on Mount Ephraim.

A number of caves exist near the town, such as those at Happy Valley where it has been speculated that they were used by smugglers, although it has been speculated that they had other uses. Details about these caves were given in my article ‘ The Sweeps Cave/The Old Kitchen’ dated July 2,2014. Another cave is the one at the northern end of the Commons that was used during WWII as a bomb shelter but existed since at least the 19th century. It is speculated that this cave connects, or at least once connected,  to certain buildings on Mount Ephraim.

Another interesting building involving tunnels is that of Mount Ephraim House located at the corner of Mount Ephraim and Bishops Down which was constructed in the 17th century and was one of the earliest residences built in the area at that time. The history of this building was reported on in my article ‘ Mount Ephraim House and its Occupants’ dated February 18,2013. In part of that article I wrote the following. “It cannot be determined where on the property the original house was built but photographs of the basement with its stone walls, its labyrinth of passageways and tunnels seems to suggest that the buildings current foundation (or at least a small part of it) are original to the 17th century. Christopher Cassidy(of the Anke blog) wrote an interesting article with photos in 2012 which I have borrowed from. He explored the bowels of the building to see if there was any truth to the legend that Charles II had a tunnel built from the cellars of the building all the way under the Common to The Pantiles for the apparent purpose, as the storey goes, so he could ferry ladies of the night to his chamber without them being seen. This certainly sounds more like fiction then fact to me but armed with a camera and a keen eye Christopher did some exploring. One of the photos he took is shown opposite and clearly shows old stone walls and a former passageway closed up with modern concrete blocks. Where this blocked entrance went to remains to be determined. It has also been rumoured that Charles II hid in a secret chamber constructed beneath the house to avoid Cromwell’s army,but if there ever was one it has yet to be found. The tunnel legend to the Commons and Pantiles makes no practical sense due to both the distance the tunnel would have to travel and the approximate 130 foot drop in elevation from the house. It is more likely that any tunnel from the house comes out on the estate grounds. In this regard there are two possibilities. Firstly there may have been a tunnel from the main house to the stable block building to the rear of the main house. Or secondly, there is a tall ‘castle like’ structure built into the stone wall on Bishop’s Down which might be the entrance to the tunnel to the house from the road. A detailed and scientific study of the site would be required to solve this mystery and set the historical record straight.” If the tunnel leads to the wall on Bishops Down what was its purpose-smuggling?

When researching the history of the Mount Edgcumbe Hotel in the Commons a number of people replied to my inquiry about what was claimed to be a tunnel from the hotel to Hawkenbury used for smuggling.  The results of my research appeared in my article ‘ William Raiswell and the Mount Edgcumbe Hotel’ dated August 18,2012. Here is what others they had to say who replied to my inquiry. “There are indeed a number of very long tunnels under the Tunbridge Wells Common and in the area generally. One down under the Common towards the Pantiles I know by hearsay. Another better known tunnel has an entrance near the Russel Hotel but it has been capped to prevent access. It was used by the military during the war. This has been visited by a number of people I know and I have looked into it (literally) myself. There are tunnels - or at least one - under the Culverden Park - I lived there as a child and our neighbour's garden collapsed into it. As to Mt Edgcumbe I agree that there is very little likelihood of a tunnel going all the way from there to Hawkenbury. These tunnels are not well advertised for the very good reason they don't want people investigating for safety reasons.” “In my opinion it would be a near impossibility to have a tunnel from The Mount Edgcumbe to Hawkenbury, they are at least a mile apart. There are lots of fanciful stories about tunnels under TW but apart from a few passages between buildings (King Charles the Martyr to the old school house) I have seen no evidence.  Another problem with tunneling under TW are the amount of springs  in the area, and the geography being on hills. I think in Chapel place there are several basements all linked together.

Recently someone reported on a blog “There are also loads of tunnels leading from The Pantiles to The common - a vestige of the smuggling that took place.”

Another wrote “There are lots of tunnels under Tunbridge Wells that run all the way to Hastings, which smugglers used to use to transport goods. And allegedly some businessmen also used the tunnels to go in and out of the town, so that they could sleep with high-class prostitutes without being seen.

[1] THE HAWKHURST GANG 

Much of the contraband entering the country across the sand and shingle coasts of Romney Marsh was shipped on packhorses to London, soon passing through the sleepy hamlet of Hawkhurst ten miles or so inland. In the 1730s this collection of scattered farms and houses was the headquarters of the most notorious gang in the history of English smuggling. This gang was formed in the mid 1730’s. Five years later the gang had been consolidated into a powerful fighting force that was to dominate Kentish smuggling for the next decade. By 1747 the Hawkhurst gang had extended their sphere of influence to the village of Goudhurst where the gang used 'Spyways' on the main street, and the Star and Eagle Inn  near the church. Robertsbridge was the scene of a bloody battle involving members of the Hawkhurst gang.

[2] THE GROOMBRIDGE GANG

The Groombridge gang rose to prominence in the 1730s, landing contraband at Lydd, Fairlight, Bulverhythe and Pevensey. Like other gangs, this team reveled in nicknames; Flushing Jack, Bulverhythe Tom, Towzer, Old Joll, Toll, The Miller, Yorkshire George, and Nasty Face all humped kegs and bales off the beaches or stood guard. These names weren't just familiarities — they hid the identities of the people involved.

Official records first feature the Groombridge men in 1733. 30 of them were ferrying tea inland from Romney Marsh via Iden in a convoy of 50 horses when three preventive men, two dragoons and a foot soldier made the mistake of challenging the convoy at Stonecrouch. For their interest the customs men were disarmed, and their guns made useless; they were then marched at gun-point for four hours to Groombridge, and on to Lamberhurst, where their weapons were returned to them after they had promised not to renew the pursuit.

By 1737 the gang were said to be terrorizing the area, and the military were sent to Groombridge to restore order. In the same year an informer who signed himself simply 'Goring' provided a detailed insight into the gang's activities, referring directly to an armed clash at Bulverhythe.

In 1740 the Groombridge gang were implicated in the attack at Robertsbridge on the customs men carrying seized tea to Hastings, and they continued to operate up to the end of the decade, when an informer provided information that led to the round up and subsequent trial of the majority of the gang's leading lights.

[3] THE GABRIEL TOMKINS (MAYFIELD) GANG

The village of Mayfield was the base for a powerful company that flourished for a few years in the early part of the 18th century. The group was led by Gabriel Tomkins (who later turned from poacher to gamekeeper). They landed contraband along the length of the Sussex coastline, and into Kent. Favourite haunts included Lydd, Fairlight, Hastings, Eastbourne, Seaford and Goring.

On March 23,1750 Gabriel Tomkins, also known by a number of aliases including  Jarvis and "Uncle", was executed and hung in chains between Hockliffe and Dunstable after being convicted of robbing the Chester mail near Hockliffe. The Gentleman's Magazine of July 1746 records that on Tuesday 1st July: "The Postboy with the Chester mail was robb'd near Hockliff in Bedfordshire between Fenny Stratford and Dunstable, by a single highwayman, for conviction of whom 200 pounds are offer'd, besides the reward given by Act of Parliament for apprehending highwaymen, and pardon to an accomplice".

Tomkins' execution was recorded in The Gentleman's Magazine of March 1750, when two other highwaymen were also executed for robbing the Yarmouth mail in July 1749.

Tomkins' story is a fascinating one. He began life as a bricklayer from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, before becoming the leader of the notorious Mayfield smuggling gang which operated on the south coast of England. In 1721 he was captured and sentenced to seven years transportation, whereupon he turned King's Evidence and was released. After a further spell in gaol by 1733 Tomkins was considered a reformed character to such an extent that he was appointed a Customs Officer and was subsequently given charge of the Customs House at Dartford [Kent] and appointed Bailiff to the Sheriff of Sussex. His career on the right side of the law did not last and by 1741 he had reverted to a life of crime. He appears to have joined the equally notorious Hawkhurst gang as well as operating as a highwayman and taking part in the Chester mail robbery which brought about his downfall. He was arrested on 11th January 1750 and tried at Bedford Lent Assizes on 8th March 1750 on a charge of "robbing Thomas Roone [the postboy] in a certain field and open place near the King's Highway, and stole one Grey Gelding, price £30.00 of Samuel Lorde, and Goods value £40.00 of Our Lord the King".

There is some conjecture as to the place of Tomkins' execution. It is possible he was hanged at Gallows Corner, Bedford and his body then brought to the area in which his crime was committed to be displayed as a grisly warning to other highwaymen. On the other hand there is known to have been a gibbet by Watling Street near to Chalk Hill in Houghton Regis, at the corner of "that close called Gib Close". The exact location is unclear.

A description of Gabriel Tomkins appears in the Treasury Papers for January 1729. He was "something pitted with the smallpox, has a very large black eyebrow and usually wore a light wig and fustian frock – is now supposed to wear his own dark brown hair, is a tall well-made man, [and] was shot through the left arm with a brace of bullets".

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