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

Date: September 5,2016


Many artists have lived in or visited Tunbridge Wells and have captured various views of the town. One such artist who painted in oil and watercolour was William Henry Borrow (1840-1905) who is best known for his seaside paintings of Hastings and other parts of Sussex. Three examples of the watercolours he did in Tunbridge Wells of Toad Rock, High Rocks and the Pantiles, which are shown in this article , were executed by him in the early 1900’s and reproduced as postcards by the Watercolour Post Card Company of London and Hastings, the same company that produced many other postcards from his paintings. These three postcards were mailed from Tunbridge Wells and bear a postmark of 1905.

William had been born in Germany and came to England with his parents and three siblings in 1844 and settled in Hackney, Middlesex, where in 1846 a fourth child,Ada Jessie Borrow was born.

William Henry’s father was William Borrow (1797-1876), an accountant/clerk born in Liskeard, Cornwall, a place where there were many members of the Borrow clan.  William Henry’s mother was Martha Smerdon Borrow, nee Currie (1794-1874).

On October 13,1869 William Henry Borrow married Mary Wingfield (1840-1916), one of at least three children born to shoemaker Nicholas Wingfield and Mary Wingfield. Mary had been born in Hastings, Sussex and it was there that she was living with her parents and siblings before the marriage.

William Henry Borrow and Mary had three children namely Lydia, Fanny and Sidney. Birth records for the children and other sources show that this family settled in Hastings,Sussex circa 1875 and it was then and during the years afterwards that most of Williams’s paintings were produced, although marriage,census and other records show he was active as an artist from 1863 to 1901.  He also produced paintings of the Netherlands and elsewhere, and art experts state that he adopted a Dutch style with many views of seaside scenes of boats, fishermen, etc.

William had left Hastings to study painting in London at James M. Leigh’s school where his principal tutor was the marine painter James Francis Danby (image opposite). William’s work had been exhibited extensively at the Royal Academy in London and elsewhere. A large collection of his work can be found at the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery and two others in the town, including the Fishermens Museum, a museum I visited in 2015 with my friend Mrs Susan Prince and my second cousin Christine Harrison and her husband Alan, during our day long trip to Hastings. His work has been reproduced and offered for sale by several companies. Original work by him has been sold regularly at auction, including Sotheby’s, one of which sold by them was sold for over $14,000.  When he died in Hastings July 12,1905 his daughters found in his studio 59 watercolours and 30 oil paintings. He was buried along with his wife and some other members of his family in the Hastings Cemetery.

This article shows the only three paintings known to have been produced by him in Tunbridge Wells and provides information about him and his family and his artistic career. The first of these is shown above  and is based on his watercolour painting of Toad Rock.


For the purposes of this article the partriarch of the Borrow clan was William Borrow (1797-1876), the father of William Henry Borrow. William Borrow had been born in Liskeard,Cornwall (Image opposite). Baptism records gave him baptised December 24,1797 at Probus,Cornwall, the son of Jacob Borrow and Elizabeth Borrow, nee Northcot.

William had married Martha Smerdon Borrow, nee Currie (1794-1874). Martha had been born in Liskeard,Cornwall, and had at least two siblings, namely Lydia Barrow, nee Currie, born 1789 in Liskeard, Cornwall and Elizabeth Currie, born in the same place in 1798. A possible fourth sister was Charlotte Currie who died in 1847. It is believed by the researcher that since both William and Martha had been born in Liskeard, that the marriage took place there circa 1839. As no baptism records were found for the children of William Borrow there is some speculation as to who his wife/wives were. A family tree suggests that the Charlotte Currie I referred to above was his wife, but census records I present later suggest that his wife was Martha Borrow,nee Currie, although the possibility exists that William may have married Charlotte’s sister Martha after her death in 1847.

The known children of William Borrow were (1) Richard Borrow (1840-1914) (2) William Henry Borrow (1841-1905) (3)Fanny Borrow (1842-1901) (4) Sidney Walter (born 1843)(5) Ada Jessie Borrow (1846-1858). Richard was born in Saxony, Germany; Fanny, Sidney and William Henry were all born in Aix La Chapelle, Germany, and Ada was born in Hackney, Middlesex, suggesting that the Borrow family returned to England in 1844-1845.

The 1851 census, taken at 114  High Street in Hastings, Sussex gave Lydia Barrow (not Borrow) as the head of the home. She was born 1789 at Liskeard, Cornwall and was the schoolmistress of the school. With her was her widowed sister Elizabeth Currie, born 1798 in Liskeard. Also in the home were five nieces and nephews of  Lydia  namely Richard Borrow, age 11; William H.C. Borrow, age 10; Fanny Borrow,age 9; Sidney Walter Borrow and Ada Jessie Borrow,age 5. Also there was one school assistant, three servants, and six pupils.

The 1861 census, taken at 117 High Street, Hastings, gave Lydia Barrow,age 72, a school mistress as head of the home. With her was her sister Martha Borrow, age 67, born 1794 at Liskeard, who was given as unmarried and a fundholder. Also there as nephews and nieces and visitors were William Barrow, age 20 an artist and Fanny Barrow. Also there was Lydia’s widowed sister Elizabeth Currie age 67; two servants and one other visitor. Shown above is a postcard view of the High Street in Old Hastings, a spot my friend and I strolled along on our visit in the summer of 2015, and where we explored all the old fascinating shops.

The 1861 census, taken at 32 Princess Street in Liskeard, Cornwall gave William Barrow, as a 61 year old widow. With him was his son Richard Barrow, age 21 who was an underwriters clerk. Also there was one housekeeper. William at that time was working as a clerk to a forage contractor.

The 1871 census, taken at West Hackney, London gave William Barrow as a 71 year old accountant. He was given as a widow and the only person living with him was one housekeeper. Death records gave a William Barrow born 1800 who died in the 1st qtr of 1876 at Hastings, Sussex. Death records gave Martha Smerden Borrow born 1794 who died in the 1stqtr of 1874 at Hastings,Sussex.

William Henry Borrow married Mary Wingfield October 3,1869 at St Stephen. South Lambeth (image opposite). William was given as a bachelor and an artist of the parish of St Stephen. Mary was given as a spinster of the same parish, with her father given as deceased. Williams father was given as William Borrow, a clerk. The witnesses to the marriage was William Henry’s sister Fanny and William Burton.

Mary Wingfield had been baptised February 5,1840 at Hastings, Sussex and was the daughter of Nicholas and Mary Wingfield. She is found in the  1861 census living with her father, a retired shoemaker, born 1803 in Hasings; her mother Mary, born 1813 at St Paul Walder, Hertfordshire; two siblings, one domestic servant, and three visitors.

William Henry Borrow and his wife Mary had three children namely

(1) Lydia Laura Mary Barrow born in Camden Town, London in 1871 who died June 18,1905. Lydia ran St Helens College(image opposite) at No. 88 St Helens Rd with her sister Fanny. She died at the college. Her death is recorded on a stone in the family plot, together with her father “ In loving memory of our dear (Lily) Lydia who died June 18,1905 aged 34. Also os William Henry Borrow, Father of the above who died July 12,1905”. 

(2) Fanny Borrow, who was born in Hammersmith, London in 1873. She continued to live at 88 St Helen’s Road and ran St Helens College for Girls after her sister Lydia’s death. She was very active in the affairs of Christ Church, Blacklands. For six years she was engaged to Revd Alfred Hodges, Vicar of Christ Church , but the engagement was ended by his death in 1909 or 1910 allegedly on the eve of their wedding. Fanny died in Hastings March 20,1960 after a long illness and was buried in the Hastings Cemetery. She was recalled by Rev. Greenfield “as a little old lady with a wrinkled face and dark eyes, dressed in black bombazine3 and carrying a reticule her last years a time of physical suffering serenely borne”. She drew a picture of 117 High Street for Historic Hastings and apparently attended art school at some point. Two paintings of Homhurst St Mary’s “are by sister Christine C.H.F’s artschool friend, Fanny Borrow”.

(3)Sidney Wingfied Barrow who was born in Hastings in 1875 and died in 1969. His death is recorded on a red marble vase on the family plot in the Hastings Cemetery together with those of his wife Sarah Borrow, nee Chapman (1873-1969) who he had married in Islington in 1901, and their daughter Violet Winifred Skyrme, nee Borrow (1902-1987).

In 1875 William Henry Borrow and his family moved to Hastings. The 1881 census, taken at 9 High Wickham,Sussex gave William Henry Borrow as an “artist painter in oils”. With him was his wife4 Mary ; his children Lydia, Fanny and Sidney and two domestic servants.

The 1891 census taken at 7 St Helens Terrace in Hastings gave William Henry Borrow as a “painter artist”. With him was his wife Mary; his three children, and two domestic servants.  The 1901census, taken at the same address gave William as an “artist, sculptor, own account at home”. With him was his wife Mary and their two daughters Fanny and Lydia. Also there was one domestic servant.

On July 12,1905 William Henry Borrow passed away in Hastings and was buried in the Hastings Cemetery. A photo of the family plot bearing his name with other family members is shown opposite.  I have given his inscription on the headstone earlier. That of his wife Mary reads “ In Loving Memory of Mary, widow of W.H. Borrow born 1840 died 13th Demember 1916”.

The 1911 census, taken at 88 St Helens Road, Hastings gave Mary Borrow as a widow,age 71 with the occupation of “invalid plate layer”. With her was her daughter Fanny Elizabeth,age3 38, a teacher at home and one domestic servant. The census recorded that they were living in 8 rooms; that she had three children but only two were still living.  Probate records gave Mary Borrow of 88 St Helens Road, Hastings when she  died December 8,1916. The executor of her 1,184 pound estate was her daughter Fanny Elizabeth Borrow, spinster.


The Friends Hastings Cemetery state that “ William Henry Borrow left Hastings to study painting in London at Leigh’s School where his principal tutor was the marine painter, James Danby. He seems to have returned to Hastings around 1875. He married a Hastings local girl Mary Wingfield in London in 1869. His annul exhibition at Carlisle Parade became a feature of town life and gave pleasure to thousands. After his death his daughter Fanny held an exhibition in 1955 at the Yelton Hotel, of the works which were in his studio at the time of his death. There were 59 watercolours and thirty oils, with subject matter ranging from Cornwall to Holland and back to Hastings. May of Borrow’s paintings were reproduced as postcards and can still be bought today.”

Shown in this section are two of William’s paintings presented as postcards. Both were sent from Tunbridge Wells to a person in London and both are postmarked May 19,1905. Both were cards of The Water Colour Post Card Co of 17 Patgernoster Row. E.C., London. The same company had premises at 27 White Rock in Hastings. The back of the High rocks refers to it being a favourite picnic place of the sender.

“He exhibited at the Royal Academy, in London,between 1863 and 1890. His subjects were mostly coastal scenes in Devon and Cornwall. He also produced a string of paintings with Hastings titles , some with dates of 1885 and 1890. His work was influenced by the classical Dutch style of paintings often depicting seas, fishermen and their boats by the shore. “

“Around 60 watercolors sold to local buyers in 1906 and some 60 postcards, mostly views in Sussex, were produced in sets of six, published by Brown & Woodley and called the B&W Series. This company was of 27 White Rock Place and were also later published by The Water Colour Postcard Co. at No. 17 Paternoster Row, London.” Examples of this latter companies card can be found with just the London address; just the Hastings address; and some with “London and also Hastings” on the back.

“He had 27 paintings in the Royal Academy, most of which were coastal scenes dating from 1874, 1889,1890. He also had an exhibit in the British Institution where a painting from 1865 can be found; 28 in the Suffolk Street Galleries, and 34 in other London Galleries. The Hastings Museum and Art Gallery has a large collection of his work and some can be found in two other museums in Hastings, including the Fishermens Museum, which I visited in the summer of 2015 with my friend and travelling companion Mrs Susan Prince and my second cousin Christine Harrison and her husband Alan, who’s family was from Hastings. As a parting gift Alan gave me a wonderful book entitled ‘George Woods Photographs from the 1890’s ‘  which contains large selection of Hastings views.

Two newspaper clippings were found which reported on the theft of paintings by W. H. Borrow. One stated in part “ The theft of a valuable painting from the Fishermens’ Museum at Rock-a Nore was discovered on Tuesday. The 18th century painting, ‘Unloading Coal Barges” by W.H. Borrow is valued at 1,000 pounds and was stolen since March 28th…” A second notice dated April 11,1985 reported on the same theft.

Another reference to W. H. Borrow states “he was a student of marine painter James Danby, and is best known for his depictions of the fishing industry at his home town of Hastings. However, he was a regular visitor to Cornwall from 1863. He took part in an exhibition in Penazance in 1884, contributed his painting ‘Polperro’ to the Royal Academy in 1885, attended the St Ives dinner to celebrate Adrian Stoke’s sale to the Chantrey Trustees in August 1888 and exhibited in Falmouth in 1891”.

Williams favourite painting locations were Cornwall, Devon and the vicinity of Hastings but as you can see he also made it , at least for one trip, to Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area. It is to be expected that William stayed in a central spot while he executed his paintings, such as in one of the lodging Houses on Mount Ephraim, a postcard view of which is shown opposite.

Reproductions of his paintings can be bought with prices from about $226 upwards depending on size.

Various exhibitions of his paintings have been held over the years and still take place today, indicating the popularity of his work.

A report on Hastings, in the section on Art, stated in part “ Another topographic artist James Francis Danby visited Hastings regularly between the 1840’s and 1870’s “. No doubt this is how William met Danby. “William Henry Borrow also lived in Hastings from 1876, and made an important contribution to the art heritage of the town, showing the town, the beach and the cliffline from different aspects”.



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

Date: August 24,2016


Camden Road was a busy commercial district in the early 20th century and on this road was the stationers shop of William James Rabson (1878-1965).His shop was  at 41 Camden Road, which in 2008 was the shop of Classic Lighting, a lighting shop I looked around in on my visit to Tunbridge Wells in 2015 when it was called ‘Illuminations’. This shop was located on the south west corner of Camden Road and Victoria Road in a 3 sty red brick building, and this intersection became known as ‘Rabson’s Corner’ after his shop.

William James Rabson and his brother Thomas operated under the name of ‘Rabson Bros’ and are found as stationers at 41 Camden Road for a few years leading up to WW 1 . Several postcards were produced by local photographers for them and sold in the shop.

William James Rabson had been born in St Pancras, London, one of four known children born to James Rabson, a domestic groom born 1850 at Gravesend, Kent, and Sarah Rabson, born 1852 at Edgcott, Buckinghamshire. William had two sisters namely  Kate born in 1876 and Florence born in 1883 and just one brother , Thomas, born in St Pancras in 1882.

Both William and Thomas served in WW 1 and it is believed by the researcher that Thomas was killed in the war, as the only record for him is the 1891 census.

William’s personal life was a sad one, a story which is vividly told in his military records while he served in France with the Labour Corp. Details of his two wives and children, born both in and out of wedlock, were of great interest to the war office as his second wife had applied for separation allowance while her husband was away.

At the time of the 1901 census William and his first wife Kate and son Harold were living in London, where William worked as a traveller selling soft soap. Kate , who William stated was addicted to the drink,later left her husband, taking with her at least some of their children. Kate Wiching had married William in the 1st qtr of 1900 at Sevenoaks. There are no records indicating that Kate and William were ever divorced even though William married Lilian Bertrice Bobree Butt (1880-1961) in 1917 ,having children by her both before and after the marriage.

A local trade directory of 1913 gave the listing’ Rabson Bros, stationers, 41 Camden Road. Directories covering the period of 1918 to 1930 gave William James Rabson has having a gramophone and music dealers shop at  3 and sometimes 7 Vale Road and a stationers and fancy goods shop at 3 Vale Road. Personal residence directories listed William living on Garden Road in the 1940’s and early 1950’s and afterwards at 100 Queens Road.

In 1934 No. 3 Vale Road was a gramophone and wireless dealers shop operating under the name of “W.J. Rabson (R.A. Bird, proprietor)”. The R.A. Bird referred to was Reginald Arthur Bird (1892-1958) who had been born in London and was one of several children born to Henry(a police constable)  and Mary Ann Bird. In 1923 Reginald married Margaret Mary Trezise in Bedforshire. In the early 1930’s he and his family moved to Tunbridge Wells, where he took over the gramophone business of William James Rabson, but kept the former name of the business as W. J. Rabson.

William James Rabson  died at East Farleigh, Kent July 9,1965 and was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium July 14,1965. His wife Lilian died in Tunbridge Wells in 1961 and was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on November 10,1961. Reginald Arthur Bird died in Tunbridge Wells in the 4th qtr of 1958.

This article reports on the life and business activities of William James Rabson and his brother Thomas as well as that of Reginald Arthur Bird who took over Williams gramophone and music dealer business on Vale Road. Within this article is a selection of postcards sold in the Rabson stationers shop with W.J. Rabson or Rabson Bros given as the publishers of these postcards.


The birth of William James Rabson was registered in the 3rd qtr of 1878 at St Pancras, London.  He was the son of James and Sarah Rabson. William had a sister Kate, born 1876; a sister Florence, born 1883 and a brother Thomas born 1882. All of the children were born at St Pancras.

The 1881 census taken at 106 Weedington Road in St Pancras gave James Rabson as a carman, born 1851 at Ifield, Kent. With him was his wife Sarah, born 1852 at Edgcott,Buckinghamshire. Also there a daughter Kate A,age 5 and William James Rabson,age 3.

The 1891 census, taken at 10 Gregsland Road in St Pancras gave James Rabson as a domestic groom. With him was his wife Sarah and their children Kate, age 15, a dressmakers apprenctice; William James, a scholar; Thomas, a scholar. Also living there was a 20 year old nephew William Rabson who worked as a railway porter, and one boarder.

The 1901 census, taken at St Pancras gave James Rabson as a groom. With him was his wife Sarah and their two daughters Kate, age 25, a dressmaker on own account, and Florence, age 18, a dressmaker who worked for her sister. By this time the two sons Thomas and William had left home and began lives on their own.

In the 1st qtr of 1900 William James Rabson married Kate Wiching at Sevenoaks, Kent. About all that is known about Kate is that she was born 1878 at Riverhead, Kent. Since the marriage took place in Sevenoaks it is presumed that Kate was living there at the time of the marriage, since William was living in St Pancras. Shown opposite is a view of High Street in Sevenoaks.

The 1901 census, taken at 151 Gloucester Road in London gave William James Rabson as a traveller selling soft soap. Living with him was his wife Kate and their 9mth old son Harold, born 1900 at St Pancras.

When William enlisted for service in WW 1 a number of questions were raised about his two wives and children and was requested to submit birth certificates for his children to prove parentage and also for the death certificate for his first wife Kate. In response to these questions about his first wife Kate William replied in a letter dated July 25,1917 that “there is no death certificate for my first wife Kate”. In a letter dated July 2,1916 William’s second wife Lilian stated “ I sent to you on June 14th the two marriage certificates for my husband…..”. In a letter dated August 9,1917 William wrote “my first wife left me some 14 years ago (1903)”. In a letter dated July 8,1917 William wrote “ My first wife was addicted to drink and left me and my two children 14 years ago. I heard from her by letter 12 years ago when she admitted adultery. Since then I lost all trace of her and believe her to be dead”.

Although no records were found proving that William divorced Kate he married Lilian Bertrice Dobree Bubb on February 28,1917 at St Pancras. Lilian’s birth was registered in the 3rd qtr of 1880 at Thanet, Kent. The 1881 census, taken at 5 Six Bells Lane in Sevenoaks, Kent gave Martha Bubb, a 37 year old widow, and dressmaker, as head of the home. With her were three daughters, including Lilian and one lodger. Lilian at that time was attending school. The 1891 census taken at 5 Six Bells Lane in Sevenoaks gave Lilian as a scholar and living with her widowed mother Martha and sisters Edith and Gertrude. Martha at that time was a dressmaker. The 1901 census, taken at 58 High Street in Sevenoaks gave Martha Bubb as a dressmaker on own account at home. Living with her were the same three daughters from the 1881 census. One of them Gertrude, age 25 was working as a telephone operator and Edith,age 14 was a teacher. Lilian had no occupation at that time.

By 1911 William James Rabson and his family took up residence in Tunbridge Wells.


When William and his family arrived in Tunbridge Wells was not established. In 1901 he and his family were living in London but by the time of the 1911 census they were living in Tunbridge Wells. There is no listing for William in Tunbridge Wells in the 1903 Kelly directory. There is  however a birth record for his daughter Joan in Tunbridge Wells in January 1907, which narrows down his arrival in the town to after 1903 but before 1907.

The 1911 census, taken at 11 Vale Road (modern photo opposite), gave William as a “dealer in stationary and fancy on own account”. With him was his wife Lilian, given as born 1882 in Margate, Kent and “assisting in business”. Also in the home, identified as “son” was Cyril Rabson,age 9, born 1902 in Sevenoaks. The census recorded that they were living in premises of 3 rooms; that they had been marred 1-1/2 years and that they had “no children”. His son Harold, born 1900 at St Pancras from his first marriage must have been living with his first wife Kate for since the time of the 1901 census he does not appear with his father in any records.

The Military records for William James Rabson are quite extensive and consist largely of correspondence relating to William’s marriages and the parentage of his children. On the military side his attestation papers state he was born 1879 and enlisted at age 38 in 1917. His place of residence was given as 7 Vale Road,Tunbridge Wells; that his service number was 84955;that he preferred to be placed in the Labour Company (image opposite); and that he was placed in the “Infantry, Labour Company, Northants”. One of the pages in this record gave details about his family and stated he had married February 28,1917 at the registry office in St Pancras, his wife Lilian Bertrice Dobree Bubb. Also listed were four of Williams children namely (1) Cyril Edward Rabson born April 7,1902 in Sevenoaks (2) Joan Mary Dobree Rabson, born January 13,1907 Tunbridge Wells at 24 Grosvenor Park Road(3) Elizabeth Rabson, born July 13,1911 in Tunbridge Wells (4) Richard Godfrey Rabson, born June 23,1915 in Tunbridge Wells. The military records gave William’s occupation as “shopkeeper stationary and fancy”; and that he had enlisted at Tonbridge March 12,1917; that he was home from March 12,1917 to March 24,1917 and entered active service in France in the British Expeditionary Force March 15,1917. He began as a corporal 84955 but the rest of his records shown him as a private initially in the 142 Labour Corp.

In a letter from the War Pension Office, at 1 Calverley Road,Tunbridge Wells dated July 25,1917 they noted that there was no death record for William’s first wife Kate and asked for and later received the birth certificate of his stated daughter Joan Mary Dobree Rabson.

In a letter from William dated June 27,1917 he states “ I must apply at Summer House for the birth certificate of my stepson Cyril Edward Rabson. I had made an appointment to take my son to London today being the only day I can leave the business”.

In a letter from William’s wife Lilian  dated July 12,1917, 7 Vale Road, Tunbridge Wells to the Regimental Paymaster, he states “ I am again waiting for the return of my certificates sent to you on June 14th. I sent you the two marriage certificates as I am receiving pay for my stepson Cyril Edward. The other three children were born before marriage”.

A infantry record office letter for the district of Warley dated August 27,1917 sent to the Hon Sec. London War Pensions Committee, stated “ Sir: I have received an application for separation allowance from Mrs W.J. Rabson of 7 Vale Road,Tunbridge Wells, wife of No. 34941 Private W.J. Rabson, No. 4 Infantry Labour Company Northamptonshire Regiment, for her child born January 13,1907 (Joan Mary Dobree Rabson). The child was born prior to the soldiers marriage on February 28,1917. Will you let me know whether private Rabson is the father of the child”. In a letter dated August 30,1917 it was stated “private Rabson is the father of the child Joan”.

In a letter dated June 25,1917  it was stated  “ Mrs Rabson is anxious for the return of her sons (Cyril) birth certificate as she has to show it to get her son placed in a training institution”.

A certificate of infantry dated October 14,1919 for William James Rabson Reg. No. 84955; Rank-Corporal; of the 78 Labour Coy; address-4 Vale Road Tunbridge Wells; born 1878; noted that William was granted 28 days furlough.

Another record indicated that he had been called up for service March 12,1917 and that he was posted to No. 4 Northants Labour Coy March 14,1917 and then transferred to the Labour Corps 42 Coy March 14,1917. Medical records show that he had been in hospital from
April 11,1918 to April 26,1918 and that he had suffered an illness related to hard work in France and poor conditions. He was discharged November 13,1919 and returned to civilian life in Tunbridge Wells. During his absence his wife Lilian ran his stationers business, and upon his return to the town he took over and his wife Lilian continued to assist her husband in the business.

Probate records for William James Rabson gave him of Dunvergan Lower Road East Farleigh, Kent when he died July 9,1965 at Linton Hosptital Coxheath, Kent. The executor of his 2,309 pound estate was Kenneth Mitchell, gentlemans outfitter manager. Williams body was returned to Tunbridge Wells and he was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on July 14,1965.

Williams wife Lilian had died in Tunbridge Wells in November 1961. She was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on November 10,1961.


William James Rabson began is stationers shop in Tunbridge Wells on Vale Road sometime after 1903 and before 1907. At the time of the 1911 census taken at 11 Vale Road his occupation was given as “dealer in stationary and fance own account” and his wife Lilian was “assisting in business”. The premises from the 1911 census were described as being 3 rooms. Shown opposite is a view of Vale Road looking north up past the the 3 sty post office building on the left.

The 1913 Kelly directory gave the listing “ Rabson Bros, stationers, 11 Vale Road, Tunbridge Wells, the same address William and his family were living at in 1911. The brothers who were partners in this business were William and his younger brother Thomas. No records of a Thomas Rabson however were found in Tunbridge Wells and what became of him after the 1891 census in St Pancras was not determined.

It is known from the postcard view of their shop on Camden Road presented in the ‘Overview’ and from postcards dated 1907 to 1910 that they had also had a stationers and printers shop at 41 Camden Road, located on the south west corner of Camden Road and Victoria Road on the main floor of a 3 sty red brick building. A view of the interior of a stationers shop is shown opposite.It was a large shop in what at that time was a prime commercial district and no doubt did a good trade. Their shop was of some significance as this intersection became known as “Rabsons Corner”.

Given below are a  number of postcards on the back of which is given variously “published by Rabson of Vale Road,Tunbridge Wells”’ published by Rabson Bros. 41 Camden Road,Tunbridge Wells”; “Rabson Bros, publisher, Tunbridge Wells.  Rabson was not the photographer who took the pictures. The images were captured by other photographers and turned into postcards on which at the request of Rabson was their name as publishers. Some, but not all of them were produced for them by the Valentine company who produced many views of Tunbridge Wells and other parts of England. Although most of the “Rabson” postcards sold in their shops were views of Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area some were taken of views not connected in any way to the town, such as views of Edenbridge; Riverhead,Sevenoaks; Wadhurst,Sussex  and The Medway in Tonbridge, to name a few.

Shown here are exterior and interior views by Rabson,41 Camden Rd.  of the American Skating Palace on Culverden, Tunbridge Wells.

Shown left is a view of the Grosvenor Recreation Ground. On the right is a view of The Common near Queens Grove posted 1914 by Rabson of 11 Vale Road.

High Rocks Halt on the left and the Grosvenor Recreation Ground with bandstand on the right.

On the left is St Mary's Church, Riverhead. On the right is the Medway in Tonbridge

On the left is Marsh Green. On the right is The Walks in Wadhurst.

Given below is a listing of local directories for Rabson.

1913……………..Rabson Bros, stationers, 11 Vale Road

1918-1922…….William J. Rabson, 3 Vale Road, retail stationer

1918-1922…….William James Rabson, gramaphone dealer, 7 Vale Road

1927-1932……. W.J. Rabson, gramophone, music dealer, 3 Vale Road

1934……………… W.J. Rabson (R.A. Bird, proprietor) gramophone and wireless dealer, 3 Vale Road

1938………………..R.A. Bird (late Rabson) gramophone and wireless dealer, 3 Vale Road.

1944-1946……..W.J. Rabson, 16 Garden Road (his private residence)

1949……………..W.J. Rabson, 10 Garden Road (his private residence)

1952………………W.J. Rabson, 16 Garden Road (his private residence)

1955-1956……..W.J. Rabson, 100 Queens Road (his private residence)

As the directories note William James Rabson, in addition to operating stationers/printers shops on Camden Road and Vale Road also opened a shop on Vale road where he sold gramophones and other music related items but by 1934 the gramophone business had been taken over by Reginald Arthur Bird. Information about Mr Bird is given in the last section of this article.

As local residents will know Garden Road is a residential road lined with homes built of brick and finished in white render and that it connects with Camden Road and is not far from Rabson’s shop at 41 Camden Road. Shown opposite is a modern view of 16 Garden Road, whidch is the left half of this semi-detached building. When I visited Tunbridge Wells in 2015 and stayed at the Victorian B&B on Lansdowne Road my friend Mrs Susan Price and I would often walk along Garden Road. There was at that time a nice sewing/fabric shop on the NE corner of Garden and Camden Road that Susan enjoyed looking around in as she does knitting, makes quilts etc and enjoys all things to do with fabrics and sewing.

Queens Road is quite distant from his former shop locations and indicates that he had settled in the Woodbury Park area of town during his retirement years.

Shown in this section is another view of Camden Road looking north from the intersection of Camden Road and Calverley Road. Shown opposite is a postcard view of Vale Road by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn. The large building on the south west corner of Vale Road and London Road is the Vale Road post office and mail sorting centre. The tank presented to the town for its contribution to the war effort is shown in this view sitting on a patch of ground opposite the post office. Although the whole west side of Vale Road has been redeveloped some of the original shops on the east side still exist. No views of the Rabson or Bird shop on Vale Road were found.


As noted in the previous section William James Rabson had a gramophone and wireless dealers shop at 3 Vale Road in the 1920’s and early 1930’s . In  1934 it was listed as “W.J. Rabson (R.A. Bird, proprietor) gramophone and wireless dealer, 3 Vale Road” and in 1938 as “R.A. Bird (late Rabson) gramophone and wireless dealer, 3 Vale Road.”It is unclear in what year Reginald Bird took over the business from Rabson but most likely in 1933.

Reginald Arthur Bird was born 1892 at Hammersmith, London and was one of four children born to Henry Bird, born 1861, and Mary Ann Bird, nee Bugg, born 1860.

The 1901 census, taken at 102 Mann Road in London gave Henry Bird as a police constable born in Culford,Susses. Living with Henry was his wife Mary Ann, born at Hawstead,Suffolk and their children Maud B. age 15, a dressmaker worker; George H, age 10 and Reginald Arthur Bird,age 9. Also in the home were two boarders.

The 1911 census, taken at Borley Green, Woolpit, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, gave Henry Bird as a pensioned police constable. With him was his wife Mary Ann and their son Reginald Arthur Bird, a farm hand worker.

In the 4th qtr of 1923 Reginald married Margaret Mary Trezise at Luton, Bedfordshire.

Probate records gave Reginald Arthur Bird of 10 Beltring Road,  Tunbridge Wells when he died December 26,1958 at the Kent & Sussex Hosptital. The exectutors of his 14,114 pound estate was his widow Margaret Mary Bird and Edwared Henrty Groves, accountant. No record of him being buried or cremated in Tunbridge Wells was found.



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

Date: July 22,2016


The arrival of Lord Dudley North circa 1606 at The Wells in connection with his Taking the Waters from the towns chalybeate spring to aid in his recovery from over- drinking ,and his report to others of the waters recuperative powers ,was in some  measure instrumental in the annual influx of visitors to the town during the summer season. My article entitled ‘Taking the Waters of Tunbridge Wells’ dated June 2,2016, provides images and information about this historic event.

Combined with the towns clean air and pleasant surroundings, it became a favourite spa town to stay ,and attracted people from all walks of life. Apart from Royalty, who visited often,  members of the upper class, high society, and other interesting characters of the 17th and 18th century  flocked to the town and found the entertainments at the Pantiles to their liking. One such visitor was Dr Samuel Johnson, a noted writer, perhaps best known for his work on the production of a ‘Dictionary of the English Language’, which after eight years work was published in 1755,some seven years after Dr Johnson visited Tunbridge Wells.

While visiting Tunbridge Wells Dr Johnson was immortalized by both his presence in a print of the Pantiles dated 1748 and by the comments he made about the town and its occupants in his correspondence, which has appeared in various publications, most notably that of his friend James Boswell in his book of 1791 entitled ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson L.L.D.’. His visit to the town was during the reign of Richard (Beau) Nash, “King of Bath” and Master of Ceremonies at Tunbridge Wells from 1735 until his death in 1762. These ceremonies ,which Dr Johnson took part in, consisted of public balls, concerts, lectures, gambling etc. and were popular attractions at the Pantiles. After visiting the town Dr Johnson returned to his work in London. Samuel Johnson died on  December 13,1784 and was buried at Westminster Abbey. His importance in British history is demonstrated in part by his image being featured on a British postage stamp (image above) issued in 2009 in the ‘Eminent Britons’ series.

Dr Johnson’s place in local history was celebrated in 1902 at the towns new Opera House(image opposite) on Mount Pleasant Road, in a play entitled ‘In Dr Johnsons Day’. Among the cast, playing the role of Dr Johnson was the well-known amateur actor and stage-manager Alan Mackinnon who’s theatrical activities in the town were frequently reported on by the Kent & Sussex Courier in the early 1900’s under the heading “ Mr Alan Mackinnon’s Theatricals”. An interesting image of the Dr Johnson play appeared in the publication ‘Black and White” dated October 23,1902, which is presented later in this article, with photographs by local photographer Percy Squire Lankester of the Great Hall Studio . Details about the life and career of Percy Squire Lankester can be found in my article ‘ Percy Squire Lankester-A Tunbridge Wells Photographer’ dated March 11,2016. A photo of him is shown opposite.

Theatrical performances in Tunbridge Wells date back to 1802 when Sarah Baker, “The Governess General of Kentish Drama”, erected a theatre, the frontage of which survives as the Corn Exchange building. Many famous actors, such as Edmund Kean, his son Charles Kean and Charles Kemble, performed there.

The Tunbridge Wells Operatic and Dramatic Society (TWODS), which is still active today, is one of the oldest amateur societies in the country. In the year 2014 they celebrated their 125th anniversary. It was perhaps in connection with them that Dr.Johnson play at the Opera House was organized but TWODS have no records of this play.

This article provides an overview of the life and career of Dr Samuel Johnson with an emphasis on the time he visited Tunbridge Wells. Images of him in the town and the comments he made about his observations in the town are given from his correspondence. Last but not least, a report with images of the 1902 play about Tunbridge Wells during Dr. Johnson’s time performed at the Opera House is provided. Shown above is a modern (1939) photo taken at the Assembly Hall during a performance by TWODS.


A great deal has been written about Samuel Johnson including such works as ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ written by John Hawkins in 1787 and most notably ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson L.L.D.’ written 1791 by James Boswell. Given below is a brief overview about the man and his career and shown opposite is a portrait of him late in his life by Joshua Reynolds.

Johnson was an English writer and critic, and one of the most famous literary figures of the 18th century. His best-known work is his 'Dictionary of the English Language'.

Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, on September 18,1709. His father was a bookseller. He was educated at Lichfield Grammar School and spent a brief period at Oxford University, but was forced to leave due to lack of money. Unable to find teaching work, he drifted into a writing career. In 1735, he married 46 year old Elizabeth Porter, a widow more than 20 years his senior and with her had a daughter. A portrait of her is shown below.

In 1737, Johnson moved to London where he struggled to support himself through journalism, writing on a huge variety of subjects. He gradually acquired a literary reputation and in 1747 a syndicate of printers commissioned him to compile his 'Dictionary of the English Language'. The task took eight years, and Johnson employed six assistants, all of them working in his house off Fleet Street.

Of particular interest to Tunbridge Wells is his correspondence describing the time he visited the town, a place he came to for some rest and the hope that his health would improve. His observations and comments about the town and the people he met there make for fascinating reading and are presented in the next section of this article along with a well-known image of the Pantiles dated 1748 in which Samuel Johnson and some 22 others are shown and named in the index.

The dictionary was published on  April 15,1755. It was not the first such dictionary, but was certainly the most important at that time. In Johnson's lifetime five further editions were published, and a sixth came out when he died.

Johnson's wife Elizabeth had died in 1752 and shortly afterwards Francis Barber, a former slave from Jamaica, joined Johnson's household as a servant. He lived with Johnson for more than 30 years, as did his wife and children, and became Johnson's heir.

Johnson was continually short of money, despite the success of his dictionary. In 1762, his financial situation was alleviated when he was awarded a government pension.

In 1763, he met James Boswell, a young Scottish lawyer, whose 'Life of Johnson' (published in 1791) did much to spread Johnson's name. In 1773, Johnson and Boswell set out on a three-month tour of the Scottish Highlands and the Hebrides. Both wrote accounts of their travels. Johnson spent considerable time in Edinburgh in the 1770s.

Johnson was by now the leader of the London literary world, and a friend of notable artists and writers such as Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith and David Garrick. Another important friendship for Johnson was with Henry Thrale, a wealthy brewer and member of parliament, and his wife Hester. Johnson became part of their family, treating their London houses as second homes.

Johnson died on  December 13,1784 and is buried at Westminster Abbey.

On October 8,2009 the BPO issued a set of 10 postage stamps in their ‘Eminent Britons’ series. The stamp shown above in the 'Overview' of Samuel Johnson was part of this set.


Samuel Johnson was not a well man when he visited Tunbridge Wells in 1748 and had paid a visit to the town with his wife Elizabeth. He had come to the town for a rest from his work and had hoped a stay in the town would be beneficial to his health. Although Johnson had lived and visited various places throughout his life he spent much of it in the terrible surroundings of smoky and smelly old London. It must have been a great relief when he arrived in Tunbridge Wells to take advantage of the good company and the pleasant surroundings it afforded. His wife no doubt was equally pleased of the visit to the town.

Shown above is a well-known print dated 1748 in which Dr Johnson is identified as the gentleman labelled “1” and his wife Elizabeth as Mrs Johnson labelled “20”. This image was based on a drawing by Thomas Loggan,  noted for his production of painted fans , who at that time had a shop in the Pantiles. My article entitled ‘The 1748 Engraving of The Parade’ dated March 11,2016 provides details about this image and presents several black and white and coloured versions of it. Also, Philip Whitbourn, presents a version of this image with information about the people shown in it, in a 2014 publication entitled ‘The Pantiles Royal Tunbridge Wells’ by the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society, a booklet which can be purchased from them.

Among the other notable characters in this image are Beau Nash(7) the Master of Ceremonies of the Pantiles; Elizabeth Chudleigh, the Duchess of Kingston (8); Thomas Loggan, the fan maker(22); Samuel Richardson, novelist and author (17); the elder Pitt (9); Mrs Johnson the wife of Dr Samuel Johnson (20); Garrick, a pupil of Dr Johnson (5) Dr Gilbert, Bishop of Salisbury (2) ;Lord Harcourt, British Embassador (3); Colley Cibber, a poet (4); the Rt. Hon. Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons (10); Lord Powis (11); Her Grace the Dutchess of Norfold (12); Miss Peggy Banks, a noted beauty (13); Lady Lincoln(14); Lord Lyttelton, a literary figure and politician (15); a German Baron thought to be Pollnitz (16); Mrs Onslow(18) and her daughter Anne Onslow (19) and Mr Whiston, a writer who lectured in Tunbridge Wells, Bath and London (21). It is in this company that Dr Samuel Johnson found himself in 1748.

An account of Dr Johnson’s visit to the town is found in Boswell’s book. Samuel Richardson who was in the town in 1748, also for health reasons ,wrote an equally interesting account of his impressions with specific references to the people shown in the image of the Pantiles I presented above. His account can be found in my article about the 1748 Engraving of The Parade.


The new Opera House, located on the east side of Mount Pleasant Road (view opposite) covered a large plot of land all the way from Monson Road to Newton Road. The foundations stones for the building were laid October 10,1901 and the building opened in October 1902. Built at a cost of about 31,000 pounds, it was designed by architect John Priestley Briggs and constructed by local builder John Jarvis. Details about the history of this building is given in my article ‘ The Opera House-88 Mount Pleasant Road’ dated February 7,2012

The first performance in 1902 at the Opera House was a play entitled ‘Tunbridge Wells in Dr Johnson’s Day’ in which Alan Murray Mackinnon (1860-1920)played the role of Samuel Richardson and W.H. Coskmen (sp) played the role of Dr Johnson. Due to what may be a spelling error in Mr Coskmen’s name no information about him was found.

The publication ‘Black and White’ of October 23,1902 gave the image opposite of the play and its performers. The caption on the image is ‘The Country Dance-The Opening of the New Opera House at Tunbridge Wells with ‘In Dr Johnson’s Day’” . As noted on the bottom of the image, the photographs of the play were by local photographer Percy Squire Lankester, who operated from his studio in the north wing of the Great Hall on Mount Pleasant Road. The background scene depicted in this image is a recreation of what the Pantiles looked like in the 18th century, based on old prints and engravings of that part of town. Given below is some information about Alan Murray Mackinnon. Unfortunately nothing was found out about the actor who played the role of Samuel Johnson, perhaps due to confusion or misspelling of his name. Also of great disappointment was the inability of the local library to find any mention in the Courier or other newspapers about this performance, which I had intended to include in this article.

Alan Mackinnon is referred to frequently in the Kent & Sussex Courier throughout the period of 1901 to 1902 , usually under the article heading of “Mr Alan Mackinnon’s Amateur Theatricals, in which details about the  plays being put on at the Opera House are given.

Alan was born as Alan Murray Mackinnon in Charlton,Kent April 19,1860 and was the 2nd son of Major General Daniel Henry Loudon Mackinnon and Caroline Mackinnon, nee Dimsdale.

The records of Oxford University show he matriculated January 25,1879,aged 18; that he was a student of the inner temple 1881 then obtained his BA in 1883 and then his MA at Trinity College. He founded the Oxford University Dramatic Society at Oxford in 1885.

Like his father before him , part of life involved military service as noted in the London Gazette which reported the Alan Murray Mackinnon was to be captain November 25,1882 of the 1st Oxfordshire (Oxford University) regiment. The ‘Peerage’ also notes that Alan was Assistant Private Secretary to the Post Master-General Sir James Ferguson. The Law Journal listed Alan at the Inner Temple in 1885.

Alan wrote the book ‘The Oxford Amateurs-A short History of Theatricals at the University’ in 1910 and is credited in the book ‘The History of Speldhurst’ by Rev. R.D. Mackinnon, rector of the parish, as providing illustrations from photographs for the book.This book, was published by H.G. Groves, The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells , in 1902.

Alan is referred to in a number of newspapers and theatrical publications, such as ‘The Theatre of Drama, Music and the Fine Arts (1891) as both an accomplished actor and an exceptional stage-manager. The ‘forward’ written for Alan’s book ‘The Oxford Amateurs’ states “ Alan still remains the best character stage-manager to be found anywhere, and so great is his genius he is sought out frequently for advice. There is probably no play of Shakespere that he could not sketch out in a day’s notice”.

At the time of the 1881 census, he was a student at Oxford and living with his parents at Charlton, Kent. At the time of the 1901 census he was living at 66 Warwick Square, London, with his widowed mother Caroline and four servants. Alan’s occupation was given as ‘living on own means’. The 1911 census, taken at 43 Chester Square, London he is still single and living on private means in a 12 room residence with four servants. Probate records gave Alan Murray Mackinnon of 18 Mallard Street, Chelse, Middlesex,when he died April 3,1920. The executor of his 35,176 pound estate was Arthur Howard Frese, esq.


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

Date: August 17,2016


Tunbridge Wells had an efficient mail delivery service in the 19th and 20th century. The town’s main post office was initially in the Pantiles but in 1896 a new and large central post office was established at Vale Road where mail was received and sorted and then delivered.

In addition to this post office there were a number of sub-post offices where residents could purchase stamps and send off their letters and parcels. One of these sub-post offices was located at 39 Church Road, which was established sometime after 1903 but before 1911. The person who served as the sub-postmaster at the Church Road location was John Arthur Smith (1870-1943), who in addition to his stationers shop at that location, served as postmaster there right up to the time of his death in 1943. After his death his wife Lilian Rose Smith became the post-mistress. When she died at 39 Church Road in 1949 the running of the sub-post office was taken over by others.

This article reports on the life and career of John Arthur Smith; provides information about the town’s postal system during his time; and provides information and images of the Church Road sub-post office, the Vale Road post office ,and other interesting images pertaining to local mail deliver in the first half of the 20th century.


Given here is the ‘Overview’ of my article entitled ‘The Post Office in Vale Road’ dated December 2014. “In 1896 a new central post office was built in Tunbridge Wells on the north east corner of Vale Road and London Road and was given an address of No. 2 Vale Road. This impressive 3 sty brick and stone building with a slate roof was designed by architect Henry Tanner, who worked for the Office of Works. The building opened, according to GPO records, on November 28,1896.. The same source records that in about 1911 additions were made to the building to the design of architect Henry Albert Collins of the Office of Works. The 1899 Kelly directory stated that the building had been erected in 1897.

The building served the community well throughout the 19th and 20th century and during that time a number of post masters,chief clerks worked in the building, along with a large staff of other postal workers. This building served also as the central mail sorting station for the town and offered telephone and telegraph service. Also in the town were a number of sub post offices where stamps could be purchased and mail sent. Mail from the sub post offices was picked up by postal staff and taken to the main Vale Road post office for sorting and delivery.  

A review of Planning Authority records shows that by the mid 1980’s the site was being considered for redevelopment and after a series of applications for approval , permission was given for the demolition of the post office building. In 2001 redevelopment of the site was completed and in its place stood an impressive building named ‘Post Office Square’, which was a mulit-purpose building in which apartments, flats, and shops were provided.

Shown above is a small selection of postcard views of the Vale Road Post Office. All three are by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn taken in the 1920’s. A WW 1 tank used to sit on a patch of ground opposite the post office which was presented to the town after WW 1 in recognition of the town’s contribution to the war effort. This tank was scrapped as part of the WW II metal drive.  


In 1903 the Kelly directory noted that mail was picked up six times a day beginning at 6:45 am and ending at 7:15 pm. At this time there were sixteen sub-post offices/letter boxes in the town but the one on Church Road had not been established at that time.

Mail was delivered twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon, by mailmen on foot or on bicycle. It was not until WW1 that ladies began to deliver the mail, due to the large number of men who  went off to war. After the war men took over again and the women returned to household duties. It was not until later in the 20th century that women entered the workforce as “mailmen”, and their numbers have steadily increased. Even inside work in sorting mail was largely a mail occupation during the 19th and early 20th century.

Shown above and opposite are two postcard views of Church Road showing the sub-post office at 39 Church Road. The one at the top of this section is by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn. The post office/stationers shop is the one on the right side, outside of which on the wall appears to be a fundraising “thermometer”, and over the entrance to the shop is a sign “Post Office”. The second image is a close-up view of 39 Church Road by an unknown photographer.  This building still exists and has been over the years a number of different types of shops.


Mailmen were neatly attired in a standard uniform consisting of blue pants and jacket with a smart peaked cap. They could be seen on their rounds in the town on foot or on bicycle carrying the mail in a large bag with shoulder straps. They were dispatched from the Vale Road post office ,and apart from delivering the mail to residences and businesses, stopped in at the letter boxes and sub-post offices to pick up the outgoing mail, which they took back to the Vale Road post office for sorting and delivery.

During WW 1 some postcard printers/publishers began to produce novelty postcards depicting images of men and women postmen. Photochrom in Tunbridge Wells produced the ones shown above and opposite,and some announced “Greetings from Tunbridge Wells” or "Post from Tunbridge Wells". What makes these cards a novelty ,and different from typical postcards, is that the mail bag flap opens and inside folds out a miniature strip of local views of the town. Other companies such as Valentines produced similar novelty cards for other towns depicting postmen with the same type of mini strip views in the mail bag. These types of novelty cards are typically referred to as “postcards with pull out bags”.

The Kelly directory of 1913 noted that the Vale Road postmaster was Allan G. Madder and that the chief clerk was R. Rofu. There were still sixteen sub-post offices/letter boxes in the town including a sub-post office at 39 Church Road, run at that time by sub-postmaster and stationer John Arthur Smith. Shown opposite is the back of a postcard entitled ‘The Lake in the Park, Worthing Sussex’ mailed in 1913 to Miss Annie Roberts of 8 Church Road.

The 1918 Kelly gave the postmaster at Vale Road as R. Ramsay and the superintendent at F.L. Gardner. There were fourteen sub-post offices/letter boxes in the town and the sub-post office at 39 Church Road was still looked after by sub-postmaster John Arthur Smith. It was interesting to note that in 1918 six of the sub-post offices were run by women and eight by men. The drop from sixteen to fourteen sub-post offices was likely due to WW 1 shortages of available people to run them. Shown opposite is an interesting postcard showing a view taken in front of the Pembury post office. in the early 20th century, in which can be seen assembled a group of postmen on foot with their mail bags and one on a bicycle. Although no similar views could be found for Tunbridge Wells this would have been a typical image outside the main post office and sub-post offices of Tunbridge Wells. If one looks on the internet you can sometimes find street scenes of Tunbridge Wells that caught a mailman on his rounds.

The Kelly directory of 1922 gave the postmaster at Vale Road as R. Ramsay and the superintendent as F. Smith. There were at that time fourteen sub-post offices/letter boxes in the town and John Arthur Smith was still looking after the Church Road sub-post office.

Directories from 1930 to 1938 (the end of the study period), record that in addition to the Vale Road post office there were sixteen sub-post offices/letter boxes in the town .Although the Kelly directories stopped listing the sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses after 1922 it is known from other records that John Arthur Smith was still in charge of the Church Road sub-post office. Shown opposite is a photograph of the postman in Tunbridge Wells delivering the mail in 1938.

The fact that John Arthur Smith was both a stationer and sub-postmaster is not surprising for these two operations went together well. Other stationers in the town, such as H. G. Groves, in the Pantiles was also a sub-postmaster and stationer. As would be expected, stationers sold all manner of writing paper, envelopes, cards etc and being able to purchase postage stamps and mail your letters there was quite convenient. Many stationers, like H.G. Groves also sold a line of postcard views of the town with their names on the back as publishers, but there is no indication that John Arthur Smith sold any postcards bearing his name.  Shown opposite is the postcard view of the Pantiles showing the shop of H. G. Groves. His shop would have been a beehive of activity, being in a prime commercial district, and benefited from the large number of visitors to the town looking for stationary, local postcard views which he sold, and the need to buy stamps and sent off letters and postcards to friends and family.


John Arthur Smith was born 1870 at Whiston (near Penkridge), Staffordshire. He was one of several children born to Joseph and Anne Smith.

Joseph Smith was born 1834 in Staffordshire and his wife Anne was born 1838 in Chadwell, Stafforshire. The 1871 census, taken at the Weslian Chapel at Whiston gave Joseph Smith as a shoemaker and grocer. With him was his wife Anne who worked as a dressmaker. Also in the home was their son John Arthur Smith,age 10 mths, born in Whiston.

The 1881 census, taken at Penkridge,Staffordshire, gave Joseph Smith as a widow and operating his shoemakers shop. He and members of his family lived above the shop. Living with him at the time of this census was his son John Arthur Smith , who was attending school and his daughter Emma Jane Smith born 1974 in Whiston, who was attending school. Also present was Joseph’s mother in law, Mary A. Cartwright, age 68, born in Biddolph,Cheshire, with the occupation of “housekeeper”.

On October 27,1898 John Arthur Smith married Alice Emma Andrews at St Augustine, Paddington (image above). John’s father was given as Joseph Smith,a grocer, and Alice’s father was George Andrews, a gardener. The marriage was witnesses by Thomas and Keith Andres, two of Alices’ brothers. At the time of the marriage John was a bachelor living at 125 Cambridge Road and Alice was a spinster, age 30, living in Speldhurst, Kent.

The 1901 census, taken at High Street in Cranbrook, Kent gave John Arthur Smith as a “publican own account”. With him was his wife Alice Emma given as born 1871 at “Cramlington,Surrey”. Also there was John’s niece Gertrude A. Allropps (Alsop?), age 19, born in Sheffield, and four boarders. In 1901 there were two pubs on the High Street in Cranbrook, namely the White Horse and The Crown Inn. A review of the history of the White Horse showed that the publican in 1901 was Mr Merrix, and so the pub that John was the publican for was The Crown Inn (image opposite)

As noted earlier there was not sub-post office on Church Road in 1903. When John came to Tunbridge Wells and became the sub-postmaster there is not known but he was there at the time of the 1911 census.

The 1911 census, taken at 39 Church Road, (post office and stationers shop), gave John Arthur Smith as age 40 with the occupation of “sub-postmaster and stationer”. As one would expect an individual could not make a living income solely as a postmaster and so he combined this position with his main source of income as a stationer. She sold all manner of items typical of stationers shops at the time ; sold postage stamps and other related postal items and received the mail, which he organized for pickup ,where it was then taken to the main post office and sorting station at Vale Road.  Living with John at the time of this census was his wife Alice Emma Smith, given as born 1871 in Cranleigh, Surrey. Also there was John’s niece Florence Allsop (Allropps ?),age 18, born in Sheffield  who was “assisting in the business”. and John’s niece Annie Sherwood, age 16, born in Paddington, London who was “assisting in the business”. Also living there were two boarders. The census noted that the premises consisted of 8 rooms; that John and his wife had been born 13 years and that they had no children. In fact there is no record of John having any children with either his first wife Annie or his second wife Lilian Rose Smith.

It was interesting to note that the 1911 census, also gave a listing for “rear of 39 Church Road”. Interesting because a John William Smith lived there with his wife Harriet and four children in four rooms. This gentleman and his wife had been married in 1897 and his occupation was given as ‘brewery drayman”. Although he shared the same surname as John Arthur Smith there is no indication that the two of them were related. John William Smith had been born in London in 1866.

In December 1922 John’s wife Alice Emma Smith died in Tunbridge Wells. No probate record for her was found. She was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on December 28,1922.

In the 4th qtr of 1923 John Arthur Smith married Lilian Rose Harris at Mile End Old Town, London.

John Arthur Smith continued to run his stationers shop and worked as the sub-postmaster at 39 Church Road right up to the time of his death in 1943. Probate records gave John Arthur Smith of 39 Church Road,Tunbridge Wells died July 11,1943. The executor of his 1,821 pound estate was his widow Lilian Rose Smith. John was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on July 5,1943.

After John’s death his second wife Lilian continued to run his stationers shop and also became the sub-postmistress there. Probate records for Lilian Rose Smith gave her of 39 Church Road when she died on November 16,1949. The executors of her 2,053 pound estate were Cyril Wood, estate agent, and Samuel Curtis, minister of religion. Lilian died at age 68.

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