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

Date: November 9,2017


Hanover House is a grand old Grade II listed residence on the north-west corner of Mount Ephraim Road and Hanover Road in Tunbridge Wells. The current home by this name, according to English Heritage, dates to the mid 19th century, but a house by the same name, in the same location, appears on maps dating back to at least 1839. Shown opposite is a photo of the home, labelled as “ 18 Mount Ephraim Road” taken in the early 1900’s by an unknown photographer.

With its mansard roof, white stucco finish and  many windows it sits on a nicely landscaped plot surrounded by black  iron fences and white walls.

The earliest mention of Hanover House was from the Church Missionary Society publication of August 20,1833 which gave the listing “ Mr Dawson, Hanover House, Tunbridge Wells, Juvenile Association”

Records of the home were also found to the time of William Wren (1795-1863) in the 1840’s. Colbran in his 1844 guide referred to William Wren as builder and undertaker and an auctioneer/appraiser and general agent who offered furnished apartments at Hanover House and Rock Mount. He was living with his wife and several children at Hanover House in 1840 and at the time of the 1841 and 1851 census, but by 1861 had moved to Rock Manor. During the 1850’s and onward William was running his own builders business employing about a dozen men but financial difficulties befell him and went bankrupt. He died in Tunbridge Wells in 1863.

Another family of note to take up residence in Hanover House was the medical doctor Robert Joseph Starling (1801-1882) who was buried in the Woodbury Park Cemetery. He and his wife Ann are first found in Tunbridge Wells in 1860 and by the time of the 1861 census were living at Hanover House. They lived in the home throughout the 1860’s but moved to 63 Mount Ephraim by 1871  and by 1881 was living at 4 Calverley Terrace as a widower. He had been married twice but appears to have had no children, leaving his estate of some 3,000 pounds in the hands of his niece.

Another noted resident of Hanover House was the Duncan family who moved in by the time of the 1871 census. The head of the family was the medical doctor Robert Duncan (1811-1876), who with his wife Elizabeth had at least six children, all born in Tunbridge Wells between 1848 and 1858. The family at the time of the 1851 census lived at 12 Calverley Place but by 1861 had taken  up residence at Dudley House on Mount Ephraim Road. When Robert died in 1876 the executors of his 4,000 pound estate were his sons Rev. Robert Duncan and John Thornton Duncan of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. His widow Elizabeth continued to live in Tunbridge Wells until her death in 1898. She was living ,at the time of the 1891 census with two of her daughters on Grosvenor Road.

Although Hanover House has seen many occupants over the years, the last one for which information is given in this article is the Ranking family. The head of the family was John Ebenezer Ranking (1850-1912) from Hastings, Sussex, who came to Tunbridge Wells in the early 1870’s . In 1874 he married Elizabeth Duncan in Tunbridge Wells . She was the eldest daughter of Robert Duncan that I referred to above, being born in Tunbridge Wells in 1849. John and Elizabeth had at least three children, all born in Tunbridge Wells between 1876 and 1881.By the time of the 1881 census the family was living at Hanover House and were still there at the time of the 1901 and 1911 census. When Robert died in 1912 in Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex in 1912 his place of residence was given in probate records as Hanover House, Tunbridge Wells. He left an estate valued at 34,000 pounds with the executors being his wife Elizabeth; his son Robert Maurice Ranking, a retired captain in the army. After Roberts death in 1912 Elizabeth Ranking continued to live in the home with some of her children and although her son Robert Maurice Ranking got married and raised a family and was living in Cork, Ireland at the time of the 1911 census, he and his family were listed in the 1922 Kelly directory as being at 18 Mount Ephraim Road (Hanover House). Robert Maurice Ranking, like his father, was well educated in the medical field and after working at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and his subsequent military career from 1903 to the end of WW 1, he returned to Tunbridge Wells as a physician at the General Hospital. He died in Tunbridge Wells in 1939 at the Lonsdale Nursing Home, having previously lived at 16 Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells.

Although the above mentioned residents of Hanover House is by no means a complete listing, it shows that this home was occupied by gentlemen who were largely medical practitioners. Over the years the home has been well maintained and in the mid 20th century it was converted into office space, and today is occupied by several tenants.


The original Hanover House, located on the north-west corner of Hanover Road and Mount Ephraim Road dates back to at least 1833. It appears and is labelled on the 1839 map shown opposite which is highlighted in red. A map of 1838 also shows the house but is not labelled. Hanover house was given the address of 18 Mount Ephraim Road. When the home was built and who built it was not established and no images of the home in its original state were found. Maps of 1828 and 1832 do not show the existence of Hanover or Mount Ephraim Road and so obviously Hanover House must have been built after 1832 and its first occupant a Mr Dawson was given at Hanover House in 1833.

A closer view of Hanover House and its grounds can be seen on the 1849 map opposite. This image,by the odd shape of the residence suggests that it had been added onto over the years. The house in its present shape first appears on a 1852 map, during the era of William Wren who at the time of the 1841 census was living at Hanover house with the occupation of carpenter. Although he had many occupations he also ran a large builders company and it was perhaps he who was responsible for building Hanover House in its present form.

Shown opposite, highlighted in red, is a 1907 os map showing Hanover House.The best description of the house is by way of the photograph given in the ‘Overview” and by others given in this article of a later date, most of which are from the 20th century. The home was listed by English Heritage on March 26,1973 who described it as follows “ Mid C19 corner building; 2 to 3 sty’s; stuccoed; Mansard roof with fishscale tiles on 4 pedimented dormers; Moulded eaves cornice and stingcourse; 3 sashes on each elevation with Regency style blinds. One window on each elevation has ‘Gothick’ glazing. Porch with cornice on plain palisters. No. 18 to 24 (even) form a group”.

A review of Planning Authority files from 1979 onwards was undertaken and only the following were found. In 1975 an application for an illuminated sign; in 1987 the installation of a timber platform in the 2nd floor room to carry a record protection filing cabinet; in 1994 a new electronic automatic barrier to the existing car park; in 2000 interior repairs and alternations. In the period of 2011 to 2015 there were two applications by  Baker Tilly Management Ltd for work on some trees. It is known that Hanover House was converted from residential use to office space sometime in the mid 20th century and today the building is still office space and occupied by several tenants.


From a review of directories, census records and related records the following table was prepared covering the period of 1833 to 1922. The list is by no means complete as records for each year of the study period were not available.

1833………………………Rev. Thomas Dawson

C1837-1851…………..William Wren

1860-1865……………..Robert Joseph Starling

1871-1876……………..Robert Duncan

1881-1912……………..John Ebenezer Ranking

1913-1922…………….. Robert Maurice Ranking


The earliest record pertaining to him was from the Church Missionary Society publication of August 20,1833 which gave the listing “ Mr. Dawson, Hanover House, Tunbridge Wells, Juvenile Association.

No listing for him was found in Tunbridge Wells in the 1841 and 1851 census nor in the 1840 Pigots directory.

The archives of the Church Missionary Society contain letters and other documents pertaining to Rev. Thomas Dawson. A number of records of this society can be found online referring to the work of Rev. Thomas Dawson from at least the period of 1816 to 1833. One from 1819 refers to a journal by Mr. Dawson in Appendix XX” of that publication. One from the Society of 1818 stated in part “ Return from India of the Rev. Thomas Dawson…We regret to state that Mr Dawson has been obliged by sickness to leave his station at Cochin and return to this country (England)…Mr and Mrs Dawson in the beginning of May sailed for India and after arriving in England proceeded to Yorkshire for the benefit of their native air but being too cold for them they passed the winter in Devonshire…”


William Wren was born about 1795 in Framfield, Sussex, the son of Ned Wren. On December 12,1825, at Southampton, Hampshire William married Hester Counsel Shartman (1799-1842) and by at least 1830 took up residence in Tunbridge Wells. Hester was born May 27,1799 in Southampton and died in Tunbridge Wells in 1842. She was one of twelve children born to John Counsel Shartman (1774-18343) and Hester Shartman, nee Gauntlett (1778-1835).

William and Hester had six children between 1830 and 1842, all of whom were born in Tunbridge Wells, but two of them Christopher and Edward died at birth or in infancy.

The 1840 Pigots directory gave the listing “ William Wren, Hanover House, auctioneer and appraiser. Bragshaws 1847 directory gave the same listing. Colbrans 1844 guide gave an advertisement by William Wren which read “ W. Wren, builder and undertaker. Appraiser and General Agent Mount Ephraim Tunbridge Wells. Furnished and unfurnished houses to let, also furnished apartments at Hanover House, and Rock Mount”.

The 1841 census, taken at Hanover House gave William Wren as carpenter. With him was his wife Hester; three of their children and Edward Wren, age 48, his brother.

William’s first wife Hester passed away in Tunbridge Wells in 1842, the same year that their last child William Wren was born, suggesting that she died from child birth complications.

On June 13,1846 William married his second wife Mary Ann Mallett at Holy Trinity, Islington. His father was given as Ned Wren and her father was given as Thomas Mallett. William was given in the marriage record as a widower and a builder of Tunbridge Wells and his father was given as a “gentleman”. Mary Ann was a spinster of Holy Trinity district and her father was also given as a “gentleman”.

The 1851 census, taken at Hanover House gave William Wren as a builder employing 11 men. With him was his second wife Mary Ann; four of William’s children from his first marriage and Searle Mallett Wren,age 2, from his second marriage. The other children born to William and his second wife was Thomas Mallett Wren, born 1853 in Tunbridge Wells. Also in the home were three domestic servants.

The 1861 census, taken at Rock Manor in Tunbridge Wells gave William as a builder employing 8 men. With him was his second wife Mary Ann, given as born 1819 in Stepney, London.Also there were three children from his first marriage and two from his second marriage. Also there was one grandson and two domestic servants.

William Wren died in Tunbridge Wells July 24,1863 and was buried in the Woodbury Park Cemetery.

His son William Wren born 1842 in Tunbridge Wells married Agnes Ranger but the couple, according to the 1911 census had no children. He and his wife were living in Tunbridge Wells at the time of the 1871 census but the London Gazette of May 16,1871 announced the bankruptcy of William Wren, a builder. The meeting of creditors was to be held on May 30th at 13 Church Road, Tunbridge Wells with Stone, Wall and Simpson as solicitors. William Wren (1842-1919) soon after left Tunbridge Wells and took up residence in Cambridge where he died.


Robert was born January 8,1802 in London. He was baptised March 14,1802  at Saint Clement Danes, Westminster and given as the son of Joseph and Catherine Starling.

His first wife was Ann Starling, who was born 1790 in Ongar, Esssex and were married sometime in the 1820’s. It appears that Robert and Ann had no children.

The 1851 census, taken at East Peckham, Kent gave Robert as a general practitioner. With him at their Vine House residence at Goose Green was his wife Ann, one medical assistant and three servants.

The 1861 census, taken at Hanover House in Tunbridge Wells gave Robert  as a medical practitioner.With him was his wife Ann; his sister in law Charlotte James, a 78 year old widow born in Ongar, Essex; two grandchildren; two visitors and five domestic servants. A Colbrans directory of 1863 gave the listing “ R.J. Starling, Hanover House, Mount Ephraim Road, surgeon”. A directory of 1862 gave the same listing. Sometime after 1861 and before 1865 Ann Starling passed away in Tunbridge Wells.

Medical directories of 1860 to 1870 gave “ Robert J. Starling, Tunbridge Wells. FRCS Eng. 1856; MRCS 1829; LSA 1824(St Bartgholomew Hospital). Surgeon Kent Insp Founding Hospital.”

On September 20,1865 at Frant, Sussex, Robert married his second wife Elizabeth Maria Robinson, the daughter of Robert Robinson. His father was given as Joseph Starling.

The 1871 census, taken at 63 Mount Ephraim gave Robert as a surgeon FRCS. With him was his second wife Elizabeth M. Starling, born 1822 at Paddington, Middles. Also there was his niece Marion Annie Starling, age 28. Also there were two domestic servants. The marriage to Elizabeth, which produced no children, did not last long for she passed away in Tunbridge Wells in 1875.

The 1881 census, taken at 4 Calverley Terrace,Tunbridge Wells gave Robert Starling as a doctor and member of the Royal College of Surgeons but was not practicing. He was given in the census as a widow and the only people living with him were three domestic servants.

Probate records gave Robert Joseph Starling , late of Tunbridge Wells, who died May 17,1882 in Tunbridge Wells. The executors of his 3,388 pound estate was Marion Annie Starling of Beresford Lodge, Dyke Road, Brighton, Sussex, niece and Thomas Fox Simpson, solicitor, Tunbridge Wells. Burial records for the Woodbury Park Cemetery note that the first name on the grave was Elizabeth Maria Starling (1822-1875) and the second name was that of Robert Joseph Starling (1801-1882).


Robert was born February 17,1811 at Hythe, Kent and spent his childhood and early life in Hythe. He was the son of James Duncan (1785-1836) and Elizabeth Duncan.He came from a privileged family and received a good education having attended the University of Glasgow and became a MD and was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons.

The 1841 census, taken at 12 Calverley Road, gave Robert Duncan as single and working as a surgeon. With him was a chemist by the name of John Hickley,age 20.

In 1847 Robert married Elizabeth Thornton at Kensington, London. The 1851 census, taken at 12 Calverley Place, Tunbridge Wells, gave Robert as an MD. With him was his wife Elizabeth, born 1815 at Swange,Dorset and their two children Robert,(later Rev. Robert Duncan) born 1848 in Tunbridge Wells and Elizabeth, born in Tunbridge Wells in 1849. Also there was one medical assistant and two domestic servants. Elizabeth Duncan, nee Thornton had been baptised January 23,1815 at Swange and was the daughter of John and Mary Thornton.

The 1861 census, taken at Dudley House (photo opposite) on Mount Ephraim gave Robert as a MD. With him was his wife Elizabeth and six of their children, all born in Tunbridge Wells between 1848 and 1858. Also there was his wife’s sister Mary Dudley Thornton, born 1813 in Swanage, Dorset. In addition there was also one medical student and two domestic servants.

The 1871 census, taken at 18 Mount Ephraim ‘Hanover House’ gave Robert as a MD general practitioner University of Glasgow and Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in England. With him was his wife Elizabeth and four of their youngest children. Also there was one medical pupil and two domestic servants.

The Medical Times & Gazette of 1874 announced the marriage  on July 29th at St Johns Church, Tunbridge Wells of John R. Ranking, BA Oxford MRCS, the 7th son of the late Robert Ranking, esq of Hastings to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Robert Duncan, M.D. F.R.C.S. of Hanover House, Tunbridge Wells.

Robert and his family were still living at Hanover House in the early 1870’s and he died there July 30,1876. The executors of his estate were Rev. Robert Duncan, his son, a clerk of City of Carlisle and Robert seniors son John Thornston Duncan of St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

Robert Duncan’s widow Elizabeth continued to live in Tunbridge Wells with some of her children. She is found living on own means at 1 Grosvenor Road at the time of the 1891 census with her spinster daughters Mary and Maria and one servant. Elizabeth died in Tunbridge Wells in the first quarter of 1898. Both Robert and his wife were buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery.


John Ebenezer Ranking was born 1850 in Hastings, Sussex, one of 10 children born to Robert Ranking (1785-1867) and Isabella Eliza Hannah Ranking, nee Spiers (1810-1883). Shown opposite is a statue of Dr Ranking and below it the associated plaque, which photographs were taken on my behalf by Brian Dobson at the new Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Pembury.

At the time of the 1851 census he was living with his parents and siblings in Hastings where he received his early education.

In 1874 Robert married Elizabeth Duncan, born 1849 in Tunbridge Wells who was the eldest daughter of Robert Duncan given in the previous section. Robert and his wife had three children all born in Tunbridge Wells between 1876 and 1881.

The 1881 census, taken at ‘Hanover House’ 18 Mount Ephraim gave John as a “physician MA Oxford”. With him was his wife Elizabeth ; their two sons Robert Maurice Duncan, born 1876, and George L Duncan born 1878; his daughter Margery I. Duncan, born 1881, and four servants. The family was still living at Hanover House at the time of the 1891 census. The 1901 census, taken at Hanover House gave John as a physician and surgeon and living with him was his wife and three children and six servants.

Probate records gave John Ebenezer Ranking of Hanover House when he died September 11,1912 at Marnwood, Bexhill-on-sea, Sussex. The executors of his 33,990 pound estate were his widow Elizabeth and his son Robert Maurice Ranking, retired captain in H.M. Army and George Lucas Paddington MD. Robert and later his wife were both buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery.

Robert’s son Robert Maurice Ranking (1876-1939) followed his father in the medical profession. Records of Cambridge University gave the following “ Robert Maurice Ranking, born Tunbridge Wells February 15,1876… Adm. at PEMBROKE, Oct. 1895. Eldest s. of John Ebenezer, M.D., F.R.C.P., of Tunbridge Wells. B. there, Feb. 15, 1876. School, Leamington College; and at Neuenheim College, Heidelberg. Matric. Michs. 1895; B.A. 1898; M.B. and B.Chir. 1904; M.D. 1913. At St Bartholomew's Hospital. M.R.C.P.; L.R.C.P., 1903. House Physician at St Bartholomew's Hospital. Lieut., R.A.M.C., 1903; Capt., 1906. Served in the Great War, 1914-19 (Major, R.A.M.C. (Res. of Officers), 14th General Hospital France). Of 16, Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells. Physician to the Tunbridge Wells general Hospital. Died July 4, 1939. Brother of George L. (1896). (Medical Directories; Army Lists; Univ. War List; The Times, July 5, 1939.)”

The 1911 census, taken at Roseheath Villas in Cork, Ireland gave Robert Maurice Ranking with his wife Alice; his son John Maurice Ranking and two domestic servants. A 1913 directory gave Robert Ranking, M.D. B.C. Canterbury MRCS Entg; LRCO London at 18 Mount Ephraim ‘Hanover House” His wife Mrs Ranking was also listed at the same address in the 1913 directory.

Directories of 1918-1922 gave Robert Maurice Ranking as a medical practitioner residing at Hanover House, 18 Mount Ephraim Road. Directories of 1930 to 1938 record him at ‘Northcote’ 16 Frant Road.

Probate records gave Robert Maurice Ranking of 16 Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells when he died July 4,1939 at the Lonsdale Nursing Home in Tunbridge Wells. The executors of his 9,802 pound estate were Alice Ruth Ranking, widow, and John Maurice Ranking, son, doctor of medicine. He was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery.



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

Date; February 1,2014

William Conyers Fisher (1850-1937) spent most of his life painting the commons  and forest land around Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall, where he lived for over fifty years. From the age of 21 he earned a living selling his work, and working as a freelance drawing master.Shown opposite is a scan of a self -portrait of the artist which is a poor substitute for the original painting but it was the only image I could obtain of him. The image appears to be of him as a young man, perhaps in his 20’s and at that time was well groomed and looked quite distinguished.

Fisher’s output was almost entirely watercolour, and almost solely landscapes. He sketched directly into a book using watercolour, out in the open air. Fisher was not particularly concerned with portraying local landmarks. The Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery have a large collection of his work for those of you who would like to see his paintings first hand. Ian Beavis, the curator of this fine establishment provided the following information about Mr Fisher. “ Looking at his work you get a sense that he was primarily concerned with balancing colour and composition. He enjoyed juxtaposing shocking orange gorse with some bracken and moss, and bright heather against sombre grassland. Oftne the same motifs appear over and over again in his pictures- in particular grazing cattle, lonely shepherds and distant churches. These are often secondary to the actual landscape- and are probably there to balance the scene. Fisher constantly sought to use the medium of watercolour in different ways, and experimented with different styles of painting. Some of his pictures look very Victorian-whereas others anticipate modern art movements. Fisher’s work perhaps looks a little less sophisticated than that of his more prestigious contemporaries-but there is no doubt that he had the sensibilities of a true artist, and was capable of producing some wonderful effects. Although he was not concerned with documenting his life and times, his work can teach us a great deal about the management and usage of sites like Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells commons in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s”.

Unfortunately the art gallery does not have in their collection the art book referred to above but they do have some 76 paintings of his including a self-portrait. Unfortunately due to the cost of obtaining digitized images of his work from the art gallery I was only able to provide in this article one example of his work from their collection, however I have included a list of his works in the collection of the local gallery, which was provide to me by Ian Beavis, for which I am grateful.

Fisher’s paintings have been featured on a number of occasions ,along with the works of other local artists,at various exhibiitons put on the local gallery. The website of ‘Rusthall History’ for example refers to an exhibition in 1993 where his work was displayed and that in 2001 another show was held  “where many paintings were by William Congress Fisher, a Denny Bottom resident famous for wandering about the Commons in a long black coat and a distracted air. The local kids thought him mad and teased him mercilessly, but that does not seem to have affected his love of the area”. In following up on these statements I came in contact with Marilyn Myers who said “ My mother remembered him (Fisher) from her childhood. He lived alone in Apsley Street then and was an old man who because of his odd appearance was ridiculed by the kids which is rather sad. She of course regretted that in her old age. He could be seen all over the common sketching or painting and had long hair and wore a long black cloak. He was known locally as ‘Bud Fisher” and always had his little dog in tow. On a side note as retribution for my mum’s childish antics she purchased a print of one of his paintings from the museum and hung it in her sitting room”.

Shown above is a watercolour by Fisher posted on the internet by the local art gallery depicting one of his local views. This image was presented to announce the upcoming art show at the gallery that was scheduled for September 8,2012. The gallery referred to him at that time as “ a lesser-known artist”, which is indeed true ,for very little is known about him outside of Tunbridge Wells.At the time of researching  Fisher’s life and work there were no examples on the internet of any of his paintings and no biographies or other related information about the artist himself.

Shown opposite is another painting,attributed by others as being one of Fisher’s , which shows Holy Trinity Church. This image appeared on the family tree of  William Conyers Fisher and was reported to me by the person who posted the family tree that the painting was by Fisher.I was unable to confirm this attribution independently.

William Conyers Fisher was born 1850 in Speldhurst, Kent, the only child of William Conyers Fisher (1821-1891) and Harriet Staite(1812-1873). Williams father had been born 1821 in Hull, Yorkshire, one of ten children born to Robert Fisher (1799-1849) and Elizabeth Overend(1797-1867). Robert Fisher worked as a glass cutter and William Conyers Fisher senior was a painter,decorator for most of his career.William Fisher senior had been baptised July 9,1821 at Holy Trinity in Hull,Yorkshire. On April 14,1845 he married Harriet Staite at Greenwich,London. Harriet had been born November 6,1812  in Speldhurst and was the daughter of James Staite, a grocer, and Martha Staite.

The 1851 census, taken at Mount Ephraim,Tunbridge Wells records William Fisher Conyers senior,age 29, working as a master grocer. Living with him was his wife Harriet and their son William Conyers Fisher junior age 1.

The 1861 census, taken at Gillard Lodge, Speldhurst records William C. Fisher senior as a plumber and painter. Living with him was his wife Harriet and their 11 year old son William junior, who at that time was attending school. Also present in the home was one lodger and one domestic servant.

A review of local directories gives the following; 1867- “William Fisher (senior), painter and plumber,Mount Ephrain”…..1874- “William Fisher (senior), painter and plumber, 93 Mount Ephraim”……1882- “ William Fisher junior, artist and teacher of drawing, 92 Mount Ephraim”……1882- “William Fisher (senior), first class furnished house or apartments, Pavilon House, 92 Mount Ephraim”.

The 1871 census, taken at 93 Mount Ephraim records William C. Fisher, age 49, plumber decorator etc. Living with him was his wife Harriet and his son William, age 21, an artist and landscape painter.

The 1881 census, taken at 92 Mount Ephraim records William C. Fisher, age 59, widower, a master painter employing three men. Living with him was his son William,age 31, an artist. Also present at that address were fourteen others consisting of ten lodgers and four servants. William Fisher senior was, in addition to his house painter business ,operating a boarding house at 92 Mount Ephraim. Shown above  is a postcard view  of Mount Ephraim posted in 1912.

Sometime between 1881 and 1891 William Conyers Fisher senior and junior moved from their home on Mount Ephraim and took up residence in the town of Rusthall at 14 Apsley Street, the same address referred to earlier in this article , as given by Marilyn Myers in her correspondence to me. The 1891 census, taken at 14 Apsley Street ( photo opposite) records William Congress Fisher, age 69, widow, living on own means. Also present was his son William Conyers Fisher, age 41, single, an artist. William junior never did get married. As one can see from the photo, 14 Apsley Street was a rather modest home but of course with only the father and son living there it would have met their needs.

Probate records give William Conyers Fisher the elder, late of 14 ‘Heathbank’ Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells died May 10,1891 at 14 Heathbank.Proved by William Congress Fisher of 14 Heathbank, artist, the son. The estate was valued at 490 pounds. The residence ‘Heathbank’ was the name of the house at 14 Apsley Street. His wife Harriet had died in the 4th qtr of 1873 at their Mount Ephraim home.

After the death of his father William continued to live at 14 Apsley Street in Rusthall right up to the time of his death. It is interesting to note that no directory listings for William appear after 1882. However the 1911 census, taken at 14 Apsley Street, Rusthall records William living on his own with the occupation of artist.

Probate records give William Congress Fisher of 14 Apsley Street, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells, died January 27,1937 at Sandhill Pembury, artist. Probate was to Hallett William Samuel Reed, retired grocer and left an estate valued at about 2,500 pounds. There was no notice of death or an obituary published in the local newspapers and so his death went unannounced and his presence on this earth went unmarked by his passing.A sad end for a man who was such a good artist. Although he had no wife or children one would have thought that someone would have had something to say about the man in the local newspaper. It is surprising to me that the executor of his estate did not do something in this regard.

“Sandhill” ,referred to in the probate record.,was the name of The Union Workhouse in Pembury which later became the Pembury Hospital in 1938. Apart from the workhouse buildings there was a separate infirmary and it was at this infirmary that William died. In researching this infirmary, with input from Chris Jones of the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society, Chris informed me “By the 1930’s the infirmary at the workhouse was pretty much serving as an ordinary hospital for the area, though it would have specialized in care of the elderly.So there is nothing odd about someone from Rusthall being there”. Initially I had thought “it odd” that someone from Rusthall would end up in the Pembury Infirmary rather than at the closer hospital in Tunbridge Wells but Chris Jones reply to my inquiry cleared up my confusion. By the time William had died he was age 87 and his health was probably in decline and needed senior care, which Sandhill was able to provide.

In closing off my coverage of the life and career of William Conyers Fisher I  noted that the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery has in their collection a  12 list of his work on which are listed 76 watercolour and 4 oil paintings by William Conyers Fisher junior. To see the list and the paintings  I would suggest either going to the art gallery or requesting a full size photocopy of the original catalogue. If you can go to the gallery, all the better, for you will get to see his lovely paintings at the same time and it appears from the account by Marilyn Myers that prints of his work can be obtained from the gallery. It would be worth asking for a print for a print  on the wall is better than nothing at all and the chances of finding any of his original artwork up for sale would be doubtful.



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

Date: November 10,2017


The first Empire Day in Britain took place May 24,1902, which before the death of Queen Victoria on January 22,1901, was celebrated as the birthday of Queen Victoria. It was instituted in the UK by Lord Meath in 1905 and was extended throughout the countries of the Commonwealth. What many don’t realize is that Empire Day was founded in Canada and not in England as noted in an article which appeared in the Winnipeg Evening Tribune May 23,1936 which in part stated “ CANADIANS take special pride in Empire Day, partly because of the fact that the idea originated with a Canadian woman, Mrs. Clementina Fessenden, widow of Rev. E. J. Fessenden, rector of St. John's church in Ancaster, Ontario. On May 23. 1898, Mrs. Fessenden inaugurated a movement in Canada which has since spread throughout the British Empire, a movement for the fitting observance in the schools of Canada of a day dedicated to the great empire of which we are a part. A few years later it was adopted in the British Isles, and Lord Meath, its sponsor over there, acknowledged that he had received his inspiration from Mrs. Fessenden. Some idea of Britain's appreciation may be gathered from the following excerpt from the London publication. The Queen, of May, 1915: The King has no more loyal 'and faithful subject in all his wide dominions than Mia Clementina Fessenden, the founder of Empire Day….” The full article is given later in my article as it relates to the celebration of Empire Day in my home country.

Empire Day was a symbol of a unity of feeling and to those ideals of freedom,justice, and tolerance for which the British Empire stood throughout the world. Empire Day became a major event, involving, among other things, school parades and pagents, largely an event that centered around children. In 1925 some 90,000 people assembled at an Empire Day thanksgiving service held at Wembley stadium as part of the British Empire Exhibition.

The idea of Empire Day that would “remind children that they formed a part of the British Empire, and that they might think with others in lands across the sea, what it meant to be sons and daughters of such a glorious empire and which apprised them that the strength of the Empire depended on them, and they must never forget it”, was conceived earlier in 1897 by the loyalist Canadian Mrs Fessende.

In 1958 Harold Macmillan announced in Parliament the re-naming of Empire Day to Commonwealth Day, a day which is a celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations held on the second Monday in March, having previously been celebrated on May 24th, Queen Victoria’s birthday. Commonwealth Day is a public holiday in some parts of the Commonwealth but not in Britain. For further information about how the day is celebrated in Britain and elsewhere take a look at the Wikipedia website which provides details.

Empire Day was of course celebrated throughout Britain and it was an event looked forward to and celebrated in Tunbridge Wells every year. While most activities surrounding the event were held at the schools ,occasionally a parade would be held in the town where the participants typically dressed as Britannia draped in the Union Jack and costumes of other nations. The parade floats were brightly decorated with flags and bunting and other ornamentation.  Events at the schools always centered around the school’s flag pole where the Union Jack was raised and speeches to the children about the significance of the day were made. Also, the Calverley Grounds was a place where events of the day were held, as recounted by several people who were residents of the town that had fond memories of the day.

In this article I present a number of images relating to Empire Day, some of which take the form of photographs taken in and around Tunbridge Wells in the early 1900’s. Also given is some further information about Canada’s equivalent to Empire Day and my recollections of it as a Canadian boy. Also presented is information and images relating to Empire Day during WW 1 and the establishment of the “Overseas Club” where children were issued with Empire Day Certificates for their contribution to the war effort in the form of money raised and clothing items made for those in the war. Many children of Tunbridge Wells participated in this important WW1 initiative.

Shown above from top to bottom is an Empire Day photo taken in Chesterfiled, Kent and a photo of Empire Day in Nassau.


Given below is an article from Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada from 1936 which provides information on what became known in Britain as Empire Day but most commonly was known in Canada as “Victoria Day” held May 24th annually on the birthday of Queen Victoria.

“THE WINNIPEG EVENING TRIBUNE, WINNIPEG. MAN, SATURDAY. MAY 23. 1936 (Vol. XLVII. No. 124) Founder of Empire Day ….CANADIANS take special pride in Empire Day, partly because of the fact that the idea originated with a Canadian woman, Mrs. Clementina Fessenden, widow of Rev. E. J. Fessenden, rector of St. John's church in Ancaster, Ontario. On May 23. 1898, Mrs. Fessenden inaugurated a movement in Canada which has since spread throughout the British Empire, a movement for the fitting observance in the schools of Canada of a day dedicated to the great empire of which we are a part. A few years later it was adopted in the British Isles, and Lord Meath, its sponsor over there, acknowledged that he had received his inspiration from Mrs. Fessenden. Some idea of Britain's appreciation may be gathered from the following excerpt from the London publication. The Queen, of May, 1915: The King has no more loyal 'and faithful subject In all his wide dominions than Mia Clementina Fessenden, the founder of Empire Day. It consists not in a mere commonplace holiday, with accompaniments of broken bottles, greasy papers and newly opened meat tins, but is devoted to such exercises as tend to bind more closely together the Mother Country and her large and prosperous overseas dominions." Until her death in 1918. Clementina Fessenden was the recipient of much grateful tribute from overseas and from private organizations in Canada. But she has never been accorded any official recognition by the government of Canada. To this day her grave in Ancaster churchyard remains unmarked. In 1927 it was generally understood that Premier King and the committee in charge of the tablets for the new tower in the Parliament buildings at Ottawa were to have a worthy memorial tablet erected in her honor, but It appears that nothing was done. Those In Canada who cherish our connection with the Empire and with British institutions feel strongly that some public honor should be paid to the memory of the lady who conceived the idea of an Empire Day. It ia not too late. Will the government act in the matter or will Mrs. Fessenden join the swelling ranks of those who are not without honor except in their own country? Shown above is a photo of Mrs Fessenden and plaque dedicated to her.

In Canada two flagpoles are available, on one is flown the Union Jack and on the other the Canadian flag. These are flown from sunrise to sunset at federal buildings, airports, military bases and  other establisments. In addition one can see on most residential streets the presence of the British and Canadian flags, for many people in Canada are decended from ancestors who came to the country from Britain. Many of the county names in Canada have British origins and although British people are widely disbursed throughout the country Vancouver Island in British Columbia has an abundance of them. Many buildings and places bear the name of “Victoria” in honor of the Queen and the Royal family have been frequent visitors to Canada over the years. Canadians are obviously proud of our British heritage and of course our support during both wars to the allied cause where Canadians served with distinction.

As a boy growing up in Canada few of us really appreciated the significance of Victoria Day apart from it having been the Queen’s birthday. Some lessons about it were of course given in school but its significance to most children was that on Victoria Day a grand fireworks display was held in the town, and because of that we referred to the day as “Fireworks Day”. It was the only holiday of the year that I recall where fireworks could be purchased. Our home in Richmond Hill, Ontario was located right across the road from the Walter Scott Public School,that I attended, and at the back of the school grounds the towns fireworks display was held. People from all over the town would walk and drive to the event and the streets nearby would be choked up with parked cars. My mum and dad and I would sit in our lawnchairs on our lawn in the evening as it got dark and watch the fireworks, and what a spectacle it was ! Usually before this grand event we had our own family fireworks display. As my mother would not let me play with matches and did not want me to get hurt, my dad was in charge of setting up and firing off the fireworks. I have fond memories of this family event where my mum and I would stand on the front porch waving our sparklers while sprays of glorious coloured lights shot off up into the sky. During my teenage years my parents had a shop, where among the items they sold ,were fireworks, which were brought out in May and stocked on the shelves. Loose fireworks of all kinds and family boxes of mixed fireworks could be bought in my parents shop and we certainly sold large quantities of them. To a child the  significance of the big day was largely overshadowed by our interest in fireworks. I perhaps should have mentioned that both my parents were born in England and no doubt they were more aware of the significance of the celebrations than I.


Celebrations of Empire Day were held in one form or other in most if not all the cities, towns and villages of Britain. The example below of such a celebration in Wadhurst in 1908 serves as a more or less typical description of events. This account is from a newspaper of June 1908 in Wadhurst.

“EMPIRE MOVEMENT. -- For the first time Empire Day ‘was celebrated in Wadhurst on Sunday, May 24th. St. George's flag was seen gaily waving from the graceful spire of the old Church, and at all the services the occasion was marked by special music. The vicar preached morning and evening to large congregations on the inner meaning of the “Empire Movement”, and also spoke to the children in the afternoon. On Tuesday, the 26th, the children of all the schools-----Wadhurst, Tidebrook, Cousley Wood and Woods Green-----were given a half holiday and took part in a loyal demonstration. At 3 o’clock the young folk (who, with their teachers, numbered six or seven hundred) assembled at the Wadhurst Schools where a most interesting selection of patriotic and national songs were sung. Mr Knight, organist, conducted, Mrs Stevenson and Mr. S. Wallis, Junr., accompanied on the harmonium and cornet. There was a very large attendance of interested spectators including the Rev. M. C. Kirby [Vicar of Tidebrook], Rev. C. C. Allen, Rev. F. Potts, and the Rev. F. Jenkin [Wesleyan Minister ]. At 3.30 a procession started for the market hall [most kindly lent by Mr. Austen], where a splendid tea was provided. After tea at the cricket field, which Mr. O. T. Corke had generously placed at the disposal of the committee of management, the children engaged in games of various kinds. Mr. Ashby, by his kind and thoughtful action in erecting swings and see-saws greatly added to the enjoyment of all. A fresh interest arrived on the scene at 5 o’clock when the Wadhurst Town Band made its appearance. At 5.45 the children were gathered into the hall again to hear a stirring address on ’Patriotism and Duty’, given by the Rev. F. Knott [Headmaster of Skinners School, Tunbridge Wells]. Immediately before the address a large Union Jack was ceremoniously hoisted and saluted by the children as they sang the now well-known and popular “Flag of Britain”. Other songs followed and with a hearty vote of thanks to the speaker, proposed by the Vicar, and the singing of the National Anthem, the programme in the hall was brought to a close. A grand procession was once more formed, headed by the Wadhurst Town Band, and supported in the centre by the Salvation Army Band [who had generously given their services for the occasion], children and teachers marched in effective style through the Village, banners and flags bravely waving. A halt was called at Wadhurst Castle Gates where massed bands and voices joined in “God save the King”. Hearty cheers brought the proceedings of what all felt to be a thoroughly interesting and important demonstration to a close. Mr. F. W. Larcombe was most energetic and painstaking in his efforts to make the day a success, and is to be congratulated on the able manner in which he mustered and arranged his forces.Sincere thanks are due to all the teachers also for their ready help, and to the many willing hands who worked hard to make everything go off well, while last but not least the small committee of ladies, who at very short notice undertook to collect the necessary funds, deserve our highest praise and gratitude. Want of space prevents us from giving the long list of kind subscribers. The catering was admirably carried out by Mr. and Mrs A. Carpenter.”

Each Empire Day, millions of school children from all walks of life across the length and breadth of the British Empire would typically salute the Union Flag and sing patriotic songs, songs like ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘God Save the Queen’. They would hear inspirational speeches and listen to tales of ‘daring do’ from across the Empire. Of course the real highlight of the day was being let of school early to take part in the thousands of marches, maypole dances (like that in the photo opposite by Tunbridge Wells photographer Henry Jenkins of a scene in Tunbridge Wells), concerts and parties that celebrated the event. In the words of Lord Meath the goal of Empire Day was “ to promote the systematic training of children in all virtues which conduce to the creation of good citizens” which virtues were clearly spelled out by the watchwords of the Empire Movement “ Responsibility, Sympathy, Duty and Self-Sacrifice”. Empire Day remained an essential part of the calendar and was celebrated by countless millions of children and adults alike, an opportunity to demonstrate pride in being part of the British Empire. A now largely forgotten anniversary, perhaps only your grandparents will recall the chant “ Remember, Remember, Empire Day,the 24th of May”.

Shown throughout this section are some sample images of Empire Day celebrations in Britain, including those at Herne Bay, Kent in 1908 ;Woking,Surrey in 1913; and Hampstead in 1913.


The celebratory mood of Empire Day in Britain was no doubt overshadowed by events of the Great War, a time where times were hard, the losses great, and the sacrifices large throughout the country. However Empire Day was still celebrated and in many ways the watchwords of the Empire Movement of “ Responsibility, Sympathy, Duty and Self-Sacrifice” had no greater real meaning that during the war, where everyone, no matter what age, came together and did their bit for the common good.  To this end the ‘Overseas Club’ was founded by Sir Evelyn Wrench in 1910 but later became known as ‘The Royal Overseas League (ROSL). The Overseas Club was given a Royal Charter of Incorporation in 1922 and Queen Elizabeth II granted the title "Royal" to mark its golden jubilee in 1960. Wrench saw the British Empire of the time as not merely a political and economic structure, but also "a far-flung brotherhood of individual men and women of diverse creeds and races living widely apart under differing conditions in different latitude".The league today is both an association of individual members and a supporter of Commonwealth art, music and welfare projects. There is a sister clubhouse in Edinburgh, as well as honorary representatives, branches or reciprocal clubs in more than 90 countries.

During the war the Overseas Club supported the troops by providing funds and goods obtained by donations, which were used to provide comfort to the troops serving; to POW’s and to wounded men in the hundreds of thousands. This club was visibly supported by school children who undertook all manner of initiatives to donate funds to the Club but also donated goods. One lady, then a girl of Tunbridge Wells, wrote that she donated socks to the Club which she had knitted.

In recognition of the children’s efforts special certificates were awarded by the Overseas Club to all the children who had made a contribution. Samples of these certificates, bearing the childs’ name are given in this section.


Shown below left is a photograph by Tunbridge Wells photographer Henry Jenkins, who’s studio was on Grosvenor Road, taken on Empire Day in 1908 at St John’s School. To the right of it is a photo by Jenkins circa 1908 of an Empire Day event.The back of this photo only has printed on the back Empire Day Tunbridge Wells 1908 with no indication of the location but shows a group of school children assembled in front of a flagpole.

“Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” wrote in 1907 “ Empire Day of 1907 was available for heaps of miscreants to learn how to hang the Union Flag correctly”. Many articles, under this heading appeared in the local newspaper for many years , offering a critical view of the events of the town.

Shown below right is a photograph of Christ Church School on Vale Road near the High Street bridge on Empire Day 1912, which shows a group of school children celebrating the day with several onlookers assembled on the sidewalk. This school closed in about 1969 and was later demolished. A Safeway (now Morrisons) was built on the site. Below left  is a photo of a Empire Day float in Tunbridge Wells.

The Opening of the Assembly Hall on Crescent Road was a much looked towards event. The Assembly Hall was opened on Empire Day May 24,1939 by the Marchioness of Camden.

During WW 1 Empire Day celebrations continued as evidenced by the photograph opposite showing children on Empire Day at the High Brooms School. A gentleman on a war memories website gave his childhood recollections of his childhood in Tunbridge Wells during WW 1 and stated that he remembered Empire Day celebrations being held at the Calverley Grounds, where hundreds if not thousands of children had assembled for  a flag raising, speeches and other celebrations.

Chris Jones in the Civic Society book “ Tunbridge Wells in 1909’ wrote the following. “ May 24th,Queen Victoria’s birthday, was Empire Day. It was a relatively recent development,dating from only 1903, and was directed essentially at children-to foster patriotism, loyalty and the ideal of service to others. It was not an official celebration-the Liberal government in particular did not approve, but was taken up by churches, schools and local bodies. The main celebrations were in the schools. They typically involved the raising of the flag, a march-past by the children, the singing of hymns, and an address by the local vicar or other worthy. At St Marks it was the Bishop of Chichester. He said that it was a day of thanksgiving in which they thanked God for being citizens of the British Empire, for being happy English children. They were especially honoured by the presence of local resident Fanny J. Wright who, in 1908, had written the words to the Empire Hymn. At St James School the children were told how the people of Kent had to be ready to defend London. This was particularly relevant at St James, where the boys could learn to shoot. At St Barnabas Captain Campbell told the children of his experience at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir (1882), and at St Johns there was a physical drill display.

At Christ Church School (photo above) the ceremony was less militaristic. Certainly, as soon as the station (SER train station) clock struck eleven, they raised the flag and sang the National Anthem, and then songs for each of the four home countries, with Rule Britannia to represent England. But then there was ‘ a very pretty ceremony’ of plaiting the Maypole. All the girls taking part wore white dresses, with sashes to match the braids that they plaited. The children all received a tin of chocolates presented by the Mayor (photo opposite). The Mayor, suitably robed, attended each of the school ceremonies (at Holy Trinity, Grosvenor,St Luke’s, St Peter’s, King Charles, and the Royal Victoria Schools, as well as those mentioned above), plus the Children’s Ward at the General Hospital and the Convalescent Home in Hawkenbury.”

At the front during WW 1 Empire Day was a more serious affair and on that Day throughout the war many men spent the day in dismal conditions fighting for their country. On man, Percy Bertram Marriner, born 1895 in Tunbridge Wells, who died October 28,1915 and was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery was a sapper, the son of Alfred Marriner, a local police constable and his wife Rose. He had been a scholar at the Royal Victoria School in Tunbridge Wells and before the war he had worked  as second engineer at the Spa Hotel and had a promising career before him. He had enlisted for service with the 1/3 Kent Field Coy RE on Empire Day May 24,1915, the last one he got to see in his native land. His name is among the 801 men listed for WW 1 on the Tunbridge Wells War Memorial.

Fred Sibbey, who had a long family connection with Tunbridge Wells, who lives on through “ Sibbey’s Corner’ died at the age of 96 in the 1st qtr of 2011. Born in 1915 at Jubilee Cottages in Hall’s Hole Road he later lived on Nelson Road above the general store of his parents. In his recollections of his life, published by the Hawkenbury Village Association he recalled, among many things, that “ between the wars he recalled the excitement of Sunday School outings to the seaside and Empire Day celebrations held in Calverley Grounds…”

Francis (Frank) William Boreham (1871-1959) (photo oppoiste)had been born in Tunbridge Wells, being one of eleven children born to William Boreham and Harriet F. Boreham, nee Usher. He received his early education in Tunbridge Wells but after the 1891 census left the family home and emigrated to Australia and became the editor of the Otago Daily Times. In his first editorial for this newspaper he offered a lengthy article on the British Empire, a topic which was a constant theme throughout his editorial writings.  He provided in his publications an annual editorial on Empire Day, which was celebrated in Australia May 24th from 1905 to the late 1950’s. To read his comments go to the website ‘The Official F.W. Boreham Blog at Details about his family with an emphasis on Tunbridge Wells can be found in my article ‘The Life and Times of Francis Boreham’ dated August 30,2014. 



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