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

Date: September 19,2018


The Aeolian Company, Limited was founded 1878 in New York but also had subsidiaries in other countries, including England. The head office in England operated from premises at The Aeolian Hall , 131-7 New Bond Street, London. Their factory was located on Silverdale Road, Hayes, Middlesex.

The company manufactured gramophones and pianos and Vocaline records, which were sold in Tunbridge Wells by L.P. Barnes Ltd of 40 High Street and Victoria Road, who was the District Agent for Aeolian.

The name Aeolian comes from the Aeolian Islands located NE of Sicily and has its roots derived from the god Aecius (keeper of the winds) and relates to arising from the action of the wind, and for that reason has historically been used in connection with wind musical instruments or music in general.

One famous use of the word Aeolian is w.r.t. The Aeolian Ladies Orchestra which was formed in 1886 by the talented musician and conductor Rosabel Watson (1865-1959). This orchestra was the first all ladies orchestra in England, and some say the world. The Kent & Sussex Courier of November 29,1923 announced that The Aeolian company (the ladies orchestra) will be present at the Opera House, Tunbridge Wells on Saturday December 8th at 3pm.

In this article I present information about the Aeolian Company with an emphasis on the companies Tunbridge Wells district agent L.P. Barnes. Information is also given in connection with the Aeolian Ladies Orchestra. Shown above is an advertisement for the company in London dated 1918.


Before the name Aeolian Company Limited came into use in England, the company went by the name of The Aeolian Orchestrelle. An advertismemt for the business under this name from their premises at the Aeolian Hall on New Bond Street, London from 1911 is shown opposite.

Aeolian Hall, at 135–137 New Bond Street, London, began life as the Grosvenor Gallery, being built by Coutts Lindsay in 1876, an accomplished amateur artist with a predeliction for the aesthetic movement, for which he was held up to some ridicule. In 1883, he decided to light his gallery with electricity. An outhouse became a substation, and equipment was installed in the basement, which upset some of the neighbours, and caused others to buy electricity from him. Thus began the system of electrical distribution in use today, but the threat of fire ended these activities, and by 1890, Lindsay was forced to sell out to the Grosvenor Club. By 1903 the whole building was taken over by the Orchestrelle Company of New York (the Aeolian Company). As manufacturers of musical instruments, and especially the mechanical piano-player known as the pianola, they converted the space into offices, a showroom, and a concert hall. Shown below left is an image of the interior of the building and to the right is a modern view of the building’s exterior. A good article about the history of this building can be found on the website Wikipedia.


The companies factory in England was located at Silverdale Road in Hayes, Middlesex. This factory is shown on the right of the recent photograph opposite. This building was given a Grade II listing by English Heritage and today is the premises of the Benlow Works. Production by Aeolian at this plant ceased in 1934. They also produced at this plant Steck, Weber,Aeolian and Orchestrelll pianos and pinolas.

The Aeolian Vocalion came in a variety of models with either an oak or mahogany case and there was also a portable model with a black leather covered case.  The company also had a large output of Vocalion records to be played on their gramophones.

On the internet one can find more information about the operations of this company in England, Australia and the USA.


References to L.P. Barnes as the district agent for The Aeolian Company Limited began to appear in the Kent & Sussex Courier in 1917 and continued until 1930.

Throughout that time period Messrs L.P. Barnes Ltd were located at 40 High Street and advertised frequently their offering of the Aeolian gramophones, pianos and records  available from their musical depot. Barnes also advertised in a 1922 directory “ Aeolian Co. Limited, 40 High Street, Tunbridge Wells, pianoforte makers”. A directory of 1930 also mentioned that the company tuned pianos and no doubt undertook repairs. No listing for the business in Tunbridge Wells was found before 1917 and no listing of it was found in a 1932 directory suggesting that the business in the town had ended by then. Shown opposite is a postcard view of High Street. On the right can be seen the clock hanging over the sidewalk in front of Payne's Jewellers  37 High Street and across the road was No. 40 High Street.

The Kent & Sussex Courier of October 28,1921  and April 17,1921 announced “ The Aeolian Vocalion Model C- The new 12 Guinea Aeolian Vocalion brings the perfect gramophone within reach of all. Call in and ask to hear its wonderful tone. The Aeolian Co.Ltd, 40 High Street, Tunbridge Wells (L.P. Barnes Ltd sole agents)”.

The Courier of March 19,1926 reported ‘that the new Aeolian upright piano can be purchased at a moderate price of 63 pounds at the Aeolian Company, 40 High Street”.

The Courier of March 14,1924 reported “ Aeolian Company’s new Vocalion records-The March bulletin of the Aeoline Company ( District Agent Mr. L.P. Barnes of High Street Tunbridge Wells) contains every interesting and attractive lists of new Vocalion records for the gramophone…”

Several other advertisments making reference to the business of L.P. Barnes were also found promoting the sale and servicing of the line of Aeoline products. One dated January 18,1921 gave for example “ The Aeoline Company Ltd, 40 High Street, Tunbridge Wells (formerly the Orchestrelle Co. ). Factory at 67 Victoria Road. Buy your records at The Aeoline Co. Ltd, 40 High Street, Tunbridge Wells”.

The Courier of February 11,1927 gave “ Visit the stand of Barnes Ltd, agents for The Aeoline Co. and His Masters Voice gramophones. In addition to a display of their latest models of pianos and pianola pianos, there will be a special display of His Masters Voice gramophones”.

No definitive genealogical information about L.P. Barnes was found by the researcher.


Orchestras comprised entirely of women did not begin to appear in England until the late 19th century. Among them perhaps the best known was the Aeolian Ladies Ochestra of London founded in 1886 by the talented musician and conductor Rosabel Watson (1865-1959). This orchestra was the first all ladies orchestra in England, and some say the world. A photograph of the orchestra from the early 20th century is shown opposite. Rosabel is shown in the front row centre with the baton.  A number of the songs performed by this orchestra were recorded on the Vocalion records of the Aeolian Co. Ltd. One example is shown later in this article.

All of the members of the orchestra were strong supporters of the women’s suffrage movement and at a banquet for the suffragists at Savoy Hall December 11,1906 the music was provided by this orchestra.

Of particular interest was an announcement in the Kent & Sussex Courier of November 30,1923 that the Aeolian Ladies Orchestra was to give a performance at the Opera House on Mount Pleasant Road (image below) Tunbridge Wells on Saturday December 8 at 3p.m.

From the various detailed accounts about Rosabel that can be found on the internet, one can conclude that she was a very talented musician, able to play a large number of musical instruments and went on to be a noted conductor not only of her own orchestra but also that at the Gildhall. Although mush has been written about her musical talents and career virtually nothing has been written about the women herself and her family and for that reason I conducted my own research into her family, the results of which are given below.

Rosabel Watson was born as Rosabel Grace Watson, January 24,1865 in Middlesex. She was baptised at Wesley’s Chapel on City Road,Islington Middlesex on August 13,1865 and given in records as the daughter of Clement Watson (1835-1913) and Isabella Cecilia Watson(1831-1905).  Rosabel had four siblings born between 1867 and 1878.

The 1871 census, taken at 9 Stamford Road in Hackney London gave Clement Watson born 1835 in Sheffield, Yorkshire with the occupation of “stationer envelope maker”. With him was his wife Isabella C. Watson, born 1836 at Newington, Surrey and his two daughters Rosabel Grace Watson, a scholar, and Margaret L. Watson, born 1867 in Shoreditch, London. In this census the place of birth for Rosabel was also given as Shoreditch.

No census records for Rosabel were found for 1881 but the 1891 census, taken at 31 Gateway Road in Lambeth London gave Margaretta L. Muggeride,age 71 as a retired schoolmistress. With her was Rosabel G. Watson,age 25, a professor of music. Also there were two domestic servants. The 1881 census, taken at 33 Beaconsfield Road in Leyton, Essex gave Clement Watson as a stationer envelope maker. With him was his wife Isabella and their three children Margaretta L.age 10; Herb ert,age 7 and Clement,age 3. By this time Rosabel had left the family home.

The 1901 census, taken at Beauchamp Lodge in Paddington, London, gave Rosabel as the proprietor of a boarding house. With her was Annie Victoria Marle,age 26, a partner in the boarding house,; six musical students; two visitors attending school; two boarders who were musical students and two domestics. A directory of 1915 listed Rosabel  as a boarding house proprietor at Beauchamp Lodge on Warwick Road, London.

A 1939 directory listed Rosabel G. Watson as single and working as a musician and conductor. With her was Victoria A Marle born 1864, a musician piano; one domestic servant and one visitor with the occupation of canine nurse.

Directories of 1952 to 1955 gave Rosabel as a musical director of 37 Randolph Crescent, Cunningham, London. Shown above is a photograph of Rosabel age 84 as the Director of Music at the open air theatre in Regents Park dated June 9,1949.

Probate records gave Rosabel Grace Watson of 38 Randolf Crescent, Maida Vale, London, spinster, who died October 5,1959. The executors of her 799 pound estate were Elizabeth Foster Merriman, spinster, and Rosabel’s solicitor.


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

Date: October 7,2018


The Tunbridge Wells Manufacturing Company Ltd was the last company in Tunbridge Wells to manufacture and sell Tunbridge Ware.

Tunbridge Ware is the name given to decorative wooden mosaic items of all types , the local manufacture of which was at its height in the 19th century. The Tunbridge Wells Manufacturing Company Ltd, with its headquarters at 36 Rusholme Road in Putney London, had its manufactory and shop in Tunbridge Wells at 128-130 Camden Road.

In this article I present some background information on how the business was begun along with an advertisement for the business circa 1925 and two examples of items made by them. The business was short lived for records indicate it only existed from 1924 to 1927.


Several years ago I published an article about the history of Tunbridge Ware Makers of Tunbridge Wells and made brief mention of the Tunbridge Wells Manufacturing Company. Since that time some new information has been located for the business along with some examples of their work.

The location of the business premises in Tunbridge Wells was at 128-130 Camden Road. The building that existed there in the 1920’s has since been demolished and replaced by a modern red brick building containing several shops.

Shown opposite is a 1909 os map on which the location of these premises is highlighted in red. Camden Road in the 19th and 20th century was one of the thriving commercial districts in Tunbridge Wells.

The Tunbridge Wells Manufacturing Co, Ltd was incorporated in Putney, London in 1924. Details about the founders of the business were not given in available records but it is known from a 1925 advertisment for the business that its head office was located at 36 Rusholme Road, Putney Hill, London. This building still exists and is a 2 sty brick house (now flats).

In an effort to establish the founders of the business two clues were the starting point. The first was a 1922 Tunbridge Wells directory for 130 Camden Road which listed John Thomas Ellis (1876-1937) as a Tunbridge Ware Manufacturer. More about him is given later. The second clue was a 1911 census for 36 Rusholme Road in Putney which gave the occupant of this 12 room residence as Albert Victor Blutt, along with his wife Annie Elizabeth and their two children. Albert was a jeweller and had been born 1865 in Stamford, Lincolnshire. His wife Annie was born 1869 in Feltham,Middlesex. The census recorded that the couple had been married 23 years and had two children. Albert’s probate records gave him of 36 Rusholme Road,Putney when he died December 21,1918. The executors of his 14,646 pound estate were his widow Annie Blutt and two others. A directory for Albert from 1905 gave him as a gold and silversmith. Directories for 1915-1916 gave Albert at 36 Rusholme Road. Directories of 1920 to 1925 gave these premises as the home of his widow Annie Butt, which coincides as the time that 36 Rishhome Road was the headquarters for The Tunbridge Wells Manufacturing Company Ltd.  Mrs Blutt vacated this residence by 1930 for in that year it was the residence of Miss R.M. Tancock.

Returning to John Thomas Ellis who from the 1922 directory of Tunbridge Wells was given as a Tunbridge Ware manufacturer of 128 Camden Road the following information was obtained. 

John Thomas Ellis was born January 29,1876 at Burton Pedwardine, Lincolnshire, one of sixteen children born to John Ellis (1831-1894) ,who was a farmer, and Faith Harrison Ellis, nee Hopkinson(1843-1901).

At the time of the 1881 and 1891 census John was living with his parents and siblings on the family farm in Burton Pedwardine. Sometime after 1891 and before 1901 John moved to Tunbridge Wells. At the time of the 1901 census, taken at 2 & 4 Grosvenor Road, John, along with eleven others was working as a drapers assistant. Also there was one governess, one boarder and two domestic servants.

The 1911 census, taken in premises of 9 rooms at 20 The Pantiles gave John Thomas Ellis as a “shopkeeper, art, needlework and toys, employer”. With him was his wife Mary Riley Ellis, born 1881 in Kirkham, Lincolnshire, who was assisting him in the business. Also there were his children Richard,age 4, and Rachel,age 2, both of whom were born in Tunbridge Wells. Also there was one nursing governess; three shop assistants and one domestic servant.

The London Gazette of June 28,1912 gave notice of the dissolution by mutual consent of the partnership between Robert Porter and John Thomas Ellis carrying on business as Art, Needlework, Fancy Goods and Toy Dealers at 22 The Pantiles and 3 Grosvenor Road under the name of “Mrs Porters”. The dissolution took effect as of May 18,1912 with John continuing the business on his own. Shown above is a postcard view of the Pantiles showing the Porter/Ellis shop. This image is a postcard by Tunbridge Wells photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn numbered 149. A directory of 1914 gave John Thomas Ellis 20 (back of) Ye Pantiles.

Probate records gave John Thomas Ellis of 16 The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells and that he died May 30,1937 at the Kent & Sussex Hospital. The executors of his 9,991 pound estate were Mary Riley Ellis, widow  and George Ellis (his brother), draper. He was buried , as was his wife in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery. A photo of their headstone is shown opposite.

It is believed based on the above that in 1924 John Thomas Ellis either sold his Tunbridge Ware business at 130 Camden Road  to the Tunbridge Wells Manufacturing Co. Ltd or the Blutt family went into partnership with him.


Shown opposite is an advertisement for the business dated 1925 in which the companies head office at 36 Rusholme Road in Putney and their shop at 128-130 Camden Road are referred to, along with details of their production and sale of Tunbridge Ware.

In 1916 John Thomas Ellis bought the Tunbridge Ware business of Boyce, Brown & Kemp. When in partnership with Robert Porter they sold Tunbridge Ware from their shop in the Pantiles.


The Tunbridge Wells Manufacturing Co. Ltd operated from premises at 128 -130 Camden Road from 1924 to 1927 and is noted as being the last business in the town engaged in the manufacture of Tunbridge Ware. They produced a range of small items and were listed as exhibitors of Tunbridge Ware at The Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition from 1924 to 1926. They also inherited some of the topographical blocks such as Tonbridge Castle from Hollamby via Boyce Brown & Kemp. This “inheritance” was by way of John Thomas Ellis, one of the founders of the business.

On November 1,2017 Dianne Brick gave a presentation at the Edenbridge Gallery about the work of Edmund Nye and later in the day a presentation about Tunbridge Ware by John Thomas Ellis and Porter’s Repository in the Pantiles and also The Tunbridge Wells Manufacturing Co. Ltd. Shown above are two examples of Tunbridge Ware by the Tunbridge Wells Manufacturing Co. Ltd. The top image is a trinket box and the bottom image is of a very unusual picture frame made up of 46 3D pyramids, inspired by the discovery of King Tuts tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter.




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

Date: September 13,2018


Fireworks date back to their invention in China in the 7th century. Fireworks first arrived in England in the 14th century and were first manufactured by Italians. The first recorded used of fireworks in England was at the wedding of King Henry VII in 1486.

Since that time fireworks displays have been incorporated in celebrations of various types, such as coronations and other significant local events. No matter whether you are a child or an adult, these spectacular displays that light up the night sky in assorted colours to the sounds of whistles, whooshes and booms, were and still are something to behold.

A review of newspapers for the County of Kent from 1700 to 1949 resulted in finding over 17,000 references to fireworks and it was noted that most of them pertained to the 19th and 20th century when they were the most popular. A large number of them pertained to the sale of fireworks in Tunbridge Wells by such shops as those of Frank Hancock’s who had premises at 2 High Street, 79 Calverley Road and 2 Chapel Place in the 1880’s-1890’s and J. Nicholas of 8 Vale Road in the late 19th century. The Elephant Cigar Stores also advertised the sale of fireworks in the late 1800’s  and White’s Bazaar was another popular retailer in the 1930’s, just to name a few.

The most popular sites where grand fireworks displays were held in the town included Dunorlan Park, the Calverley Grounds, The Commons and the Grosvenor Recreation Grounds.

The Explosives Act of 1875 imposed restrictions on the manufacture, sale, use etc of fireworks in England and yet many cases of exploding fireworks plants, unlawful sale of fireworks, and the unlawful setting off of fireworks were reported on in the newspapers of the times. Even the RSPCA warned people of the damaging effects the setting off of fireworks had on animals.

In this article I present a brief account of fireworks as it relates specifically to Tunbridge Wells. On a personal note I have included a brief section regarding my own recollections of the annual Victoria Day fireworks display in my hometown when I was a boy and the selling of fireworks at my parents shop in Richmond Hill, Ontario, a town I lived in for some 25 years since the age of 8. Shown above is a photo taken at the fireworks display at Dunorlan Park in 2017, an event celebrating the 60th anniversary of fireworks at this park.


The initial fireworks found and used in England were imported but soon after their arrival a home industry developed, followed by British made fireworks on a large commercial scale.  A 232 page book dated 1785 by John Maskell was published under the title of ‘ Artificial Fireworks” that gave drawing and instructions on how to make fireworks at home.

Brock’s Fireworks Ltd is a manufacturer of fireworks that was founded in London in 1698 by John Brock and is the oldest manufacturer in the country. In 1868 the company built a manufactory in Nunhead, south-east London and was referred to at that time as C.T. Brock & Co, “Crystal Palace” fireworks, a company name that appeared on a regular basis in the Kent &Sussex Courier in connection with Frank Hancocks, who was the exclusive dealer for this make of fireworks in the district and who also sold a variety of other goods. More about Hancocks is given later.  C.T Brock & Co produced catalogues of the fireworks they sold complete with images. The company sold their fireworks on an international scale as demonstrated by the existence of advertisments in newspapers of Australia and the USA in the pre WWI years.

Brocks moved to Hemsel Hempstead in the early 1930’s and stayed there until 1971 and later moved to Scotland. The company was bought out in 1987  by Standard Fireworks who in turn were bought out by Black Cat in 1998. A full and continuing story about this company can be found on such websites at Wikipedia.

Another well-known company in the business of manufacturing fireworks was Wells Fireworks which was founded by Joseph Wells in 1837 in Darford, Kent. He had learned his trade3 as an explosive lighter man on the River Thames in London. This company quickly became the leading display company in the UK and established a reputation for the manufacture and display of the finest quality fireworks. In the 1970’s, like so many other British manufactures, Wells ran into financial troubles and shut its manufacturing plant after competition from cheap Chinese imports put them out of business.

Today only commercial display fireworks are made in England with those for the domestic market being made in China.


The Explosives Act of 1875 toughened up previous legistation governing all matters pertaining to explosives. This act of course also covered fireworks. The Act  established tougher controls on the manufacture, storage, sale and use of  all explosives and established a minimum age to purchase them.

This Act came about largely from a result of the increasing number of explosions with large losses of life at manufacturing facilities; the carless use of fireworks; the illegal sale of fireworks to minors and a wide range of incidents and concerns regarding all matters pertaining to explosives (fireworks included).

The Kent & Sussex Courier included many accounts pertaining to Tunbridge Wells where boys and men had been summoned to appear in Court for illegally setting off fireworks and for certain shop keepers selling them to underage children.

The local branch of the RSPCA had great concerns about the effect setting of fireworks had on animals. For example, the Kent & Sussex Courier of October 30,1931 warned people to keep their cats and dogs indoors during the upcoming Guy Fawkes Day event in November 25th as the setting off of fireworks caused undue fright and stress in the animals. The local branch of the RSPCA was established in 1875 and through their inspectors had the power to lay charges against anyone who they considered were mistreating animals.


Shown opposite is an advertisement from a 1884 guide for the business of Frank Hancocks who sold tobacco products, fishing tackle, bait and Brock & Co’s Crystal Palace Fireworks.

The Courier of November 2,1877 ran an advertisement for Brock & Co’s fireworks being available from Frank Hancock’s shop at 79 Calverley Road and that “ he has been appointed sole agent for the celebrated Crystal Palace Fireworks for Tunbridge Wells and District”.

The Courier of November 2,1881 ran an advertisement entitled “Fireworks-Fireworks-Fireworks wholesale and retain at Frank Hancocks, Calverley Road and Chapel Place “sole agent in the district for C.T. Brock & Co the Crystal Palace makers. Bon fire societies,schools and fetes etc." Advertisments for Hancocks appeared in the Courier of October and November 1893 noting his premises on Monson Road and advertised fireworks at “half price”.

Another supplier of fireworks in Tunbridge Wells was J. Nicholas of 8 Vale Road. An advertisement dated October 28,1896 noted he sold Brocks Fireworks with “boxes neatly packed” which suggests that Hancock was no longer the exclusive dealer for this make of fireworks. An advertisement for his business at 8 Vale Road also appeared in the Courier of October 19,1894.

Another supplier of fireworks in the town was White's Bazaar on Monson Road who in the Courier of October 18,1932 advertised ‘the best selection in town and country. All the best novelties..”. They were also advertising fireworks for sale at the same ship in the Courier of October 30,1931. The earliest advertisement for them selling fireworks was in the Courier of July 11,1919 who offered in addition to flags, lanterns, decorations, badges, victory trumpets a special offer for July 18th of Peace Flares and the Victory Flash. The Courier of November 8,1946 announced “ 1,000 wait for fireworks –Fireworks drew hundreds of people outside White’s Bazaar in Monson Road on Saturday and Monday mornings. Saturday was a school holiday and Monday was half-term holiday.” White’s Bazaar advertised fireworks regularly in the interwar years. Their shop was located in the Monson Colonnade (30/34) but it closed in 1992. Details about this business are given in my article ' White's Bazaar on Monson Road' dated October 15,2018. An advertisement for this fondly remembered toy shop from a 1966 guide of Tunbridge Wells is shown opposite.

Another supplier noted in the Courier of October 26,1894 and November 2nd of the same year was The Elephant Cigar Stores.

Wallace Gordon of 52 High Street advertised in the Courier of October 1874 that he sold C.T. Brock fireworks and that “every article bears the name of C.T. Brock & Co with clear instructions for firing”.

Also found were a number of firework suppliers in London such as James Paine in the Courier of November 3,1882.

The Courier of October 19,1900 included an advertisement for fireworks for sale by the firm of G.W.Mantain’s at 10 & 12 Camden Road and 5 Chapel Place who sold both wholesale and retail with special terms for schools.  This company also advertised fireworks in the Courier November 3,1899.

These were the main suppliers of fireworks in the town up to 1946.

The Tunbridge Wells Fireworks Company Ltd was incorporated January 3,2002 but by 2017 was listed as dissolved. They were in the business of fireworks sales and displays. Three of the directors were Mark Edward Adams, Ms Sarah Adams and Ms Claire Adams.


When the first fireworks display took place in Tunbridge Wells is not known but since the town was first settled in the 17th century it has been a place where significant events have been marked by a fireworks display.
Guy Fawkes day (November 25th) is perhaps, because of its “explosive” connection to the events of 1605, the biggest fireworks festival in Britain.  It is celebrated throughout Britain including Tunbridge Wells. Many advertisments for the sale of fireworks by local retailers appeared in October and November annually for this event.

Given below, from a review of newspaper articles from 1700 to 1946 are some reports of fireworks events in the town,.


-The Courier of July 31,1885 announced “ Grand Display of Fireworks. Admission to grounds 6p adults, children under age of 12 years half price”.


-The Courier of August 2,1889 announced “Grand Display of Fireworks. Park swings, roundabout, and amusements of all kinds. Adults 6d children half price”.


-Kent & Sussex Courer August 14,1896-Music and Fireworks at the Lower Cricket Ground.


-The Courier of July 4,1902 announced “Convalescene of the King. Display of fireworks (by Messrs ? of London) . The gift of his lordship Mayor Ludwidge will take place on the Common near the lower cricket ground on Friday July 11th at 9;30 pm”.


-In July 1909 a concert was held in the Calverley Grounds and was a great success. It took the form of a café chantant with the Bayreuth Orchestra providing the music. After the music there was a fireworks display , including tableaux of the King and Queen , and six magnesium balloons discharging coloured  fire and rockets. One of these landed on a nearby roof, but no damage was reported. The event was so successful , with an audience of over 5,000, that it was repeated on Saturday.


-The Courier of June 6,1924 announced “Fireworks Display-James Payne and Sons Ltd in the Calverley Grounds at 7:30 pm. Admission for children half price”. It appears that the local jeweller of Payne & Sons of 39 High Street were the sponsors of this event for charity. A similar advertisement relating to Payne & Sons appeared in the Courier April 1,1924.


 -The Courier of July 31,1931 announced “Grand Display of Fireworks. Admission to the grounds 6d adults , children half price Seats 3d and 1d”.


-The Courier of July 29,1932 reported on a “superb display of fireworks by Joseph Walls & Sons Ltd. Admission to grounds 6d adults and 3d children. Seats 3d and 1d including tax”.


-The Courier of July 2,1935 reported in the Fireworks Display and Dance. The first of the weeks entertainments was the fireworks display and dance held on Saturday evening. The fireworks were substituted for the Venetian fete last year and proved the most popular of the events.


-The Courier of October 23 and 30 ,1936 advertised : Fireworks Display in the Grosvenor Recreation Ground at 8;30 pm. Admission 6d adults and 3d children. Special trains and buses. See company’s handbills”.


-The Courier of May 31,1937 reported “ Coronation-More than 30,000 visited the Calverley Grounds to see the magnificent illuminations, and another mamouth crowd watched the fireworks display on the Common”.  


 - The Courier of June 17,1938 reported “Fireworks Display- the customary fireworks display on the first day of Cricket Week still holds favour with the crowd and on Saturday evening there was a large attendance , greater than last year. They were treated to a magnificent display, probably the best ever”.


-Although not a fireworks display, the Courier of November 29,1946 reported that “Fireworks helped to win the war” and that an RAF officer addressed the Tunbridge Wells Rotary Club’s weekly luncheon in Monday explaining how British fireworks makers played a considerable part in the bombing of Germany”


 -As part of the Festival of Britain events in the town a pamphlet listing the events for the year from May to November listed “ June 16th-Grand Toc H and Rotary Festival Fete and Fireworks Display at Dunorlan Park.”

Articles about fireworks displays at Dunorlan Park from 2018 noted that this annual event began 60 years ago and had been a much looked forward to annual event since that time and received a large attendance. In 2018 the fireworks were set off on Saturday November 3rd. The gates opened at 5;30 with the fireworks set off at 7pm lasting about 25 minutes. Local food and beverages were available on site. The event in 2018 was put on by the Tunbridge Wells Round Table and since the inception of the event had raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity. The article about it stated that the event began in 1957 and regularly attracts 12,000 people and that over 4,500 fireworks are set off courtesy of Frontier Fireworks. Tickets were 6 pounds in advance or 8 pounds at the gate for adults and 5 pounds for children.

A wonderful film from the 1950’s shows a fireworks display at Dunorlan Park, which film can be seen online. The film was made by the Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit (Mr David Edwards and Mr Basis Cooper) and is entitled “Dunorlan Park” . This film is one of several of the town by the same film unit in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The film shows scenes from the annual fete and fireworks display at Dunorlan Park. One of the stills from the film is shown opposite of people dancing.


I was born north of Toronto Ontario in 1950 and in 1958 my parents and I moved to Richmond Hill, a town about 25 miles north of Toronto. A photo of me from 1958 is shown opposite.

We lived in a fine brand new 3br brick bungalow that was located across the street from the public school I attended. Every year a grand fireworks display was seen in the grounds of this school, a display we watched from our front lawn in the comfort of our lawn chairs. We had a front row seat to this much anticipated event, usually held May 20th  in celebration of Victoria Day ( Queen Victoria’s birthday). In England May 24th is noted as Queen Victoria’s Birthday  and celebrated as Empire Day.  Since my birthday was on May 22nd I had two events in the month of May to look forward to. As a boy I liked to imagine that the fireworks being set off was somehow a celebration of my impending birth.

People walked and drove to the event by the thousands and all of the roads in the area were parked up with automobiles. It was a fantastic display that we watched after my father set off our own fireworks. Mum and I used to stand on the front walkway waving sparklers while dad set off the fireworks. Mum would not let me set them off for fear I might get hurt and she didn't want me playing with matches. We had bangers, rockets, pinwheels and all sorts of colourful fireworks that shot up into the sky with a whoosh and a boom. Although as a boy we referred to the day as “ Fireworks Day” , as  few of us really knew much if anything about Queen Victoria, my parents knew all about her of course for they had both been born in England and I was raised much as a British boy would be.  As much as I enjoyed our fireworks display it of course paled in comparison to the grand town display across the road at the school. Shown opposite is a view of the fireworks display in Richmond Hill. Unfortunately there are no photos in the family album of the fireworks set off at our house.

At that time fireworks could only be bought for Victoria Day, unless you were a commercial company wanting fireworks for a special event. In the 1960’s my parents were the proprietors of Gilbert’s Variety and Gift Shop (image opposite) and as can be seen from the sign in the window we sold fireworks at the shop. They were a big seller and we had a large stock of them on hand. You had to be over the age of 13 to buy them though and notes from the child’s parents saying he/she had their permission to buy fireworks were not accepted for fear my parents would lose their retail license. I used to work in the store as a teenager and sold loads of fireworks over the years.


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