ALL ABOUT
TUNBRIDGE WELLS

Page 5

 

THE PEA-NUT CLUB OF TUNBRIDGE WELLS

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

Date: August 16,2018

BACKGROUND 

In 1930 Tunbridge Wells Council decided that the old General Hospital on Grosvenor Road (Image opposite) no longer met the needs of the community and needed to be replaced. As a result architect Cecil Burns was hired to design the new Kent & Sussex Hospital (image below) that was to be built on a site on the site of a mansion called Great Culverden House, designed by Decimus Burton.

The hospital building was designed by Cecil Burns, a local architect, and opened in 1934. The foundation stone had been laid in 1932 by the contemporary Duchess of York, later to become Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The original building, in the Art-Deco style, was surrounded by lawns on three sides, but the hospital has expanded upwards and outwards several times over the decades. This included the installation of six wartime emergency huts shortly after the hospital's completion; four of these huts were still in use as wards when the hospital closed September 31,2011 and was replaced by a new hospital built in Pembury.

Newspaper accounts from the 1930’s record that it was the objective of Council to have the Kent & Sussex Hospital being debt free at the time of its opening but fundraising efforts ran short of the capital required. The Courier of July 13,1945 for example announced that the Pea-Nut Club was about to undertake a house-to-house campaign to raise enough funds from the community to clear off the debt that existed at the end of 1944.  

Businesses and the general public were very generous in donating funds for the new hospital. A number of fund raising initiatives  in the town were begun, including the creation of the “Courier Pea-Nut Club”, a club formed by the Kent & Sussex Courier in 1931.  How this club was formed ,and details about it ,are the topic of this article ,and it is an interesting account of the involvement of the towns children in raising funds in support of the new hospital.

THE FORMATION OF THE PEA-NUT CLUB

The Kent & Sussex Courier of Friday January 6,1939 gave the following information. “The Pea-Nut Club, whose members made the children's ward of the new Kent and Sussex Hospital their special responsibility, was started almost by accident but caught on to become one of the most successful ideas ever launched by a newspaper. In 1931 when Courier journalists were each asked to write something for a special fund-raising edition young Katie French dashed off a spoof letter signed Aunt Agatha offering a bag of peanuts to any child who could produce 12 Bun Pennies, showing Queen Victoria with her hair in a bun. Miss French, confident that nothing more would be heard of such an absurd idea, was startled the following Friday to be called in by the managing director William Murray, who had a call from the firm's bank manager saying he had a little girl in his office carrying a bag of Bun Pennies and what was he to do about it? Mr Murray insisted the reporter's challenge must be met, and so the Pea-Nut Club was formed with the paper's youthful Aunt Agatha at its head. Borne on by Aunt Agatha's skill and enthusiasm, the idea caught the public's imagination. Soon the objective of funding a children's bed in the new hospital expanded into furnishing the whole ward. By 1933 the Pea-Nut Club had 9,000 members, including 22 sailors in the battle cruiser Revenge, flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, recruited by Club Elder Cousin Charles Bowles. His Pea-Nut honeycomb (or branch) met in one of the warship's gun turrets and sailors challenged each other to show their bright little blue and gold badges - worn on a sock under bell bottom trousers because only official Royal Navy insignia were allowed on the uniform."

“Every week for many years "Aunt Agatha" wrote a letter to the children of the Pea-Nut Club in the Kent and Sussex Courier."

"Aunt Agatha" went on to become Mrs. Gordon Clemetson, Editor-in-Chief of the same paper. To celebrate £25,000 being raised for the Kent & Sussex Hospital since the club began in May 1930, a Service of Thanksgiving was held in Christ Church, Tunbridge Wells, September 6,1942. So many people were expected to want to attend that it had to be by ticket only. Not only did children become members, but also their relatives, friends and pets - in fact anyone and anything so long as the membership money was paid! Miss Longley's father made his bicycle a member, calling it "Old Faithful" as he used it day and night to get him to and from work. HMS Revenge was the first ship to help in a big way, raising £500 to buy a hospital cot. Several RAF Squadrons also joined. Eventually the club became so large that  it had to have two paid staff.”

“At one time the Pea-Nut Club kept the "Magic Cupboard" on the children's ward stocked with books, puzzles, games, etc., and when child patients were discharged they received a present from it. “

“After the war Sir Archibald McIndoe asked for the interest to be revived to work for the plastic surgery unit at the East Grinstead Hospital. At one time there were at least 350,000 members of the Pea-Nut Club all around the world.”

“The idea of the Peanut Club was to collect small sums of money from an enormous number of people. The club became very successful and the Peanut Club badges soon replaced the peanuts. In 1936, the club was extended to help the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead and the club has continued to provide amenities to the hospital outside the scope of the National Health Service. The Emergency Medical Service wanted to set up four specialised units around London to provide treatment for war casualties with facial injuries and burns. Sir Archibald McIndoe arrived at the QVH on September 4,1939, to set up one of the units. In 1947, the National Health Service was formed, and attempts were made for the money raised by the Peanut Club to be added to the general pool. These attempts were successfully repelled through the work of Sir Archibald and others. The children's unit was opened in July 1955 by the Queen Mother and christened "Peanut Ward".

“ The club is still going strong, providing funds for the Peanut Ward at QVH, East Grinstead. In fact, The Children's Fire and Burn Trust still raise funds and sell Christmas cards for the Peanut Ward”.

Shown above from top to bottom are the following images.

[1] Photograph of the Pea-Nut Club at the Assembly hall in 1940

[2] Pea-Nut Club letter from Aunt Agnes of the Kent & Sussex Courier

[3] Pea-Nut Club badge and medals

[4] The Queen Victoria Bun Penny

PEA-NUT CLUB MEMBERSHIP

In researching the history of the Courier Pea-Nut Club it was noted that between 1932 and 1949  some 8,700 newspaper accounts appeared in the Kent & Sussex Courier and the Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, among which were 1,080 during the period of 1945 to 1949. Some examples from this collection of articles are given in this article. Many of them were in the form of weekly reports of the number of new members of the Pea-Nut Club and the total number of members to date.

It was noted that although the Pea-Nut Club began in Tunbridge Wells, that newspaper reports beginning in early 1939  began to refer to the existence of three branches of the Pea-Nut Club, namely the Tunbridge Wells Branch (in support of the new Kent & Sussex Hospital); the Tonbridge Branch (in support of the Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital) and the East Grinstead Branch (in support of the Queen Victoria Hospital).

From the website “WW2 People’s War” was an account by a person who lived through the war as a boy. In part he stated “ When we returned to Wallasey (1944) we went to Oldershaw Grammar School and I remember becoming a member of the Pea-Nut Club. We all wore a Peanut Badge, and if you recruited 50 members for the club you received a Golden Peanut. The money we collected at the club/school went to Stoke Mandeville”.

From an email by Ken Booth dated July 2001 was the following “ I had a strong connection with Peanut, it being the Pea-Nut club, started during WWII to support Sir Archibald McIndoe, the Plastic Surgeon who rebuilt faces etc of servicemen burnt in action. The badges that I sold for one shilling were small yellow discs with an unshelled peanut on it. I sold hundreds of these on many ships and in pubs all over the place. It was a crime to be found without your badge on you, so much so that when you went for a shower the lads would keep them in their mouths. After selling so many hundred I would get a Peanut Medal, this was a peanut hanging on a bar on a ribbon, there were five different colours of ribbon until you got to the top which was a Gold peanut, which I still have”.

A retrospective article about the Club from the Queen Victoria Hospital website stated “ The Queen Victoria Hospital, Peanut Ward  says that funding for the ward was helped in 1931 when Mrs Gordon Clemetson, writing as “Aunt Agatha” started the Pea-Nut Club as noted in the children’s section of the Kent & Sussex Courier, Mrs Clemetson promised a bag of peanuts to anyone giving 12 new pennies to the Queen Victoria Hospital Fund”.

An account by Miss M.C.L. Longley of Tunbridge Wells dated June 1998 gave the following. “Apparently the Peanut club was started as a sort of joke. Local journalists produced a fun paper at a special event to raise money for the Kent & Sussex Hospital, Tunbridge Wells. One young journalist, signing herself "Aunt Agatha," promised a bag of peanuts to any child who donated a dozen "bun" pennies to the cause (a "bun" penny was one bearing Queen Victoria when she wore her hair in a bun). One child did just that, so Mr. W. R. Murray, Managing Director of the "Kent and Sussex Courier, "decided others could do the same and so the Pea-Nut Club was born. Miss Longley was a made a member (no. 2087) in April 1932. Every week for many years "Aunt Agatha" wrote a letter to the children of the Pea-Nut Club in the "Kent and Sussex Courier. Aunt Agatha" went on to become Mrs. Gordon Clemetson, Editor-in-Chief of the same paper. To celebrate £25,000 being raised for the Kent & Sussex Hospital since the club began in May 1930, a Service of Thanksgiving was held in Christ Church, Tunbridge Wells, on 6th September 1942. So many people were expected to want to attend that it had to be by ticket only. Not only did children become members, but also their relatives, friends and pets - in fact anyone and anything so long as the membership money was paid! Miss Longley's father made his bicycle a member, calling it "Old Faithful" as he used it day and night to get him to and from work. HMS Revenge was the first ship to help in a big way, raising £500 to buy a hospital cot. Several RAF Squadrons also joined. Eventually the club became so large that it  had to have two paid staff. At one time the Pea-Nut Club kept the "Magic Cupboard" on the children's ward stocked with books, puzzles, games, etc., and when child patients were discharged they received a present from it. After the war Sir Archibald McIndoe asked for the interest to be revived to work for the plastic surgery unit at the East Grinstead Hospital. At one time there were at least 350,000 members all around the world.”

During the period of 1933 to 1935 the number of new members added to the club weakly ranged from a low of 80 to a high of 1,078 with the average being in the order of 200/week. It was an astonishing response, much to the surprise of the organizers. At the beginning of December 1933 there were 12,249 members of the club and by February 1935 membership had grown to 24,650.

In the period of 1939 to 1947 the Courier reported on the number of new members added to the three branches of the Peanut Club. On average 1,416 new members were added per week.

SAMPLE ARTICLES

In this section are a few examples of newspaper articles making reference to the Pea-Nut Club. In most cases only part of the entire article is given. The referenced newspaper should be consulted for the complete article.

[1] THE YEAR 1932

-Kent & Sussex Courier February 19,1932……” Pea-Nut Corner-A message from the editor. The extraordinary growth in the membership of the Hospital Pea-Nut Club during the last few weeks must have astonished many readers. The interest aroused in this young society has been remarkable….”

-Kent & Sussex Courier June 17,1932- St Luke Girl Guides, who are all members of the Courier Pea-Nut Club is the first entire company to join the club “.

-Kent & Sussex Courier October 28,1932….”Courier Pea-Nut Club- There is something for everybody on the Pea-Nut Stand which the Mayor praised so highly in opening the exhibition on Saturday. An exciting display of articles of all kinds is attractively displayed amid the blue and gold decorations”

-Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser December 29,1932-Tickety-Tock and the Rubber Fox-Courier-Aunt Agatha Pea-Nut Club- An ideal Christmas gift for the kiddies obtainable from the leading booksellers or post free 2/4 from the Courier office Tunbridge Wells”.

[2] THE YEAR 1933

-The Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser of June 23,1933 –Join the Courier Pea-Nut Club and thus help the friends of the New General Hospital. Aunt Agatha specially asks not to send money of any kind with silver paper as sometimes the parcels are not opened at once and it leads to all sorts of difficulties”.

-The Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser June 16,1933 referred to the “H.M.S. Revenge Pea-Nut Club.

[3] THE YEAR 1934

-The Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser June 29,1934- The Pea-Nut Club, Naval Branch-Twenty six ships of the Royal Navy supported the club, and had raised 150 pounds. It was all started by a little girl of 10 at Bidborough who made her sailor uncle a member of the Pea-Nut Club…”

-The Kent & Sussex Courier June 22,1934- Pea-Nut Fete at Hartfield. A successful fete in aid of the Pea-Nut Club Hospital Cottage Fund was held on the Town Croft and in the Village Hall Saturday. The weather was ideal for the event and a large number attended…”

-Kent & Sussex Courier December 7,1934-Film Star joins the Pea-Nut Club. Bannerman, the famous film star who is appearing this week at the new Ritz Cinema (image opposite) joined the club and was at the opening lunch on Monday”.

[4] THE YEAR 1935 

-The Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser of September 27,1935 –The famous ‘Flying Flea’ which has joined the Pea-Nut Club and is to appear at Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Display at the Old Barn Aerodrome, Hildenborough on Sunday. In the cockpit M. Mignet, the inventor of the Flea. The Peanut flying the Flea is to take to the air at Hildenborough “.

[5] THE YEAR 1936 

-Kent & Sussex Courier March 29,1936-Pea-Nut Club and others-Captain C.D. Morton proposed on behalf of the Governors a vote of thanks to the Tunbridge Wells and District Association of Hospital Contributors. Courier Pea-Nut Club, and the organizers of the Hospital Sunday and Sunday Pay Day……..” The Hospital Sunday referred to was an annual event held in Tunbridge Wells which included a parade through the town in aid of raising funds for the hospital. Shown opposite is a postcard view of a Hospital Sunday Parade by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn.

[6]  THE YEAR 1937 

-Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser May 7,1937-This brief announcement which also appeared regularly in this newspaper and the Kent & Sussex Courier from 1932 to 1939 took the form of instructions on how to join the Pea-Nut Club , which in part gave “ Name, age, address-I wish to join the Pea Nut Club and promise Aunt Agatha help with the new hospital whenever I can…”

-Kent & Sussex Courier May 7,1937- “In aid of the Pea-Nut Club Pump Room May 12,Allegro Orchestra augmented by cabaret presented by Miss Vera Garbut……….tickets limited……….includes running buffet” A view of the Pump Room is shown opposite.

[7] THE YEAR 1938

-The Kent & Sussex Courier of March 25,1938 –Honey Combs and Free Hospital Treatment- Once again I have been asked whether joining the Pea-Nut Club and sending one shilling for the Cot Fund will give the member the right to have free hospital treatment required….”

[8] THE YEAR 1939

-Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser (various dates between July 14,1939 and September 20,1940)- “Name, age (if under 16) Address. I wish to join the Pea -Nut Club Tunbridge Wells Branch (in aid of the Kent & Sussex Hospital) ; Tonbridge Branch (in aid of Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital); East Grinstead Branch ( in aid of Queen Victoria Hospital). Identify which of the three you wish to join by crossing out the two that you do not wish to support”.

-Kent & Sussex Courier January 13,1939- “Pea-Nut Pedlars-A programme specially arranged to delight old as well as young members of the Pea-Nut Club was presented at King Charles Hall (image opposite) last Thursday night by the Pea-Nut Pedlars. ……”

-Kent & Sussex Courier (various dates from April 14,1939 to July 23,1939) “Pea-Nut Club Birthday Promise Circle (for grown up members only) I would like to join the Birthday Promise Circle and I promise Aunt Agatha to send half a crown to the Pea-Nut Fund each year as thanksgiving on my birthday…”

[9] THE YEAR 1942

-Kent & Sussex Courier April 24,1942 “ Pea-Nut Club enrollment form . Age (if under 16) I wish to join the Pea-Nut Club East Brinstead Branch (in aid of Queen Victoria Hospital ). I promise Aunt Agatha to help the hospital whenever I can…”

-Kent & Sussex Courier September 11,1942 “ Wonderful Pea-Nut Club-Immense value of their Association . Not only did their wonderful Pea-Nut Club help to keep alive their pity by reminding them of suffering, but the opportunity it afforded relieving suffering”.

[10] THE YEAR 1944

The Kent & Sussex Courier of January 21,1944 “Pea-Nut Club and Honey Comb Scheme-Members and friends are cordially invited to the Annual General members and prize giving to be held in The Council chambers New Town Hall Tunbridge Wells Saturday January 29th 2;30 pm. Tickets free on application…”

[11] THE YEAR 1945

-The Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser of December 23,1945- Courier-Father Christmas of the Pea-Nut Club. Hundreds of the Pea-Nut Club made Christmas one for the children of the Kent & Sussex Hospital when they brought their toys last week to Father Christmas for the Magic Cupboard”.

-Kent & Sussex Courier September 21,1945- Pea-Nut Corner-Aunt Agatha is away this week. All Pea-Nut Club news and correspondence will await her return. There was space to publish last month’s statistics of those who had sent bun pennies, farthings and ship half-pennies…”

-Kent & Sussex Courier of August 17,1945 “Stalls at the Happy Gang’s Victory Fete held at the Nevill Ground (image opposite) on Friday in aid of the Courier Pea-Nut Club”.

-Kent & Sussex Courier December 13,1945 Kilndown Brownies with their Tawny Owl , Miss Iris Waters who recently organized a sale and raised 21 pounds 3 shillings for the Pea-Nut Hospital Debt Appeal…”

[12] THE YEAR 1948

-The Kent & Sussex Courier of December 31,1948 gave “ Pea-Nut Club (Plastic Surgery Welfare Fund) Friday January 7,1949 8 pm to midnight at the Assembly Hall (photo opposite)Tunbridge Wells. Old Time Ball Harmony Aces Orchestra (from Hastings) M.C. Mr. Lewis Waghorn. Dance Hostess; Phyllis Godfrey Guest of the Evening……….”

 

HARRIET BLUNDELL OF SOUTH LAWN

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

Date: September 10,2018

OVERVIEW

Harriet Blundell was born 1879 in Edenbridge, Kent, one of several children born to Edward and Harriet Blundell. Edward Blundell worked for the railway as a railway plate layer and during the 1880’s and 1890’s the family lived at No. 2 Cottage, Railway Station in Edenbridge.

Coming from a working class family Harriet received only a basic education and by the time the 1901 census was taken she was working for the Colomon Dennett family  as a servant at South Lawn, 2 Clarence Road, Tunbridge Wells. She was still there in 1904 when she received a postcard from her sister Emily who was living in Edenbridge. The postcard, shown later in this article presents an image of British actress Frances ‘Fanny’ Whiteside Brough (1852-1914), who Emily must have seen performing.

In this article I present information about Harriet Blundell and her family and some information about Frances Brough as well as some images and information about South Lawn.

THE BLUNDELL FAMILY

Harriet Blundell was born in Edenbridge, Kent in 1879. Her birth was registered in Sevenoaks in the 3rd qtr of 1879.  Her date of birth was July 24,1879. She was one of eight known children born to Edward Blundell (born 1847 in Tonbridge, Kent) and Harriet Blundell,nee Manktelow, (born about 1850 in Wadhurst, Sussex). The couple were married December 25,1867 at Wadhurst, Sussex.

The 1881 census, taken at No. 2 Cottage, Railway Station, Edenbridge, gave Edward Blundell as a railway plate layer. With him was his wife Harriet and five of their children including Harriett and her older sister Emily who was born 1877 in Edenbridge. Shown below left is an image of the Edenbridge Railway station in 1905 and to the right is a modern photo of the railway cottages.






The 1891 census, taken at No. 2 Cottage, Railway Station, Edenbridge gave Edward Blundell as a railway plate layer. With him was his wife Harriet and seven of their children and one grandson. Among the children there at that time were Harriet and her sister Emily who were both attending school. Her sister Rose, age 19, was a domestic servant, and her brother Edward, age 16, was working as a warehouseman.

Sometime after 1891 and before 1901 Harriet left the family home in Edenbridge and moved to Tunbridge Wells where she worked as a domestic servant.

The 1901 census, taken at No. 2 Clarence Road “South Lawn” Tunbridge Wells gave Coleman Dunnett (born 1830 in Malden, Essex) as the head of the household and living on own means. With him was his wife Fanny,age 71 and four of their children. Also there were two domestic servants including Harriet Blundell.

The 1901 census, taken at Railway Station Cottage in Edenbridge gave Edward Blundell as a railway plate layer. With him was his wife Harriet and six of their children. Harriet’s sister Emily had moved away from the family home by that time.

Shown here is a postcard franked October 22,1904 and addressed to Miss H. Blundell 2 Clarence Road, South Lawn, Tunbridge Wells. The postcard was sent by her sister Emily who was living in Edenbridge. Some brief information about the actress shown on the postcard is given later.

By the time the 1911 census was taken Harriett returned to Edenbridge and lived with her parents. The 1911 census, taken at Railway Cottage, Edenbridge, gave Edward Blundell as a widower with the occupation of “ pensioner plate layer LER”. With him was his son Edward, age 36, a railway plate layer; Harriett, single of no occupation who was working in the home; Florence age 20 of no occupation ; one grandson and one boarder. The census recorded that they were living in premises of 4 rooms and that Edward had been married 41 years and had 8 children, all of whom were still living.

Harriet never married and was found in a 1939 directory as a single lady working as a housemaid at 323 Deptford, London for the Frank Summers family. It is believed that Harriet died in London but no definitive information was found in this regard.

FRANCES ‘FANNY’ WHITESIDE BROUGH (1852-1914)

Frances is the lady shown on the postcard above sent to Harriet Blundell in 1904 by her sister Emily.

Frances was a Paris born British stage actress who came from a literary and dramatic family. She is remembered especially for her many comedy roles performed over a four decade-long career. She was acting professionally in London by 1870 and toured America early in the 20th century with Charles Hawtrey. Her career reached a high point in 1902 with her creation of the title role of Kitty Warren in George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession. She continued to act shortly before her death November 30,1914.

Further information and images of her can be found on the internet in such websites as Wikipedia.

SOUTH LAWN 2 CLARENCE ROAD

The best description about this residence was given in the estate agents listing of Knight Frank from which the four images shown below were found. It was described as “A magnificent Regency property with separate coach house, enjoying a wonderful central position”. It has a dining room, drawing room, kitchen/breakfast room; study; five bedrooms, cloakroom; large basement; two bathrooms and separate WC. The coach house is used for parking and has a storage loft above.

This residence today is 5,465 sf sitting on 0.28 acres of land. The gardens are particularly impressive with lawns and a formal garden bordered by dwarf box hedging.

The home which was given a Grade II listing by English Heritage June3 7,1974 was built in 1832 and since that time it has been upgraded to meet current modern living standards.

The home was once the residence of Major General Elias Walter Durnford, famed for building the Citidel in Quebec, Canada. Details about him were given in my article ‘ Elias Walter Durnford-A Tunbridge Wells Prospective’ dated March 15,2015.

At the time of the 1881 census South Lawn was the residence of George Cheverton, age 39, a chemist. With him was his wife Ellie; four of his children; one niece, and three domestics. Details about Mr Cheverton and his career as a chemist and veterinary surgeon in Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere can be found in my article ‘ George Cheverton-A Chemist, Pharmacist and Veterinary Surgeon’ dated November 13,2015.  In the 1860’s his shop was on the High Street but from the 1870’s to circa 1900 his shop was at The Broadway on Mount Pleasant Road opposite the train station.













In the period of 1891 to 1918 South Lawn was the residence of Coleman Dunnett. In 1881 he was a manager of a London bank and living with his wife Fanny and seven children and two servants at 20 High Street, Ashford, Kent. The 1901 census, given earlier,gave him and his family at South Lawn. The 1911 census taken at South Lawn gave Coleman as a retired bank manager, a widower. With him at that time were three of his children and two servants. Probate records gave Coleman of South Lawn when he died Mary 14,1918 leaving his 1,854 pound estate to two of his sons.

Over the years South Lawn has been the home of many residents including Cuthbert Fennessy Seloos M.B. F.Z.S. in 1938.

 

THE FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN 1951

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

Date: September 8,2018

INTRODUCTION

In 1951, just six years after World War II, Britain’s towns and cities still showed the scars of war that remained a constant reminder of the turmoil of the previous years. With the aim of promoting the feeling of recovery, the Festival of Britain opened to the public on the  May 4,1951, celebrating British industry, arts and science and inspiring the thought of a better Britain. This also happened to be the same year Britain celebrated the centenary, almost to the day, of the 1851 Great Exhibition.

The main site of the Festival was constructed on a 27 acre area on the South Bank, London, which had been left untouched since being bombed in the war. In keeping with the principles of the Festival, a young architect aged only 38, Hugh Casson, was appointed Director of Architecture for the Festival and to appoint other young architects to design its buildings. With Casson at the helm, it proved to be a perfect time to showcase the principles of urban design that would feature in the post-war rebuilding of London and other towns and cities. An aerial view of the site is shown opposite.

Although the main site of the Festival was in London, the festival was a nationwide affair with exhibitions in many towns and cities throughout Britain. In Tunbridge Wells a grand series of events were held in the town as published in a special programme. Various special publications to mark the event in the context of the history of Tunbridge Wells were produced. Among the many events was a parade through the town.

As with most large Government sponsored and funded projects the Festival met much controversy, from the concept to completion. Even before the Festival opened, it was condemned as a waste of money. Many people believed it would have been better spent on housing after the destruction of many houses during the Second World War and the artistic/architectural taste employed in the design of the various buildings on the London site were met with mixed reviews.

Always planned as a temporary exhibition, the Festival ran for 5 months before closing in September 1951. It had been a success and turned over a profit as well as being extremely popular. In the month that followed the closure however, a new Conservative government was elected to power. It is generally believed that the incoming Prime Minister Churchill considered the Festival a piece of socialist propaganda, a celebration of the achievements of the Labour Party and their vision for a new Socialist Britain, the order was quickly made to level the South Bank site removing almost all trace of the 1951 Festival of Britain. The only feature to remain was the Royal Festival Hall (image opposite) which is now a Grade I listed building, the first post-war building to become so protected and is still hosting concerts to this day.

 Although this topic has been reported on extensively and there are many photographs and films pertaining to the event, this article concentrates on the Festival of Britain events in Tunbridge Wells, although that topic in itself is too extensive to report on fully here and for that reason this article should be considered as an “overview” of events.

THE PROGRAMME

Shown in this section is a pamphlet entitled ‘ Festival of Britain Year in Royal Tunbridge Wells’ issued by the Tunbridge Wells Corporation Publicity and Entertainments Committee. On one side of the pamphlet are details of various events to be held in the town and on the other side was a map of the town. Festival events were scheduled throughout the period of May 5 to November 15. Although most of the events were held at the Assembly Hall events were also scheduled at Dunorlan, at the Nevill Ground, Pantiles, Calverley Grounds and at the showgrounds where the annual Agricultural Show was held. It was a year packed with activities that included ,to name just two, a variety of musical and theatrical performances.














THE FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN SOUVENIR BOOKLET

Shown below is the front cover of a souvenir booklet for Tunbridge Wells for 1951, a booklet passed down to me from my father Douglas Edward Gilbert (1916-2009) who was born in Tunbridge Wells and who somehow came into possession of it many years ago.

As noted on the cover it was “A Pictorial Record of Tunbridge Wells to mark the Festival of Britain 1951 and containing full programme of Local and County Events”. The price was just 2 shillings and contains text and images on 64 pages. The publisher was the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser Ltd. The chapter’s in the booklet were (1) The romantic history of the Pantiles (2) The Manor of Rusthall (3) The heritage of Matthew Calverley (4) What Visitors have said (5) Mount Sion, Chapel Place and King Charles (6) The Railways and the Town (7) Tunbridge Wells Common (8) The High Rocks (9) The Beau slept in stables (10) The changing face of Grosvenor Road (11) The craft of Tunbridge Ware (12) The Town’s contribution of motoring (13) Stately homes of the District (14) Mayors and Freemen of the Borough (15) History (ancient and modern) in brief (16) Full Programme of Festival attractions.









The booklet makes for fascinating reading and contains images not found elsewhere. Shown above is one of the pages providing details about “Festival Year Attractions” by the Royal Tunbridge Wells Entertainments Department.

FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN MEMORABILIA

As was common practice for all notable events, a large quantity of memorabilia was produced by various companies and sold throughout Britain. Woolworths on Calverley Road was but one retailer who carried a large stock of items, ranging from various porcelain objects to flags,posters,pins,silverware,clocks etc. These items were quickly snapped up by local residents and visitors alike. These items have become quite collectable and some command high prices but at the time they were produced were relatively cheap. Shown opposite is a Tunbridge Ware stamp box on which is one of the Festival of Britain postage stamps.

The British Post also produced a set of two stamps to mark the occasion. Shown opposite is an envelope with these stamps that were franked in Tunbridge Wells. Special First Day Covers were also produced bearing the symbol of the festival (as shown on the poster above). Although the stamps are common the covers are quite collectable. My father has both the stamps and the FDC in his stamp collection.

Shown opposite is a 1951 King George VI Festival of Britain Crown Coin This 1951 Festival of Britain Crown was struck in cupronickel and is the only George VI cupronickel Crown ever made. The coin follows the tradition started in the reign of King George III. You have the bust of the King on one side and St. George and the Dragon on the other side. Many of these coins found their way into the collections of coins by collectors in Tunbridge Wells (of which there were many).

THE PARADE 

The residents of Tunbridge Wells have always loved parades and the one that wound it’s way through the town’s commercial district in 1951 was viewed by thousands of cheering residents and visitors who lined the streets. Shown below is one of the parade floats, this one with the name of the local business “Hawards” and “The Royal Observation Corps”. Also shown is a photograph of another of the parade floats.













An interesting amateur film by The Regency Film Unit (an alternative title for The Tunbridge Wells Amateur Film Unit), who produced a number of films of Tunbridge Wells in the 1950’s and 1960’s can be seen online entitled “Round The Town”. Part of this film shows the Festival of Britain Parade procession. The film shows a marching band followed by carnival floats including those of the Royal Observation Corps; nurses; The Ancient Order of Foresters dressed as Maid Marion, Robin Hood and his merry men and other historical figures; followed by the Girl Guides. Views of the procession are shown on Mount Pleasant Road and London Road opposite the commons.

It was a grand time had by all, throughout the year and I’m sure that many people can still remember the event.

 

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