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

Date: January 5,2018


Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) , who was born and died in London, , was an English trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer and spy. He is most famous for his novels Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels, but was a prolific writer, a nonconformist and who’s criticisms and remarks landed him in prison on more than one occasion.

Defoe (image opposite ) is noted for being one of the earliest proponents of the novel, as he helped to popularise the form in Britain with others such as Aphra Behn and Samuel Richardson, and is among the founders of the English novel. Defoe wrote many political tracts and often was in trouble with the authorities. Intellectuals and political leaders paid attention to his fresh ideas and sometimes consulted with him.

Defoe was a prolific and versatile writer, producing more than three hundred works in the form of books, pamphlets, and journals—on diverse topics, including politics, crime, religion, marriage, psychology, and the supernatural. He was also a pioneer of business journalism and economic journalism.

It is known from his book ‘Tour of London and the Provinces’ published in three volumes 1724-1726 that had visited Tunbridge Wells in preparation for writing the book. His first hand observations of the town appeared in this book under the heading “ Social Life in Tunbridge Wells” in which he provides a colourful description of the place and the ladies and gentlemen who frequented it, most notably in The Pantiles.

Defoe, according to various authors, including an account in the book ‘Daniel Defoe-His Life’ by P.R. Backscheider (1892) state that although Defoe lived at Stoke Newington he “now and then vacationed at Tunbridge Wells…”

Defoe makes mention in his 1722 book “Moll Flanders” that “Tunbridge and Epsom and such places were full of people” suggesting first -hand knowledge of Tunbridge Wells while working on this book.

Defoe, in his 1704 book The Storm, a true account about the Great Storm of November/December 1703 that swept England contains a first -hand report of storm damage in and around Tunbridge Wells by Elizabeth Luck of Tunbridge Wells. In writing this book Defoe had advertised in newspapers that he wanted first -hand accounts about the storm. Elizabeth Luck responded in a letter addressed to the Post Master from Tunbridge Wells.

Accounts about the early history of Tunbridge Wells state in one way or another that “The Wells has long drawn royals, writers and well-healed Londoners, among them Samuel Pepys, Daniel Defoe and William Makepeace Thackery….”

Where Defoe stayed on his visits to Tunbridge Wells is not recorded but the town had many lodging houses to offer visitors in such places as Mount Sion, London Road and Mount Ephraim. Like many visitors to the town in the 18th century, when the entertainments at The Pantiles drew many notables, and which entertainments were run by Beau Nash since 1735 as the Master of Ceremonies, and others before and after him, the Pantiles was a place that would have attracted the interest and patronage of Defoe. He was certainly in The Pantiles while researching his book between 1724 and 1726. It is also not known how often Defoe visited the town but no doubt came for the same reasons as others during the summer season, namely the favourable climate, clean air, the so called healing waters, and of course the social activities in the Pantiles.

Of his personal life it is recorded that he was married and had six children. His financial circumstances ebbed and flowed throughout his career and at times was deep in debt, only to rebound from near financial ruin on more than one occasion. He died in London April 14,1731 and like other noted nonconformists was buried at Banhill Fields, the nonconformist burial ground by Moorgate.


As noted in the overview Defore had a book published in 1704 which gave a true account of the storm of 1703 that caused great loss of property and life across England and at sea. Defore had just been released from prison when the storm struck and since in need for funds began his research work for the book. He supplemented his first hand observations with those of others. He had advertised in the newspapers that he was looking for information about the storm from those who witnessed it. Many people submitted their accounts, including a lady from Tunbridge Wells by the name of Elizabeth Luck who wrote  “From Tunbridge , a letter to the post-master, giving the following account. “Sir, -I cannot give you any great account of the particular damage the late great winds has done, but at Penchurst Park there was above 500 trees blown down, and the grove at Southborough is almost blown down; and there is scarce a house in town, but hath received, some damage, and particularly the schoolhouse. A stack of chimnies blown down, but nobody, God be thanked, have lost their lives, a great many houses have suffered very much, and several barns have been blown down. At East Peckham, hard by us, the spire of the steeple was blown down. And at Sir Thomas Twisden’s, in the same parish, there was a stable blown down, and 2 horses killed. And at Brenchly, the spire of a steeple was blown down; and at Summer-hill Park there were several trees blown down, which is all at present from your Servant to command” (signed Elizabeth Luck). A sketch of the marine disaster from the 1703 storm is shown above.


Given in this section is the entire account given in Defoe’s book ‘Tour of London and the Provinces’ published in three volumes 1724-1726. Also given to add some images to the story are a few 18th century views of the Pantiles depicting the social scene.

When I came to the wells, which were five miles nearer to me than the town, supposing me then at Battle to the south-ward of them; I found a great deal of good company there, and that which was more particular, was, that it happened to be at the time when his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was there with abundance of the nobility, and gentry of the country, who to honour the prince's coming, or satisfy their own curiosity, thronged to that place; so that at first I found it very difficult to get a lodging.

The prince appeared upon the walks, went into the raffling shops, and to every public place, saw every thing, and let every body see him, and went- away, with the Duke of Dorset, and other of his attendance for Portsmouth; so in two or three days, things returned all to their ancient channel, and Tunbridge was just what it used to be.

The ladies that appear here, are indeed the glory of the place; the coming to the Wells to drink the water is a mere matter of custom; some drink, more do not, and few drink physically: But company and diversion is in short the main business of the place; and those people who have nothing to do any where else, seem to be the only people who have any thing to do at Tunbridge.

After the appearance is over at the Wells, (where the ladies are all undressed) and at the chapel, the company go home; and as if it was another species of people, or a collection from another place, you are surprised to see the walks covered with ladies completely dressed and gay to profusion; where rich cloths, jewels, and beauty not to be set out by (but infinitely above) ornament, dazzles the eyes from one end of the range to the other.

Here you have all the liberty of conversation in the world, and any thing that looks like a gentleman, has an address agreeable, and behaves with decency and good manners, may single out whom he pleases, that does not appear engaged, and may talk, rally, be merry, and say any decent thing to them; but all this makes no acquaintance, nor is it taken so, or understood to mean so; if a gentleman desires to be more intimate, and enter into any acquaintance particular, he must do it by proper application, not by ordinary meeting on the walks, for the ladies will ask no gentleman there, to go off the walk, or invite any one to their lodgings, except it be a sort of ladies of whom I am not now speaking.

As for gaming, sharping, intriguing; as also fops, fools, beaus, and the like, Tunbridge is as full of these, as can be desired, and it takes off much of the diversion of those persons of honour and virtue, who go there to be innocently recreated: However a man of character, and good behaviour cannot be there any time, but he may single out such company as may be suitable to him, and with whom he may be as merry as heart can wish.

The air here is excellent good, the country healthful, and the provisions of all sorts very reasonable: Particularly, they are supplied with excellent fish, and that of almost all sorts, from Rye, and other towns on the sea-coast; and I saw a turbut of near 20 pounds weight sold there for 3 shillings: In the season of mackerel, they have them here from Hastings, within three hours of their being taken out of the sea, and the difference which that makes in their goodness, I need not mention.

They have likewise here abundance of wild-fowl, of the best sorts; such as pheasant, partridge, woodcock, snipe, quails, also duck, mallard, teal, etc. particularly they have from the South-Downs, the bird called a wheatear, or as we may call them, the English ortolans, the most delicious taste for a creature of one mouthful, for 'tis little more, that can be imagined; but these are very dear at Tunbridge, they are much cheaper at Seaford, Lewis, and that side of the country.

In a word, Tunbridge wants nothing that can add to the felicities of life, or that can make a man or woman completely happy, always provided they have money; for without money a man is nobody at Tunbridge, any more than at any other place; and when any man finds his pockets low, he has nothing left to think of, but to be gone, for he will have no diversion in staying there any longer.

And yet Tunbridge also is a place in which a lady however virtuous, yet for want of good conduct may as soon shipwreck her character as in any part of England; and where, when she has once injured her reputation, 'tis as hard to restore it; nay, some say no lady ever recovered her character at Tunbridge, if she first wounded it there: But this is to be added too, that a lady very seldom suffers that way at Tunbridge, without some apparent folly of her own; for that they do not seem so apt to make havoc of one another's reputation here, by tattle and slander, as I think they do in some other places in the world; particularly at Epsom, Hampstead, and such like places; which I take to be, because the company who frequent Tunbridge, seem to be a degree or two above the society of those other places, and therefore are not so very apt, either to meddle with other peoples affairs, or to censure if they do; both which are the properties of that more gossiping part of the world.

In this I shall be much misunderstood, if it is thought I mean the ladies only, for I must own I look just the other way; and if I may be allowed to use my own sex so coarsely, it is really among them that the ladies characters first, and oftnest receive unjust wounds; and I must confess the malice, the reflections, the busy meddling, the censuring, the tattling from place to place, and the making havoc of the characters of innocent women, is found among the men gossips more than among their own sex, and at the coffee-houses more than at the tea-table; then among the women themselves, what is to be found of it there, is more among the chamber-maids, than among their mistresses; slander is a meanness below persons of honour and quality, and to do injustice to the ladies, especially, is a degree below those who have any share of breeding and sense: On this account you may observe, 'tis more practised among the citizens than among the gentry, and in country towns and villages, more than in the city, and so on, till you come to the mere canail, the common mob of the street, and there, no reputation, no character can shine without having dirt thrown upon it every day: But this is a digression.



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

Date: December 12,2017


Since Tunbridge Wells was first settled in the 17th century, the town became a place during the summer season where visitors came to ‘take the waters’; socialize and  enjoy the entertainments in the Assembly Rooms at The Pantiles.

Early accounts about the town ,given in such publications as Jasper Sprange’s guides from the 18th century ,describe the town’s entertainments (referred to as Diversions). These accounts not only describe what was on offer in The Pantiles but elsewhere in the town, such as bowls and the fish ponds and cold baths in Rusthall Happy Valley. Carriage rides about town and the surrounding area were also popular and there were several liveries where horses and carriages could be rented, either with or without a driver.

Sprange also reported on the diversions available on The Commons. The land in The Commons was a place of natural beauty where sheep and cattle grazed and people strolled along the many paths that meandered about it. One could ride their horse there and there was even horse racing. Remnants of the old race track can still be seen today although much of it has become overgrown with vegetation.

Donkey riding and donkey racing on The Commons were also popular diversions as can be seen in the image opposite by local photographer Edward Simms. Later I present an old print showing donkey racing on the common.

Over the years The Commons has been a place where people gathered for various events such as playing cricket ,attending fairs/fetes and going to the circus. It was also a place where people gathered to hear speeches on many topics including Temperance and Women’s Suffrage, just to name two. Shown opposite is view of a gallopers on the Commons in 1958.

People regularly gathered there to just relax and enjoy the view, the sun and the fresh air. In the early 1900’s there was a bandstand on The Commons near the Queen's Grove where the local band played as shown in the photograph below right.

Children of course took great delight in playing games on The Commons. Man-made Brighton Lake(photograph below left) and Fir Tree Pond were popular with boys fishing and sailing their toy boats, and what child could resist climbing on the Wellington Rocks (photo below right). People young and old searched about the rocks for ‘Tunbridge Wells Diamonds’ quartz crystals that local jewellers transformed into jewellery.

During the war even American style baseball was played there much to the amusement of the large crowd that had gathered to observe this unfamiliar sport. In the early 1900’s there were Tug Of War competitions. During WW 1 The Commons became the site of a military encampment where to pass the time the soldiers engaged in their own diversions, much to the amusement of spectators. Shown below is a view of the tent encampment on the Commons by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn and to the right is a photo by his former business partner Percy Squire Lankester of soldiers on the Commons.

Of all the events and activities that took place on The Commons are  two that are the central focus of this article; namely the Diversions of 1797 and the re-enactment of them in 1997.


Jasper Sprange (1713-1799), details of whom were given in my article ‘ The Early Printers of The Pantiles’ dated March 21,2015,produced a number of guides describing the town. From these accounts one gains an appreciation for the colourful history of the town. Ian Beavis, the curator of the Tunbridge Wells Museum had this to say “Visitors could also claim that playing silly games on the Common was part of the health-giving regime of a Tunbridge Wells holiday. As Sprange explains in his guidebook, the full benefits of the place were not to be had by drinking the waters alone. The breezes blowing across the open healthy landscape of the Common were highly beneficial and to be enjoyed as much as possible, whether by walking, riding, or sports activities. Furthermore, "in order to give the water fair play, it is proper to banish care and melancholy from the mind and encourage mirth and good humour". For the tourists of 1797, Diversions on the Common were a winning combination of a healthy venue and healthy activity. "By thus drinking the Tunbridge Wells water", Jasper Sprange tells us, "and by entering cheerfully into all the amusing pleasures of the place, many, in time past, have recovered their constitutions, who were in all appearance hastening to their graves; and it is not to be reasonably doubted, but that the same methods will, through the blessing of providence, be attended with equally happy effects, to the latest posterity".

Jasper Sprange printed everything from the mundane (notice of dung for sale) to the nationally important (recruitment of soldiers). Also worth an indignant mention was the oh-so-Georgian crime of ‘wanton destruction of a sedan chair on the common’ with a reward for information about the crime offered. All of these and other events can be found in cuttings in the sample albums that Sprange kept, two of which survive at the Tunbridge Wells Museum. Many of Sprange’s guides can be found online and make for fascinating reading, including that of 1797 which is the central focus of this article.

Twice a year Sprange published in his guides details of ‘Diversions on the Tunbridge Wells Commons’. The one for Wednesday August 16,1797 is shown above. He and his son Joseph Sprange also created posters for similar events happening in nearby Tonbridge and Penshurst between 1796 and 1801.

The Diversions for 1797 included an intriquing variety of long forgotten sports with socially prescriptive rules governing participation. The first event of the day was “A grand match of Stool-Ball” between eleven ladies of Sussex , in Pink, and eleven ladies of Kent in Blue Ribbands” and it was “requested that none of the  ladies wear black stockings or have  their hair powdered.”

So what is Stool-Ball ? Well it was and still is a game played mostly in Sussex. It’s a sport that dates back to at least the 15th century and originated in Sussex and is generaly thought to be an ancestor of cricket, baseball and rounders. In fact Stool-Ball is often referred to as “Cricket in the Air”. Traditionally it was played by milkmaids who used their milking stools as a ‘wicket. The games popularity faded since the 1960’s but is still played at a local league level in Sussex, Kent, Surrey and the Midlands. The National Stoolball Association was formed in 1979 to promote and expand the game and was officially recognized as a sport by the Sports Council in 2008. There are ladies’ leagues in Sussex, Surrey and Kent and mixed leagues in Sussex.  Stoolball is attested by name as early as 1450 and nearly all medieval references to it describe it as a game played during Easter celebrations, typically as a courtship pastime rather than a competitive game. Stoolball makes an appearance in the dictionary of Samuel Johnson where it is defined as a game played by driving a ball from stool to stool (thus the connection to milking stools).The website Wikipedia gave the following description of the game. “ Stoolball is played on grass with a 90 yard(82 m) diameter boundary, and the pitch is 16 yards (15 m) long. Each team consists of 11 Players (the same number given by Sprange 1797), with one team fielding and the other batting. Bowling is underarm from a bowling “crease” 19 yards from the batsman’s wicket, with the ball reaching the batsman on the full as in rounders or baseball rather than bouncing from the pitch as in cricket. Each over consists of 8 balls. The wicket itself is a square piece of wood at head or shoulder height fastened to a post. Traditionally the seat of a stool hung from a post or tree was used. Some versions used a tall stool placed upright on the ground. Originally the batsman simply had to defend his stool from each ball with his hand and would score a point for each delivery until the stool was hit. The game later evolved to include runs and bats and the rules of the game have changed somewhat over the years. Shown opposite are some images of Stoolball or “Stool Ball” as it is often called.

So why were the ladies in the 1797 match requested not to wear black stockings or have their hair powdered? Well ladies stockings came in many colours and were held up by a ribbon or garter fastened above the knee. The colour worn normally matched the women’s costume, particularly the shoes. The glimpse of the calf of a ladies leg in the 18th century was considered to be shocking and tantelizing and although their long gowns covered their legs, the stockings also provided some warmth. One would have thought that given the social norms of the time that ladies would be required to wear stockings and it appears that Sprange’s reference to no black stockings meant that stockings could be worn-just not black ones. Athough black stockings were commonly worn, black stockings became associated with ‘ladies of the night” and took on a rather unsavoury connotation. Hair powder was originally used mostly as a degreaser. White haired wigs were popular because they were expensive and rare, and so men and women began (in the early 18th century) to use white powder to color their wigs and hair, as it was less destructive than dye. Why the ladies in the 1797 match were not to powder to hair is not clear.

The second “Diversion” planned for August 16, 1797 was at 12 o’clock where  an “Afs race” was to take place “for a Chefhire Chefe of a guinea value”. This is actually a reference to an Ass Race (Donkey Race) for ladies where the prize was to be a Cheshire Cheese. The rules stated that “no less than 6 racers-riders to have one spur and a whip-no stick or boots will be allowed, nor silk jackets or caps. To run according to the King’s Plate Articles”.

Shown above is a postcard from an  old caricature print showing a donkey race on the Tunbridge Wells Commons. Donkey racing was a popular event, not only in Tunbridge Wells. There is a poem by Edmund Burke (1730-1797) entitled ‘ Ladies Afs Race’ dated 1792 and one by Samuel Richardson dated 1791 entitled ‘Ladies Afs Race; or, the sports at Barton Downs, written in Heroic Verse, which I present below.

The third event of the day was at 1 0’clock at which time a ‘Jingling Match’ was held where “No clerk or grave digger will be allowed, lest and unintentional solemnity should pervade the match” and spoil the fun.

Perhaps the most interesting and unusual sport is the jingling match. It was a game played at county fairs in England back in the 18th century. One of these games held in Canada at the Fort Niagara garrison in 1787 was described as follows by Lieutenant John Enys of the 29th Regiment of Foot who was visiting Fort Niagara. “ A space of forty yards square was measured out and enclosed with ropes into which 13 men were placed, twelve of whom were blindfold. The 13th man was not blindfold but had in his hand a small bell which he was to keep ringing and endeavouring to elude the twelve others who on their part were to strive to catch him. The bet was wither or no they would be able to accomplish it within an hour. The match from the very beginning appeared to be unequal, as the exercise of evading so many within so small distance was too much for one man. The man who undertook it was both strong and active and did more than anyone could have expected he would after the first five minutes notwithstanding which he was taken in about half an hour. This sort of game if rendered more equal by making the space larger and circular or by reducing the number of pursuers might afford good amusement but it should by all means be a circular space as they by their numbers have the opportunity of hemming him up in one of the corners in the square”. The name of this game was reported in an advertisement for the town fair in England that appeared in the Reading Mercujry June 29,1792 where a” jingling match by eleven blindfolded women, and one unmasked with bells, competed for a very fine petticoat…” If the person with the bells is caught within the allotted time then the person who caught him/her won the prize. If not caught within the allotted time the person with the bells won the prize.

The jingling match, according to a report in 1793 was a very entertaining  improvement on Blindman’s Buff and was a popular amusement in the 18th century. This report stated that an area measuring about 20 yards (18 m) in circumference, was roped off to make an enclosure into which a man with a number of bells fastened on him had to elude a group of players who were blindfolded. The blindfolded players had to follow the sound of the bells and if they were able to capture the jingler within the time allowed (about ¼ hour), they won the prize money, but if not he kept the cash”. There was apparently “much amusement from all the jostling and frequent falls of the blindfolded men”. Shown below left is painting showing the game of Blindman’s Buff and to the right is  a modern photo of a Jingling Match.

The next event of the day was”Four men to smoke for a hat” with the stipulation that “no punch of Madeira was allowed”. Shown opposite is a sketch showing two men competing in a Smoking Contest. In the 18th century pipe smoking by both men and women as common. Cigarettes were also smoked but had to be hand made from tobacco kept in a pouch which was rolled up in a cigarette paper, a time consuming and sometimes frustrating operation for the novice but experienced smokers could roll up cigarettes quickly. Manufactured cigarettes did not appear until 1910. The object of the smoking contest was to smoke the largest number of cigarettes within a designated time limit. With the need to be quick one wonders how the competitors would have had time for a drink of punch or Madeira anyways, although it would have soothed the throat from all that harsh smoke.

The next event of the day was at half past two where a second heat of donkey racing was held for the Cheshire cheese prize.

At half past three there was a Sack Race where the prize of a pair of London-made Dancing Pumps was to be competed for. Sack Racing has been around ever since there were grain sacks to jump in and is still popular today, especially among children, at fairs and other events of public amusement. An image of such a race is shown opposite. Contestants in the game lined up at the start standing in a sack which they held up with their hands. Upon the start of the race contestants hopped down the field until they reached the finish line, the winner being awarded the prize. As one can imagine staying upright while hopping down the field was not an easy task and many competitors fell down and had to right themselves to continue the race, and there were often collisions along the way. Sack racing circa 1782 was described as a method of racing with the arms inside of the sack, every part of them being enclosed except their heads. More modern versions of the game are not so restrictive as only from the waist down is the competitor enclosed in the sack.

At half past three was the Smock Race where young women competed to win a prize of a fine “Holland Smock” or chemise. The contest was open only to those of ‘good repute’. The idea of girls racing for a smock was just too saucy for the urban observer and was mercilessly satirised ion both prose and print, such as that below from ‘the Works of Peter Pinder, 1812’.  The prizes to be given included 1st Prize-A Holland Chemise or linen convenience of large dimensions- 2nd Prize-a pair of cotton stockings-3rd Prize-a pair of scarlet garters.

“Some years ago I saw a female race;

The prize, a shift-a Holland shift, I ween;

Ten Damsels, nearly all in naked grace,

Rush’d for the precious Prize along the Green”.

In the above print by Thomas Richardson, 1811, the prize of the smock can be seen hoisted into the air towards the back of The Common. Also seen: fighting,drinking, and a generally bawdy Georgian crowd.

The last event of the day was at 4 o’clock where a Wheelbarrow Race was to take place with six men competing pushing wheelbarrows while blindfolded. The last line of the announcement stated “ If any disputes arise, to be referred to the Jockey Club”. No doubt this comment pertained to all the events of the day and not just the Wheelbarrow Race.

Two forms of wheelbarrow racing exist. One is a competitive game in which teams of two players race with one teammate playing the role of the driver, and the other playing the role of the wheelbarrow. The driver holds on to the other player's ankles, while the other player walks with his hands. In some cultures it is commonly played at fairs and family events. The second form of the game involves a man with his team mate sitting in a real wheelbarrow which is pushed down the field. The first wheelbarrow to cross the finish line captures the prize. Both forms of this game are played today and were popular are local fairs.


From a publication of The Commons Conservators in 1997 was the following article entitled ‘Diversions on the Common 1797-1997’ by Patrick Shovelton.

The end of the above article mentions that a profit was made from the event which was passed on to the Conservators. Organizing it was “a very great deal of work over many months. Copies of the Programme as well as copies of the 1797 and 1799 Diversions programmes as well as the 1997 one could be purchased for 50p each by applying to David Wakefield at 68 London Road. Inserted into the referenced article are some images from other sources.



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

Date: January 4,2018


In the 19th century a few shelters were constructed on the Commons where residents and visitors to the town could take a break from their stroll and sit down for a rest. These shelters were relatively small, being rectangular in shape measuring about 12 feet by 8 feet and constructed of wood. Apart from the slatted seats protection from the weather was afforded by a peaked roof covered in slate supported on four wooden posts. A single colour postcard (opposite) showing one of them beside the Queen’s Grove shows the roof being in red and the rest of the structure stained dark brown. Although simple structures they served a useful purpose and were much appreciated by those in need of a rest or shelter from the rain. An enlarged view of this shelter is shown below.

It is known from the account given below regarding bombing during WW II that at least one of them was still there in the 1940s’ until it was destroyed by a bomb August 4,1944 killing 75 year old George Gearing of Stanley Road who had decided to sit on one of the seats of the shelter. He was badly injured from the blast and died later in hospital, leaving a widow who had lost a son during WW 1. The shelter was totally destroyed.

A cabstand, which had also served as a place where people could get shelter, located on the edge of the Commons on London Road across from King Charles the Martyr Church began as a place where a horse drawn carriage could be obtained and was still there in the 1920’s disappeared from the scene when the motorcar took over.

Over the years these shelters fell into a state of disrepair and although maintained for many years later became neglected, like much of the Commons. Sometime after WW II the last of them was taken down and hauled away.

Also lost over time due to neglect and the unchecked growth of unwanted vegetation were many of the benches that had been placed at various points along the many pathways that wandered through the Commons. One of these wooden benches can be seen in the photograph above and a group of them in the postcard below left.  The once fine bandstand where people congregated to rest and listed to some fine music, like all the bandstands in the town, was popular during the 19th and early 20th century but was taken down and never replaced. Another lost shelter was the one built on the south-west corner of the upper cricket ground used by cricketers when playing and by the general public when cricket was not being played. Shown below right  is view of  people gathered in the Commons at the bandstand. Children used to play in the bandstand and people took shelter there when caught in a shower even though there was not seating inside.


How many shelters were constructed is not known, but their absence from most early 20th century postcard views of the Commons suggests that no more than a half dozen were erected.  As described in the ‘Introduction’ they were small simply constructed shelters that had been built by local tradesmen.  One shelter that differed from the rest was the one on the edge of the Commons at London Road, across the street from King Charles the Martyr Church. The two postcards shown below provide an image of it. This shelter was not provided so much for the use of those getting some air and exercise on the Commons but rather those waiting for transportation by omnibus or horse and carriage. The postcard view of this shelter on the left was mailed in 1931. The one on the right was posted in the 1920’s. This shelter was erected as a cabman’s shelter. There were proposals in 1908 for another shelter at the top of Mount Pleasant, though this was opposed by ratepayers (Advertiser, March, April1908). The Mayors Unemployment Fund in 1909 provided work and one of the projects was the repainting of the cabman’s shelter at the intersection of London Road and Nevill Street, which is the one shown in the postcards below.

From my article ‘ The Bombing of Tunbridge Wells During WW 2’ dated December 22,2014 I wrote the following .

On Sunday afternoon August 6,1944. George Gearing of Stanley Road, Tunbridge Wells, who was sitting in one of the thatched seats in the Common (photo opposite) watching fighter planes overhead chasing two V1’s died from injuries he received when a V1 exploded nearby. Both of the V1’s had been shot down , one crashing at Pembury Road and one that came down near George Gearing. George was badly injured from the blast and later died in Hospital. George Gearing was age 75 when he died. His wife was Blanche Alice Gearing of 2 St Stephen’s Cottages, Stanley Road who he had married in the 1st qtr of 1893 in Tunbridge Wells.  The Kent & Sussex Courier of Friday August 3,1945 reported “ In Memoriam: Gearing…In loving memory of my dear husband, George Gearing, who lost his life through enemy action in Tunbridge Wells on August 6,1944. Also of my only son, Frederick Gearing, killed in France August 4,1916…Sadly missed”. Shown opposite is a photo of George’s headstone. At the time of the 1911 census George was living with his wife and two children at 2 St Stephen’s Cottage. Among the children was his son Frederick, who had been born in Tunbridge Wells in 1895. George at that time was a stoker at the gas works and his son Frederick was a milk carrier. The brother of George’s wife was also living there as was his daughter 13 year old Alice. Frederick Gearing was killed in France August 6,1916 while serving with the Queen’s Own RWK Regiment 6th Btn (service No. G/9222). This shelter was located near the north west corner of the Commons .This site was formerly marked by a plaque but it appears to be gone now.

Another shelter is seen in the postcards above. The card on the left is one of many postcards by Rabson’s of Vale Road, Tunbridge Wells. This shelter is shown on high ground with two children playing nearby. Constructed much the same as the others it was a welcome place to rest and get out of the rain. An enlarged view of this shelter is shown below left.The card above right shows the shelter at Queens Grove by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn circa 1912. Being in the shadows the shelter is a bit difficult to see but it is shown between the two trees on the right.

Shown above right is a shelter, in the form of a tent, located on the south-west corner of the upper cricket ground and used by the men as a spot to rest while playing cricket. When no game was in progress the general public used it as a place to sit down and to get out of the rain. This tent was later replaced by a wooden shelter and later still it was demolished.

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