127 posts categorised "History"

British Pathé Film

British Pathé, the newsreel maker which documented all walks of life during the 20th Century, has uploaded its entire collection of film to YouTube.

Of course, like me, the first thing you would do is type Tunbridge Wells into the search facility, but worry not, don't waste those precious seconds, I've done the hard work for you and selected a few favourites from the list. Enjoy!

Tunbridge Wells 1942-1944

Some beautiful old footage of our town, including lots of Grosvenor and Hilbert Park, "Don't it make your pants shiny!"

Thrombosis - New Cure?

Did Tunbridge Wells hold the cure? Notice the cup on a chain to drink from the spring.

Floral Clock (1951)

Where is this clock today?

Yoga Dancing (1956)

Anyone remember Mrs Legat?

A Challenge

Who's the best, Maidstone or Royal Tunbridge Wells?

How utterly brilliant are they? Of course there are a few more, click here to save more precious seconds and explore the whole 3,500 hours of uploaded footage. Thanks to Michael Wadsworth for pointing out the news.

The BBC Telefunken Tape

Today I was sent something rather fantastic by email, and just minutes after receiving it I was to be seen running full steam towards the museum.

Telefunken Tape

The special Telefunken Tape.

The email was about a 'Telefunken Tape' (pictured above). It had been discovered in the museum's vaults by the team at the Assembly Hall whilst they were looking for material to celebrate their 75th anniversary. Little did they know that this object would turn out to be something quite historically important.

Now you may be asking why this strange piece of ancient audio equipment could be of any consequence, well it turns out that it contained the very first broadcast from the Assembly Hall by the BBC.

Back in 1962 Tunbridge Wells Borough Council allowed the BBC to use the projection room at the Assembly Hall as an unattended studio and control room at a rent of £52 per year. This was the latest venture in the BBC’s plans to improve efficiency and speed up the service for both regional and national news programmes.

Telefunken Tape

The unmanned studio in the Assembly Hall. More photos on our Tunbridge Wells Project.

The studio was not permanently manned, hence the name ‘unattended studio'. It was simply there for the use of BBC correspondents, reporters, interviewers and production teams should the necessity arise for a programme to be sent out quickly. For example, if a reporter was sent down to this area to get a story, instead of having to fight their way back through the traffic to London they could go into the Assembly Hall and either broadcast live or record the story direct to the London Control Room of the BBC where it could be edited and pushed onto the air later on.

One switch brought everything into operation: the lights, heating, microphone, amplifiers, etc., all with a flick of a switch by the door. This made it very easy for someone who had never been there before to operate it. A special telephone with a direct line to the BBC brought the person into immediate contact with the London control room and another flick of the switch on the control panel brought the microphone into operation. The walls were treated so the voice was as clear as possible and room as whole was sound proofed, and that sound proofing is still there today.

It opened on the 6th of February 1963 with a special live edition of the ‘Town and Country’ programme featuring stories and interviews about Tunbridge Wells, and like magic you can listen to it right here, right now.

Some listening highlights:

5m50s: jump past the introductions to the interviews with local residents about life in Tunbridge Wells.

17m56s: an interview and chat about a scheme to develop a 15 storey block of flats and an 8 storey office block on The Pantiles! Hear about the developer who bought and demolished the old Pump Room at the end of The Pantiles. This is especially good.

21m50s: a really interesting interview with Mrs Gordon Clemetson, Editor-in-Chief of the Courier, and Graham Weekes, Director of a rather famous local store. Hear both argue about the future of our town. One wants us to market ourselves to tourists and the other wants to market us as a place for companies to set up shop. Which one would you guess argues each case?

Today the BBC still have their own special connection inside the Assembly Hall, although these days they don't need an entire room, it's all done by this rather simple socket on the wall (below).

BBC Socket

The special BBC connection.

Thanks to Basia at the Assembly Hall and to Ian Beavis at the Museum for their time and for discovering and sharing this gem.

This is truly a wonderful find. Go make yourself a cup of tea, press play, and enjoy stepping back in time.

The Great War: Our First Lost Son

William Slarks Vidler: the first soldier of Tunbridge Wells to give his life in service of our country during The Great War.

William Slarks Vidler's Grave

The grave of William Slakes Vidler.

I was told this solemn fact by one of William’s descendants - his great-great-nephew, Gareth. I met Gareth at the Kent & Sussex Cemetery so we could visit William’s grave and talk about his life.

William Slarks Vidler

William Slarks Vidler. Image/article reproduced with kind permission of and copyright The British Library Board from an original Kent & Sussex Courier article. All Rights Reserved.

Before we get into the meat of the story I wanted to share with you perhaps the most remarkable of all of the facts that came to light in my research, and that is the fact that William’s story is quite unknown. Unknown to the point that Gareth himself had no idea until he read it on William’s gravestone whilst researching his family history. Strangely none of his family talked of it either. Well, from today we will all know the story of William Slarks Vidler.

William, born at Brenchley on the 25th October 1885, was the fourth son of William Vidler and Mary Jane Slarks, they lived at 55 Nelson Road, Tunbridge Wells.

He was a popular local lad, known for his bright and cheery disposition. He had enlisted into the Royal Marine Light Infantry as soon as he came of age at 17.

During his first years he served in many foreign campaigns including a spell under the command of Prince Louis of Battenburg onboard HMS Drake. He also served with the British Fleet which chased the Russian Baltic Fleet into the Mediterranean after the Dogger Bank incident. It was in 1913 that he joined the crew of the HMS Amphion and would become a special part of our history.

On August the 2nd 1914 Mr and Mrs Vidler received a letter from their son, he said he was in good health.

On August the 4th 1914 war was declared on Germany.

That night a holiday ferry - the Königin Luise - left the port of Emden bound for the Thames Estuary in the North Sea. The ferry was painted black, buff, and yellow to disguise her as Great Eastern Railway property. She was disguised because she was no longer a passenger ferry, the Germans had converted her into an auxiliary minelayer.

SS Königin Luise

The SS Königin Luise.

Meanwhile, the HMS Amphion and the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla were setting out from the port of Harwich towards the Heligoland Bight. After just a few hours at sail they were relayed a message of a ship "throwing suspicious objects overboard”. The Amphion’s flotilla gave chase and sighted the ship at 10:25. The destroyers HMS Lance and HMS Landrail were ordered to investigate.

HMS Amphion

The HMS Amphion. Source: Royal Navy official photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

The mysterious ship was the Königin Luise. Seeing the two destroyers descending on her she quickly made off, violently altering her course to escape before disappearing out of sight into a rain squall.

At 10:30 HMS Lance had located the Königin Luise again and fired what was to be the very first shot of the Great War. After two hours under a constant barrage of gunfire the Königin Luise had sustained heavy damage, she then rolled onto her side and sank. The HMS Amphion picked up as many of the survivors as it could from the freezing waters and proceeded back on her initial mission towards the Heligoland Bight.

It wasn't long before the flotilla sighted another ship of the same shape and colour as the Konigin Luise, this time flying a huge German Flag. The destroyers began their attack. Captain Fox of the Amphion recognised this new enemy ship as the St. Petersburg which was carrying the German Ambassador back to Germany from England. He signalled to the destroyers to cease firing but to no avail. Captain Fox then deliberately put his ship between the destroyers and the St. Petersburg to halt the attack. The St. Petersburg was allowed to safely escape.

It was proving to be a eventful voyage for the crew.

The flotilla continued on and at 03:30 on the 6th August, with their mission complete, they turned around and began their return course back to Harwich port.

Unfortunately part of that course home carried the ships very close to the area in which the Königin Luise was spotted laying mines. At 06:30 the HMS Amphion struck one of those mines.

HMS Amphion

A painting of the HMS Amphion hitting the first mine. Source: Public Domain.

The explosion rips through the fore part of the ship, the explosion is big enough to lift her huge 4-inch guns clear from the decks, flames and debris shoot out of the funnels and rain down on the rest of the flotilla. Except for one man, all the forecastle gun crews are killed and the bridge occupants are badly injured. As it was early in the morning the majority of the crew were at breakfast and most of them are killed or suffocated in the forward mess. Captain Fox was incapacitated by the blast but manages to regain consciousness and showing great bravery dashes below deck to attempt to stop the engines.

Despite the chaos the crew shows great British spirit and the sound of “Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!” can be heard across the decks. It was said that whilst signs of death and destruction were all around, the British naval discipline and courage triumphed over the emergency.

The flotilla reacts to the unfolding disaster and immediately sails to the Amphion’s aid.

It’s 06:50, twenty minutes have passed since the incident began and the captain has managed to stop the engines and race back to the bridge to regain control. He is too late, the ship’s back is broken and is going down. Attempts to extinguish the raging fires in the forward part of the ship have also failed. The captain gives the order to abandon ship.

At 07:00 the captain and the final few survivors are being lifted off the deck as the ship’s 4,000 tons of forward momentum carries her further into the minefield.

HMS Amphion

Photograph of the HMS Amphion exploding. Source: Navy Photos/Bruce Constable.

At 07:03 she hits a second mine. Her side is torn apart in another huge explosion, her magazine explodes with great force and a giant cloud of pale yellow smoke rises into the air. Fragments of the ship smash into the rescue boats killing as many trying to escape as trying to help. One of the Amphion’s 4-inch shells lands on the deck of HMS Lark and explodes, three of the men rescued from the Amphion are killed including one of the German prisoners.

The Amphion then falls beneath the surface.

Around 150 British sailors were lost in the sinking, as well as, rather ironically, 19 of the crew rescued from Königin Luise. Our William Slarks Vidler was one of those poor souls.

The Great War was only 32 hours old.

William Slarks Vidler's Grave

Gareth pays his respects to his great-great-uncle.

William now lies in the Kent & Sussex Cemetery.

I have put some rather special plans into motion to commemorate William Slarks Vidler on the 100th anniversary of his death. Hopefully it will be very worthwhile so stay tuned.

Payne: The Seventh Generation

Walking along the High Street I looked at the time. "I wonder how many other people still check the time by using that clock" I pondered.

Payne & Son Clock

The clock in question belongs to the jewellers, Payne & Son, one of the oldest families of jewellers in England.

They began their trade in 1790 in Wallingford and gradually opened branches northwards towards Oxford before opening their southernmost branch here in Tunbridge Wells in 1870.

The shop at 3 South Grove Terrace - as 37 High Street was then called - was purchased by William Payne and he dispatched his son Thomas Payne to Tunbridge Wells to administer it. The building was fairly new when William Payne purchased it, having been built only 20 years prior on the site of South Grove House by William Willicombe. There is a very similar terrace on The Pantiles, also built by Willicombe, and interestingly has the same cast iron ballustrading at first floor level. See if you can spot it on The Pantiles when you next visit.

The shop thrived and Thomas Payne continued as a jeweller and watchmaker here until his death in 1886. During his final years of ill health he enlisted the help of his brother-in-law Sidney William Allen. This partnership was commemorated with the mosaic step which you can still see today.

Payne & Son Mosaic

Today just the Oxford and the Tunbridge Wells branches remain in business and both are still being tended by a Payne, ours by the seventh generation Michael Payne. So, how has the business survived for this long? What is its secret? Simple. Quality.

This is most evident in the most famous bit of bling in Tunbridge Wells, the Mayor’s chain and badge of office. When Tunbridge Wells Borough Council was incorporated in 1889 the newly-elected Mayor, John Stone-Wigg, being the very generous man that he was, commissioned Payne & Son to make the chain as a gift to the borough. It was designed by the Mayor himself and is formed of twenty three links, comprising of eighteen 18ct gold TW monograms supporting five enamels showing the Arms of England, Kent, and Sussex, the see of Canterbury, and the rose of England.

Payne & Son Clock

One of the many benches that craftsman work at inside Payne & Son.

If not the Mayoral chain then the clock is probably the most beheld piece of hardware that Payne & Son has created. Imagine how many people over the years have walked under that clock on their way to work and checked if they were on time. John, who has worked at Payne & Son for 27 years, winds the clock a couple of times a week with exactly fourteen clockwise rotations of the large crank, any more and all the weights and cables fall off and he really doesn’t want to have to go through that again.

Payne & Son Clock Mechanism

Payne & Son Coronation Clock

The clock during the Coronation.

The clock is supposed to be an eight-day mechanism but as the shop front was changed many years ago (you can see the old window in the photograph to the right) the clock’s weight cable had to be re-routed and as this lengthened it it made the clock more of a six-day clock. The weight is in the basement of the shop and falls about 12 feet during a cycle. It was made by Payne & Son themselves and as you can see from the black and white photo it once carried a rather large crown atop it, although this was only for a short period during the Queen’s coronation. The crown is still in the shop today, safely stored down in the basement.

As it has so much character the shopfront has been used in a few television broadcasts. The first was in 1987 when the Post Office ran a national advertising campaign to show that their High Street branches stayed open longer than banks, the shop was dressed up as a Post Office for the day complete with a fake postbox outside. The shop was also used for an episode of "Perfect Scoundrels" starring Peter Bowles, but perhaps most famous of all was the shop being used by John Cleese in a Yellow Pages advert from 1996 - "Got any antique diamond rings?". Apparently the staff still get asked that to this day.

Payne & Son Clock

This strange item is a bowl of shellac, it is used to hold onto jewellery when engraving and polishing.

Even more intriguing is the fact that this shop - that hundreds of people walk past every day - has its very own Chalybeate Spring. Yes indeed, right there in the basement is a specially constructed channel carrying our local spring water along.

Payne & Son Clock Spring Water

I guess you're wondering if there is an eighth generation of Payne ready to take the business well into the 21st century. It turns out that yes there is. Although still only at school the business looks like it'll be in safe Payne hands for very many years to come.

You can see more photos of inside Payne & Son over on our Tunbridge Wells Project.

The Princess's Slipper?

Alex at Trinity Theatre has been inviting our Tunbridge Wells Project into the building for the past few weeks to document the changes that are underway in the foyer (link at the end of this post). Amongst all the building work there was a bit of a treat waiting for us.

Show Under Trinity Church Floor

Photographed above is the remains of a leather shoe that was found underneath the floor. It was discovered by the builders that are refurbishing the bar and café by extending the storage behind the bar. The shoe was found as they were lifting the original floor stones and digging down into the foundations. From this we can deduce that the shoe was placed in situ at the very start of construction of the church, but what was it doing there?

There are lots of theories as to why shoes are placed into the very fabric of a building, the most fitting of which is that is will protect against evil spirits. Most interestingly my limited research seems to indicate that they are quite rare to find in ecclesiastical buildings.

Beyond it falling there by accident, that seems to be the most reasonable explanation as to why it's there. But whose is it and who put it there?

The first stone of Trinity Church was laid on the 17th August 1827. This date also happens to be the birthday of Queen Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, who was residing at nearby Calverley House at the time. The young Victoria is known to have attended Holy Trinity on more than one occasion. What I am trying to say here is, is this her shoe? You never know. It could of course also have belonged to the wife of one the builders and although that's more plausible it's just not as fun is it.

Show Under Trinity Church Floor

The part of the church that the shoe was found, just to the left of the ladder.

Whoever it belongs to, and whoever put it there, there is a small part of this that is playing on my brain. Not that I'm superstitious or anything but would it not be the best idea to just leave the shoe where it is? Reading about such finds in other buildings I have come across many cases where bad luck and strange happenings occur when the shoe leaves the building. We wouldn't want anything to happen to Trinity now would we?

The shoe is now heading over to the museum to be appraised and if anything interesting turns up I'll pass it on. Fingers crossed.

Click to see photos of the refurbishments.

Thank you to the friendly welcome extended by Shepherd & Son Builders throughout the refurbishment, and to Alex and Trinity for allowing us to record this work.


  • I am a spritely 30-something living with my beautiful wife in the most fabulous town in the entire world, Royal Tunbridge Wells.

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