Take a war time history walk with ‘Southborough War Memorial’ author Judith Johnson – September 12 2015

Pre WW2 boys at St Matthew's School, including Syd Dixon, who died 12 December 1942, aged 20

Pre WW2 boys at St Matthew’s School, including Syd Dixon, who died 12 December 1942, aged 20

For years, local history author Judith Johnson researched the stories of the 250 people remembered on the Southborough War Memorial. She visited their former homes and workplaces, talked to their relatives and laid local mementos at their distant resting places. Within the pages of her book ‘Southborough War Memorial: The Stories of Those Commemorated’ she has retold their stories and now, as part of the Heritage Open Days programme, she is giving you the opportunity to walk in their footsteps too.

Judith is passionate about these people and I’m thrilled that she has taken the time to tell us a little more about the walk and how her book originally started.

Over to you, Judith….

When I set out some years ago to find out as much as I could about the names on the Southborough War Memorial, the first step was walking up onto Southborough Common with a pad and a biro and making a list. I hoped to excavate some of the history of the more than 250 people from Southborough and High Brooms who were recorded there as having died in the First and Second World Wars, and make some kind of record that anyone interested might read.

There were to follow many hours down Tunbridge Wells Library at weekends searching through old newspaper reports on the microfilm machine. I had some very rewarding encounters with a number of close relatives, who were kind enough to share their memories with me. As they recalled their loved ones, they were  frequently moved to tears as the pain of their loss was revived. I was grateful too for the help and generosity of other local amateur historians, including members of the Southborough Society and medal collectors, who I found were always eager to give me whatever material they had discovered.

When my book was completed, my husband and son gave their time to proofread the text. Both of them were surprised at how moving it was to read of those, long dead, who they had never known and the cumulative impact of taking in the patchwork of information I’d gathered about these men (and one woman). Many of the relatives of those named on the memorial were prompted to tell me how touched and grateful they felt that the sacrifice of their loved ones had finally been honoured.

Some years later, I volunteered to do a guided walk of High Brooms as part of the Tunbridge Wells programme for the Heritage Open Days weekend. I spent several days walking around the streets of High Brooms with my husband, book in hand, researching a route (there are indexes at the back of my book which list the names in order of surname, military unit, place of rest, residence, and death date). I was amazed, given that I had been familiar with so many of the men’s details, at the further emotional effect of actually standing in front of their houses, speaking of them, and considering how it must have felt for the families left behind, who went in and out of those front doors.

I’m looking forward to repeating that guided walk, which will also include some High Brooms’ war-time experiences, on Saturday 12 September. This year will be particularly resonant, being the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hythe. I also hope that we shall have access to the Hythe Memorial in St Matthew’s Church.

The walk will last for approximately ninety minutes and we will be leaving from outside St Matthew’s Primary School in Powdermill Lane (TN4 9DY) at 2.30pm. Therefore, anyone planning to attend should aim to be outside the Primary School at least five minutes before we leave. I’d recommend some comfortable walking-shoes, and you should be prepared for some steep walks uphill. Look forward to seeing you there!

Author Judy Johnson

Author Judy Johnson

Finding Toad Rock at Rusthall

For years the sign post pointing to Toad Rock in Rusthall has intrigued me but, until now, I have never managed to find out what it actually looks like. So today, I followed thousands of Victorian tourists, who travelled via the newly installed railway to see it, and took a little detour to find the crouching toad.  This is what I found…

Toad Rock at Rusthall Image Rachael Hale

Toad Rock at Rusthall Image Rachael Hale

Can you see him?  Mr Toad sitting up there in all his glory?  He’s actually made from sandstone rock originally formed during the Cretaceous period.  Layer upon layer of rock was built up and our toad was sculpted by the wind as the lower, softer layers of sandstone and mudstone, were eroded.

He’s quite an imposing sight but to the Victorian, and Georgian visitors who visited before them, he must have seemed incredible.

Is this the final resting place of King Stephen of England?

King Stephen of England's Tomb Image Rachael Hale

King Stephen of England’s Tomb Image Rachael Hale

The exact whereabouts of the remains of King Stephen, the grandson of William the Conqueror – also known as Stephen of Blois – will never be verified but a small brass plaque that reads ‘In memory of Stephen, King of England’ inside St Mary of Charity’s Church in Faversham could provide a clue.

When King Stephen died on 25 October 1154, he was placed inside a family sarcophagus with his wife and son at Faversham Abbey, which had been founded by the Royal couple. Queen Matilda I had quietly succumbed to a fever at Hedingham Castle in Essex in May 1152 but Prince Eustace is said to have been suddenly ‘struck down by the wrath of God while plundering church lands near Bury St Edmunds’ in August 1153.

For the next three hundred years they were able to rest in peace, that is until King VIII decided that the Abbey was far too powerful, and rich to lie so close to London and had it dismantled during the dissolution of the monasteries.  What exactly happened to the tomb of King Stephen and his family is unknown but one tale is that they were all thrown into the river and that some of the locals risked their necks to recover their bones while King Henry’s men melted down their casket and made into 1000 musket balls. The other, and I personally think a little more likely, is that the monks at the Abbey asked those at the parish church to look after the royal remains until things had settled down a bit and they were eventually re-buried within a corner of the parish church.

One thing that is for certain is that the truth will never be known.  The brass plaque could have been erected, exactly as it says, as a memorial to the King who had lived in the town. Or King Stephens remains, and that of Queen Matilda and Prince Eustace, could actually have been saved and safely interred beneath the plaque. As all three of them died from natural causes, they will never be disinterred, and therefore the mystery will never be solved.  And in many ways I think that’s better.  What do you think?

Rachael

PS If you liked this post and would like to receive others like it in your inbox, please don’t forget to subscribe.

The Best, and Worst, of The History Magpie’s Blogging Challenge Week One

You may have noticed that there’s been a definite flurry of activity going on at The History Magpie this past week and its all down to Sarah Arrow’s 30 day blogging challenge.  I love blogging about Kent’s history but far too often I have let my half drafted posts linger on my desktop due to my feature writing commitments. Some well timed advice from Catriona Campbell (who many of you may know as @escapetocreate on twitter) initially got my mind in a whirl and, having accepted the fact that I will never have any more time in the day to do the things I want to do, I have reluctantly now set my alarm clock for 6am and I start writing before I do anything else.

I don’t think I will ever get used to getting up that early as I’m naturally a night owl but the difference in my productivity has been incredible thanks to Sarah’s blogging challenge, where I receive a daily challenge via email,  I’ve now posted more in the nine days than I have during the entire first part of the year! Hopefully this means you have been receiving some helpful, informative and entertaining blog posts and, following my challenge for today, here is a list of my posts so far in case you missed one.

I’d love to know which ones you have enjoyed most, and the reasons why,so I can make sure you receive more of what you love and less of what you don’t.

Norman and Grunt head the list of 16 fun, family friendly days out in August 2015

Norman and Grunt head the list of 16 fun, family friendly days out in August 2015

With the long summer school holidays stretching out across the calendar its sometimes hard to know how to keep the youngsters happy so, as planned, I started off with 16 fun, family-friendly days out in history for August.  I’d love to hear from you if you managed to go to any of them and if you have a ‘favourite, family-friendly, historical attraction’ you like to visit, please do get in touch with me via rachael@historymagpie.com.

Monkeys! Getting children into a museum can sometimes be a challenge but with these two little monkey’s causing mischief at The Toy Museum at Penshurst Place it may be a good place to start.  And once there, make sure to introduce yourself to the animated drinking bear!

Monkeys at The Toy Museum, Penshurst Image Rachael Hale

Monkeys at The Toy Museum Image Rachael Hale

On day three I decided to ask for some help and it didn’t quite go to plan. You see, for my day job I’m working on a regional museum project and my colleague and I are trying to work out the best way to help Kent’s museum visitors discover the information they need. So, with a little help from Poll Daddy I created two polls based on two very simple questions. Where is the first place you look for museum information and how much would you expect to pay for that information? Four clicks of the mouse are needed to complete the poll and I hoped that lots of you would answer. So far I have 18 votes and I need a minimum of 100  before I go to a meeting in September.  So the question is what can I do to entice you to answer the poll, do you need more information about the project or perhaps a little incentive? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated and if you would like to vote please visit this page. THANK YOU.

Christiana Edmunds in the Dock

Christiana Edmunds in the Dock with Dr and Mrs Beard behind her

And then came a brilliant guest post from author Kaye Jones about the terrible crimes of the chocolate cream poisoner.  Needless to say, the story of Christiana Edmunds from Margate truly captured everyones imagination and I’m thrilled to say the post has been travelling all over the twitterverse.

Walk on the Wild Side Exhibition at Tunbridge Wells Museum Image Rachael Hale

Walk on the Wild Side Exhibition at Tunbridge Wells Museum Image Rachael Hale

A rook reading a sermon, a series of boxing squirrels and a cartoon family of monkeys riding a bike. All these wonderful things are currently on display at the A Walk on the Wild Side Exhibition at The Tunbridge Wells Museum and I promise you that once you’ve seem them, you won’t forget them.

Dr Jonathan Foyle talking about the discovery of the tudor Bed of Roses ©Rachael Hale web

Dr Jonathan Foyle talking about the discovery of the tudor Bed of Roses ©Rachael Hale web

My post on day 6 changed pace and time entirely and featured the magnificent Tudor Bed of Roses that’s currently on display at Hever Castle. Medieval beds have, until now, proved impossible to find in England. So when Dr Jonathan Foyle, an architectural historian and broadcaster, made a long train journey to inspect a ‘Royal Tudor bed’ he assumed it would be a fake. What he actually discovered was remarkable and you can read all about it here.

Matthew Ryde - Owner of Graham John Estate Agency

Matthew Ryde – Owner of Graham John Estate Agency

If there’s one person who has the opportunity to study Kent’s buildings in detail its an estate agent. Having known Matthew Ryde for a little while, I know that he shares my passion for historical properties, and is a true romantic at heart, which is why I couldn’t resist asking him to choose his favourite building in kent and explain why. To see where he chose please click here.

The Booth Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum Image 3 Rachael Hale

The Booth Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum Image 3 Rachael Hale

And finally, yesterday I struggled to come up with a post as I seemed to be faced with lots of loose ended drafts and then it hit me, I run into research dead ends all the time so why not write about that? One museum object that been nagging me, probably because I love it so much, is this minature bazaar dating from the 1860’s and you can find out why its been causing a problem here.

So that’s it.  My first nine days of the blogging challenge are complete. I have another 21 days to go and during that time, I have 21 blog posts, five commission pieces for a local history website and two features for Kent Life magazine to write. Oh, and it’s the school holiday so I also have two boys to amuse and a five day family holiday to go on. It’s definitely going to be a challenge but I hope I make it and if you would like to join me please subscribe by entering your email address at the top, right hand side of the page.

See you soon.

Rachael

Mysterious Museum Objects –  Minature Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum, Rochester

The Booth Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum Image Rachael Hale

The Booth Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum Image Rachael Hale

I love writing about museum objects but it can be so frustrating.  Imagine walking into your favourite museum where there are thousands of objects just waiting to be seen, admired and talked about.  You know that every single artefact is important in its own right and they all have a story to tell. The only problem is, the one thing that’s caught you eye isn’t ready to reveal its secrets.  The brief display text sitting next to it may be all that is known about it and despite phone calls, archive and internet searches, its history remains a mystery.

The Booth Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum Image 2 Rachael Hale

The Booth Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum Image 2 Rachael Hale

Take this gorgeous 19th Century miniature bazaar for instance. The museum text states that it was made by the Booth family, who lived in Cobham, circa 1860. A phone call to Stephen Nye, the Collections Officer at the Guildhall Museum in Rochester, reveals that the bazaar was made by the donors’ mother but apart from that no further information is known.  After a brief feeling of disappointment, my imagination kicks in and I imagine an entire family bent over the delicate and impossibly small pieces within a candlelit parlour while their father spoke about his day or sat puffing on his pipe in the corner.

The Booth Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum Image 3 Rachael Hale

The Booth Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum Image 3 Rachael Hale

The truth will never be known but, with a little bit of research, it was possible to find out that during the early 19th century adults would frequently work together to create miniature scenes and this one may well have been inspired by the hugely popular ‘baby houses’ and miniature shops created by a German factory called Nuremburg. The factory operated between 1835-1927 and one of its most popular models was its ‘Baby’s First Butcher Shop’ displaying grisly animal carcasses and a floor covered in bloody sawdust.  As you can imagine, these scenes weren’t for playing with but American, French and British manufacturers soon caught on to the ‘miniature’ craze and tiny domestic objects were soon widely available.

Fortunately, the Booth family chose to recreate a far more tempting scene and whenever I look at it, I’m drawn back to the days when I spent hours re-arranging my own dolls’ house. Sadly, I don’t have it any longer but, like you, I can always go and have a look at this wonderful minature bazaar at the Guildhall Museum on Rochester High Street. The museum is free to enter and further visitor information can be found here.

Until next time.

Rachael

Ps. If you enjoyed this blog post please don’t forget to subscribe using the link at the top of the page .

The Booth Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum Image 4 Rachael Hale

The Booth Bazaar at The Guildhall Museum Image 4 Rachael Hale