Southborough Society

Salomons Estate through the Years

A special thank you to Emily Gordon, from Salomons Estate who created the 190 Years of Salomons Estate event on Friday, 30th of August, which members of the Southborough Society Committee, along with other special guests were invited.

Guests were treated to a fascinating talk and tour from the museum’s curator, Chris Jones (who incidentally will be presenting our next talk in November).

If anyone has not been to visit the Salomons Museum, you must! The entry is free and you can see a wide range of objects and artefacts tracing the history of the Salomons family within its stunning original Victorian interior (and while you are there you can explore the picturesque grounds).

Emily has kindly written the article below about the evening and history of Salomons Estate.

Salomons Estate Through The Years

By Emily Gordon

Garden and grounds. Photo credit: Craig Matthews

Garden and grounds. Photo credit: Craig Matthews

Salomons Estate is known for little more than being a conference centre on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells. After 190 years of fascinating history at the Victorian country house, it is about time we explored the untold tales of this hidden gem in our very own town.

Last month, 50 very special guests gathered to share their unique stories and experiences of Salomons Estate through the ages. Here we piece together the jigsaw puzzle that they collectively helped to shape.

James Beeny and Gina Georgio, who wrote the West End musical ‘The Dreamers’. Photo credit: Craig Matthews

James Beeny and Gina Georgio, who wrote the West End musical ‘The Dreamers’. Photo credit: Craig Matthews

Mayor and Mayoress of Tunbridge Wells, Cllr James Scholes and his wife, Jane Scholes. Photo credit: Craig Matthews

Mayor and Mayoress of Tunbridge Wells, Cllr James Scholes and his wife, Jane Scholes. Photo credit: Craig Matthews

Photo credit: Craig Matthews

Photo credit: Craig Matthews

The story starts in 1829 when Sir David Salomons bought a ‘very elegant small villa’ on the edge of Tunbridge Wells before tearing it down and commissioning the renowned British architect, Decimus Burton, to design the substantial country house that exists today. Sir David Salomons was one of the founding members of what is now known as Natwest Bank and was the first ever-Jewish Lord Mayor of London. The politician campaigned tirelessly for the equal rights of Jews and laid himself open to considerable penalties, speaking for his cause in the Houses of Parliament.

Sir David Salomons, (22 November 1797 – 18 July 1873).

Sir David Salomons, (22 November 1797 – 18 July 1873).

Salomons Estate is now part of the Jewish Country House Project, which celebrates Jewish life in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the world of the Anglo-Jewish aristocracy. Representing the Jewish Country House Project at the 190th celebrations was Thomas Stammer who is currently working on a book featuring Salomons Estate.

Sir David Salomons left the estate to his nephew Sir David Lionel Salomons who was a keen scientist and engineer, making history on several occasions. Sir David Lionel Salomons built laboratories, and workshops in the grounds and a unique science theatre to demonstrate his experiments, which is still enjoyed by visitors today. Among many of his outstanding achievements, Sir David Lionel Salomons was the first person in the UK to hold a motor show. He also had the law changed so that cars could travel more than 4mph, invented an electric exposing camera in 1895 and was granted a patent for his invention of the automatic railway signaling system.

Photo credit: Salomons Museum

Photo credit: Salomons Museum

Photo credit: Salomons Museum

Photo credit: Salomons Museum

The third notable member of the Salomons family to live on the estate was First World War hero, Captain Reginald Salomons. Visiting Salomons on the 190th anniversary were James Beeny and Gina Georgio, who wrote the West End musical ‘The Dreamers’ which tells the moving tale of Captain Reggie Salomons and his team of 128 men, mainly from Southborough and High Broom, who lost their lives on the HMS Hythe, which sunk off the coast of Gallipoli in 1915. Last December, James and Gina’s top West End cast performed The Dreamers in the renowned Abbey Road Studios.

Captain Reginald Salomons. Photo credit: Salomons Museum

Captain Reginald Salomons. Photo credit: Salomons Museum

In 1937 Reggie’s sister, Vera Bryce Salomons, gave the estate to Kent County Council for use as a convalescent home – in memory of her brother, father and great-uncle. In the 1970s it was transformed into a training centre for regional health authorities, during which time residential facilities where build.

Returning to the estate for the 190th celebrations was Liz Scholey, manager of the NHS center in the 1980s. Liz and her husband John were also celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary last month, which was made extra special by visiting the venue where they got married.

In the 1990s Salomons was handed over to Canterbury Christ Church University who continued to use it for educational purposes. To accommodate their needs, the University converted the stables into offices and lecture rooms and the residential facilities into accommodation.

Today Salomons is operated by Markerstudy Group, which celebrates all aspects of the estate’s history. The group encourages local residents to simply explore the grounds, visit the museum and learn more about the extraordinary family it was once home to. They are working on an ongoing refurbishment programme, which aims to restore the Victorian charm of the country house and retain the unique features that make it so intriguing. They also continue to facilitate education, training and conferences on site and welcome weddings and special occasions that bring the charming house to life.

Chris Jones, Curator, Salomons Museum. Photo Credit: Craig Matthew s

Chris Jones, Curator, Salomons Museum. Photo Credit: Craig Matthews

Photo Credit: Craig Matthew s

Photo Credit: Craig Matthews

Photo Credit: Craig Matthew s

Photo Credit: Craig Matthews

Southborough Peace Day Celebration – July 19th, 1919.

Original programme cover printed by Arthur Dee’s Printers, based on London Road.

Original programme cover printed by Arthur Dee’s Printers, based on London Road.

A century ago, on July 19th, Southborough joined the rest of the nation, in celebrating the peace, which had been inaugurated by the signing of the Armistice, in 1918. After the sacrifices of the First World War, made by so many families, communities must surely have felt the need to come together, to celebrate that “the war to end all wars” was finally over. A hundred years later, we know that there was another World War to come, only twenty years on from the celebrations of Peace Day. But that, of course, is to anticipate. Anyone on Southborough Common on July 19th 1919 was more likely to be worried about the looming dark clouds (it did rain) or the intimidating appearance of the High Brooms tug-of war-team (they won!).

The programme for the Southborough Peace Day celebrations could be bought for 1d and you would certainly want buy one, to ensure you knew what was going on. The cover of the programme shows a female figure, looking rather like a Greek goddess, her elegant draperies, coloured a dusty pink, falling to her feet. Is she a symbol of Peace? She is certainly far removed from the doughty figure of Britannia which featured in First World War propaganda. Flowers and leaves twine around the figure, who seems to be looking wistfully into the distance.

The day of festivities began with a Royal Salute fired on the Common, followed by the pealing of the bells of St. Peter’s Church. At 1.30 pm singing “by the children”, launched the afternoon Sports. The prizes for adults must have tempted some to take part: 1st, 7/6; 2nd, 5/-; 3rd, 2/6. We know that some 250 children also received prizes. Twenty races are advertised in the programme. The familiar three-legged race, the egg and spoon, the potato race and the sack race all feature as well as the Veterans Race, for 50 years and over! There was also a Firemen’s Race.

Sack race in front of St Peter’s Church on the Common.

Sack race in front of St Peter’s Church on the Common.

Peace Day Race.jpg

And then there was the mysterious “Tilting the Bucket”. Luckily, a postcard of the event has survived which shows what must surely be that event. The picture depicts someone riding on a kind of barrow, pushed by a partner, under a framework, from which a bucket is suspended. It’s hard to see quite how it all works, but it looks as if the bucket is set to pour water on to the head of the luckless victim below. The gleeful stance of schoolboy spectators suggests they would enjoy that very much indeed. And the Courier reports that “no competitor succeeded in getting through without being somewhat damp”!

‘Tilting the Bucket’

‘Tilting the Bucket’

There was, fortuitously, an interval for Tea at 4.00 pm. The report in the Kent and Sussex Courier describes 1,400 children sitting down to tea on the Common in front of St. Peter’s; that was quite a picnic! The provisions seem to have consisted of bread and butter and cake.

Peace inside.jpg

The plan was to conclude the days’ events with a bonfire and fireworks at 9.45pm and before that, Mrs Edward Hutchings would give out prizes. It must have been a poignant occasion for Mrs Hutchings, as she perhaps thought of her son, Kenneth. He had died in 1916, aged 33, during the Battle of the Somme, bringing to a brutal end his future career as an England cricketer.

The events of the day were planned by a sizeable committee: 17 (all men!) organising the sports and 30 in charge of the tea. One might expect the tea committee to have been the ladies’ domain but, intriguingly, the subcommittee is chaired by a Mr. Draper and a good number of men joined the ladies in this group. There were also six clergymen, who were part of the tea committee; perhaps participation in sports was considered unseemly for a cleric! The Hon. Secretary for the Sports events was a Mr. Muggridge from 13, Edward Street, while the Tea Committee Secretary was a Mr Cox, whose address is simply given as “The Common”!

For some of those in charge of the celebration, the day must have been coloured by memories of lost sons, brothers and cousins. There were committee members from families whose lost ones are commemorated on Southborough’s War Memorial: Messrs Emery, Muggridge, Miller, Brown, Moore, Malpass, Luxton, Fletcher, Cooke. However, it’s clear that the Peace Day was meant for sheer enjoyment. “All inhabitants are respectfully asked to decorate their houses” is the request printed on the programme.

Not far away, Tunbridge Wells was also enjoying its own Peace Day celebrations. Large decorated arches spanned the roads at various points, and a huge procession marched through the town, led by bands and “decorated motors” carrying wounded soldiers. Following them were Police Cadets, VAD nurses, Scouts, The Life Brigade, the Fire Brigade, the Salvation Army, the Friendly Societies, many tradesmen’s decorated carts, the Mayor, Mayoress and Councillors and many, many, more.

There were Sports, as in Southborough, although strangely, in Tunbridge Wells, some races were reserved for “married men” and “married women”. Perhaps the cares of married life were thought to be a handicap for competitors in races? We were more liberal in Southborough, simply categorising races either for “Adults”, “Boys” and “Girls”, with the exception of a special 100 Yards race for Ladies.

By the time Mrs Hutchings was giving out prizes on Southborough Common the rain had begun to set in, so the ceremony was held under the trees. In Tunbridge Wells, the children’s entertainments in Calverley Grounds (conjurors, clowns and Punch and Judy) had been a great success but the steady rain, which began after tea, led to the postponement of the Festival of Song.

Peace back.jpg

Decisions had to be made about how to proceed with the programme for the evening. Southborough had hoped for dancing on the Common, concluding with a bonfire and fireworks. In the event, it was too wet for both fireworks and dancing, but the bonfire went ahead on the Lower Cricket Ground. It was “lit at 10 o’clock, a large crowd being present, in spite of the rain. The bonfire burned brightly, and an effigy of the Kaiser was burned, greatly to the delight of the younger element. This brought the day’s celebration to a close”.

We can imagine Mr Muggridge and Mr Cox, the two Hon Secs, going home, pleased with their day’s work. And let’s hope that Mr E B Usherwood, so nearly winner of the quarter-mile flat race, retiring within twenty yards of the tape because of “overstrain”, felt much better the next day.

By Heather Evernden

Southborough Library – A Letter from the Committee


In January, we wrote to Cllr Mike Hill (Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services) and James Pearson (Head of Libraries at KCC) to inform them of our position on Southborough Library. Below is the letter and the response from Cllr Hill is found on this link.

23rd of January, 2019

Dear Mr Hill and Mr Pearson,

I am writing to you as the Planning Officer of the Southborough Society with regards to the Southborough Library and its proposed new location within the Hub scheme.

At the Society's Committee Meeting on 27th November, the Society agreed that it will not support or oppose the revised Hub application. However, the Committee were unanimous in their decision that it is very important that the library should remain on its current site rather than become part of the new Hub development.

We feel it is very necessary to preserve our purpose built, Civic Trust Award (1962) winning space as it serves the community perfectly well, indeed more so than the proposed new library which will not include a designated separate children's library and which will have to share space with other services which will potentially be disruptive to its visitors. Its current neglected state is due to underinvestment by KCC in recent years but this could easily be rectified.

By keeping the library site where it is, we will be able to free up much needed room in the Hub for a community cafe and/or dedicated space to exhibit the large collection of objects, artefacts, maps, photographs owned by the Southborough Society. A museum space to share and display our collection has been a long term ambition of the Society.

The existing library too has the potential to be developed into heritage centre for our collection, again would preserve the building and the surrounding green space if it the Library. Southborough desperately needs this green and leafy punctuation point at one of our busiest intersections. The trees have Tree Protection Orders and make our town more attractive and contribute to cleaning the air on one of Kent's most polluted roads.

Southborough Library is not a problem that needs to be fixed; it has some of the highest borrowing numbers for a library of its size in Kent. It has been largely consistent in it use (visitor numbers and borrowing) by the community over the last ten years – this is despite a significant reduction in the libraries budget in recent years.

We believe this proposal would have widespread support. At the public meeting held in the town in December many people expressed their appreciation of our existing library and their desire for it to remain in its current situation. I hope you will give our proposal serious consideration and look forward to hearing your response in due course.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs D Blackwell


Since this post had been published, Cllr Mike Hill has responded and his letter can be found here.


Doctor's Meadow


Among the many activities of the Southborough Society and the duties that it carries out, possibly the least known and most surprising is that it owns and cares for a sizeable piece of land bordering Southborough Common.

 It is located along the western edge of the Common, opposite the slope on which the large beech trees grow, the other side of the stream.  Many people probably assume that it is part of the Common but it was in fact sold to the Society in 1980 by Mr and Mrs A. Pollock of Bentham Farm for the princely sum of £1.  It appears that the couple wanted to protect the wider area from development and permanently safeguard it as a haven for wildlife.  There were strict clauses in the legal document which meant that it could never be used for anything other than a nature reserve or be sold on to anyone other than an organisation with similar aims to the Southborough Society.

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 So why the name “Doctor’s Meadow”? It is not known who the doctor which gave the site its name was.  You could be forgiven for thinking that the term “meadow” was a misnomer given its current state - in many places overgrown and impenetrable.  But as with the Common itself, the land was once a lot more open as it was managed with coppicing, pollarding and grazing widely practiced.  The last remnant of meadow can be seen at the top of the site where it is still quite open and free from trees and bushes, although covered in bracken.

 For nearly two decades the site was left to nature with little intervention but in 2015 the Society’s committee decided to consider better ways of managing it.  A survey by Kent Wildlife Trust was commissioned which gave valuable advice on how to proceed with work that would maximise its potential to promote biodiversity.  Amongst the report’s many observations, it stated that the area was an ideal habitat for dormice, reptiles, amphibians and bats.  Bluebells and brambles were recorded but with sensitive clearance of invasive species such as holly, sycamore, rhododendron and willow, more light would reach the ground and this could encourage much rarer wildflowers to emerge from the seedbank in the soil.  The survey’s author stressed that all dead wood and the many fallen trees should be left untouched as they provide an excellent habitat for insects and fungi.


In the winter of 2017/18 in collaboration with Kent High Weald Partnership, conservation work began with parties of volunteers who spent two sessions clearing and burning the undergrowth.  In the late summer of 2018, work to eliminate the thick bracken commenced, which will hopefully help to restore the area of mixed grassland and meadow at the top of the site.  The Society also intends to build two or three bridges over the stream to make it easier for people to cross over and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Doctor’s Meadow.

More sessions are planned for the next winter season - look out for information in the Society’s diary of events or check out their website if you’d like to volunteer!


Michael Howes

Former Chairman of the Southborough Society