WW2 child refugees in Tunbridge Wells
January's Object of the Month has been chosen by Aoife Kurta, Graduate Documentation Assistant at the Museum, and is a series of postcards dating from the 1940s. The postcards depict Happy Valley, a popular tourist spot located within the grounds of the building which hosted child refugees from 1938 and throughout the Second World War.
Our collection holds very little pertaining to the Jewish community of Tunbridge Wells during the Second World War. These postcards offer an opportunity to explore the environment refugees in Tunbridge Wells would have found themselves in, while also representing a significant gap in our collection. How these young children would have felt as they arrived in Tunbridge Wells and explored Happy Valley, and the importance of recognising this period of Happy Valley’s history which stands out from its time as both historic and contemporary beauty spot, are interesting to consider. As we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th of January, these postcards stood out to me as an opportunity to remember the experience of Jewish refugee children who came to Britain in the late 1930s to escape Nazi persecution, as well as a reminder to ensure this history is not lost.
The Museum holds many postcards which evidence Happy Valley as an important local tourist attraction for a significant period of time. I wanted to highlight these few as they depict Happy Valley in the 1940s – the period during which Rusthall Beacon was used as a residential home for refugee children. From 1938 and throughout the second world war, Happy Valley and its environs played host to some of the nearly 10,000 unaccompanied children, the majority of whom were Jewish, who came to Britain from Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland as part of the scheme which became known as the Kindertransport. The Rusthall Beacon stayed open as a refugee hostel until 1950.
Throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods, Happy Valley was one of Tunbridge Wells’ most noted beauty spots. Pleasure gardens stretching over 6 acres were first laid out by James Long in 1708, and visitors descended into the Happy Valley via a set of stone steps. The early 1700s century pleasure garden included a spring-fed cold bath, or plunge pool, and a series of three descending ponds, set in a wooded valley. The gardens were used as a tea garden in the nineteenth century. In 1895 Sir Walter Harris built Rusthall Beacon, and the estate was bought in 1907 by Colonel Edward Sydney Sladen. In 1950, the house was opened as the Beacon Hotel, with Happy Valley in its grounds. Happy Valley is recognised a historical beauty spot and as a destination for pleasure seekers in the 1700s and tea-drinkers in the 1900’s, but its connection to the Jewish refugee community may be less well known.
If you or any one you know have any memories or objects relating to this history that you would be interested in discussing with the Museum, please contact us. to
Aoife says: "These postcards interested me because I was looking for something that spoke about the history and memories of Jewish people in Tunbridge Wells during the Second World War, prompted by the upcoming Holocaust Memorial Day. It’s a significant gap in the Museum’s collection and these blank postcards from the period speak to that."
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