Reports of our 2020 Meetings 


Pat Mortlock, the President of Tonbridge Historical Society, one of our favourite speakers, gave us an amusing and informative talk on those famous and worthy people who have been commemorated by blue plaques in Tonbridge.  

When she became a member of the committee for blue plaques she was amazed to learn that each plaque cost £700. In the beginning, organisations were invited to make recommendations to the committee and many were received. The two criteria for worthy people were firstly that they should be nationally known and secondly that they should be dead.

Twelve plaques are in situ out of the 16 chosen from literary, historic and civic circles. The earliest blue plaque is to the first two female Protestant martyrs. Margery Polley was burnt in Tonbridge market place in 1555 and Jean Beach in Rochester. From the literary section, George Austen, brother of Jane, who taught at Tonbridge School is commemorated as is Eliza Acton, the author of a cookery book in 1845. She created recipes for Tonbridge brawn, Bordyke bread and Tourte a la Judd. She was eclipsed by Mrs. Beeton who copied many of her original recipes.

Tonbridge produced two cricketing legends in Colin Blythe and Colin Cowdray. The latter was enobled as Lord Cowdray of Tonbridge. Also worthy of a blue plaque was Cecil Powell, born in 1903 in Tonbridge who was a physicist. He won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of a subatomic particle. John George Children was the son of a well-known Tonbridge family living at Ferox Hall. He invented the first battery in his private laboratory. His only child, Anna was the first female botanist and photographer to publish a book on seaweed and small plants.

At Tonbridge station there is a plaque to the engineer and architect of light railways Colonel Holman Stephens, famous for the Paddock Wood to Hawkhurst line opened in 1893. Lastly, in more modern times everyone knows the name of Neville Duke, the fighter pilot who shot down 27 enemy aircraft in WWII and also Terence Lord Lewin, who went to school at the Judd and became Admiral of the Fleet in charge of the Falklands campaign. We all agreed with Pat Mortlock that Tonbridge has produced a good number of “worthies”.                              


14 JANUARY 2020 - KENT 1800 TO 1899

Our speaker Bob Ogley who is a former editor of the Sevenoaks Chronicle and well-known author, came to talk to us about his local history book, Kent from 1800 to 1899. A good number of members came although it was a stormy night. We were reminded of the 1987 hurricane and Bob Ogley's book of 150 photographs taken of the damage from a private plane that he organised. His book sold 5,000 copies in the first week and 250,000 subsequently. This changed Bob Ogley's life, as he became a publisher and author of 20 books to date on Kent history.  

He set the scene at the start of 1800 Kent for us. There were no cars, buses or bicycles, so people didn't travel far. The first turnpike was in 1827, on the road from Seal to Ightham. There was hardship, disease and danger from pickpockets, thieves and horse rustlers. The harsh penalty for these crimes was hanging at Penenden Heath, being condemned to a prison hulk or transportation to New South Wales as "prisoners of the Motherland", which is from where the name Poms derives. He talked of the politicians, poets, authors, artists and engineers who lived in Kent and illustrated this with many anecdotes.

The coming of the railways in 1830 changed people's lives. The first line was from Canterbury to Whitstable, known as the Crab & Winkle line. Sir Sam Peto, the engineer, was not above blowing up an inconvenient cliff to make the line to Dover. Prime Minister William Pitt the younger aged 24 sat in his garden at Keston with his friend William Wilberforce and made an agreement to end slavery. Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of the Species at Downe. Aged 12, Nelson came to Kent to serve on his uncle's ship. He was described as a poor, weak boy. Captain Bligh, three times acquitted for mutiny lived out his years in Farningham. The list of Kentish poets, authors and artists is long - Kipling, Turner, Samuel Palmer, William Morris and Charles Dickens to name a few. We have much in Kent that makes us proud.                               

David Gurney put out a selection of photographs from our archives of houses and people of the century.

V. Dussek

Copyright: Plaxtol Local History Group 2020