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FOOTSTEPS BY MARY BLINKS AND HAZEL JOHNSON
A LITTLE CHA/HF HISTORY
The founder of the CHA/HF movement way back in the 1880s was a Congregational Minister, the Revd T A Leonard, who lived in Colne, North East Lancs, among hard working mill people. Their only experience of a holiday was the Annual Wakes Week in Blackpool or Morecambe, yet Colne stood among the glorious Pennines and near the mountains of the Lake District. He started a Rambling Club among the young men of his church and in June 1891 they spent a long weekend at Ambleside in the Lake District, scaling Wansfell and Helvellyn and entering into the delights of Lakeland, with talks about wayside flowers and Wordsworth. This was so successful that it led to an annual week and eventually, in 1897, the members of the group formed themselves into a small company called The Co-operative Holidays Association, (now called Countrywide). The movement went from strength to strength with several holiday centres opened but in March 1913 T A Leonard and a group of old CHA friends decided to form a companion organisation, Holiday Fellowship (now HF) with similar ideals but a different set-up. Members were to take out shares, progress was to be accelerated in international work and, as well as conventional centres, mountain huts and camps for young people would be provided. The holidays opened new opportunities for everyone of whatever class, creed, vocation or nationality to find a sense of togetherness, to find joy in music, literature, nature study and walking. They found they could discuss the most explosive subjects in the open air without coming to blows or thinking the other fellow a fool. In those early days it was questioned whether it was wise to allow women folk to share the holidays so Hostesses were appointed! Those early pioneers also established the unwritten rule of unselfishness and found pleasure in serving each other’s needs. Out of this grew the Goodwill Holidays for which we used to have an Invited Guest Fund. Local Rambling Clubs sprang up as people returned from their holidays wishing to continue the fellowship and walking. Our own Club was formed on the CHA pattern in 1931, later joining HF.
FORMATION OF THE CLUB
On Friday 22nd May 1931 the following notice appeared in the Courier:
Proposed Ramble Club. A Meeting of considerable interest to ramblers and lovers of the countryside residing in the district was held by kind permission of Rev. Collison in the Schoolroom of the Primitive Methodist Church last week to consider the formation of a CHA Club for Tunbridge Wells. The Chairman (Mr P E Pucknell) in outlining the proposed scheme stated that membership would be open to both sexes above the age of 16 who were interested in rambling, and after some discussion, it was unanimously decided to form such a club. It was also decided that rambles should be held fortnightly on both Wednesday and Saturday afternoons and that each ramble should be under the leadership of a member experienced in arranging rambles, and the first should be held on Saturday 30th May 1931. To arrange the necessary details for forming a club, a committee of seven well known local ramblers was appointed, the Hon Sec being Miss L P Hurrell of Camden Road who will be pleased to supply particulars to all interested.
In a 1986 Newsletter, Dorothy Miles (then Editor) wrote: “Our Club Archives. Don’t be put off by the word ‘archives’ which sets many coughing and sneezing from imaginary dust and mildew. Our Club Archives, dating back over 50 years, are the solid yet lively foundation on which our thriving and exciting Club is built. At the present time these valued documents are in my keeping. I value our Archives and can’t bear the possibility of their being thrown into somebody’s cupboard or attic as lumber. As well as being interesting history they show the immense amount of conscientious work and hours of valuable time devoted to the Club by our first members. They built solid foundations, it’s up to us to go on building”. Dorothy wrote a series of articles on Club history and it is from this series and from the archives that we have gleaned our knowledge of the early years of the Club.
CHAPTER 1 – 1930s
At the first Committee Meeting in 1931 a tremendous amount of work was done. It was decided that the Club should consist of two separate sections, a Rambling Club and a Social Club. The Social Club would meet one evening each week during the winter “to develop a better spirit of comradeship than already existed”. For this the Monson Hall should be engaged for a session comprising 24 evenings at a cost of £4.10s. inclusive of light and heat and use of kitchen and crockery. The subscription should be 7s 6d per member inclusive of refreshments, in addition to the Rambling Club subscription of 2s. 0d. The programme should contain lectures, debates, play readings, socials, etc. in as large a variety as possible. The main programme should occupy approximately one hour, after which “two ladies of the Club” should serve refreshments. For the remainder of the time (the evening was from 7.30 to 10.30) “there were to be games and singing”. And we think we’re energetic now!
The route of the first Club Ramble on Saturday 30th May 1031, led by Rona Doig, a member for 63 years, was from Crowborough Cross via Harrison’s Rocks and Groombridge to Tunbridge Wells Common. This was repeated on the Club’s 50th anniversary. By the end of 1931 (after the inaugural meeting), four committee meetings had been held and a General Meeting. A Lantern (the projector’s forbear) had been hired at 2s 6d an evening for four evenings, a dance had been held at the Cadena Café on The Pantiles, tickets 2s 0d, refreshments 1s 0d, with a “panatrope” (an early type of record player) and records hired for 5s 0d per session. We know this first dance was very successful and two more dances were booked for February and March 1932. Funds increased and when the balance reached £4 someone proposed that two auditors be appointed but this proposal was defeated. No President could be found but Mr Tattershall Dogg, son of the well know local artist, agreed to act as Vice President.
At the December Committee Meeting a stern note was introduced: “It was observed that on rambles members sometimes failed to keep up with the main party because they walked slowly and lagged behind. It was decided that the Assistant Leader in each ramble should endeavour to keep the party together but if this became impossible through deliberate lagging, the members responsible should be left to find their own way home. The Secretary was asked to speak to two of the people who were in the habit of doing this”!
At the first AGM held on 21st March 1932 the Chairman, Percy Pucknell, said he was glad the experiment of running the Club had been so successful as he had been endeavouring to form the Club for the previous few years, but he had often been told that such an undertaking would never prosper in Tunbridge Wells. Membership totalled 59. Afternoon rambles had been arranged on alternate Wednesdays and Saturdays with an average attendance of 18 on Saturdays and 4 on Wednesdays. Members asked for All Day Rambles on Sundays. It was proposed that the future Social Club programme should include items of a more serious nature, such as lectures on Literature, Local History and Psychology, and expense could be saved by using the services of retired professional gentlemen in the town. Alternatively members could read papers dealing with their work, followed by an impromptu debate on the same. It was also proposed that evening visits of an instructional nature could be made to Water, Gas or Electrical Works (which subsequently took place), or an afternoon visit to Croydon Aerodrome, including an air trip over London, or a trip to Rochester to Messrs. Short Bros. Aeroplane Works. What a lot had been achieved that first year – as you can see it was more than just a rambling club.
The first joint ramble took place on Easter Monday with London CHA Club, starting at Tunbridge Wells Station via Groombridge, Ashurst Station for lunch, Smarts Hill, Penshurst for tea, Rusthall and Toad Rock, and was a great success. A photograph was to be taken near the Brighton Lake and inserted in the Advertiser. Alternative arrangements had been made in case the weather was too bad to ramble (and there was no Gore-Tex in those days) to use the Toc H Hall, Mount Sion, and a programme of games for everyone’s entertainment was organised but fortunately not required.
One Committee Meeting reported a discussion regarding the general conduct of members when it was decided that behaviour which would lower the prestige of the Club would be discouraged and Committee Members would speak to the members responsible if and whenever necessary, with a view to stopping a certain laxity which had recently been observed or complained of.
In 1989 Phyllis Larder (nee Saunders) member from 1932 to 1948 wrote the following regarding her memories of early Club years:-
“I joined the Tunbridge Wells CHA Rambling Club in 1932. It was large and flourishing. Many social activities were held as well as the wonderful rambles on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Every year the Annual Dance was held at the Pump Room on The Pantiles. We all wore evening dress, such elegance, seldom seen now. Those were the days! Saturday was my rambling day. I took my turn to work out and lead a ramble. My favourite was from Eastbourne to Seaford across the Seven Sisters to Seaford Head. If the tide was high we had to discard boots and socks to wade across the Cuckmere and this added zest to the day’s expedition. We were fortunate enough to have permission from the D’Avigdor Goldsmith, Penshurst Place and Abergavenny Estates to ramble through some of their woods and copses. This gave extra pleasure to our excursions. We often linked up with Eastbourne Holiday Fellowship Club. They were a great help to us with tea places when we did the Seven Sisters walk. Each year I went on a CHA or HF holiday and also went sometimes with Rona Doig to help at a Free Holiday group.
I remember joining up once a year with the Ramblers’ Association, “Beating the Bounds” for any footpaths ploughed in or obstructed, any stiles devastated or damaged. We met with volunteers from other clubs at an arranged venue. We divided into small groups and walked different ways. We usually had a surveyor and a lawyer with us, plus a handyman with wire cutters, small tools and tacks for tidying up loose barbed wire or any other small repairs. Sometimes we were lucky enough to have a sympathetic member of that particular Rural District Council with us on our walk. My job was to carry the 6” Ordnance Survey Map of the district and make notes of what we found”.
In 1939 with the outbreak of World War II there were changes in the Club. Gradually the members dwindled, most of them called in the forces, others conscripted into factories, the Land Army, or suitable war work. A jumble sale and the annual dance had to be cancelled. Club rules had to be broken when there were not enough members to form a quorum at Committee Meetings where the rambling programme was arranged for each quarter. The war also temporarily stopped the sending of needy people for Free Holidays, so the money was spent on Christmas gifts of coal for OAPs.
CHAPTER 2 – 1940s
Eleven members attended the AGM in 1940 when the Treasurer, Miss Gertrude Shaw, reported a balance of two shillings and four pence ha’penny in the funds, leaving the Club unable to afford the affiliation fee to the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society, or to have any programmes printed. The day was saved when Mildred Young volunteered to type the programme and another member offered to make a frame for the notice board in the Tunbridge Wells Library to advertise the Club.
In spite of all the difficulties this gallant band managed to obtain provisions in August and took 20 children from St George’s Home on a picnic in the Happy Valley which was considered a safe place in case of air raids. They also organised fortnightly evening outings in the summer – walks, dances, pictures, tennis and swimming, and managed to send two people on an Invited Guest Free Holiday to Hindhead CHA in October. Three Committee Members got married in 1941 and 1942, first he Treasurer, Miss Shaw, then the Chairman, Percy Pucknell and then Miss Turnbull who became Mrs Copper.
In 1942 the AGM was held at the home of Miss Rona Doig, who was one of our Vice Presidents until her death in 1994. Percy Pucknell was appointed President and Rona Doig stepped into the breach as Chairman. Brimming with ideas she suggested collecting 1d from each member on every ramble for the Free Holiday Fund and holding a Rally and Reunion to stimulate interest in the Club. This was a great success with 40 – 50 people attending Mount Pleasant Congregational Hall one Saturday afternoon in January 1943, who were soon drinking tea and chatting animatedly, (sounds just like us). After introductions from the Chairman and President there were lantern slides and a talk on CHA, its high ideals, its Centres and the countryside. As a result several old members rejoined and some new members were enrolled.
Phyllis Saunders dealt with letters and enquiries about the Club and led rambles, sometimes for just two or three members. The meeting place for rambles was changed to Dudley Road corner instead of the War Memorial, as the Saturday crowds made meeting difficult. Winter meetings were held monthly at the leaders’ homes following the rambles.
Gradually some came back from the war, sadly some were missing. New members joined and once again the Club was flourishing, but not as it was before the war. Funds were still low but a Christmas Supper Dance was held at High Rocks Hotel in 1947. At one time A J Martin, as Rambles Secretary, and Edith Beal, as Treasurer, kept the Club from floundering by leading rambles alternately, and on one occasion, when A J was the only member to turn up, he set out, nothing daunted, to lead the ramble exactly as detailed in the programme. And so, on a shoestring, with everyone pulling together, a small dedicated group managed to carry on throughout those difficult years and ensured the continuity of the Club.
CHAPTER 3 – SUMMARY OF THE EARLY YEARS
Reading through old records, in the early years there was regular liaison with CHA. A Southern Group Rambling Club Meeting was held annually in Surrey and the Club sent a delegate. Most years a needy person was sent on a CHA free holiday and the Club paid towards the fare. There were joint walks with London CHA, Eastbourne Club and other clubs. The first Club Weekend was held in 1934 at Godstone Youth Hostel, Surrey, and was repeated in 1935. After the war there was a Hostel Weekend at Goudhurst and, as life got back to normal, a River Outing was planned, a Moonlight Ramble and a Camp Fire. It was suggested at various times that the Club should become a CHA/HF Club, but this didn’t take place until 1965.
They walked quite far afield in those days, covering ground that we do today, but they always used public transport where transport was necessary, buses or trains (sometimes on lines now closed) although on one early occasion they hired a ‘charabanc’, later an occasional coach. On all-day walks they took a packed lunch but a tea stop seemed to be an important part of most rambles, at a country tea shop, a cottage, a farm, or a pub where they would be supplied with tea to drink, bread and butter, jam and cake, and sometimes – a highlight of the 1940s, wartime and post-war, - boiled eggs!
Footpaths, of necessity, were an early concern. At the first AGM in 1932 it was agreed to pay a subscription to the “Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society” and in 1933 to the “Federation of Rambling Clubs”, the forerunner of the Ramblers’ Association. In 1934 there was trouble with a Speldhurst footpath from Printstile to Poundsbridge, which had been closed by the landowner, and advice was sought from these organisations and Tonbridge Rural District Council. The Council replied that all parishes within their area had been asked to provide maps with all footpaths marked thereon, and when the set was complete public notice of the same would be given. They had also promised to investigate the complaint but this matter was not resolved for another 50 years (See Chapter 7).
Two Ordnance Survey maps were bought for the Club (after the war these might be borrowed from the Public Library). In 1938 Miss Gertrude Shaw was appointed as Footpath Secretary and would liaise with the RA Footpath Secretary, (Gertrude Shaw was an original committee member who held many posts over the years. During the war she married and moved north but later, as Mrs Barlow, returned to Tunbridge Wells, rejoined the Club and was able to enjoy some of our shorter rambles before her death in 1981 at the age of 84).
In 1945 an Appeal was sent to Parliamentary candidates asking for support for early legislation in connection with National Parks, Access to Mountains and Preservation of Footpaths, and in 1946 Club members prepared a Footpath Survey covering the area within a seven mile radius of Tunbridge Wells. Later that year a letter was written to the local M.P. protesting against the proposed requisitioning of Ashdown Forest as a permanent military training centre. Other paths were surveyed and in 1948 they were asked by the RA to make a preliminary survey of footpaths in the Cranbrook area but, at that time, Cranbrook Council had no maps showing their Rights of Way. What a lot of work has been done on footpaths in the last fifty years.
CHAPTER 4 – 1950s
The Club’s records for the 1950s are somewhat sketchy. The annual subscription was 5s 0d and 8s 0d per couple, and until 1953 quarterly programmes were supplied printed on cards, offering alternate Saturday and Sunday walks, but without giving any indication of mileage. These all used public transport, there was a stop for tea and walking continued afterwards. Social evenings were sometimes spent in members’ homes, sometimes there was a visit to a local theatre, a boating evening in Tonbridge, a Camp Fire evening or the Annual Reunion at Harrington’s Cafe or the Culverden Arms with games and dancing. They had Spring and Autumn weekends at YHA or CHA/HF centres and camping weekends at Whitsun. A coach ramble in 1951, joint with Medway HF Group (our Club had 10 seats) went to Eastbourne and the South Downs, with a swim at Birling Gap and tea at Beachy Head.
AGMs were also held in members’ homes, with an attendance of between 10 and 13. CHA held an Annual Conference of Southern Clubs, to which we always sent a delegate who reported back to the AGM and for which the Club paid one penny per member per annum, but the date always seemed to clash with the Club’s Autumn Weekend.
On 15th October 1955, with A J Martin as MC, the first Practice Dance was held at the YWCA Hall in Tonbridge for the purpose of learning various Old Time and Folk Dances. Initially a Committee member, Edith Beal, purchased a record player and donated it to the Club. Later, the Club bought its own and gradually built up a collection of records.
The Club’s first Annual Dinner was held in 1958 at the Weavers Restaurant in Southborough and cost 12s 6d. The following year was a cheaper venue at the Riverside Café in Tonbridge. The Annual Church Ramble also began after Rona Doig’s suggestion in 1958. Following the walk, members met for tea at the United Reformed Church in Tunbridge Wells, which gave an ideal opportunity for a chat with non-walking members too. Some of our members then took part in the evening Church service which was considered appropriate for all denominations. This continued until 1989 when our attendance dropped so low as to be embarrassing.
For many years the programmes were typed and duplicated by a Club member, Gwen Golder, which saved the Club a considerable amount of expenditure.
A scan of the front and back of a programme leaflet from 1950
A scan of the inside
pages of a programme leaflet from 1950
The first time the Club arranged its own coach ramble was on 2nd July 1961 leaving Tonbridge at 9.30 a.m. for Eastbourne and was organised by Denis Wright. It cost 6s 6d for adults and 3s 6d for children and just managed to cover its own costs but was repeated the following year making a small profit.
The Ramblers’ Association asked the Footpath Secretary, Raymond Mantz, to walk the Brenchley footpaths once a year and in 1962 the Club sent five people to the Invited Guest Fund week at Hindhead CHA and one to the HF Centre at Hythe. In 1963 Keith Richardson was elected as delegate to the CHA Annual Conference of Southern Clubs, later becoming Sunday Rambles Organiser and Dorothy Miles was elected on to the Committee.
A new venture, which was discussed at a meeting in December 1961 at A J Martin’s house, was for a Club holiday at a CHA centre for 1962 but we have no record as to whether this took place.
In June 1964 a small party of Club members went to Wales for two weeks, the first week to the Llanfairfechan CHA centre. One evening A J Martin took a stroll through the fields and was chased by bullocks, returning somewhat shaken. The second week was spent at Barmouth CHA Centre. Tom and Dot Manser were in the party and on the concert evening Tom took part in the mens’ “Women of Fashion” parade, looking smart in one of Dot’s dresses and a navy wide-brimmed hat!
By 1964 the membership had grown to 76, Dorothy Miles had become Saturday Rambles Organiser and a request was made for Sunday afternoon rambles. Dorothy wrote: “The Club used to hire rooms in a house used by the Red Cross so that we could practice our Folk Dancing. It was so cold and damp there that a member, probably Tom Manser, used to go in before we arrived to light a big coal fire. We practised in a small room with a torn carpet and uneven floorboards – whoops! Another one down! – and we made our evening cuppas in a cellar stacked with bedpans!” Coach visits to the Folk Dance Festival at the Albert Hall featuring National Dancing from all over the world began and continued to be very popular until its demise in 1984.
As the membership grew the AGM needed a new venue and in 1965 began to be held in the Imperial Hotel, Southborough. This was also the year the Club changed its name to CHA/HF in view of the difficulty of applying the rule requiring a majority of CHA members to serve on the Committee. The first Club Newsletter was instigated by Jack Ellis, our Treasurer at the time, following an HF conference he had attended at Conway. It contained an amusing account of the Club weekend at Barton-on-Sea in Spring 1968 when the party got very wet walking along the cliff tops and the ladies travelled home in their party frocks and the gentlemen secretly wore pyjama trousers instead of pants.
Denis Wright was in close contact with the Ramblers Association. He urged all members of the Rambling Club to become individual members of the Ramblers’ Association and, with the assistance of other Rambling Club members, was working hard to improve local footpaths. In 1968 Denis became Assistant Area Secretary for the Ramblers’ Association and became responsible for Tonbridge Urban District, Tonbridge Rural District, Tunbridge Wells Urban District, and Southborough Urban District. Denis called an ‘Unofficial Committee Meeting’ to discuss footpath work and the Club adopted all the paths in Denis’s area. The following year a Local Committee of the Ramblers’ Association know as “The Tunbridge Wells and District Committee of the Ramblers’ Association” was formed.
More reminiscences now from Nan Simmons and Olive Burton written in 1989: “I joined in 1967 and my first ramble was on a Sunday afternoon. We met at the Opera House and walked to Frant. At that time Keith Richardson was Chairman and Dorothy Miles Rambles Organiser. Our programme was 8” x 5”, three pages for three months. Entries in the programme were very short. Mileage was shown as ‘A’ 9 miles and over; ‘B’ up to 9 miles and ‘C’ up to 6 miles. A typical entry was ‘B’ Leigh the Green, Bus 101 T.W. War Memorial 14.22. We carried lunch and tea, and so we often walked quite a way after a good tea break. A highlight (I think twice a year) was tea at Speldhurst in a hut at the back of a bungalow. A splendid tea was laid on – boiled eggs and super homemade cakes. It was a sad day when this came to an end when the kind lady who provided the tea died.
The programme I have gives Social Events such as visits to the Ballet at the Coliseum organised by Bernard Miles, Music on Records at Jack Ellis’s home, Sights of London with A J Martin, meeting at Charing Cross Station.
Favourite weekends were at Crowlink HF on the Seven Sisters, Gomshall HF and Barton-on-Sea CHA. For the weekends we travelled by coach, starting on the Saturday morning. ‘A’ Party disembarked along the route, luggage being taken on to the Guest House. ‘A’ Party then walked all day, arriving at the Guest House in time for the evening meal. ‘B’ Party stayed on the coach and on arrival at the Guest House they went for a shorter walk. The coach driver stayed with us for the weekend. Forty places were booked and there was always a waiting list.
Our Christmas parties really had a party atmosphere. We used to have children, who walked with the Club, and with the invited guests and their children, we had quite a number of youngsters, so party games were included. We always had jelly included in the super eats, which were supplied by Sylvia Cook (later Mrs Richardson). To quote Dorothy – “It is not a party if you don’t have jelly” The Annual Dinners were well attended, the Rose and Crown at Tonbridge being a favourite for some years. After the meal slides were shown of rambles throughout the year.”
1970 was European Conservation Year, May 9th to 17th being National Footpaths Week. With advertising in the local press for the Club’s event, which was the Medway Towpath Walk from Tonbridge to Maidstone on the 10th May, led by Keith Richardson and Sylvia Cook. The event was well supported and attracted several new members (including Mary Blinks). The whole of the route including the rebuilding of two bridges in the East Peckham area had been made walkable in preparation for this event. The Rambling Club also participated in a Footpath Exhibition, organised by Tonbridge Civic Society at the old Sainsbury’s shop in Tonbridge High Street.
In 1971 the Tunbridge Wells & District Footpath Liaison Committee was formed under the leadership of the Rambling Club. This led to the formation of the Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells Group of the Ramblers’ Association in 1975, separating in 1979 into the two groups we have today. The initiative was from the Rambling Club and several members of the Committee were Club members. (More of this later in a separate article by Sylvia Richardson).
By the 1970s the membership had grown to over 200, coach rambles to the South Downs Way, (West to East), and parts of the North Downs Way attracted an average attendance of 70, requiring two coaches to be booked, until leaders decided the size of party was too unwieldy. You then had to book your place immediately you received your programme! Under Dorothy Miles’ organisation the programme now offered All Day and Half Day Rambles every Sunday, as now, as well as Half Days on some Saturdays. The rambles went to many parts of Kent and Sussex and frequently attracted 40 – 50 members.
Joan and Fred Groves introduced us to that strange but highly popular meal know as ‘wine and cheese tea’, day trips to France and the gorgeous breakfast rambles when we had to catch a bus to Pembury at the crack of dawn and walk to Sunninglye Farm where we cooked our bacon and eggs over the camp fire and were supplied with tea made on the Primus stove.
At the AGM in 1972 it was agreed to introduce some car rambles into the next programme, owing to the shortage of public transport, but the majority of rambles continued to use public transport for another ten years and the monthly Local Rambles still provide a walk for those without access to a car.
Despite all this success, in the mid-seventies inflation began to rear its ugly head and the Club was facing a financial crisis. The subscription rate had to be raised several times from 35 pence single, 50 pence per couple in 1972 to £2 single, £3 per couple and 70 pence per senior citizen in 1976 – imagine the hours of discussion!
By 1973 Marie Friswell had already started the Wednesday rambles for the purpose of trying out new routes and re-walking old favourites – little did she realise what she was starting! (See article by Robert Green in ‘Members Contributions.).
In 1977 the September Weekend was at Crowlink HF near Friston in Sussex and out of the 28 who had booked only 8 wished to travel by coach, so this was the beginning of sharing cars instead of going by coach. The conditions at Crowlink were very primitive – communal washrooms, certainly no en-suite – but everyone loved going there because of its marvellous position on the Seven Sisters and it was a sad day when it was sold. For more on Weekends, Wednesday Walking and Socials see articles in ‘Members’ Contributions’.
Earlye Farm visits became an enjoyable annual event on the Club’s calendar, through Dorothy Miles’ connection with the family. We had permission to walk through the beautiful gardens of Knowle, Frant, before arriving at Earlye Farm where the four generations of the Gingell family supplied us with delicious home made cakes, sandwiches and seemingly endless cups of tea. It was on one of these rambles when we had stopped for lunch on The Green at Bells Yew Green on a very hot day, that a very kind lady from the Post Office offered us some refreshing lemonade. She then joined us on the walk and has been coming with us ever since – her name was Rosemary Hull and she became a very active and willing member of both the Club and the RA.
In Spring 1978 Geoff King organised his first Leadership Course, 34 members attending a series of comprehensive talks relating to planning a walk, finding the route, footpath law and an evening on basic First Aid. This was followed by practice in using a compass on Southborough Common.
Following a letter addressed to the Tunbridge Wells Wanderer’s Club, we were joined one sunny Sunday in August 1979 by a colourful group of happy hikers from Wiesbaden, Germany, twin town of Tunbridge Wells. Five of the group had walked on shoemakers’ horseback (on foot) the 450 miles from Wiesbaden, while fifteen more walked with them from Dover. They were members of the Volkssportverein Wiesbaden, which participates in various sports, including wandering, swimming and cycling, and were staying as guests of the Wiesbaden Association in Tunbridge Wells for a week, during which time a barbecue was held and the Rambling Club was presented with a commemorative plate.
1980 began with the New Year’s Day Ramble, led by Geoff and Betty King, which finished with tea and mince pies at St Thomas’ Church Hall, Southborough, being well supported by 50 members of our Club and S.E. London HF Group.
When an appeal was made in 1980 by the Board of Conservators for Ashdown Forest for money to provide a Forest Office and a Rangers’ Depot, more machinery, tools and staff to manage the vegetation upon which the wildlife is dependent, the Club took the unusual step of taking part in a 12 mile sponsored walk on September 7th. To our surprise, we raised £321, £100 more than any other organisation, and were presented with a set of antlers by one of the Forest Rangers at our 50th Anniversary Ceilidh in March 1981. These are, at present, in the care of Frank and Ena Elliott as we have no Club Room.
1981 was a very important and eventful year in the Club’s calendar, being its 50th Anniversary. Frank Elliott devised a 50 mile route from Borough Green to the foot of Leith Hill, taking in parts of the London Countryway, North Downs Way and Greensand Way, members being able to choose their preferred stretch. One group took bottles of wine to drink at lunchtime and one enthusiastic and dedicated member of the Club, Ernie Bishop, walked the whole distance on the day and by chance we saw him at Betchworth. The whole day was planned with military precision as would be expected from one who has led expeditions in the Antarctic, and was a huge success.
We also celebrated by repeating the very first Club ramble on the exact anniversary, 30th May, starting from Crowborough Cross, with two founder members, Bob and Jean Harper, walking a few miles with us, and then meeting Rona Doig, the original leader, for tea and cake at Groombridge Station before finishing in Tunbridge Wells. This was followed some months later with a slide show by Mrs Coombes of Crowborough Field Society, showing the history of the area we had walked through. Another celebration was a special Anniversary Ceilidh in St Dunstan’s Hall, Southborough, attended by about 150 members and friends who were entertained by some lovely Irish dancers in their attractive costumes.
1981 saw the opening of the Wealdway after much dedicated work begun in 1972, which has continued to this day. For full story see ‘The Story of Wealdway’ in ‘Members Contributions’ by Geoff King, affectionately nicknamed ‘King of the Wealdway’ by Dorothy Miles following a press report on the Wealdway opening. Also in 1981 we began to have the six monthly programmes, mainly for reasons of economy, both in terms of labour and finance.
In 1982 we had a coach to Cedarwood, Wrotham, the home of our Vice President, Olive Pilfold, for a Barn Dance in a real barn, and a barbecue. This became an annual event for some years. We also had social evenings in members’ homes, reading poetry and listening to music. The Christmas readings with Keith and Sylvia Richardson always set the mood for Christmas.
There was joyful news in 1983 when we were able to walk the brand new footpath from Poundsbridge to Barden Mill, filling in the gap from Southborough to Penshurst, after years of campaigning by Club members Denis Wright and Charles Farmer and the R.A. As Chairman of the newly formed Tunbridge Wells group of the R.A., Charles Farmer organised footpath working parties, assisted by volunteers from the Club.
Dorothy Miles handed over the coach organising to the capable hands of Muriel Trumper in 1983. Muriel writes: “Coach rambles have played an important part in the Club’s activities over many years, enabling us to walk in a wide variety of places other than our immediate area. Long distance paths have included the South Downs Way, sections of the North Downs Way, Wealdway, East Sussex Border Path, Saxon Shore Way, Vanguard Way, Rother Valley Walk, Greensand Way, Saxon Shore (1066) and the High Weald Walk. We have been to Windsor Great Park more than once, Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common, with a choice of going to Kew Gardens beside the River Thames from Hammersmith Bridge to Hampton Court, Eton to Marlow, also from Bromley to Woolwich on the ‘Green Chain’ route when we saw the Thames Barrier in operation. On 24th November 1985 we followed the Jubilee Way in London, finishing the outing by going along Regent Street to see the Christmas Lights. This was our second visit to see the lights, the first one being in November 1983 when the viewing of the lights was preceded by walking the London Parks from Parliament Hill Fields to Whitehall, passing Selfridges’ windows. Other coaches had a cultural aspect – the Open Air Theatre at Polesden Lacey and the Annual Folk Festival at the Royal Albert Hall in February.
Until its sale in 1984, Crowlink was the last centre belonging to HF or CHA in our area, and so other venues had to be found for our weekends. Norma Boorman organised these all through the 1980s and we continue to have two weekends away a year, usually April and September, a favourite being Dunford House, Midhurst, an elegant, comfortable mid-Victorian house, once the home of the Victorian statesman and reformer, Richard Cobden. Inside we appreciated the period furniture, interesting mementoes, pictures and portraits, while outside we had beautiful grounds and the glory of the West Sussex countryside. We also stayed at the YMCA Guest House right by the pier on Eastbourne sea front, Canterbury University, Wye Agricultural College, when Joyce and Hector Barron led the walks, Stafford House, Hassocks, with views of the Jack and Hill Windmills, when Margaret and Vincent Tune led the walks on the South Downs, and Arthur Sweetland entertained us in the evenings with music and barn dancing.
In 1986 Robert Green and Betty O’Keefe joined Norma to form a very successful sub-committee to organise the Weekends, Robert providing excellent maps for the drivers to find their way. We stayed at Easthampstead Park, walking in Windsor Great Park amongst the Springtime blossom, we revisited Springfield Court, Playden, near Rye and after a choice of walks to Winchelsea on Saturday we enjoyed an interesting tour of Rye with the historian Kenneth Clark on the Sunday morning. We also had a three day Spring weekend trip to Shanklin, Isle of Wight, with walks led by the hotel proprietor, including coach trips and pub lunches, whilst the evenings were spent playing Bridge, Scrabble or Trivial Pursuits.
Another opportunity to preserve Ashdown Forest, one of the largest open spaces in the South of England, arose in 1987 when the Forest was up for sale. To save it for public use, various organisations including the Club donated money to East Sussex County Council towards the purchase of the Forest.
On the Sunday before the infamous hurricane of October 1987 the Club was walking Part 5 of the Greensand Way, finishing through Knole Park to catch the coach home. Little did we realise at the time that we were to be among “the last people to see Chartwell, Emmetts, Knole and the woodlands of Toy’s Hill and Ide Hill in all their glory of beautiful trees, before the hurricane five days later changed this landscape beyond our lifetime”. It was to be another four years before we were able to continue walking the Greensand Way, although we managed to walk the Cowden – Boarshead section of the East Sussex Border Path with Frank and Ena Elliott only one week after the devastation of so many trees by the hurricane, and some may remember having to climb over some fallen giants at Motts Hill – it was certainly an adventurous time!
The annual Club Holiday, begun in the early 1960s by A.J. Martin, had by the latter part of the 60s become an August holiday, due to the number of teachers and others tied to school holidays. This was organised very successfully by Dorothy Miles, always going for two weeks to an HF or CHA House, the last Friday evening of the holiday being traditional for getting together with a drink to vote on the following year’s venue. By August 1989 the group had dwindled as members became infirm or moved away, and retirement meant being able to take a holiday at other times. As mentioned in the ‘Wednesday Walks’ article, Fred Warren started an out of season week in 1987 and this became the annual Club Holiday.
In 1989 the Club, in partnership with the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, produced a set of books of walks within a 10 mile radius of Tunbridge Wells. A sub-committee of the Club consisting of Robert Green – editor, cartographer – Fred Warren, Peter Gibson and Rosemary Hull invited members to submit their favourite walks which were very carefully checked. 10,000 copies were sold in two and a half years.
In 1990 the Club had about 350 members, having remained at that figure for some years. At the AGM Pam Pither took over as Rambles Secretary from Hazel Johnson who became our Club Secretary. The Wednesday programme of ‘A’ walks arranged by Sidney Monham in his quietly efficient way had become the most flourishing group in the Club. In April 1990 Sidney hosted a small group of Wednesday walkers for basic instruction on map and compass reading.
Our 60th Anniversary in 1991 was celebrated with a Ceilidh and a repeat of part of the Club’s first ramble from Crowborough with fifty members meeting for tea and birthday cake in Anna Millar’s garden at Friar’s Gate. Anna was given a garden token to thank her for her hospitality, with which she bought a mahonia. Whilst digging the hole for this she found some buried treasure – an old pot of merging blues which seemed to have barnacles on it! On another occasion our then President, Olive Pitfold, and husband John, invited us to tea at their home in Wrotham, following a choice of walks. Also in June of that year the Club manned a table displaying information and photographs of Club activities at the Royal Victoria Hall as part of the Southborough Community Exhibition.
In 1992 the Club took advantage of the new Camden Centre in Tunbridge Wells for its Slide Shows, having used the Lecture Room in the Monson Hall for two years, and for many years before that, the Museum Lecture Room above the Tunbridge Wells Library. The monthly Barn Dances continued to be supported and enjoyed by a small band of stalwarts at the Methodist Hall, Southborough. On Easter Monday in 1992 Muriel Trumper led a ramble to cross the newly erected footbridge at Little Dunks Farm, Brenchley, bearing the plaque in memory of her husband, Hugh, who was our Club Secretary for 12 years. The bridge was in a delightful spot, set amidst a carpet of wood anemones, and had been erected by four volunteers from our Club, Peter Gibson, Sid Ruck, John Hunt and Ronald Cullington.
Coaches continued successfully under Muriel’s organisation, completing several long distance routes such as the Saxon Shore Way, Wealdway, Vanguard Way and the Stour Valley Path. We also had some interesting outings with Geoff and Betty King to the Dover/Folkestone area to visit the Europe Tunnel Exhibition and see some of the massive works in progress before the opening of the Cannel Tunnel, and we enjoyed the ever popular trips to London and the upper reaches of the Thames with Maureen Jackson and her friend (and ours!) Joan Jackson.
With a view to encouraging more leaders for both all day and half day walks, in 1994/5 Geoff King organised another Leadership Course, again with five evening sessions covering many aspects of footpath matters, route planning and leadership, and a First Aid evening which showed the importance of keeping up to date. This was followed by some map reading practice on Ashdown Forest.
Betty and Geoff King continued the annual Wednesday tea each August in their beautiful garden, usually entertaining about sixty walkers and non-walkers who like to keep in touch. On the eve of his 85th birthday in 1993 Albert Foreman led 43 walkers in the Four Elms area. A Wednesday in August 1998 was a very special occasion when Albert, who was still a regular ‘A’ walker, celebrated his 90th birthday. 11th August 1999 was again a very special day but for a very different reason, when the Wednesday Walkers viewed the reflection of the near total eclipse of the sun in the still waters of the River Medway.
The sudden loss of our Treasurer, Fred Warren, shortly after the Club AGM in 1996, was a shock to everyone and left a great void, because Fred did so much more in his kind, considerate and good humoured way. As well as being Treasurer for more than ten years, he also initiated the idea of producing the successful books of walks around Tunbridge Wells. He gave beautiful slide shows, organised the Wednesday Walkers’ Christmas Lunch and Midsummer Revels, and later the Club holiday.
The Club Holiday underwent some changes in the latter half of the 1990s. John and Shirley Smout organised two very successful walking holidays in Jersey and Guernsey, which were additional to the annual Club holiday. When, in 1998, Shirley took over the organisation of the Club holiday, the demand for single rooms made it impossible for Countrywide or HF to accommodate us any longer and so she booked a week with Saga at a beautiful Agricultural College near Gloucester. This proved so successful with wonderful weather, a swimming pool, and the added interest of the Horse Trials there, that she booked with Saga again for 1999, this time in Shropshire were, unfortunately, the walks were a little disappointing but the food and accommodation were good and the college was surrounded by a wealth of interesting places to visit.
For the more energetic walkers, Shirley and John Smout planned, first of all, Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk, nearly 200 miles from St Bees Head in Cumbria, through Lakeland, the Yorkshire Dales and Moors, to Robin Hood’s Bay. Spread over two years, 1997/98, for the second half a minibus was used with John as chauffeur, when knee problems sadly prevented him from walking. All who went on this trip were celebrating retirement and felt a great sense of achievement, thanks to Shirley and John’s careful planning. Flushed with success they went on to organise the 176 miles of Offa’s Dyke path in similar vein.
Another innovative idea from John and Shirley was to use the minibus again with John as our oh so patient chauffeur, driving us each day to walk a stretch of the Saxon Shore Way from Gravesend all round the beautifully varied Kent coast and just crossing the East Sussex border to finish in Rye, taking ten glorious days to complete – a real holiday at home!
The Club’s Spring Weekends took place at Canterbury, Rye, Chichester, Winchester, the Isle of Wight and the Cotswolds, always enjoyed by everyone due to the excellent organisation and attention to detail given by Robert Green and Maureen Jackson. Unfortunately with all the extra holidays which people seemed to enjoy, by the end of the 1990s support for the Club weekend suffered and our last one was at Reading, fortunately blessed with perfect weather and lovely walks by the Thames and Chilterns.
The Club continued to work closely with and support the work of the R.A., especially our local group in Tunbridge Wells. A small band of dedicated volunteers attended work parties on the third Saturday of each month, which Roy Brown (R.A.) started in 1990 for path clearing, waymarking and stile building. Peter Gibson master-minded the bridge building task force and the sterling work helped to restore most of the missing bridges in the Tunbridge Wells District, many of which had been out of repair for up to twenty years. Now, with Chris Barrow’s organisation, they are nearing the end of their programme, although like the proverbial woman’s work, the work is never done.
On a beautiful October day in 1999, 40 walkers joined Maureen Jackson and Joan Jackson on a very imaginative London Millennium Walk entitled ‘1,000 years of British Achievement from the White Tower to the Millennium Dome’. Despite the difficulties of railway engineering works upsetting the timetable, nothing daunted, we crossed Tower Bridge to the Tower, enjoying the waterfront scenery, travelled on the Docklands Light Railway and walked through the Victorian foot tunnel to Greenwich and the Cutty Sark, then followed the Thames Path to and around the site of the Millennium Dome, then on to the Flood Barrier and Greenwich Park to see the clock counting down to the Millennium. The leaders even arranged for Concorde to fly over Greenwich Station whilst we awaited our train home and we got our first view of the London Eye, which was being raised that weekend.
The last All Day Sunday walk of the century was blessed with that rare combination of cloudless blue skies and crisp white snow, making Christmas card scenery. How many of the eighteen strong group who were lucky enough to enjoy this magical day will forget walking through the snow-clad woodlands of the Greensand Ridge before gazing down on the white Wealden landscape with children tobogganing on the slopes and a blue Bough Beech Reservoir doted with little white yachts? Our leaders, Bobby and Geoffrey Martin, rounded off this perfect day by entertaining us in their home with welcome cups of tea and delicious home made cakes and mince pies.
Wednesday Walks – Robert Green
The Wednesday Walks, begun originally by Dorothy Miles and Marie Friswell in the early 1970s as informal walks for the purpose of trying out new rambles and re-walking old favourites were usually led by Dorothy and/or Marie. Later they were joined by Tom Manser on his retirement from the Ambulance Service. He rapidly started recruiting by talking to everyone he met, including a friend Les Liddelow. Walks were discussed and arranged week by week and led by Tom and Les who were happy to do so as they knew the countryside so well. In time more members helped with the leading.
The 1980s and early 1990s brought an enormous development of the Wednesday walks, which became more and more popular with the steady increase everywhere of retired people. The numbers rose into the 30s and a walk of over 40 was not unknown. Many kept their diary for Wednesday free of all other engagements and looked forward to meeting the same friends on that day each week. Lifts were supplied and cars shared as much as possible, but, even so, the parking of some 15 cars or more had to be found for every walk, and the problem became the main headache for walk leaders. On Tom Manser’s illness, followed by his death in January 1988, John Alaway took over and organised the walks on a monthly basis. In 1990 he retired and left the district, handing over to Sidney Monham.
In 1984 Marie Friswell took on the organisation of the shorter Wednesday walks and these continued under her direction for many years despite increasing ill health. In the early 1990s another off-shoot from the main Wednesday walk was formed, known affectionately as the Willing Weary Wednesday Walkers and organised by Betty Ford and then by Sheila Vidler. This group organises its own walks of about five miles taken at a more leisurely pace than the main group who do 7 or 8 miles. This is a welcome refuge especially for those troubled by ailments or advancing years.
It is not surprising that a great esprit de corps has developed in the Wednesday walking group and this was further promoted by the pre-Christmas lunch each year. Tom Manser had first introduced this custom, but some of the venues chosen were less than satisfactory. One year the walkers organised their own meal in the Frant Village Hall, hired for the purpose. Then in 1986 a more permanent venue was found in the hall at Rotherfield, with Fred Warren as organiser and Betty Ford and her daughter in charge of the catering, with dancing and monologues as entertainment. The lunch was held here for about 8 years each December, and occasionally a second lunch party was put on in the last week of June, know as Midsummer Revels. After Fred’s death in 1996 Margaret Coulstock took over the Christmas lunch arrangements, helped by a small committee of relations and friends, the venue being the newly built hall in Matfield.
In 1987 Fred Warren organised the first Wednesday Walkers’ holiday – a week in September at Derwent Bank (HF) in The Lake District. Fred continued to run these annual holidays for about 9 years – always at different centres. Within a short time these had become the regular Club holiday, open to all members and taking the place of those run by Dorothy Miles.
When I joined the Rambling Club in 1966, having moved to Tunbridge Wells from Somerset, we were having fortnightly Socials on a weekday at Priory Bank in Pembury Road, Tonbridge, described by Dorothy Miles elsewhere in this booklet. The pattern here was that we would play table tennis for a while, have a cup of tea, and then do a bit of dancing and/or someone might have brought a few slides and a projector and screen, or a record player was set up. We had previously had similar Socials in the hut at Speldhurst and other activities here included play readings and classical music, (listening to records). A feature of these evenings was the super homemade cake provided by the kind lady who owned the hut. These were fairly informal evenings but we also had Folk Dances at the YWCA, Tonbridge, which took place about twice a year until 1962 but changed to monthly afterwards following a request from Bert Phillips at the AGM who volunteered to organise them. He became Folk Dance Organiser and continued in this post until 1969.
I took over as Hon. Social Secretary after the AGM in March 1969, a post held by Keith Richardson until then, and he became Hon. Chairman at this point. At this stage, as well as the monthly Folk Dances, we were having an Annual Reunion (for CHA and HF members to join us), occasional meetings in members’ homes for poetry and prose readings and for listening to classical music, slide shows, visits to the opera organised by Bernard Miles, annual visits to the Folk Festival which Dorothy Miles had begun in 1966 and visits to Barn Dances arranged by other Clubs. We had an Annual Dinner each year and we also tried a Beetle Drive (in a room over the Imperial Public House where memorable refreshments were provided by the landlady), and Whist evenings. The Christmas and New Year Party at that time, as well as dancing, featured much home-grown talent with members bringing games and other entertainments. A highlight was the sketch which members produced and which caused much hilarity. The Party was held in the Social Centre, Tonbridge in 1970 and in 1971 we moved to the brand new St Dunstan’s Hall in Southborough, which we used for several years. We first had a live band at our Christmas/New Year Party in 1977 and from then until 1996 we generally had two big dances a year with a band and caller at the Christmas event until 1997.
There was great enthusiasm for weekends away from our more familiar hinterland of Tunbridge Wells. New countryside was explored allowing greater ‘in depth’ appreciation, often walking straight from the houses where we stayed without need for cars or coach transport. So, where did we stay?
First in May 1976 the HF Guest House at Crowlink – one of my favourite centres, on ‘top’ of the Seven Sisters in East Sussex, well known to me from many previous visits for it was the nearest centre to Sevenoaks. A converted typical Sussex farm barn with outbuildings of flint and brick – very simple in style compared with the more luxurious accommodation expected in guest houses now in the 1990s.
Access was by a long chalk track (not good for ‘towny vehicles) but an exciting approach to the old farm nestling in a fold of the Downs about one mile inland from the sea cliffs. Walkers could find their way from the guest house over the Downs to Belle Tout lighthouse, (Sunday morning coffee!). Beachy head, Seaford Head, the Cuckmere Valley and Friston forest. Between Crowlink and the sea were secret places to find harebells and orchids, but for all to enjoy on the cliff tops were thrift, Autumn gentians, pink centaury and carline thistles in abundance underfoot, with the far reaching magnificence of the chalk cliff views to East and West.
Crowlink must have been my first weekend planned for the Club in May 1976, walking from the house each day and Barn Dancing Friday and Saturday evenings. I remember taking the Sunday morning ‘quiet time’ using readings from Sussex poets with appropriate hymns rejoicing in the natural beauty of the countryside. Denny Lowe was host and I was hostess leading and caring for the party. There was always a warm welcome from the Manageress as we returned again and again as ‘old friends’. So after a sumptuous Sunday tea we returned to our homes refreshed. I think we had at least three weekends at Crowlink until it was put up for sale.
In May 1977 we booked a weekend at Playden near Rye. Springfield Court was run by Tony Clamp as a centre for foreign students learning English. John and I, with Hugh Trumper and other members spent a weekend there planning some new routes. A great contrast to our home territory of sandstone, chalk and Wealden clay. Here in the Rother Valley the rambles gave leaders problems with many dykes and drainage systems having few bridges and infrequent footpaths necessitating many diversions over unusual terrain. I have a vague recollecting of a good windmill on one of the highest points of the Isle of Oxney, at two hundred feet, on our way to Wittersham. On one of our visits we took the local bus to Hastings, walking back to Playden via Fairlight, Pett, Winchelsea and Rye. Frank and Ena Elliott joined us each day to lead walks. Springfield was used by many other organisations in between Tony Clamp’s special courses. We shared a weekend with a Yoga Group when we were cordially invited to join them in one of their garden sessions.
Gomshall was another HF Centre (now sadly closed), an elegant house with a former Ball Room for social activities. There were walks from the front door in all directions – Newlands Corner, Polesden Lacy, Ranmore Common, Shere, St Martha’s Chapel. Very varied terrain, with chalk Downs to the North and river valley, watercress bed, and Blue Pool, with the sandstone ridges to the South.
In April 1980 and September 1982 we stayed at Dunford House, Midhurst. The Saturday expedition which we think Joyce and Hector Barron led, took us over the chalk Downs to Singleton, up over the Trundle, down to West Dean, where some of the party visited the splendid gardens, then homeward via Graffham Don and Heyshott. Shorter expeditions to Midhurst and Petworth were also enjoyed. Two small recollections of mine – the enormous helpings of good food with multiple second helpings of steamed puddings to which we all (mainly the men) did justice – also here I found a 1” seedling Yew (among hundreds of others) in the shrubbery, which brought home is now in our garden about ten feet high.
The recent wonderful moving away (Spring 1999) from the cliff edge of the entire lighthouse and the starting of the machinery for the operation by Mrs Cullinan (at the grand age of 93) brought back memories of two weekends spent there in 1978 and 1979 when she owned the lighthouse.
The weekends were organised by Joan and Fred Groves. Our party consisted of Hector and Joyce Barron, Eric and Marjory Smith (now Brown), Rosa Toms, Nan Simmons, Olive Button, Jeff and Norma Muir – eleven being the total capacity in three double rooms, one room for four with two bunk beds, and the very special room occupied by Fred at the top of the lighthouse in the round part that originally housed the light. The bathroom was unusual too, a large room with the bath in the middle on a raised platform. The living room above the bedrooms had magnificent views over the sea, down to the present lighthouse and over the Downs. It was heated by a large wood burning stove, and all parties who stayed were expected to go beachcombing to collect further supplies of firewood. A chore we thoroughly enjoyed.
Mrs Callinan, then a very sprightly lady in her early seventies, provided unusual but very good food just right for hungry walkers, served on wooden plates.
On Sunday afternoon she announced that as there was an exceptionally low tide, boys from a school in Seaford would be excavating an old shipwreck along the beach from Birling Gap, and offered to lead us. Once on the beach she set off like a gazelle over the slippery rocks with the rest of us falling ever further behind. Some of the party gave up but we who eventually reached the wreck were rewarded by seeing the recovery of a cache of gold coins that had lain hidden for one hundred and fifty years, an unforgettable sight.
In 1979 we stayed again in Belle Tout and attended Eastbourne Folk Festival. Two very enjoyable weekends.
The Story of Wealdway – Geoff King (February 1999)
In 1972 The Club’s Footpath Liaison Committee received a request from Meopham Ramblers for us to consider the creation of a long distance path from The Thames to The Channel, to be called the Wealdway: they had produced a 10p pamphlet describing a first section from Gravesend to Tonbridge.
I took on the task of establishing the route as a whole, not realizing it would take seven years of spare time just to complete the next section, Tonbridge to Uckfield, designing and producing a wallet of route cards for ‘A Country Walk’ to promote the total concept . With costs only just covered, the 1,800 copies sold did give valuable publicity but it wasn’t enough, so with the backing of the club, in 1979, a meeting at Tonbridge Castle was organised in a final attempt for official recognition, it was boom or bust! All authorities along the route were invited, local and County Councils, the Countryside Commission, the Sports Council and so on. Success prevailed and Wealdway was adopted as a major project with a Steering Committee formed to oversee two more years of intensive work, fund raising, hundreds of stiles, bridges, waymarks, signs, mapping and negotiations of neglected paths. Not least was the establishment of the third section, Uckfield to Eastbourne, even the first section from Gravesend had to be largely re-routed.
Above all was the design and publication of the definitive guide for which I was responsible. Finally, on 27th September 1981, the Wealdway was opened by the Chairman of the Countryside Commission at Camp Hill, Ashdown Forest, attended by 500 walkers and representatives of national walking organisations from seventeen European countries, delegates of the European Ramblers’ Association who were staying at Wye on a weekend conference.
Meeting regularly from 1979 to 1999, the Steering Committee has been responsible for WW maintenance and publicity also dealing with a multitude of problems including the MOD proposal for a mine laying range right on route at Luddesdown. A battle was won and walkers continue to enjoy the beauty of the Bowling Alley valley. In 1985 the RA selected Wealdway as part of the Jubilee Walk around Britain. When the walking team arrived in Tonbridge they were accommodated by members of the club and the event was celebrated with an unveiling of the WW signboard and a route exhibition at Tonbridge Castle.
The Committee also produced an accommodation guide and after five separate editions there is to be a change to a pocket B&B guide in 1999. In 1990 a completely new walk guide was launched and by 1999 the two editions had sold over 16,000 copies in twenty years. Throughout this period three fellow committee members, Mike Temple, Vince Fowler and Ben Perkins (Ben created the Sussex Boarder Path) had given unstinting service, but aware of future needs, three years ago we instigated a partnership with Kent and East Sussex County Councils. Eventually the Councils will take over but already the route has been overhauled with new signing and extensions at both ends, plus a splendid new walk guide to be published in July 1999.
Who would have thought in far off 1972 that when the Club Liaison Committee met that evening in the Imperial Pub Southborough, that a chance enquiry would grow into a major national walking amenity. It represents a considerable milestone in the Club’s history and one for which it can be justly proud.
The Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells Group of the Ramblers’ Association was formed out of the Tunbridge Wells & District Footpath Liaison Committee (see Chapter 6 – 1970s) at an inaugural meeting held at St John’s Methodist Hall, Vale Road, Southborough on 11th October 1975. Tom Doggett, the Hon. General Secretary of the Ramblers’ Association Southern Area, and Tony Parker, the Hon. Footpath Secretary of the Southern Area, came to help with the inauguration of the new Group. It was formed at this meeting and a Committee which consisted of Keith Richardson (Hon. Chairman), Sylvia Richardson (Hon. Secretary), Joan Groves (Hon. Treasurer), Fred Groves, Arthur Sweetland, Charles Farmer and Bob Cunningham was elected.
Membership was not large at first – by the first AGM there were only 46 members, which had grown to 77 by 1979.
Our aim was to try to improve footpaths in the area, which was basically the Tonbridge & Tunbridge Wells postal area, working with the Local Ramblers’ Association Footpath Secretaries who were all members of the group. We also worked in close co-operation with other organisations to try to foster interest in and knowledge of footpaths and the countryside. We had at first only one or two scheduled activities a month but the emphasis was always on footpaths and their improvement. In October 1976 we had an open evening in the Museum Lecture Room, Mount Pleasant, showing the ‘Footpath Story’ a programme of slides from the Ramblers’ Association with the addition of work needing to be done and some being done in this area. Members of the Committee also visited other Groups to talk about footpaths with a view to getting more people interested in helping in the work. For example, Keith and Sylvia Richardson spent an evening at the Tonbridge Girls’ Grammar School giving an illustrated talk, which was very well received, and a similar evening with the Hildenborough Association which also aroused much interest and appreciation.
The first Annual Report stated ‘In our first year our main activity has been a short monthly walk during which we have surveyed paths and where relevant and with permission, we have also undertaken footpath work such as clearing, waymarking and stile erection’.
In 1977 Dorothy Miles joined the Committee, in 1978 Marjorie Smith (now Brown), and June Millson joined the Committee. Alf Turner, Betty O’Keefe and Vince Fowler also joined the Committee in 1979. We had a lot of help from many people including Nan Simmons, Olive Button, Tom Manser and Jim and Louise Sydes. At a Committee Meeting on 29th June 1979 (followed by an Extraordinary General Meeting) it was decided to split the Group into two in order to form two new groups, one covering the area of Tonbridge and Malling District Council and the other covering Tunbridge Wells District Council, (neither were borough Councils at that date), and to hold two inaugural meetings – one for each of the new separate groups. The new District Councils had been formed in April 1974. The Inaugural Meetings of both Groups were held in the Autumn of 1979.
As we enter this first decade of the new Millennium we find that our membership has decreased slightly, partly due to the growth of other walking groups in the area, but probably mainly due to Anno Domini. Yet Pam Pither still manages to produce a full and varied programme of walks every six months as she has done for the last ten years, while her husband, Ron Pither, valiantly took over as Treasurer in 1996, as well as being our Chairman. Between the two of them they made an enormous contribution to the running of the Club, whilst Sylvia Richardson has given dedicated service as Social Secretary since 1969, as has Carol McClare as Membership Secretary.
We really have quite a small committee for the size of the Club and all have served for a long time -= some would say too long! It is impossible to mention all the marvellous characters we have been fortunate to have in our Club, but to those of us who knew Dorothy Miles when she was Saturday Rambles Organiser from 1964, later becoming Rambles Secretary, Coach Organiser, Holiday Organiser, Programme and Newsletter Editor, then gradually spreading the load as her health began to fail in the 1980s, she was The Club, and we couldn’t imagine the Club without her. When she died in 1994 members gave money in her memory which was used to pay for a seat to be placed by the front door of Holnicote HF House, Selworthy.
There are many stories which could have been told, such as circle dancing by the canal at Appledore, and Minnie Mordey letting the bullfinch escape when it was meant to be luring the other birds away from the cherry trees, but this booklet can really only give the bare bones of our history. It has been difficult to know what to put in and what to leave out but we hope you found it interesting and, perhaps, inspiring.
The more we researched our records the more we
realised just how important our members are, past, present and
future, and how much the Club depends upon its members giving
freely of their time and energy, for the Club is what we make it.
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