Edward James Gilbert is a member of the Tunbridge Wells Family History Society and a researcher and writer of articles about the history of Tunbridge Wells, he has written the following article giving an excellent history of the Highbrooms Hotel building upon my previous blog entry.
Many thanks once again to Edward for all his hard work and I hope you all enjoy this entry!
The Highbrooms Hotel
Written By; Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay,Ontario,Canada
Date: May 17,2013
Situated on a high plot of land on High Brooms Road, overlooking the countryside was the High Brooms Hotel, built in 1899 from red bricks supplied by the High Brooms Brick and Tile Company, which had been founded in the town of High Brooms by John Smith Weare in 1885. Many of the patrons of the hotel were employees of the Brick and Tile Company. This three storey hotel, with mock Tudor and exposed brick still exists today as the High Brooms Tavern and although extended and otherwise altered, it looks for the most part much as it did when constructed ,it is now just as popular a spot as it was when it first opened. Shown opposite is a view of the hotel as it looked in the early 1900’s. Shown below is another view of the hotel from a Photochrom postcard postmarked 1906.
Not only has the hotel been a good place to stay, it has been a favourite local spot for a meal and something to drink. Like most pubs/hotels some form of entertainment was held there from time to time. Records of the Tunbridge Wells Billiards League, for example, shows that the hotels team produced a number of winners and runners-up throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s with such names as Pete Mercer, Chris Jeffrey, Dick Reader, John Heason in the ‘open singles’ category. The hotel was also the champion in the ‘knockout competitions’ of 1982/3 and 1983/4. There were even “ladies singles’ events in which Rose Huntley (wife of the proprietor J.W. Huntley) was the runner up 1984/5. Mary Heasman was a winner in 1982/3. In men’s pairs Mike Betts and Ted Walters were runners up in 1981/2. The hotel has been represented by many other talented players as well.
The website of the High Brooms Historical Society adds “ It wasn’t just the decor, nor the beer, that made this a great pub-it had a pulse of its own and if you turned up after 8pm on many a night you would be greeted by a room of local musicians playing a variety of instruments and performing to each other. The nights ranged from the Diddley Diddley’s-traditional acoustic folk or more modern covers performed solo by individuals accompanied by guitars, harmonicas, and the accordion-through the acoustic jam nights and of course the ever popular ukulele nights. ’Twunt’ made the pub their home for several years, often filling the bar with people clutching their under-sized instruments and joining in with the energetic group play-alongs and songs, proper happy shiny people moments. And we mustn’t forget to mention that it was also a home to the Brooms Bricks and Bowlers Morris dancers, traditional morris with a twist and very unique in their bowler hats, green and black painted faces and of course with more musicians in tow…they even performed outside alongside ‘Twunt’ ….”
In the 20th century the hotel/tavern became a place of great amusement for upon its walls and ceilings could be found an eclectic collection of items, mostly thanks to Roy Gibb, who was the proprietor in 2012 and who kept everything until the building was sold. Previous proprietors had each added something to the décor.
A complete list of owners of the establishment is not known to the researcher but the archival records of Beards Brewery, Lewes notes that they “bought” the hotel in 1925 and owned it until 1980. Articles about the closing of the pub in 2012 make reference to “Greeneking brewery pulling out so they could invest in a budget foot and bar in a neighbouring ward”.
The website of the High Brooms Historical Society has this to say about the future of pubs. “ The Great British Pub was once at the center of every community but sadly it is an institution that has been in slow decline over the last few years, with public houses closing down at an alarming rate right across the UK. I guess this is partly a reflection on the recession hit punters, the rising costs (and increasing duty) on beer and the cheaper alternatives for home drinkers available at the big supermarkets. It may also reflect a change in attitude towards alcohol and the work/family life balance with many mothers working full time as well as the fathers these days with longer working days and often both travelling greater distances to work”.
The hotel/tavern has had many proprietors over the years. Below is some brief information about each of them . The occupancy dates given are approximate only and are based on directory and census records:
1) CHARLES WALLOND (1899-1902)
2) RICHARD BUTCHER (1905-1910)
3) ALBERT VICTOR BRASHER SMITH (1911)
4) WILLIAM WALTER SWATLAND (1913)
5) WILSON BROWN (1918)
6) HENRY NOAKES (1922)
7) EDMUND HENRY HOWARD ELDRIDGE(1924-1929)
8) MRS ELDRIDGE (1930)
9) JOHN WILLIAM BURBANKS (1934)
10) B.E. ANDERSON (1938)
11) WILLIAM ARTHUR KILPATRICK (1946-1950)
12) T.E. SMITH (1952-1955)
13) NOEL and NELL GIBB(1968-1975)
14) JAMES WILLIAM HUNTLEY (1976)
15) ROY GIBB (1985-2012)
16) PETER and GREG WHITAKER (current)
Charles Wallond was born 1845 at Maidstone, Kent .He was one of seven children born to Thomas Wallond (1807-1891) and Ann, born 1811. In 1869 he married Jane Waters, and with her had six children. Before coming to High Brooms he was, based on the 1891 census, the innkeeper of the Queens Head pub in Wateringbury, Kent. The 1901 census, taken at the High Brooms Hotel records Charles as the licensed victualler and living with him was his wife Jane and their children. His son Harry was an apprentice to a carpenter and his son Frederick a bricklayers apprentice. On November 2,1902 Charles passed away at the High Brooms Hotel leaving an estate valued at about 1,545 pounds. The executors were his spinster daughter Clara Agnes Wallond and son Harry, a carpenter.
Richard Butcher is found in the directories at the High Brooms Hotel throughout the period of 1905 to 1910. Richard was born 1849 at Chiddingstone, Kent and was one of eight children born to John Butcher (1807-1861) and Harriet Butcher (1807-1884). He had been baptised at Chiddingstone December 2, 1849 and continued to live there until at least 1871. In September 1875 he married Avis Ingram (1842-1900) at Sevenoaks, Kent and with her had two children, Bertha and Arthur. In 1881 Richard was working as a cricket ball maker. The 1891 census, taken at #1 Quarry Hill Road, Tonbridge records Richard as the innkeeper of the Station Bridge Inn. Upon the death of his wife he remarried, this time to Jane Ayling, born 1875 and with her had a son Albert in 1902. The 1901 census, taken at the Bridge Hotel #1 Quarry Road, records Richard as the publican and living with him was his wife Jane and two servants. By the end of 1910 Richard left the High Brooms Hotel. He is found in the 1911 census as the publican of the Rising Sun Hotel in Sunninghill, Berkshire .Living with him was his wife Jane and son Albert. Richard Butler died March 1925 at Exeter, Devon.
Albert Victor Brasher Smith was born 1869 at Lambeth, London .His father Walter Brasher Smith was a caretaker at the time of his sons marriage to Martha Sarah Butler July 31,1889 at Bermondsey St Anne Southwark. Martha , the daughter of William Butler, a decorator, was born 1867 at Bermondsey. At the time of the marriage Albert was working as a tobacconist. The 1891 census, taken in London records Albert as a tobacconist living with his wife Martha and a lodger. The 1901 census, taken at Paddington, London records Albert as a tobacconist on own account. Living with him was his wife Martha and his 10 year old son Walter and one servant. The 1911 census records Albert and his wife at the High Brooms Hotel where he is the licensed victualler. The census records that the pub had 13 rooms. He left the hotel by 1913.
William Walter Swatland is listed at the High Brooms Hotel in a 1913 directory as Walter William Swatland. He had been born 1871 at Goodhurst, Kent and was the son of William Swatland, an agricultural labourer and Eliza, and was one of several children born to the couple. William wed Mary Ann Gaskin, born 1874 at Marden, Kent in July 1897 at Maidstone. The 1901 census, taken at the Brick Makers Arms in Staplehurst records “Walter” W. Swatland as the beerhouse keeper. Living with him was his wife “Annie”(Mary Ann) and their two children Arthur and Gertrude. A review of records shows that his name is often transposed as either William Walter or Walter William but the names of his wife and children remain the same. The 1911 census, taken at the Rose & Crown Hotel, in Riddlesdown Kenley, Surrey records William as the licensed victualler. Living with him was his wife Mary Ann and their four children. William and his family moved to High Brooms by 1913 and remained there at the hotel for a few years but was gone by1918. William was living at Moreland House on London Road, Tunbridge Wells at the time of his death at the General Hospital, Tunbridge Wells on June 23, 1925. He left an estate opf about 782 pounds. His two sons William Arthur Swatland, manager, and Norman Edwin Swatland, shop assistant, were the executors of his estate.
Wilson Brown followed William Swatland at the High Brooms Hotel. He is found there in a 1918 Kelly directory. He left the hotel by 1922.
Henry Nokes took over the hotel from Wilson Brown and is found there in a 1922 directory. He was gone by 1924.
Edmund Henry Howard Eldridge is found at the hotel in the directories of 1924 to 1929. Edmund was born 1885 at Brighton, Sussex, one of twelve children born to John Walter Eldridge and Charlotte Eldridge. He is found living with his parents and siblings at Hove, Sussex in the 1891 census. In the 1901 census,taken at Brighton,Sussex Edmund is working as a hosiers assistant and living with his parents and five siblings. Edmund served in WW I in France, having enlisted, while a resident of 84 Tideswell Road, Eastbourne, Sussex, as a private in the army. He had enlisted December 9,1915; was mobilised May 1916 and was discharged November 19,1916 and returned to civilian life. His occupation at the time of his enlistment was “outfitter”. Probate records give that Edmund died at the High Brooms Hotel November 13,1929. He left an estate valued at 154 pounds to his wife Gladys Caroline Eldridge. After his death his wife took over the High Brooms Hotel and is listed in a 1930 directory as “Mrs Eldridge, High Brooms Hotel”. She left the hotel by 1934.
John William Burbanks is found at the hotel in a 1934 directory. John was born in the 1st qtr of 1892 at Basford, Nottingham and was one of several children born to William Burbanks, born 1870 Kimberley, Nottinghamshire and Elizabeth Annie Burbanks, born 1869 at Knebworth. In the 1901 census, taken at Derby, Derbyshire he was living with his parents and two siblings. In the 1911 census, taken at the same place, John was age 19 and working as a grocer’s shop assistant. He is found in the census living with his parents and two siblings. His father was an engine fitter and the census records he and his wife had been married 20 years and had five children but only three had survived. John served in WW I and enlisted for service while a resident of 8 Railway Terrace, Derbyshire on December 11,1915. He served with the Royal Garrison Artillery from 1915 to 1920 as a sergeant and a captain. After the war he wed Mary and they raised a family. John was a resident of 117 Queens Road, Tunbridge Wells when he died October 26, 1953 at St Leonards Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex. He left an estate valued at about 7,500 pounds to his wife Mary.
By 1938 B.E. Anderson took over the High Brooms Hotel. It is not clear how long he remained at the hotel and further information about him is lacking.
William Arthur Kilpatrick is found in directories of 1946 to 1950 as the licensed victualler of the hotel. William was born March 8,1907 at Plumstead, Kent. He is found in the 1911 census at #1 Whitworth Road, Plumstead, Woolwich, Kent living with his grandparents James and Phebe Russell. His grandfather worked at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. William married a Miss Bowyer at Bromley, Kent in 1932 and was living up to that time at Woolwich. Records indicate that his first wife died and that in June 1962 he married a Miss Cottenham in Tunbridge Wells. William died in Tunbridge Wells in the 3rd qtr of 1991,age 84.
Directories record that T.E. Smith was at the hotel from at least 1952 to 1955. Due to his name being so common no further information was obtained for him.
Noel and Nell Gibb were at the hotel from 1968 to 1975. The source of this information comes from an account that appeared on the blog of the High Brooms Historical Society and is based on an interview with their son Roy Gibb who later ran the hotel. The account reads as follows “ Mr Gibb’s (Roy Gibb) family links to Tunbridge Wells go back almost half a century. Born in Wadhurst, he moved to High Brooms Working Men’s Club with his parents Noel and Nell Gibb in 1967.After about a year, they took over the pub and ran it for eight years. When they left they wanted me (Roy Gibb) and my late wife Maureen to succeed them, but I was having too much fun doing my own thing. Back then he was a machine driver by day and a member of comedy folk group The Three Bums at night. Roy Gibb said “We had long hair, orange shirts with big collars and thick cords”. Further information is given about Roy Gibb later in this account.
James William Huntley is found at the hotel in 1976. He had been born November 10,1911 at Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland. He married a Miss Octon in the 1st qtr of 1936 at Newcastle upon Tyne. He died there February 1998.
The strangest real pub in Tunbridge Wells – photo courtesy of John Neller
Roy Gibb was perhaps the longest serving licensed victualler at the hotel in its history for he was there from 1985 to 2012. He had turned down an opportunity to take over the hotel from his parents in 1975 as he had other interests at the time. The blog of the High Brooms Historical Society is the source for the following information based in part upon an interview with Roy Gibb. “Mr Gibb and his wife eventually took over the pub which, he stressed, “has been about having fun”…”This has always been a good pub, and in the early days it was packed. People are staying at home now because they can’t afford to come out. Some have lost their jobs, and a lot tell me they’re getting paid less now than they were 10 years ago. In order to survive, I think pubs need to do things very differently in future. I’d rather this place stayed open but if it doesn’t, I’ll be quite pleased to go down in history as the last landlord of the High Brooms Hotel”. Shown above is a photograph via John Neller of The High Brooms Tavern before it was closed.
I have referred at the top of the article to the eclectic collection of items that form part of the décor of the pub. The Kent and Sussex Courier of February 3,2012 gave the following “ Landlord Roy Gibb is to auction off the unique memorabilia housed within the High Brooms Hotel. The pub in High Brooms Road is home to an eclectic range of items including a Superman figure, a Second World War gas mask, a tank of silvery fish and a bicycle which dangles from the ceiling. In the saloon bar next door, a ship’s figurehead sails high above the vintage radios. Fading Victorian signs, the pool table and comfortable chairs are overlooked by an ageing water buffalo skull. The old fireman’s bell hanging in the bar was used in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of VE Day. For ten minutes, beer was sold at 1945 prices. “It all started with a few keys.” Recalled Mr Gibb, who is retiring with his daughter and her family this spring to the country after 27 years”. Shown below is a photograph of Roy Gibb in the pub taken in 2012 by Steve Collins.
Roy Gibb and Jack, the last landlord calling time – photo courtesy of Steve Collins
The photograph opposite shows the send- off party celebrations outside of the High Brooms Tavern, held on the occasion of Roy Gibb’s retirement Monday July 9,2012. An article about the event gives the following. “ One of the biggest send- off parties I’ve ever seen. The Tunbridge Wells Ukulele Night Thing filled one bar, locals filled the other bar, and outside saw The Brooms, Bricks and Bowlers Morris Dancers, as well as some members of the Orange Circus Band. Visitors and neighbours were not short of music, and thanks to an express delivery, beer either. Roy’s artifacts are being got ready for auction, and the pub is “For Sale”. We can only wait now and see what happens next…..”. The pub was put on the market with an asking price of 310,000 pounds but it seems that the price was later reduced. The website of the High Brooms Historical Society adds “ The previous landlord retired in 2012…We were left with a shell, an empty Victorian Hotel with boarded up windows, but full of the happy memories of so many and the sounds of music and laughter still echoing through the empty bar. The last landlord was Roy Gibb, who ran the bar as a traditional pub, refusing to follow the thousands of drinking houses across the UK that ripped out their heart and soul to become a standardised but sterile pub or trendy drinking venue, wine bar or gastro pub. This pub was famous for its décor that had been built up over decades, rather than purchased as a job lot at an auction in order to create a ‘theme’. The ceilings and walls were hung with many bizarre oddities, tankards and keys, bikes and canoes, a life ring, a tortoise shell that had been converted into a banjo, a moose head, helmets and gas masks and much more and dusty shelves were lined with ancient books. It was like stepping back in time into the 1940’s with many larger items reflecting a manual history of agriculture or relics left over from world war II, often thought it was like walking onto the set of Nicholas Lyndhurst’s ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’. ..” Shown opposite is a view of the High Brooms Tavern with its windows boarded up. This photograph was taken January 2013 by Daniel Marsh.
The boarded up, closed hotel
Residents were very pleased to learn that despite proposals for redevelopment of the site that the High Brooms Tavern had been saved and that its new owners Peter and his son Greg Whitaker had acquired the premises with plans to keep it as a pub. The High Brooms Historical Society gave this report “The closure was a real loss to the community. The pub joined the businesses for sale listed as ‘the strangest real pub in Tunbridge Wells’ and the locals watched intently as offers flew about with developers touting to buy it at a known down price, with knock down intentions of flat building to gain the higher prices commanded by housing within two minute walk of a mainline station direct into London. Luckily none of these bids came through, and the locals continued to watch, and watch..and protest and campaign groups were formed to try and save the tavern (along with a group called TITS the “Tavern is Touring Society’).
In February 2013 news came through the grapevine that the pub had been part scaffolded on the front, curtains twitched and then it was official, a local father and son team were taking the pub on ..as a pub… and even better they were intending to open up a traditional British boozer with darts, pool and music. The opening date should be some time over the summer months and it is looking increasingly likely that a new name will be hung over the door, with the latest rumours suggesting ‘The Brick Works’. Actually I quite like that, if it must change then keeping it in line with local history is the next best thing and I am sure a change in name will reflect the change in ownership and interior. New name, new start…”. Shown opposite is a photograph of the new owners, courtesy of thisiskent.co,uk.
The BrickWorks Pub
Shown opposite is a photograph of the interior of the pub in 2012 with “Barbara pulling pints for punters. This photograph was by Darren Whittaker via the Highbrooms Tavern Face book page.
Behind the bar – Barbara pulling pints for punters
The Kent and Sussex Courier of March 20,2013 ran the following article. “Thirsty inhabitants of High Brooms have been cheered by the news that the community will soon have its own pub again. Residents were distraught when the historic High Brooms Tavern shut its doors in July last year after long-standing landlord Roy Gibb retired. Locals were desperate for the pub to reopen as a traditional watering hole rather than a block of flats-and their wishes have now come true. Peter Whitaker, 54, and his son Greg, 23, of nearby Sandhurst Road, have bought the site and renovation is already under way, with an opening date of June of July the target. Peter, who owns properties in Tunbridge Wells and who used to run bar-restaurants in London, said they couldn’t resist investing in the old site “it’s the original hotel and has a lot of history to it” he said. “We weren’t looking to buy a pub, to be honest, but just thought this was an amazing building and there was a real strength of community support.
This is a really interesting community pub, and very community-orientated. We thought about it and Greg said “I’d like to give it a shot”. Greg will be the live-in manager of the pub, which will have a new name, and his dad will help out when required. The pub was renowned for having a galaxy of bizarre and historic artifacts hanging from its roof and walls. Many of the more expensive items were auctioned off by Mr Gibb when he left, but some of them have remained, said Peter. “A lot of the stuff’s been left behind. We’re going to give the pub a good clean up-the nicotine’s unbelievable, you could almost cut it with a knife” he said. “But we don’t want to fundamentally alter the character. We’re going to keep some of the nick-nacks but will bring it into the 21st century. The pair are looking to bring traditional elements such as pool, darts and music back to the pub and contact has already been made with pool leagues and local darts association. ’We’re looking for it to be a traditional pub and we just want to get the place buzzing again’ said Mr Whitaker .High Brooms councillor Dianne Hill was delighted it would be a boozer again…”.
A blog posing April 9, 2013 reported on the progress that was being made to the renovation of the pub and said in part “ Just finished a knock through from bar area into the saloon lounge today, gives the whole pub a new feel and brings the two rooms together. We are restoring the original bar that was hidden behind the brown tongue and groove boarding on the existing one and getting a new bar top. Looks really grand so far. Jukebox and Harvey’s look set to be on the agenda. Haven’t got an opening date but hopefully 2.5-3 months. Keep you all regularly posted.”. And so since then the new owners have been busy at work bring the old tavern building back to life.
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