The Building and Opening of the Capel Memorial Cottages
By Don Foreman
Consideration of a memorial to Capel's fallen must have begun soon after the 1st World War ended in November 1918. But then as now the wheels of parish business turned slowly, for a report of 22nd March 1920 begins "After being in abeyance for a long time, an effort was made to revive interest in this matter when a meeting was held at which Colonel d'Avigdor Goldsmid presided.
It was announced that about £500 had been promised towards carrying out the Memorial, and it was confidently expected that this sum will be considerably increased. The scheme adopted is the erection of two almshouses in a prominent situation in the parish, and a small sub-committee was appointed to select and obtain a suitable site. A discussion took place as to who would select the tenants for the almshouses, and it was decided to leave that matter in the hands of the Parish Council."
Local builder Mr. Harry Lawrence was contracted to carry out the work and gave an outline as to the design and construction of the houses. He generously charged only £1,200 (to build both), which was virtually cost price. Note- around £60,000 today
We don't know details of what lengthy discussions had taken place, or whose idea it was, but whoever proposed the building of almshouses rather than erecting the more usual cross or statue was inspired. Not only did they serve a practical purpose, but where would the memorial have been sited? Men from throughout the parish of Capel had made the supreme sacrifice, and if the memorial were erected in Five Oak Green bereaved families in Tudeley might feel it was remote from them, and vice versa.
Brampton Bank, where houses were being built under the Rural Council Housing Scheme, is in the middle of the Parish, and very roughly equidistant from the principal settlements of Capel, Five Oak Green and Tudeley. Further, being on the main road from Tonbridge to Paddock Wood, the cottages would be a highly visible testimony to the parish's loss.
The plot on which they stand was given by Colonel d'Avigdor Goldsmid. The cottages were primarily intended for the aged couples, widows or widowers who had lost their supporters in the war, on condition that they and future tenants must be at least ten years' residents in the parish, and that a nominal rent of a shilling a week be charged.
The semi-detached houses were very substantially built, the specification stating that this would "avoid by prevention that expense of upkeep which comes of ineffective building in the first instance." The foundations are of extra thick concrete, the doors are of solid oak, and the window sills and frames of reinforced concrete so there would be no warping or rotting. In the opinion of some they were unnecessarily stoutly built, but no doubt those responsible for their maintenance over the past 100 years have been grateful for the excellent work of Mr. Lawrence and his team of builders. They are of a pleasing appearance, too, and a fitting backdrop to the tablet bearing the names of the 32 men of the 159 who went to fight but never came back. By the end of May 1921 construction was almost complete.
The Opening and Dedication ceremony was held on Sunday 14th August 1921. A carpeted platform was erected in front of the cottages and on it sat the clergy and the most important guests, while in front were seated members of the committee and other prominent residents.
Accompanied by the Paddock Wood Band the hymns "For all the Saints" and "O valiant hearts" were sung by all, and the choir sang the 23rd Psalm. The Archdeacon of Tonbridge pronounced the Dedication and read a short Address, and prayers and scripture readings were given by the Vicar, the Rev. T. Mason, Congregational Minister the Rev. M. LeGrice, and Father Farley on behalf of the Hoppers' Mission.
The formal Opening was performed by Colonel Fiennes Cornwallis, later created Lord Cornwallis, Chairman of Kent County Council.
In his speech he said: -
"We have met to do all the honour in our power to those who went from this village of Capel to fight for King and Country. We have in our special remembrance those who fell and who are gone from us. The men of Capel went out to fight, some in one continent, some in another. Some lie in well-kept graveyards in foreign lands, but some lie in unknown graves."
He unveiled the memorial tablets and declared the cottages open with the words: -
"I now have the honour to open these cottages, built by the subscriptions of the parishioners of Capel, to be devoted to the use of those who have suffered bereavement in the war or those who have been disabled."
He then handed the title deeds to Colonel d'Avigdor Goldsmid who said, as Chairman of the Parish Council, he most gratefully accepted the cottages on behalf of the Parish, convinced that the present Council and its successors would faithfully carry out the trust imposed upon them. He was satisfied the cottages would supply a real need, and would in time to come be much appreciated by their tenants.
Kipling's 'Recessional' was sung as the concluding hymn, followed by a Blessing from the Archdeacon. The Last Post was sounded, and a verse of the National Anthem sung.
The formalities over, relatives and friends of the fallen were invited to come forward and place wreaths and floral tributes beneath the memorial tablets.