Joan Wolford


Following on from my chat to local resident Joan Wolford about the opening of The Assembly Hall, which was 75 years ago this Saturday 24th May, I called into the theatre to look at some of the things she had mentioned. Here are the original box offices, built into the pillars of the foyer; also the original marble flooring on the side stairs – the foyer has been carpeted over – but I note with a carpet that looks like the marble!

Joan’s Father, Len Smith, was the barman when The Assembly Hall Theatre opened. Len had been a butcher on leaving school, and had a shop with his brother in Rusthall. When his brother sold the shop Len was unemployed. The family had moved from Rusthall to a flat in Upper Grosvenor Road. At that time there were no extra money benefits for families with children, and if you turned down a job offer you lost your dole money, so Len accepted the post as barman, and stayed at the Assembly Hall past his retirement age. He became well known around the town, featuring in The Courier ‘Man about Tunbridge Wells’ article in the 1960s.

Joan was 12 when her Dad started work, and she left school and went into work herself when she was 14. She started a tailoring apprenticeship at A.R. Pirece in Mount Pleasant (now Moss Bros) and from there fire watched for the war-effort, as the building over looks the railway station. She also helped out at the Assembly Hall, feeding evacuees and soldiers who were billeted locally, including Christmas dinners for the Royal Corps of Signals based in Broadwater Down with Lt General Montgomery.

She went dancing alot, at the Assembly Hall and also at King Charles Hall, at dances hosted by Miss Weekes (of the store Weekes, now Hoopers), and because of the war, most of the men were service men billeted here. There were also dances in the Pavilion in Calverley Grounds (which was never rebuilt after being bombed), and several cinemas in the town (Cosmos, Ritz, Great Hall, Opera House).

Joan’s two sisters married, but Joan stayed with her parents, and didn’t meet her husband until the late1960s, she was 41. Funnily enough, she met him at a dance at The Assembly Hall! Not only had she not really wanted to go out that evening, once she met Peter, she found out he lived only a few doors up the road from her! 

Joan was a great person to meet, and it was lovely to hear that she was still dancing until recently, having started line-dancing after Peter died. Her memories of Tunbridge Wells in the past are very vivid, and these are just a few of the things she told me!


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