Dr J R Charles and the Belgian Refugees
Photograph taken from Staffordshire Leaders of 1902
John Roger Charles of Pelsall Hall was born in 1872. Dr Charles was educated at Rugby and Cambridge and graduated with honours in science in 1894. He became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1900 and the following year took the M.D. of Cambridge. In 1907 he was practising as a Consulting Physician in the West of England and was a member of the medical staff of the British Royal Infirmary.
Peolsford House, Hall Lane, Pelsall pre 1930's, St Michael and All Angels Church can be seen in the background
In the 1917 auction catalogue of Pelsall Hall Estate, Peolsford House was described as being built for the owners own occupation (referring to Dr J R Charles). It was made of pressed brick, half stucco, with a Westmoreland Slate roof. Peolsford House was set within one acre of garden and grounds.
Inside, there was a vestibule hall and entrance hall with terrazzo pavement. A drawing room with bay, tiled hearth and oak mantelpiece. A study and dining room with bay, tiled hearth, lavatory and W.C. A pantry with a sink and cupboards, store room, kitchen, back kitchen and larder. On the first floor, there was a landing opening onto a balcony, a bedroom with a balcony, 4 other bedrooms, dressing room, linen room, with bathroom and W.C.
At the rear was a paved yard, with servants' W.C, coal house and tool house.
The grounds were partly enclosed by a cleft oak fence, contained lawn, flower garden and kitchen gardens with shrubbery and fir plantation.
At this point, South Staffs Water and a gas supply was in place and a telephone connected.
Despite having left Pelsall since before 1911, in 1914 Dr Charles was compelled to return.
In September 1914, Dr John Roger Charles welcomed two parties of Belgian refugees to stay at Peosford House.
A newspaper article at the time wrote:
A right royal welcome was given to two parties of Belgian refugees who arrived at Pelsall on Friday afternoon of last week and on Wednesday afternoon.
On both occasions the Belgians were driven round the village in motor cars and then taken to Peolsford House, a residence generously placed at their disposal by Dr Roger Charles, where they were met with enthusiastic cheers from a crowd of interested parishioners. The party who arrived on Friday consisted of an old man, his married daughter, and six of his grandchildren, all of whom hail from Aerschot, a town near Antwerp. None of them could speak anything but Flemish.
Belgian Refugees photographed outside of Peolsford House in 1914
Between 1914 and 1915, 21 refugees were housed for varying lengths of time at Peolsford House. Two families went on to other homes and one man joined the Belgian army, a third family remained at Peolsford House throughout this time and were later transferred to an adjoining cottage.
Sister Laura Theresa Charles, the youngest sister of Dr Charles acted as Matron at Peolsford House during this time.
The plight of the Belgian refugees proved to be a very positive focus for the people of Pelsall, who from the beginning were keen to help in any way they could. Edgar, one of the refugee children attended Pelsall's Infants School and went on to attend Pelsall's Church School.
The people of Pelsall were very keen to donate gifts to the guests, so much so that a notice was given to advise them that everything would be found for the refugees hence it was not necessary to give money or gifts directly to the refugees.
It was advised that any gifts should be handed in to Peolsford House.
It was said that 'The constant eating of food, to which they were not accustomed, between meals, given them by kind hearted people, is likely to lead to ill health or discomfort.'
The notice goes on to say:
With reference to gifts of money, the War Refugee Committee point out how badly needed by the refugees all money will be on their return to Belgium. It is therefore kinder to postpone all gifts of money for their own private use till their departure or to hand the money to the Matron at Peolsford, intimating that it should be kept for that purpose.
Medically, the Belgian refugees were well cared for by professional gifts and advice given by Mr Priestly Smith, Birmingham (Oculist/Optician), Mr Shedden, Walsall (Dentist), Dr Trevor, Pelsall Doctor.
Transport was very kindly delivered by Messrs Wilkes, Barnett, Binns and Wright (of Stonnal).
Numerous people of Pelsall such as Mrs Charles, the Vicar, Nurse Bryce, Mr Binns (The Oaklands), Mr Silvers (School Master), Mr Wilkes, Mr Harrington and Dr Trevor amongst many others loaned furniture.
Even more people such as Mrs A S Charles, Miss Hussey (Little Wyrley Hall), Dr Trevor (who provided bread for 5 months), A Stokes (who provided a weekly joint of meat), Walsall Coop Guild, Mr Follows, Mr Stackhouse, Mr Snape and many, many others donated food, clothing, Christmas gifts and hospitality.
Labour was provided by numerous people including school children.
A 'Grand Concert' was also held on 19th November 1914 in aid of the Refugee Fund.
Funds were also collected via the sale of photographs, flower sales, concerts, the sale of Golliwogs, a concert at Brownhills, collections at football matches, sales of badges and a concert at Shelfield.
After leaving the village, many of the refugees kept in touch with Sister Laura Charles who had become a great friend to them whilst being the Matron at Peolsford House.