Gunthers of Tongswood(1903-1945)
Charles Eugene Gunther was born in 1863 and he and his first wife, Leonie Korte (born 1866), bought the Tongswood Estate (c. 3,500 acres) in May 1903. Charles Gunther had made his fortune as Chairman of the parent company of ‘Oxo’, the Liebig Extract of Meat Company. In the School’s archives, we have the copies of the sale details which included the freehold of a number of farms and the former ‘George & Dragon’ Hotel at Four Throws. By 1908 they had built a three-storey extension to the building, adding on what we now know as the Great Space and all the rooms above. The work was done by Messers. Davis of Hawkhurst, a company still going strong today. They have a collection of photographs of the building works.
Charles and Leonie had four children: Edith (b. 1887), Charles (b.1890), Herbert (b. 1894) and Norman (b. 1897) but, soon after moving, tragedy struck and Leonie died of an illness in 1910. In 1912, Charles re-married an heiress called Helen Bell and they went on to have two sons: James (known to the family as Jimmy) and William (always known as Billy). Norman and Charles Gunther, sons from the first marriage, were killed in northern France in the Great War in 1917 and 1918 respectively. As to the other children of the first marriage, Herbert died in 1945 at the age of 51, whilst Edith married Herbert Alexander of Wilsley in Cranbrook and lived to 84. Helen Gunther is largely credited with the development of the gardens which became quite spectacular and were featured in Country Life in the 1930s. They are currently being researched by a team from the Kent Gardens Trust.
Charles Gunther became High Sheriff of Kent in 1921 but died suddenly in 1931 of a heart attack, at the age of 68, whilst having lunch at Paper Mill House. Soon afterwards the estate began to be broken up. In 1936, outlaying portions of the estate were sold off. The house was requisitioned by the Army in the war (various regiments were billeted here) and its contents were finally auctioned in September 1945, in a sale which raised £3390-0-6d.
Helen Gunther moved to a newly-built house, aptly named ‘Little Tongs’, which is at the end of Water Lane. She lived there until her death in 1961.
A number of Gunthers descendants still live locally and take a keen interest in the house and the school. Jimmy Gunther’s widow kindly gave the school the portraits of Charles and Helen Gunther which hang in the Hall. Billy’s son, another Charles, donated the last bottle of port known to have been in the Tongswood wine cellars as a lot in the Winter Ball. It was sold for £750 and the money gifted to charity.
Charles Gunther and Helen Bell
Leonie Gunther nee Korte & Norman Otto Gunther
Norman and Charles Gunther Winter