Exploring Royal Tunbridge Wells24/01/18
Royal Tunbridge Wells has always been seen with grace and elegance, revered buildings and parks held dear by residents and visitors alike. It hosts opulent and stylish department stores, dress shops, jewellers, cafés and restaurants. It has even been given an official edition of the MONOPOLY board game this year, seeing off fellow royal cities, including Leamington Spa and Windsor!
A Short History
Evidence suggests during the Iron Age that fields were farmed and the iron-rich rocks in the Tunbridge Wells area mined.
Excavations in the 20th Century at High Rocks uncovered the remains of a defensive hill-fort. It is thought that the site was occupied into the era of Roman Britain, and the area continued to be part of the Wealden iron industry until its demise in the late 18th century – indeed, an iron forge remains in the grounds of Bayham Abbey, in use until 1575 and documented until 1714.
Assertion was made that although the wells were originally named the ‘Queen’s-Wells’ they soon took on the name of Tunbridge Wells due to their proximity to the town of Tonbridge (then known as ‘Tunbridge’).
In 1606 a nobleman staying in Eridge came across the famous chalybeate spring in what is now, The Pantiles, drank the spring water and claimed it healed his illness.
On his return to London he reported the news to his friends, who flocked to the spring. Wells were dug and a pavement was laid. In 1636 two houses were built, coffee houses developed and by 1638 the paving became a walk of Pantiles, with two rows of trees, where local tradesmen set up stalls to sell their wares.
The first royal visitor was Queen Henrietta Maria in 1630, followed by Princess Anne, who became Queen in 1702. In 1725 Tunbridge Wells had a population of around 1,500 but ten years later, Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, a rich dandy and socialite, came to the town, appointing himself master of ceremonies, arranging balls and social events and helping Tunbridge Wells reach a peak in popularity in the mid-18th Century. In 1909 Edward VII allowed Tunbridge Wells to add the prefix ‘Royal’ to its name.
It is rumoured Prince Harry is a frequent visitor to The Pantiles and according to the tabloids, may have commissioned an engagement ring from Tunbridge Wells jewellers, G Collins & Sons. The jeweller’s founder, Harry Collins MVO – Member of The Royal Victorian Order – has been the Queen’s personal jeweller since 2000, as well as Crown Jeweller from 2007 to 2012, from which it would seem that Tunbridge Wells still has an exciting royal connection.
Today the population of Royal Tunbridge Wells is around 56,500 and still draws thousands of genteel visitors through its enchanting history and reputation and the shopping is also fine! About 35 miles south-east of central London and close to the border of the county of East Sussex, Tunbridge Wells is situated at the northern edge of the High Weald, the sandstone geology of which is exemplified by the rock formations at the Wellington Rocks and High Rocks.
The Pantiles is still the place to meet, greet, eat and relax, with stylish shops and art galleries, restaurants and pubs, including The Grey Lady Music Lounge, Jazz on the Pantiles – held from May to September – vintage fairs and a brilliant Food Festival. Well known TV cook Rosemary Shrager’s Cookery School is nearby in The Corn Exchange, a beautiful three-storey regency building in the lower Pantiles, and on Tunbridge Wells Common, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018, is independent music venue ‘The Forum’, in which thousands of musicians have performed.
Places to visit
Tunbridge Wells has an abundance of parks and recreational spaces; Dunorlan Park, Calverley Grounds, Rusthall Park, Grosvenor & Hilbert Park, The Wellington and High Rocks and many other smaller parks and recreation grounds. Local steam engine service, the Spa Valley Railway, runs passengers via Tunbridge Wells East Station to Groombridge Place, a moated manor house, noted for its formal and enchanted gardens, vineyards and bird of prey sanctuary.
North East from The Pantiles, a series of independent shops continue through Chapel Place and onto the historical High Street. From there, a short walk up Mount Pleasant Road will take you to the centre of the town, where the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council buildings are also home to the Police Station, the Assembly Hall – in which a variety of theatrical productions, films, exhibitions and events are held –Tunbridge Wells Museum and the town’s public library and art gallery.
A second theatre, ‘Trinity’, a charity and arts venue set in a striking 19th century Decimus Burton designed grade II* listed building across the road, hosts diverse exhibitions and performances of drama, comedy, music, dance and cinema.
From here, the pedestrianised Calverley Road is a short walk away, where you can access the Royal Victoria Place, a delightfully light and airy shopping mall, opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1992, where more mainstream shops may be found.
The Odeon Cinema and Bowlplex are a short drive or bus trip away, at Longfield Road, where the local superstores are also based.
Tunbridge Wells is often quoted in films and books, i.e; Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Valley of Fear, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines, E M Forster’s A Room with a View, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth! In Bleak House by Charles Dickens the children find a mug in the cupboard entitled ‘A Present From Tunbridge Wells’.
David Lean’s epic film Lawrence of Arabia closes with Mr Dryden answering King Feisal: “Me, your Highness? On the whole, I wish I’d stayed in Tunbridge Wells”, and in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Tracy Di Vicenzo says to Bond that she “looks forward to living as Mr and Mrs James Bond of Acacia Avenue, Tunbridge Wells”.
Extracts taken from Wikipedia, photograph by Element5 Digital