Royal Tunbridge Wells
Kent TN2 5
Royal Tunbridge Wells is a genteel Spa Town surrounded by the countryside of west Kent in south-east England. It is only 33 miles (53 km) from central London and is a popular tourist destination for people wanting to escape the rush of the metropolis.
The underlying geology of this part of Kent is iron-bearing rock and it is this mineral that predominantly occurs in the mineral spring that brought fame to Tunbridge Wells.
Accommodation - Search & Book through Booking.com here: External Link
Royal Patronage after spring became popular
In 1606, a sickly member of King James I Court was staying in the area and discovered a chalybeate spring. He drank from the spring and, when his health improved, he became convinced that it had healing properties. He convinced his rich friends in London to visit the spring and it became a popular tourist spot. By 1630 the spring had received royal patronage and was an established spa retreat.
The principal minerals found in chalybeate springs are iron, manganese, calcium, magnesium, salt and potassium - all trace elements now known to be essential for good health. It is no wonder that visitors who came to Tunbridge Wells to ‘take the waters’ felt much better afterwards.
Tunbridge Wells has benefited from careful town planning right from its initial development. The first permanent structure, the King Charles the Martyr Church, was built in 1684. Before this time there was nowhere for visitors to stay and they camped out on the Downs. Once the church was built the town started to develop.
Lodging houses for the many visitors were built on the surrounding hills, each district named after the hill on which it stood – Mount Ephraim, Mount Pleasant, Mount Sion and the Wells.
Tunbridge Wells Building Boom 1680
The 1680s saw a building boom in the town: carefully planned shops were built beside the 175 yards (160 m) long promenade known as the Walks. Mount Sion road, on which lodging house keepers were to build, was laid out in small plots. Stylish buildings were erected around the wells containing the springs.
Local tradesmen supplied the rich visitors with the luxury goods they were used to buying in London, there was a market near the wells for provisions and the Walks were lined with milliners, specialty shops selling all sorts of toys, silver, china and Tunbridge Ware, a kind of decorative inlaid wood work.
There were large Coffee Houses offering tea, chocolate etc. and even two gambling establishments. Later, an Opera House was built.
Tunbridge Wells’ heyday was during the Georgian era when that dedicated follower of fashion, Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, appointed himself master of ceremonies in 1735. He presided over the conduct of the town as a fashionable resort until his death in 1762.
The most famous landmark in the town is the Pantiles. This delightful tree-lined promenade is what used to be the Walks. It was originally paved with ‘pantiles’ an ‘S’-shaped tile more commonly used for roofs. A few pantiles still exist around the springs in the bath House but the elegant Pantiles Walk is now paved with stone. It is nevertheless still an extremely attractive and pretty place to stroll just as the fashionable crowds did in the 18th century.
The Bath House
The Bath House is at one end of The Pantiles. Regency costumed ‘dippers’ wait ready to serve visitors with tumblers of water drawn fresh from the spring. It tastes rather like a glass full of water with rusty nails!
Tunbridge Wells is regarded in Britain as a bastion of middle-class and conservative values. As befits a spa town there is plenty of green space, both woodland and ornamental parks and gardens, and the influence of the great 19th century architect and designer Decimus Burton can be seen all over the town.
Air Chief Marshall Lord Hugh Dowding
Centrally located opposite the railway station, is Calverley Grounds. This park is part of Decimus Burton’s Coverley New Town and is surrounded by Georgian villas in much the same way as Regents Park in London (another Burton project). It has colourful massed plantings, tennis courts, picnic tables, a 1924 bandstand where local bands frequently perform, and a memorial to one of Tunbridge’s most famous residents – Air Chief Marshall Lord Hugh Dowding.
Because of this man’s brilliant detailed preparation of Britain's air defences for the German assault during World War II, and his prudent management of his resources during the battle, Dowding is today generally given the credit for Britain's victory in the Battle of Britain.
If this part of Britain’s war history is of interest to you we would recommend a visit to the Kent Battle of Britain Museum and the Battle of Britain Memorial Fokestone. Both sites are within easy reach of Tunbridge Wells.
When Lord Dowding died in his home at Tunbridge Wells he was cremated and his ashes now rest beneath the Britain Memorial Window in the Royal Air Force Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
Shopping, restaurants & hotels
Tunbridge Wells continues to draw tourists, not only for its spa and Georgian architecture but also for its shops. The centrally located Royal Victoria Place shopping centre, covering 96,503 sq ft (29,414 sq metres), is sympathetically designed with Victorian wrought iron work. The town has numerous hotels and restaurants.
There are more stately homes, castles and gardens in Kent and the surrounding area than in any other part of the UK.
Accommodation - Search & Book through Hotels.com here: External Link
The town makes a good touring base and it is particularly well situated for visiting Rudyard Kipling’s home ‘Batemans’; Sir Winston Churchill’s home Chartwell; Squerryes Court & Garden; General James Wolfe’s birthplace at Westerham; Hever Castle & Gardens, the steam heritage Bluebell Railway & Spa Valley Railway; the white cliffs of Sussex overlooking Beachy Head lighthouse and the seaside resorts of the south-east coast.
Contact & Further Information
Royal Tunbridge Wells External Link
- By Rail from London
Tunbridge Wells is well serviced by frequent fast electric trains from London Charing Cross station. The services are operated by Southeastern rail. Go to the National Rail website for train times, costs and tickets Web: National Rail Enquiries External Link
- By Local Bus
Bus services are operated by Arriva providing local town and rural services as well as express services to locations such as Bromley and Maidstone. Go to the Arriva website for details Web: Arriva Bus External Link
Metrobus operates hourly services route 291 to Crawley Web: Metro Bus Route 291 External Link
Google Maps - Royal Tunbridge Wells