King Charles the Martyr ChurchTunbridge Wells
4 London Road
Kent TN1 1DQ
 
 
Adjacent to the Pantiles in the town centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells is a perfect example of a 17th century church.  Built in 1676 and dedicated to King Charles the Martyr, the church was the first permanent building in the town.
 
Before the church was built visitors to the mineral springs either had to stay over a mile away or camp on the surrounding hills.  Thomas Neale, an entrepreneur and London builder, saw the commercial possibilities of the place. He purchased the site of the springs and the area now called the Pantiles.
 
He assisted with a scheme to design and build a chapel which, beyond its devotional function, would serve additionally as an assembly room or temporary shelter from inclement weather.
 
Stunning Baroque Plasterwork Ceilings
From the outside the church is quite austere, built of brick with a small white weatherboard tower topped by a cupola and weathervane.  Inside, it is light and airy, spacious with little decoration except for stunning baroque plasterwork ceilings.  Two large pillars with panelled bases support the ceilings and wooden galleries run around the top.
 
The original ‘chapel of ease’ was quite small and only occupied that part of the present church between the font and the organ case. None of the present-day arrangement in the chancel area was part of the first chapel.  The window by the font fills the original doorway.
 
This first plaster ceiling has five symmetrical domes exquisitely decorated by John Wetherell, a plasterer who had worked for Christopher Wren at Greenwich.  Beyond the circular medallions is a larger octagonal one with the date 1682 moulded in the plaster.  The original altar stood beneath the octagonal decoration.  The galleries were put in later.
 
By 1688 the springs were so popular that the chapel needed enlarging.  The original west wall was taken out and replaced with the two central pillars, and the building virtually duplicated making the enlarged interior nearly square in plan, as it is today.
 
Wren's celebrated plaster - Doogood created magnificent second ceiling
Henry Doogood, the most celebrated of Wren's plasterers, created the magnificent second ceiling, dated 1690 in its octagonal panel.  Doogood’s work is so good it can be counted as a major achievement in 17th-century European art.
 
The three panelled galleries added at this time were mainly for servants and trades people, and could be reached only from an external staircase.  By the 19th century internal stairs had been erected.
 
Queen Victoria, as a young princess, was a regular visitor to Tunbridge Wells with her mother, the Duchess of Kent.   Victoria liked to sit in the front of the North Gallery above the head of the preacher in his three-tiered pulpit below.  A brass plaque marks the place where she sat.
 
In 1889 the chapel became the Parish Church and major structural renovations were undertaken. An arch was cut through the chapel wall into the schoolroom behind to form a Sanctuary.  The Credo and Paternoster boards were brought from the newly - demolished Wren church of All Hallows, in the City of London. Seating in the Nave was turned about to face the new Sanctuary, and the old three-decker pulpit was taken away.
 
This unusual church is steeped in history and well worth visiting.  You may be lucky enough to witness rehearsals for an organ recital, a choral or chamber music concert.  The choir sings at services and special performances.
 
Plan Your Visit 
Accommodation - Search & Book through Booking.com here:    External Link

 

 
Services
Visitors are always welcome to attend Sunday services.  The main service is at 10:00 hours.
 
Opening Times
The church is open for public viewing:
Monday to Saturday: 11:00 – 15:00 hours.
Sunday: For services only.
 
Admission Price
Free, however donations will of course be appreciated.
 
Contact & Further Information
Telephone  +44 (0)1892 511 745
Mail  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website  King Charles the Martyr Church    External Link
 
Getting There
A link to Google Maps is at Web:  King Charles the Martyr/ Contact     External Link
 
Google Maps - King Charles the Martyr Church Royal Tunbridge Wells