Pocket Britain
Britain > Kent > Royal Tunbridge Wells

One of Georgian England’s most fashionable places


The Pantiles
Royal Victoria Place
Tunbridge Wells Museum
It all started in the year 1606, when a young nobleman called Lord North had a hangover. By chance, he spotted a puddle of red-tinted water, seeping out of the ground. Natural spring water was thought to have restorative properties, so North leaped down from his horse and drank. As if by magic, his headache disappeared.
This became known as the Chalybeate Spring, and it kick-started Tunbridge Wells' speedy transformation into an ultra-fashionable spa resort. It was the only one in south-east England, and a major rival of Bath in the west. London's rich and famous came here often, including most of the monarchy. Queen Victoria was a huge fan, but it was her son, Edward VII, who bestowed Tunbridge Wells with its "Royal" prefix. Despite being one of only three settlements in the country to receive such an honour, today the title is rarely used.
Next to the Chalybeate Spring, a line of pubs, gaming houses and lodgings soon appeared. They were joined up by The Pantiles, a covered walkway of beautiful white columns. This was the most attractive and fashionable part of the town - a fact that is also true today. Many of its Georgian and Victorian buildings are still standing. The old establishments have been replaced with a new generation of independent boutiques and coffee shops. In warmer months you can sit outside with your drinks and enjoy the view.

Shopping in the Pantiles
Photo Visit Kent
Another place of refreshment is the spring itself, which is still flowing. Bear in mind that the aristocrats of the past wouldn't just reach in and help themselves; they had a professional "Dipper" to do that for them. Conveniently, you too can receive the same service. From Easter to Autumn, a costumed Dipper is on hand to dish out servings of spring water. You may notice its unique taste; this is the unusually-high iron content, which is said to be the source of its healing powers. Besides hangovers, it can allegedly cure infertility and hysteria.
Though The Pantiles have always been the traditional centre of town, their dominance is now being challenged somewhat by a new landmark, a few minutes to the north. This is the Millennium Clock, a five-metre-tall steel sculpture created by a local artist. It marks the beginning of Tunbridge Wells' shopping district, which is one of the biggest between London and the south coast. Most of the big brand names have a presence in the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre, which was opened in 1992 by Princess Diana. Elsewhere, in the town's narrower streets, are dozens of little shops and cafes. Many have their original Victorian exteriors.
More artefacts from the region's past are collected at the Tunbridge Wells Museum. These include clothing, art and children's toys. The natural history section was mostly assembled by a local society, that existed here in the Victorian era. Its star item is a real dinosaur footprint! Another important exhibit is the set of Tunbridge Ware. This is a certain style of woodwork that was made here in between the 17th and 19th centuries. Its fine detailing and beautiful colours made it the traditional souvenir of a visit to Tunbridge Wells. Queen Victoria used to buy these items as gifts for her family.
Even without its history, Tunbridge Wells would be a town worth visiting. It's an ideal base for exploring the rest of the county of Kent, which boasts more castles, gardens and stately homes than anywhere else in the country.
Visitor Information
Tunbridge Wells Tourist Information Centre, The Old Fish Market, The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells, TN2 5TN. Tel: 01892 515 675

Back ~ Top ~ Home ~ Index

Pocket Britain is optimised for use on a smartphone or tablet with internet access. All content is subject to copyright. All reasonable methods have been used to ensure information supplied is accurate at the time of publication. However, it is advisable to check information before relying on it. Privacy Policy