Tunbridge Wells is one of my favourite towns and as I will be spending a lot of time away from it in the coming months I have been appreciating it even more. I have lived near Tunbridge Wells for 10 years and it has a rich history and is somewhere that I believe merges the old with the new and the relaxing with the vibrant incredibly well. I love that it is within easy travelling distance of Ashdown Forest, London and the coast, including Brighton (“little London”). It also seems fitting with the Diamond Jubilee to write about somewhere with a Royal connection (besides, it has been far too long since I talked about somewhere with shops).
|One of the many historic buildings in the Pantiles|
“The Wells”, in the form of the Chalybeate Spring was discovered by a Nobleman, Dudley Lord North in 1606 thereby attracting people from London and elsewhere to the area for over 400 years. It was believed to have healing powers. The coffee houses, shops and accommodation started to appear and they were all joined by a covered colonnade walkway which later became known (and is still known) as the Pantiles. It remains the old part of the town and still has cafes, boutiques, restaurants and bars. It is one of my favourite areas, especially in the spring and summer as the tables and chairs spill out onto the cobbles and paving and they hold regular quirky and fabulous markets along with festivals and music events from the old bandstand.
During Georgian times, Tunbridge Wells retained its links with royalty and the aristocracy and the social scene was arranged by Richard Beau Nash "Master of Ceremonies" who split his time between Tunbridge Wells and Bath. Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) spent a lot of holidays in the town in the 1820s and 1830s and it was in Victorian times that rich businessmen began to live in the town as well as holiday there, with the town growing as a result.
The “Royal” prefix to the town was granted by King Edward VII to officially recognise the importance and popularity of it to royalty and the aristocracy. I remember the celebrations for the 100 year anniversary of this event in 2009 – the town was alive with activity.
|The town centre|
|The former Opera House from 1902|
For me, Tunbridge Wells maintains variety and charm. The Pantiles is linked by the High Street (filled with more restaurants, bars, shops and cafes) to the more modern town centre which holds the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre (excellent choice of clothes and shoe shops) and nearby one of my favourite outdoor shops in the town lives within an old historic building with enormous pillars. The former Opera House with beautiful green domes that opened in 1902 is now a pub, meaning a very different kind of singing sometimes emanates from it in the evenings!
2006 saw the 400 year anniversary of the discovery of the Chalybeate Spring and the launch of the Heritage Walking Trail that takes in various sites of historical interest, including its links with various famous people such as the novelists William Makepeace Thackeray and E.M. Forster who lived part of their lives here (in fact the home of Thackeray is now one of my favourite restaurants called, appropriately “Thackeray’s”, although the menu and wine prices mean this is for very special occasions only!) It also takes in the place where Lord Robert Baden Powell (later founder of the Scout movement) had part of his early education.
It may not have mountains, but Tunbridge Wells abounds with unusual rock formations such as High Rocks and Wellington Rocks that are the result of movement on the faultline of the sandstone ridge. There are also beautiful parks including a newly reconstructed one on the edge of the town called Dunorlan Park, which has a lake and boats to hire and views across the countryside.
Tunbridge Wells is on the very edge of Kent so within a mile or two you travel into Sussex and both counties have pretty villages, all of which seem to be celebrating the Jubilee in earnest and I love village and community events like that. I grew up in a village called Egerton (about 25 miles from Tunbridge Wells) and I still go back for the key village events (really looking forward to the fete in July this year). The village of Goudhurst (see “Ancient Woodlands and the Hawkhurst Gang” for more on the history of that village) has even built a miniature Houses of Parliament on the village pond – how great is that?
|Houses of Parliament on Goudhurst pond|
So I love my local town of Tunbridge Wells and will be back often to visit it. I would highly recommend it as somewhere that combines historical, modern, relaxed and vibrant cultures and architecture in one beautiful town in a beautiful part of the south east. I often spend time using the cafes as my office so if you see someone in fabulous heels working away on a laptop in one of them, it could be me! Both the town and the local villages throw a great party too so the Jubilee should be a great time.
|Tilly in Ashdown Forest (close to Tunbridge Wells)|