A popular spa and commuter town in the county of Kent, located between London and Hastings. A relatively new town by English standards, it quickly developed following the discovery iron-rich (chalybeate) springs in 1606, transforming it into a fashionable resort.

Tunbridge Wells
The Pantiles, Royal Tunbridge Wells © Malc McDonald (CC2)

Tunbridge is now one of Britain's most elegant regency towns. Following a visited by Queen Victoria in 1909 it was given the title of 'Royal' Tunbridge Wells and was a serious rival to Bath at that time.

The most famous feature of the town is The Pantiles, an elegant shaded tree-lined walk with rows of arcaded shops, restaurants and inns, all harking back to the regency period. The famous spa waters can still be sampled at 'Dippers' Well', near Bath Square, but they are not to everyone's taste.

In the 1630s large houses were built near the springs and shaded walks were laid out. The Pantiles was originally a grassed area known as The Walks, and from early times became the fashionable place to promenade. In 1699 Princess Anne (later Queen Ann) visited the spa with her son, the Duke of Gloucester. The young duke slipped and hurt himself whilst walking there. The Princess complained about the conditions and the town authorities promised to lay a paved walk - evetually paving the area with square pantiles.

The town retains much of its original charm and character, with fine Georgian and Victorian properties flanking the town's steep hills and gardens. There are several ancient buildings of entertainment, including a museum and art gallery, theatre and a county cricket ground. The museum and art gallery houses local geology and natural history, plus a good collection of Tunbridge ware, old toys, costumes and old prints. Local Tunbridge Ware was extensively produced here in the 17th century and comprises mainly ornate wooden boxes, inlaid with mosaic patterns, decorated with rural scenes and ornamental borders.

Buildings of interest include the Calverley Hotel (formerly Calverley House) where the young Princess Victoria used to stay with her mother, the Duchess of Kent. The town's older properties include the 15th-c house of the Portreeve (mayor) in East Street and the 16th-c Chequers Inn. The oldest church is that of St Charles the Martyr, built in 1678. It is a fine square building with a beautiful ornamental ceiling. Holy Trinity Church (consecrated in 1829) was the work of Decimus Burton, a noted architect of the period.

Tunbridge has plenty of parks and gardens and a fine 247 acre common with outcrops of weathered sandstone rocks, typical of the area. Dunorlan park, formerly the grounds of a mansion, has a large boating lake and other family amenities. The town is also surrounded by the unspoilt beauty of the wield.

The river crossing at Tunbridge has been strategically important since early times. A Norman castle once guarded the area and its ruins include a magnificent 13th-c gatehouse. An Iron Age hill fort can also be found at high Rocks nearby.

Apart from its charm and character, the town's chief value for visitors today is as a touring base, being in within driving distance of most of the attractions of south-east England.

Map of Tunbridge Wells


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