Beautiful England - photos of England and the UK

Tunbridge Wells

Tunbridge Wells could be regarded as a relatively "new" town, even though it is over 400 years since Lord North, in 1606, discovered the bubbling Chalybeate Spring, which attracted royalty and fashionable society to visit the area. Before the discovery, the site was only forest. There is nothing medieval or Tudor in the town. At first, visitors either camped or lodged in the nearest towns to "take" the cool iron-rich, allegedly health-giving, water.

In the 1630's, rapid major building development took place and by the end of the 17th century, Tunbridge Wells had become a flourishing and fashionable spa. In 1735, Beau Nash, the renowned dandy, came from Bath to organise the social life of the high society visitors and residents. The town retains much of the charm and taste for which it was so famous. The best known area is the Pantiles, a colonnaded shaded walkway, with elegant antique shops and restaurants. It was originally a grassed area known as "The Walks", where it was fashionable to be seen amongst the dignitaries. The Duke of Gloucester, son of Princess (later Queen) Anne, slipped and hurt himself. She donated £100 in 1699 to have "The Walks" paved with small square tiles, known as pantiles. A year later, she was displeased to find that the walk had not been paved and she vowed never to return. In 1793, the pantiles were replaced with flagstones, but fifteen of the original tiles are on display at the museum.

In 1804, the Bath House was built to provide vapour and shower baths. The original front remains largely unchanged and here in Summer, visitors can "take the water" from a traditionally dressed "dipper" (waitress). Along the Upper Walk at No. 48, are the only original columns, dating back to 1698. The Musick Gallery is at the corner of the Lower Walk, where musicians would have entertained the strolling gentry. It was moved here in the 1850's next to the former Gloster Tavern.

Tunbridge Wells is fortunate to have several spacious and interesting parks and gardens. The foremost is the Common, 250 acres, on the edge of the town. Calverley Grounds is a park of rolling hills in the town centre, very much in the English tradition, with well kept flower-beds, bowling green and café. Air Chief Marshall, Lord Dowding, lived at No. 1 Calverley Park until his death in 1970. He was Commander-in-Chief of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) stayed at Mount Pleasant House (now the Hotel Du Vin & Bistro, formerly Calverley House) on the edge of Calverley Grounds in the 1820's and 1830's. The building dates from 1762. The garden became Calverley Grounds in 1920, when the land was purchased by the local authority.