Tunbridge Wells (officially Royal Tunbridge Wells) is a Wealden town in west Kent in England, just north of the border with East Sussex. It has a population of about 100,000 (2001 census (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/census2001/pop2001/tunbridge_wells.asp)), and is the administrative centre of the Tunbridge Wells Borough.
The Pantiles - Chalybeate Spring
The spring can still be visited in the Pantiles area of the town, surrounded by Regency architecture.
The town was founded around the Chalybeate Spring - the high iron content of the waters were believed to have medicinal qualities - discovered in 1606 by Lord North, a courtier to James I, and developed as a spa town. It was named after the nearby town of Tonbridge, which was at the time spelt "Tunbridge". The similar names and alternative spellings have been a source of confusion ever since, especially to uninformed people travelling on the London-Hastings railway line.
Layout of the Town
The town centre is separated, roughly, into two sections. The north is the more recent part of the town, containing the Victoria Place Shopping centre, as well as the pedestrian area and many retail shopping outlets. This part of the town does, however, contain some pieces of noted architecture. The north part of the town is also home to the Assembly Halls and the Trinity Theatre, which offer live comedy, drama and musicals.
Here the newly refurbished "Clock" area can be found, at the end of Lime Hill Road. The Millennium Clock in this square, designed by a local sculptor, has been a controversial addition to the town.
The southern part of the centre is the older part of the town, containing at its heart the "Village" area. It is here that The Pantiles can be found, which contain the spa which made the town so famous. This area is popular with tourists and residents alike, and live music is usually played in the old bandstand through the summer period.
The famous mathematician the Reverend Thomas Bayes lived in Tunbridge Wells, as did the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray; his house is now an acclaimed restaurant.
As its name implies, the town is famously linked with Royalty. Many members of the British Royal Family have stayed within the town, especially when the Spa was a popular resort for the upper classes.
World Views of the Town
Tunbridge Wells is traditionally associated with the prim middle classes, especially in the locution "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells". This phrase was apocryphally used to sign a letter to a newspaper some time in the nineteenth century, and has remained in circulation because of its perceived aptness in describing the inhabitants of the town. References to Tunbridge Wells abound in literature as diverse as Zadie Smith's White Teeth and E.M.Forster's Room With a View - and David Lean's epic Lawrence of Arabia closes with the words from Dryden as answer to King Feisal:"Me? Your Highness? - On the whole, I wish I'd stayed in Tunbridge Wells."
Staying & Eating in Tunbridge Wells
the former Calverley Hotel - now called Hotel du Vin
The town has a number of hotels, including The Spa, The Royal Wells, The Wellington and the Swan. The most famous might be the Hotel du Vin, formerly Calverley Hotel, which dates back to Decimus Burton's Calverley Estate. There are a number of restaurants, including chains such as Pizza Express and ASK. Richard Phillips' Michelin-starred "Thackeray's", located in the former residence of William Makepeace Thackeray, is generally regarded as the favourite restaurant for residents and tourists alike. Recently the well-known chef Raymond Blanc opened a brasserie (see the List of English words of French origin), Le Petit Blanc in the recently regenerated "Clock" area. A number of clubs and bars line the traditional High Street, while wine bars, pubs and other restaurants can be found in the Pantiles, near The Wells.
More popular with those who seek live music, The Forum is on the common, across from the High Street. Other venues, such as the Royal Wells and the Sound Garden, provide live entertainment.
Tunbridge Wells also has many other eating places, coffee shops and similar. For example, Bean on Camden Road specialises in chocolate, and there are several natural or organic food shops, such as Simply Wild on Grosvenor Road. There are also a large number of tradtional Public Houses around the town.
Shopping in Tunbridge Wells
While the pedestrian area between Camden and Grosvenor Roads and the Victoria Place shopping centre provide many chain retail outlets, many smaller shops can be found further south, around the High Street and the Pantiles. Shoppers are best advised to choose which part of the town they are most interested in (the old Pantiles and "Village" area to the north of the town, or the newer area around the Victoria Shopping Centre) before they go, as each area is separated and is thus not easy to walk between.
- Wikitravel (http://wikitravel.org/en/article/Tunbridge_Wells)
- Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (http://www.tunbridgewells.gov.uk/)