Royal Tunbridge Wells (or Tunbridge Wells) is a town in west Kent, England, about south-southeast of central London, beyond the county of East Sussex. It is situated at the northern edge of the High Weald, the sandstone geology of which is exemplified by the rock formations at the Wellington Rocks and High Rocks.
The town came into being as a spa in Georgian times and had its heyday as a tourist resort under Richard (Beau) Nash when the Pantiles and its chalybeate spring attracted visitors who wished to take the waters. Though its popularity waned with the advent of sea bathing, the town remains popular and derives some 30% of its income from the tourist industry.
The town has a population of around 56,500 and is the administrative centre of Tunbridge Wells Borough and the UK parliamentary constituency of Tunbridge Wells. In the United Kingdom Tunbridge Wells has a reputation as being the archetypal "Middle England" town, a stereotype that is typified by the fictional letter-writer "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells".
There is evidence that during the Iron Age people farmed the fields and mined the iron-rich rocks in the Tunbridge Wells area, and excavations in 1940 and 1957–61 by James Money at High Rocks uncovered the remains of a defensive hill-fort. It is thought that the site was occupied into the era of Roman Britain, and the area continued to be part of the Wealden iron industry until its demise in the late eighteenth century - indeed, an iron forge remains in the grounds of Bayham Abbey, in use until 1575 and documented until 1714.
The area which is now Tunbridge Wells was part of the parish of Speldhurst for hundreds of years, but the origin of the town as it is today, however, came in the seventeenth century. In 1606 Dudley, Lord North, a courtier to James I who was staying at a hunting lodge in Eridge in the hope that the country air might improve his ailing constitution, discovered a chalybeate spring. He drank from the spring and, when his health improved, he became convinced that it had healing properties. He persuaded his rich friends in London to try it, and by the time Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, visited in 1630 it had established itself as a spa retreat. By 1636 it had became so popular that two houses were built next to the spring to cater for the visitors, one for the ladies and one for the gentlemen, and in 1664 Lord Muskerry, Lord of the Manor, enclosed it with a triangular stone wall, and built a hall "to shelter the dippers in wet weather."
Until 1676 little permanent building took place - visitors were obliged either to camp on the downs or to find lodgings at Southborough, - but at this time houses and shops were erected on the walks, and every "convenient situation near the springs" was built upon. Also in 1676 a subscription for a "chapel of ease" was opened, and in 1684 the church of King Charles the Martyr was duly built and the town began to develop around it. In 1787 Edward Hasted described the new town as consisting of four small districts, "named after the hills on which they stand, Mount Ephraim, Mount Pleasant and Mount Sion; the other is called the Wells..."
The 1680s saw a building boom in the town: carefully planned shops were built beside the long Pantiles promenade (then known as the Walks), and the Mount Sion road, on which lodging house keepers were to build, was laid out in small plots. Tradesmen in the town dealt in the luxury goods demanded by their patrons, which would certainly have included Tunbridge ware, a kind of decoratively inlaid woodwork.
"They have made the wells very commodious by the many good building all about it and two or three miles around which are lodgings for the company that drink the waters. All the people buy their own provisions at the market, which is just by the wells and is furnished with great plenty of all sorts of fish and foul. The walk which is between high trees on the market side which are shops full of all sorts of toys, silver, china, milliners and all sorts of curious wooden ware besides which there are two large coffee houses for tea, chocolate etc and two rooms for the lottery and hazard board (i.e. for gambling)."
—Celia Fiennes, 1697
Following Dr Richard Russell's 1750 treatise advocating sea water as a treatment for diseases of the glands, fashions in leisure changed and sea bathing became more popular than visiting the spas, which resulted in fewer visitors coming to the town. Nevertheless, the advent of turnpike roads gave Tunbridge Wells better communications - on weekdays a public coach made nine return journeys between Tunbridge Wells and London, and postal servicecs operated every morning except Monday and every evening except Saturday. During the eighteenth century the growth of the town continued, as did its patronage by the wealthy leisured classes - it received celebrity cachet from visits by figures such as Cibber, Johnson, Garrick and Richardson - and in 1735 Richard (Beau) Nash appointed himself as master of ceremonies for all the entertainments that Tunbridge Wells had to offer. He remained in this position until his death in 1761, and under his patronage the town reached the height of its popularity as a fashionable resort.
By the early nineteenth century Tunbridge Wells experienced growth as a place for the well-to-do to visit and make their homes. It became a fashionable resort town again following visits by the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and benefited from a new estate on Mount Pleasant and the building of the Trinity church in 1827, and improvements made to the town and the provision of facilities such as gas lighting and a police service meant that by 1837 the town population had swelled to 9,100. In 1842 an omnibus service was set up that ran from Tonbridge to Tunbridge Wells, enabling visitors to arrive from London within two hours, and in 1845 the town was linked to the railway network via a branch from South Eastern Railway's London-Hastings Hastings Line at Tonbridge. During this time Decimus Burton developed John Ward's Calverley Park estate.
In 1889 the town was awarded the status of a Borough, and it entered the 20th century in a prosperous state. 1902 saw the opening of an Opera House, and in 1909 the town received its "Royal" prefix. Due to its position in South East England, during the First World War Tunbridge Wells was made a headquarters for the army, and its hospitals were used to treat soldiers who had been sent home with a "blighty wound"; the town also received 150 Belgian refugees. The Second World War affected Tunbridge Wells in a different way - it became so swollen with refugees from London that accommodation was severely strained. Over 3,800 buildings were damaged by bombing, but only 15 people lost their lives.
Edward Hasted made the assertion that although the wells were originally named the "Queen's-Wells", they soon took on the name of Tunbridge Wells due to their proximity to the town of Tonbridge (then known as "Tunbridge"):
The prefix "Royal" dates to 1909, when King Edward VII granted the town its official "Royal" title to celebrate its popularity over the years amongst members of the royal family. Royal Tunbridge Wells is one of only two towns in England to have been granted this (the other being Royal Leamington Spa).
In compliment to [queen Henrietta Maria's] doctor, Lewis Rowzee, in his treatise on them, calls these springs the Queen's-wells; but this name lasted but a small time, and they were soon afterwards universally known by that of Tunbridge-wells, which names they acquired from the company usually residing at Tunbridge town, when they came into these parts for the benefit of drinking the waters.
—Edward Hasted, 1797
Tunbridge Wells is the administrative centre for both Tunbridge Wells Borough and the parliamentary constituency of Tunbridge Wells. The Borough is governed by 48 Councillors, representing 20 wards (eight wards fall within the town of Tunbridge Wells itself). Elections are held for 16 Council seats each year on a rotational basis, meaning that each Councillor faces election every three years. The exception to this is a County Council election, held once every four years, in which all seats are contested.
Tunbridge Wells local elections show a pattern since 1973 of Conservative party dominance, apart from a two year period from 1994 to 1996 of no overall control and a two year period from 1996 to 1998 when the Liberal Democrats held a majority. The most recent elections, held in May 2008, gave the Conservatives a large majority with 44 seats compared with the Liberal Democrats' four.
The Member of Parliament for Tunbridge Wells is the Conservative Greg Clark, who was elected in 2005 with a majority of 9,988. The constituency has been Conservative since its inception in 1974 for the 1974 General Election; the two previous MPs were Sir Patrick Mayhew (1974–1997) and the former Asda chairman Archie Norman (1997–2005).
|Tunbridge Wells ethnicity comparison|
|Tunbridge Wells||South East||England|
|Asian / British Asian||0.6%||2.3%||4.6%|
|Black / Black British||0.3%||0.7%||2.3%|
|Chinese / Other ethnic group||0.7%||0.8%||0.9%|
In 2006 the town of Tunbridge Wells was estimated to have a population of approximately 56,500. The wider borough of Tunbridge Wells is home to considerably more people - some 104,000 in 2001, up from around 99,500 in 1991.
The population of Tunbridge Wells is predominantly white in its ethnic origin and Christian in its religious affiliation: 97.5% of residents of the district described themselves as white in the 2001 census, and 75.0% identified themselves as being Christian.
The statistics for crime in Tunbridge Wells show that in 2005/6 there were far fewer crimes occurring in the area than the national average. Incidents of violence were particularly low in comparison: 10.68 instances per 1,000 people in Tunbridge Wells compared with 19.97 per 1,000 people nationally.
Tunbridge Wells is located at on the Kentish border with East Sussex, about south of London; the original centre of the settlement lies directly on the Kent/East Sussex border, as recalled by the county boundary flagstone that still lies outside the church of King Charles the Martyr.
The town is situated at the northern edge of the High Weald, a ridge of hard sandstone that runs across southern England from Hampshire along the borders of Surrey, West Sussex, East Sussex and Kent - the town's geology is illustrated by the exposed sandstone outcrops at the Wellington Rocks and High Rocks (a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its exposed gulls), and the quarries at nearby Langton Green from which sandstone was taken to build houses in Tunbridge Wells. The town is sited at the head of valley that runs south-east to Groombridge; like the River Teise, which originates in Tunbridge Wells, the stream in the valley is one of the many tributaries of the River Medway, which runs through a much larger valley north of the High Weald.
Nearby villages have been subsumed into the built-up area of the town, so that now it incorporates High Brooms to the north, Hawkenbury to the south, and Rusthall (whose name resonates with the iron content of the rocks) to the west.
Tunbridge Wells is twinned with:
In 1960, through an advertisement in the national press, contact was made between former paratroopers in Wiesbaden and four English ex-servicemen in Tunbridge Wells. Through this contact the friendship that now exists between the two towns sprang up, leading to the signing in 1989 of the official Twinning Charter. Also through this the Tunbridge Wells Twinning and Friendship Association (TWTFA) was formed.
As of 2002 there were around 50,000 people employed in the borough of Tunbridge Wells. The largest sector of the local economy consists of hotels, restaurants, and retail (the centrally located Royal Victoria Place shopping centre, opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1992, covers ), which accounts for around 30% of all jobs; the finance and business sector makes up just under a quarter of jobs, as does the public administration, education and health sector.
The largest single employer in the town is the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, at the Kent and Sussex and Pembury Hospitals, which employs around 2,500 people; the largest single commercial employer is EDF Energy, which employs around 800. Tunbridge Wells enjoys a relatively low unemployment rate of around 1.0% as of August 2008, compared to a UK national rate of around 5.4%.
Tunbridge Wells is at the hub of a series of roads, the primary ones being the A26, which runs from Maidstone to Newhaven; the A264, which runs from Five Oaks to Pembury (via Crawley and East Grinstead); and the A267, which runs south from Tunbridge Wells to Hailsham. The A21 passes to the east of the town, following the route of its turnpike ancestor, from Lewisham to Hastings.
Bus services are operated chiefly by Arriva Southern Counties, providing both local rural services as well as express services to locations such as Bromley and Maidstone. Eastbourne and Brighton on the south coast are accessible on services run by Eastbourne Buses and Brighton & Hove, and Metrobus operates hourly services to Crawley.
Tunbridge Wells town historically had three railway stations: two of these are still in use by National Rail services. Tunbridge Wells station is, as its former name of Tunbridge Wells Central suggests, centrally located within the town at the end of the High Street, whilst High Brooms station is situated in High Brooms, to the north of the town. Both stations are located on the double-tracked electrified Hastings Line; services are operated by the Southeastern train operating company.
Tunbridge Wells West station was opened by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1866 as the terminus of its competing line to Tunbridge Wells, but closed in 1985 along with that line. The station building - a Grade II listed building - is now a restaurant, and a Sainsbury supermarket occupies the former goods yard. In the 1990s, however, part of the line was reopened by the Tunbridge Wells & Eridge Railway Preservation Society (TWERPS), which now - as the Spa Valley Railway - operates a steam heritage railway that runs from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge; the West station serves as its eastern terminus. The tunnelled link line between the West and erstwhile Central stations, opened in 1876, remains closed.
Kent County Council is one of fifteen local authorities in the UK that still provides selective education through the eleven plus exam, and Tunbridge Wells has three selective-entry secondary schools: The Skinners' School, Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School and Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys.
Tunbridge Wells does not have a university of its own, but the Salomons Campus of Canterbury Christ Church University is located in the town and provides postgraduate programmes.
Tunbridge Wells' football team, Tunbridge Wells F.C., plays in the Kent League Premier Division at the Culverden Stadium, and has a history that stretches back to 1886. Tunbridge Wells RFC plays its home games at St Mark's, and plays London 2 South Rugby at RFU level 6.
The Nevill Ground hosts county and international cricket, and Kent County Cricket Club uses it regularly as one of its outgrounds. Tunbridge Wells came into the cricketing spotlight during the 1983 Cricket World Cup when Kapil Dev and Syed Kirmani scored 126 not out for India against Zimbabwe at the Nevill Ground on 6 July 1983; this is the record for the highest 9th wicket partnership score in a one-day international. Also based at the Nevill Ground is Tunbridge Wells Hockey Club, which competes in the Kent/Sussex Regional (men) and East Premier (women) divisions.
Health services are provided by the West Kent Primary Care Trust, and Tunbridge Wells' two hospitals, the Kent and Sussex Hospital and Pembury Hospital, are run by the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust. Tunbridge Wells is policed by Kent Police, and in May 2000 the main police station for the area moved from Tunbridge Wells to a new building in Tonbridge and operations at the Tunbridge Wells station, in Crescent Road, were scaled back so that it now operates as an administrative centre. Fire services are carried out by Kent Fire and Rescue Service, which operates one station in Grove Hill Road that is manned 24 hours a day by both full-time and retained firemen.
David Lean's epic film Lawrence of Arabia closes with Mr. Dryden answering King Feisal: "Me, your Highness? On the whole, I wish I'd stayed in Tunbridge Wells", and in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service Tracy Di Vicenzo says to Bond that she "looks forward to living as Mr and Mrs James Bond of Acacia Avenue, Tunbridge Wells". Less well known is H. G. Wells' sending up of "Tumbridge Wells" in his 1925 book Christina Alberta's Father.
The Pantiles and its chalybeate spring have been the landmarks most readily associated with Tunbridge Wells ever since the founding of the town, though the high steel Millennium Clock at the Fiveways area in the centre of town, designed by local sculptor Jon Mills for the Millennium celebrations, stakes a claim to be a modern landmark.
Tunbridge Wells contains green spaces that range from woodland to maintained grounds and parks. The most substantial areas of woodland are the Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons, which comprise of wood and heathland and are close to the centre of the town. Open areas of the common are popular picnic spots, and there is a maintained cricket ground situated next to Wellington Rocks.
Located in the town centre opposite the train station, Calverley Grounds is a historic park with ornamental gardens and a bandstand. The park was part of Mount Pleasant House - which was converted into a hotel in 1837 - until 1920 when the Borough Council purchased it for the town. The bandstand dates from 1924.
Dunorlan Park, at the largest maintained green space in the town, was once a private garden that was part of the millionaire Henry Reed's now demolished mansion, and only passed into public possession in 1941. The gardens were designed by the renowned Victorian gardener Robert Marnock, but over the years they became overgrown, making it hard to distinguish the full scope of Marnock's design. In 1996 Tunbridge Wells Borough Council applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant to restore the park in line with the original designs, and in 2003/4 Dunorlan underwent a £2.8 million restoration. The River Teise rises in the park, and two dams on it have created a pond and a boating lake. Dunorlan is listed as Grade II on English Heritage's National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
The oldest public park in Tunbridge Wells is Grosvenor recreation ground, located close to the town centre. It is adjoined by the Hilbert recreation ground, parts of which have been designated as a local nature reserve by the Kent High Weald Project; these include Hilbert Woods and the adjoining grass areas.