In 1606 a young nobleman named Dudley Lord North discovered a spring of water on sandy soil in the middle of Kent. Lord North drank the water and declared it health giving. Lord North's spring became known as the Chalybeate Spring, and once Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I visited to try the water, "taking the waters" became fashionable. The town of Tunbridge Wells grew up around the now famous spring, to serve growing numbers of people who visited. In the 1740s refined entertainments for high society visitors were organised by Master of Ceremonies Richard "Beau" Nash - read more about him on our History of Holidays page. He held court in a grand room on a colonnaded street called the Pantiles which grew up next to the spring. So that ladies taking the water didn't get their dresses muddy in wet weather the street was tiled, and it is these tiles which give the Pantiles its name.
The Pantiles area of Tunbridge Wells is much as it was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Chalybeate Spring lies at one end, and in the summer months "dippers" in traditional costume are on hand to allow visitors to take the water. I've tried the water myself, and reflecting its high mineral content, it has a very metallic taste! You will find the dippers ready to tell you about the history of the spring, and of Tunbridge Wells in general. The Pantiles itself is a lovely colonnade of shops, built on two levels. Back in the time of Beau Nash, the levels were used to separate social classes: the gentry used the upper level, and everyone else used the lower. The rooms used by Beau Nash survive and can be located by a plaque. There are many unusual shops, and a number of restaurants with pavement tables where you can sit and enjoy the surroundings. In summer live music is performed on the bandstand. A programme of entertainments can be obtained by ringing the contact number below.
The Chalybeate Spring
At the top of Mount Pleasant, in the Tunbridge Wells Museum you will find more evidence of the town's role in the development of tourism in Britain. In tourist spots today there will inevitably be a souvenir shop of some kind. This kind of merchandise was first developed in Tunbridge Wells during the late seventeenth century. "Tunbridge Ware" souvenirs were first made in the 1680s, and consisted of scenes of Tunbridge Wells etched onto wooden or metal plaques. Later an ornate style of mosaic work developed, and was used to decorate a wide range of wooden objects, including desks and tables. A range of Tunbridge Ware is on display at the town's museum. Should you want a souvenir of your visit, you can even buy a few pieces of Tunbridge Ware.
Directions: The Pantiles, in Tunbridge Wells Kent, is just off the Eridge Road A26. There is a car park just behind the Pantiles off the A26 in Major Yorks Road. Click here for an interactive road and satellite map centred on the Pantiles.
Access: Wheelchair access is generally good, although the street being on two levels might cause some inconvenience. There are adapted toilets at the far end of the Pantiles.
telephone: 01892 515675