The discovery of the Chalybeate Spring just over 400 years ago in 1606, marked the beginning of Tunbridge Wells, and it still forms a central part of The Pantiles and of Royal Tunbridge Wells today.
Visitors came to see and be seen in fashionable Tunbridge Wells, but above all to 'take the waters'.
Chalybeate (pronounced Ka-lee-bee-at) means iron-rich, and the iron taste is evident in the unique taste of the water. At the height of its popularity in the eighteenth century, the Spring water was reputed to cure all sorts of ills from infertility and hangovers to obesity and 'a moist brain'.
History of the Spring
The Spring was discovered by chance by a young nobleman, Dudley Lord North, who noticed the reddish waters of the Spring seeping from the ground.
Lord North had spent several days at the Abergavenny Estate at nearby Eridge and was returning on horseback to London.
Feeling a bit the worse for wear from heavy drinking and merrymaking, Lord North drank the water to quench his thirst. Feeling much rejuvenated from drinking the cool iron-rich spring water, he declared it to be health-giving to all his friends and acquaintances.
Word of the new spring and its special properties soon spread and visitors from London and elsewhere flocked to the small settlement which developed alongside the Spring and later became known as Tunbridge Wells.
In the eighteenth century, the Spring became a central feature of the daily routine for any self-respecting lady or gentleman visiting 'The Wells'.
The day started with a glass of spring water, followed by a promenade on 'The Walks' or a visit to the coffee house for the latest gossip, then off to church at the nearby Chapel of Ease, King Charles the Martyr.
The afternoon was spent with more promenading, gambling or a friendly match on one of the nearby bowling greens and finished with further gambling, dancing or a musical soiree or grand ball in the evening.
The Chalybeate water was served by a 'Dipper' for a small charge - not for the water but for the service of it being handed to the drinker. This tradition carries on today, as in the summer it is still possible to sample the cool Chalybeate Spring water served by a costumed dipper.
The Spring is situated in The Pantiles and is open daily from Easter to September, 10am to 5pm (Monday - Saturday) and 11am to 4pm (Sundays & Bank Holidays).
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