History of The Royal Tunbridge Wells Pantiles
The elegant colonnaded walkway known as the Pantiles in Royal Tunbridge Wells has become probably the most well known view of the town.
Once the playground of the gentry and royalty, the Pantiles remains a pleasant place to browse, shop, eat, drink and stroll.
The practice of drinking from natural cold springs for health reasons dates back to Roman times.
During the reign of Elizabeth I, this practice of taking the waters for health reasons grew in popularity amongst the nobility.
They would leave the Court travelling to the established Spa towns of Bath and Buxton seeking medicinal well- being.
Away from Court they took advantage of the opportunities provided to establish relationships with individuals from different social backgrounds to exchange ideas and opinions. Free from the restrictions of Court the concept of a holiday as we know it today was started.
The chance discovery by Lord North in 1606, who was returning to court in London after a three month stay in the country, of a Spring with distinctive reddish tinted mineral deposits lead to the development of the Pantiles and Royal Tunbridge Wells.
The First Royal Visit to Tunbridge Wells
The news of Lord North’s discovery spread around Court and in 1629 the first royal visitor to the Wells was Queen Henrietta Maria wife of King Charles 1, who stayed for six weeks.
As there was no accommodation available at that time, the Royal entourage camped on the Common. It was not until the latter part of the 17th century that the first permanent lodging houses were erected on Mount Sion including Jerningham House, Fairlawn House and Sion House.
With the royal seal of approval, Tunbridge Wells quickly became the most fashionable drinking spa near London. The close proximity to London meant it was less than one day’s journey.
The Beginnings of Tourism in Tunbridge Wells
Following the Royal visit, Dr Lodwick Rowzee, a physician from Ashford, published a paper on the medicinal qualities of the spring.
He established guidelines for the quantity of water that should be drunk and recommended starting with 2 ½ pints a day increasing to four times that amount during the course of a visit and reducing the amount when preparing to leave the Wells.
After drinking the correct quantity of water the ladies would meet at a coffee house near Pink Alley, whilst the gentlemen visited the pipe house.
Dr Rowzee also recommended walking after taking the water and this became part of the daily ritual.
The green bank, which was located near the spring and known as the Upper Walk was raised and levelled. A double row of lime and elm trees were planted in order to provide shade for the ladies and gentlemen promenading on the Walks.
During its heyday in Georgian times, the 'Walks' became the perfect place to see and be seen.
Pleasure, Leisure and Scandal at the Spa in Tunbridge Wells
After the Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy, King Charles II and his Queen, Catherine of Braganza, came to Tunbridge Wells.
The presence of the Court attracted other visitors whose where primarily focused on the pursuit of pleasure rather than necessary medical activities.
The demand for entertainment and social amenities, together with the breakdown of rigid social barriers lead to a less formal atmosphere. It was at this time the Wells acquired its reputation as “les eaux de scandale”.
In 1698, Princess Anne, who was a frequent visitor to the Wells gave £100 to have the Upper Walk paved after her son, the Duke of Gloucester slipped and fell whilst playing.
When she returned the following year nothing had been done and she left never to return. Eventually the Walks were paved with Pantiles these were clay tiles that were baked in a pan.
In 1735 Richard Beau Nash established himself as Master of Ceremonies during 'the season'. He did this by establishing a code of behaviour that everybody was expected to follow.
The day would start by drinking the waters, this was followed by breakfast and attendance at Chapel. The rest of the morning was taken up by such activities as walking or riding in the surrounding countryside.
After dinner visitors were seen strolling on the Pantiles in formal dress before attending the Balls that were held in the Assembly Rooms.
The Pantiles today
The Pantiles with its many building dating from the 18th and 19th centuries is a very attractive and stylish part of Royal Tunbridge Wells.
It is home to a fascinating variety of small specialist independent shops, art galleries and open-air cafés, restaurants and bars.
An entertaining and varied programme of regular events, including a free Jazz Festival on Thursday evenings from June to September, the Food Festival and a fortnightly Farmers' and Craft Market, are all held on the Pantiles.
The Chalybeate Spring is situated at the northern end of the Pantiles and you can also find the Tourist Information Centre in the Corn Exchange building which is close by.
The 281 Shopper Hopper bus only costs £1 to take you up the hill to other parts of the town and the ticket is valid all day!