A ramble and picnic at Matfield Green

A ramble and picnic at Matfield Green

by David Hodgkinson

Literary Links in Tunbridge Wells

Here we have ten of the most well known British authors of all time with links to our beautiful borough of Tunbridge Wells. Have a read and maybe one day you can make your own pilgrimage to our cultural haven.

Siegfried Sassoon in Kent

Siegfried Sassoon, famous anti-war poet was born in 1886 in Matfield. He spent his early life there and adored the country views, cricket and horse-riding in this gorgeous Kent village. After fighting in WWI he fought depression and later branched out to write prose. He wrote 3 fictionalised auto-biographies acclaimed for their idyllic description of life in the English countryside. Ironic or sentimental? The debate continues. He often played at the Nevill Cricket Ground in Tunbridge Wells alongside Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Matfield remains a pretty village today and a lovely area for a ramble and either a pub lunch or afternoon tea. Pub The Poet at Matfield has its many fans as well as Sassoon.

Detecting Conan Doyle around Tunbridge Wells

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930), author of the Sherlock Holmes novels was a Crowborough resident, and he was a frequent visitor to Groombridge Place in the late 1800s the owners of which he knew well. He thought his friends’ estate was the perfect setting for the Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear. Today you can visit the pretty Enchanted Gardens and Estate and browse their Sherlock Holmes Museum.

A universal truth - Jane Austen in the borough of Tunbridge Wells

Jane Austen’s ancesters came from Horsmonden and her brother Henry is buried at the small Woodbury Park Cemetery in Tunbridge Wells. Tunbridge Wells is mentioned in several of her novels as a place to visit for leisure, gossip and wellbeing  “A visit to Horsmonden reveals that the most rural Church of St Margaret’s contains Austen tombs, while several houses associated with Jane’s cloth-making ancestors survive in the village. Jane’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Weller, came from a well-known Tonbridge family and married John Austen from Horsmonden in 1693”.(source: TW Town Crier). Groombridge Place was used in the Pride & Prejudice film starring Keira Knightley. Heritage harpsichords from the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection (which used to be at Finchcocks in Goudhurst, now in Tunbridge Wells), have been hired out to various Jane Austen productions including the 1995 adaption of “Pride and Prejudice” starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, 1996 TV movie “Emma” starring Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong and 2007 version of “Northanger Abbey” starring Geraldine James, and Felicity Jones. 

Thackeray's no hero in Tunbridge Wells

William Makepeace Thackeray, the author of the “novel without a hero”, Vanity Fair, spent some time writing in Royal Tunbridge Wells during the mid-1800s. His works also include an essay about Tunbridge Wells, and part of his novel, ‘The Virginians’ is set in the town. You can now visit his writing retreat where he lodged which is now Thackeray’s restaurant for fine dining and pre-theatre meals. Thackeray also spent part of his childhood in the town, staying at a cottage on the Common now called Belleville. The cottage nestles on a rocky slope on the edge of the Tunbridge Wells Common, below which donkeys used to be kept. Take a look at these points of interest as part of the town’s Heritage Walking Trail

Forster celebrated in Tunbridge Wells

Edward Morgan Forster lived in Royal Tunbridge Wells from 1898-1901. He is the famous author of Howard's End, A Room With A View and A Passage to India amongst others. Forster is also mentioned in the Heritage Walking Trail, as there is a special claret plaque in the town in memory of his contribution to literature and the culture of Tunbridge Wells.

Secrets of A.A Milne

A little known fact is that AA Milne used to come to the Parish Church of King Charles the Martyr with his beloved teddy bear.  Find out other titbits like this if you book a group on to a guided tour of the Royal Town.

Charles Dickens in Paddock Wood? What the Dickens?

Charles Dickens was a fan of the Low Weald Valley and often used Paddock Wood railway station as the starting point for his perambulations with friends he met from the train. “I have many happy memories connected with Kent and am scarcely less interested in it than if I had been a Kentish man bred and born.” Charles Dickens wrote these words to his friend Henry Adams in 1840. If you undertake the Paddock Wood walk on the Explore Kent site, towards the end of your walk you’ll pass Paddock Wood cemetery.  Charles Dicken’s daughter Dorothy is buried here where she lived a short while to improve her health. Much more information is available to read from the Paddock Wood Town Council.

Ode to Sir Philip Sidney in Kent

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1589), Elizabethan poet, courtier, soldier and diplomat lived at Penshurst Place near Tunbridge Wells. Sir Sidney is one of the literary greats of English culture.  He wrote a cascade of sonnets such as The Nightingale, Ring Out Your Bells and Astrophil and Stella as well as poems, drama and prose. One of his first, ‘The Lady of May’ was a form of production notes as a tribute to Elizabeth I upon hearing that she was visiting his uncle’s homestead. He wrote an insightful work ‘The Defence of Poesy’,  as well as Old Arcadia and New Arcadia. Penshurst Place and Gardens is one of the finest privately owned Tudor historic houses in the land. It is open to the general public all year round and offers a unique insight into the glamour of the 1500s.

Bravo! Richard Cumberland

At 63a Mount Sion, there is a special claret plaque installed as part of the town’s 400 year anniversary of the Spring’s discovery for Richard Cumberland, Playwright & Novelist. Cumberland Walk and Cumberland Gardens through which you can walk as part of the Heritage Walking Trail are named after Richard Cumberland, playwright, leading local resident and civil defence activist in the Napoleonic era. Numbers 45–63 Mount Sion are built on the site of his house. His first success as a playwright was with The Brothers (1769), a sentimental comedy (a popular genre in its time). The plot is reminiscent of Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones.  The West Indian (1771) was first produced by a great actor-manager of the 18th century, David Garrick, which “held the stage” throughout the 1700s. The Fashionable Lover was another of Cumberland’s sentimental comedies which realised success in 1772. Today Cumberland is most well-known as the inspiration for the character of Sir Fretful Plagiary in Sheridan’s play The Critic; or a Tragedy Rehearsed. (source: Britannica)

Escape rooms from Vita Sackville West!

Vita Sackville West (Lady Nicolson) lived from 1892-1962. Vita was a successful novelist, poet and diarist (winning awards for her works) amongst other pursuits.  Her other life long passion during the last 30 years of her life was her Sissinghurst Castle Gardens (now owned by the National Trust) near Cranbrook.  Here Vita and her husband created, via trial and error, horticultural escape rooms in their grounds which are known the world over, most notably the ‘White Garden’. Sackville-West is today lauded as the epitome of the modern British gardening tradition. Come and see Vita’s little study and the view of the Weald she had as she sat at her desk as well as her garden legacy.

Celebrating a Literature Festival in the borough of Tunbridge Wells

The biennial Literature Festival is held in Cranbrook, capital of the Weald, with the next one taking place in 2020.  It was a Finalist in the Kent Creative Awards 2017. Famous authors have performed in the past including Giles Brandreth, Vanessa Altin, Natasha Farrant, Kornel Kossuth, Louise Dean, Dave McKean, and Vanessa Nicolson amongst many others.

Plan your visit now - take a look at our Accommodation options, we're only an hour from London or Hastings by train. You can see more about the area and the above mentioned Heritage Walking Trail too. Culture abounds in our region so come along and relax into a different way of life here in the heart of rural Kent.

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