Fabulous 19th century architecture, Calverley Park Crescent

Fabulous 19th century architecture, Calverley Park Crescent

by Chris Parker

Tunbridge Wells Heritage

Experience an historic spa town break in Royal Tunbridge Wells, the only spa town in the South East of England, equidistant from London and the coast.

The region as a whole boasts 25 areas of conservation status meaning the structures and land are protected for posterity and to be admired by many more generations.

Set amongst a rich heritage of orchards, hop farms (and hop picking), vineyards, market towns, iron production and cloth weaving, the region of Tunbridge Wells possesses a fascinating depth of heritage and history.

We think we have the benefit of town and country at its best!

A new town in the making

Calverley Park Crescent by Chris ParkerNorthern developments of the town began in the early 1800’s when plans to create a new town, complete with gardens, features and services “suitable to the reception of genteel families” on the Calverley Estate.  

This extensive undertaking was designed by a brilliant young architect named Decimus Burton who had made his name designing and building the innovative residential area of Regents Park. 

He designed and built the private residences in Calverley Park and Calverley Park Terrace. Calverley Park contains twenty-four villas overlooking 20 acres of meadow and park grounds, known today as Calverley Grounds, which are chiefly in the Italian and Grecian style.

Using local stone from the quarry on the Calverley Estate, he also remodelled and extended Calverley House, a Georgian mansion, now the Hotel Du Vin. It was here that Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) stayed as a young girl.  

The new town springing up included villas, a terrace, a parade, rows of shops, a market place, the gothic Holy Trinity Church (now a Theatre & Arts Centre) and the Calverley Mews, which afford extensive accommodation for horses and carriages.  All this was completed in 20 years “so that the residents upon this estate might enjoy the same advantages as those who lived nearer the springs.”

The Great Hall (1870 – 1872) at the bottom of Mount Pleasant Road, was designed by a local architect in a contemporary French style with a large hall which was to supply the demand for public rooms for cultural activities including lectures, concerts and social events. 

There was also a library and reading room in The Great Hall which was eventually destroyed in a mysterious fire.

The purpose built Opera House, at the top of Mount Pleasant Road, opened in 1902. Originally it was planned for the opening to coincide with the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.  

The Opera House, Royal Tunbridge Wells by David HodgkinsonIn 1931 the Opera House converted to a cinema which had to compete with the large newly built Ritz cinema, once described as “Kent’s most luxurious cinema” which opened its doors in 1934. 

Today the Opera House is a popular pub; it still retains the stage and grand balconies and occasionally transforms back into an Opera House for a night or two. To see it is to hardly believe it!

Heritage Trails to do around Tunbridge Wells

Well before the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells was built up, the villages and hamlets in the countryside were securely established.

Places such as Paddock WoodHorsmonden and Cranbrook have wonderfully colourful histories. Take a look at the tapestry of heritage on the village pages to whet your appetite before you delve into the real experience.

There are hundreds of memories of Londoners still around today who used to get the train down from the capital to Paddock Wood for their holidays to pick the hops and the apples.

Hawkhurst has its own special heritage of adventure rooted in the 18th Century. Smugglers and gangs ruled the area with the help of the locals! Follow the Smugglers' Trail to retrace their dastardly deeds.

The churches have been at the foundation of communities in bygone times. One way to explore the area and its heritage is to follow the route in 'On the Wealden Churches Trail’.

This will provide you with a thoroughly scenic journey right across our beautiful ancient countryside. The leaflet explains much of the history and art of past times incorporated in the churches in which many a famous architect and artist have been involved.

A Heritage Walking Trail was launched in 2006 for the 400th anniversary of the Chalybeate Spring’s unearthing. This guides the visitor around some of the most iconic and important historic sights of the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells.

Special commemorative claret plaques on buildings of significant historic interest can be discovered in this illuminating self guided tour. 

How to get to Tunbridge Wells

Just a short train journey from London's Charing Cross, London Bridge or London Waterloo East and easily accessible by car from the coast and the main road routes in the South East, Royal Tunbridge Wells makes an ideal base to get away from your busy stressful lives as a holiday or a mini-break.

What should you do next?

If you would like to come to Tunbridge Wellsexplore and find out more about its rich history, culture and heritage, then first of all, we suggest you download our map of Tunbridge Wells to help plan your visit.

By downloading our map, it will be much easier to find and visit many of our amazing attractions such as the historic Pantiles walkway, the Seven Wonders of the Weald, not to mention our many amazing stately homesgardens and churches.

If you are in a group and time is of the essence, then we suggest you try our one-hour group guided walking tour of Royal Tunbridge Wells - you will not be disappointed!

Further recommendations for Tunbridge Wells research: 

Culture

Museums

History of the Pantiles

History of Royal Tunbridge Wells

History of the Chalybeate Spring

Accommodation - find a place to stay and relax in

Be Inspired - Ideas for families, budget vacations, rainy days, dog friendly places and special offers

Top tips from the locals for foodies, music lovers, cyclists, ramblers, teenagers and much more can be find in our Blogs.

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Number of items: 48

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  1. Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk

    Type

    Waymarked Trail

    Tunbridge Wells

    The Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk is a 27.5 mile (44.3km) route that explores the wide variety of fertile and beautiful countryside around Royal Tunbridge Wells, a town within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the borders of Kent and East Sussex.

  2. Add Spa Valley Railway to your Itinerary

    Spa Valley Railway

    Type

    Steam Railway

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    Spa Valley Railway takes you on a picturesque railway journey through through the beautiful Wealden countryside from Tunbridge Wells to High Rocks, Groombridge and Eridge

  3. Add Chalybeate Spring to your Itinerary

    Chalybeate Spring

    Type

    Spa

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    Visitors came to see and be seen in fashionable Tunbridge Wells, but above all to 'take the waters'.

  4. Add Pashley Manor Gardens to your Itinerary

    Pashley Manor Gardens

    Type

    Garden

    Ticehurst, Wadhurst

    At Pashley you will discover 11 acres of beautiful borders and vistas - the culmination of a lifetime of passion for gardening and an admiration of the tradition of the English country garden.

  5. Add St. Mary's Church Lamberhurst to your Itinerary

    St. Mary's Church Lamberhurst

    Type

    Church / Chapel

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

  6. Add The Forum to your Itinerary

    The Forum

    Type

    Event Venue

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    From spring water dispensary to nationally acclaimed live music venue in Royal Tunbridge Wells!

  7. Add Weald Sports Centre to your Itinerary

    Weald Sports Centre

    Type

    Leisure / Swimming Pool

    Cranbrook

    High quality sporting facilities to include swimming pool, sports hall, fitness studio, exercise studio and creche.

  8. Add Merriments Gardens Ltd to your Itinerary

    Merriments Gardens Ltd

    Type

    Garden

    Hurst Green

    The gardens at Merriments in the rolling Sussex countryside never fail to delight.

  9. Add Grosvenor and Hilbert Park to your Itinerary

    Grosvenor and Hilbert Park

    Type

    Parkland / Woodland Garden

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    Grosvenor and Hilbert is the town's oldest public park and still contains some original historic features, such as the lake and grottoes or 'dripping wells'. There is an exciting and challenging play area which is well worth a visit.

  10. Add Assembly Hall Theatre to your Itinerary

    Assembly Hall Theatre

    Type

    Theatre

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    The Assembly Hall Theatre is a 1,000 seat theatre offering an eclectic programme with everything from family shows to classical music.

  11. Add Salomons Estate to your Itinerary

    Salomons Estate

    Type

    Museum

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    Salomons Estate – Kent’s undiscovered gem

    Constructed by Decimus Burton for Sir David Salomon, it was the first house in Britain to use domestic electricity.

  12. Add Parish Church of King Charles The Martyr to your Itinerary

    Parish Church of King Charles The Martyr

    Type

    Church / Chapel

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    The first permanent building in Tunbridge Wells. Stunning plasterwork ceiling by Sir Christopher Wren's Chief Plasterer.

  13. Add Scotney Castle to your Itinerary

    Scotney Castle

    Type

    Garden

    Lamberhurst

    Not one but two houses! Victorian country house and ruined 14th century moated castle set in one of England's most romantic 'picturesque' style gardens.

  14. Add St. Dunstan's Church Cranbrook to your Itinerary

    St. Dunstan's Church Cranbrook

    Type

    Church / Chapel

    Cranbrook

    Cathedral of the Weald.

  15. Add Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest to your Itinerary

    Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest

    Type

    Forest

    Goudhurst

    Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest is a magnificent place for healthy outdoor activities.

  16. Add Groombridge Place and The Enchanted Forest to your Itinerary

    Groombridge Place and The Enchanted Forest

    Type

    Garden

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    Groombridge Place near Tunbridge Wells offers a fun day out for all the family with award winning gardens, and the Enchanted Forest, with its giant tree swings and other exciting thrills to discover.

  17. Add Sissinghurst Castle Garden to your Itinerary

    Sissinghurst Castle Garden

    Type

    Garden

    Cranbrook

    Famous, stunning gardens set in the remains of a large Elizabethan house amidst the unspoilt Weald countryside.

  18. Add St Thomas a Becket Church, Capel to your Itinerary

    St Thomas a Becket Church, Capel

    Type

    Church / Chapel

    Capel

    Twelfth century church with wallpaintings of the same period - the most extensive in West Kent. They depict various biblical scenes including Cain and Abel and The Last Supper.

  19. Add St. Mary's Church Goudhurst to your Itinerary

    St. Mary's Church Goudhurst

    Type

    Church / Chapel

    Cranbrook

    The church on the hill above the village.

  20. Add Bowles Outdoor Centre to your Itinerary

    Bowles Outdoor Centre

    Type

    Adventure Park / Playground

    Eridge Green

    A day and residential outdoor centre with accommodation offering rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, canoeing and development courses and fun!

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