The Pantiles

The Pantiles

Royal Tunbridge Wells | by Chris Parker

History of The Royal Tunbridge Wells Pantiles

The Pantiles in Royal Tunbridge Wells is THE must-see of the borough.

In Tudor times destinations within a day’s ride from the capital of London were known as the ‘Golden Ring’.

For this reason, the Pantiles in Royal Tunbridge Wells was a major holiday destination for the gentry and royalty, and today remains a charming place to browse, shop, eat, drink and stroll.

The chance discovery in 1606 of a Spring with distinctive reddish tinted mineral deposits led to the development of the Pantiles and later on, Royal Tunbridge Wells.

The practice of drinking from natural springs for health reasons dates back to Roman times.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, the practice of taking these natural waters for health purposes became more popular among the nobility.

The royal and noble parties would leave the Court and travel to the established Spa towns of Bath and Buxton pursuing curative 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 First Royal Visit to Tunbridge Wells

The news of Lord North’s discovery spread around Court.

In 1629 the first royal visitor to the ‘Wells’ was Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, 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, since it was in much closer proximity than Bath or Buxton.

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 2½ 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.

In its halcyon days during Georgian times, the 'Walks' became the place to 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 who were 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 which were clay tiles baked in a pan.

Next in this timeline, we introduce Richard ‘Beau’ Nash who came onto the Spa scene. He was an 18th century fashion icon and famous celebrity of the time.  

In 1735, Beau Nash established himself as Master of Ceremonies during 'the season'. He did this by establishing the social protocol thus: the ‘Upper Walks’ for the gentry only, the ‘Lower Walks’ for everyone else.

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 promenading on the Pantiles in formal dress before attending the Balls and Gaming held in the Assembly Rooms.

There is a red plaque on 40-46 The Pantiles to celebrate Beau Nash’s contribution to the history of the Pantiles.   

The Pantiles Today

The elegant covered and colonnaded walkway has become the most well known and photographed vista of the town.

Not only that, the Pantiles, with its many buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, is a very attractive and stylish part of Royal Tunbridge Wells.

It is home to a pleasing variety of specialist independent shops, art galleries and open-air cafés, restaurants and bars.

An entertaining and varied programme of regular events, including a free summer Jazz Festival on Thursday evenings, a Food Festival and a fortnightly Farmers' and Craft Market, are all held on the Pantiles.

The natural Chalybeate Spring is still situated at the northern end of the Pantiles.

The Tourist Information Centre is in the historic Corn Exchange building on the Lower Pantiles which used to be the site of a theatre.

Getting Around

There are a number of buses to catch take you up (and down) the hill to other parts of the town and to Rusthall.  The 281 Arriva bus (green) is one and it is possible to purhase an all day ticket that forTunbridge Wells.

Further inspiration

Shopping in the Pantiles

Food and Drink in the Pantiles

History of the Town

Heritage of the Region of Tunbridge Wells

Culture in Tunbridge Wells

Heritage Walking Trail around the Town

5 Things to Love About Tunbridge Wells

External Links

Arriva bus 281

Traveline bus links

Number of items:

Number of items: 69

, currently showing 1 to 20.

  1. 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

  2. Add Pashley Manor Gardens to your Itinerary

    Pashley Manor Gardens

    Type

    Garden

    Ticehurst, Wadhurst

    Pashley is an ideal destination for garden lovers, art and history enthusiasts, keen photographers or those looking for a peaceful and enjoyable day out surrounded by beauty and nature.

  3. 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.

  4. 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'.

  5. Add Penshurst Place and Gardens to your Itinerary

    Penshurst Place and Gardens

    Type

    Historic House / Palace

    Penshurst

    Set in the beautiful Weald of Kent, Penshurst Place & Gardens and the surrounding estate have stood on the banks of the river Medway since the 14th century, when the awe-inspiring medieval Baron’s Hall was built as a country retreat for the Lord Mayor of London, Sir John De Pulteney.

  6. 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.

  7. Add The Hop Farm Family Park to your Itinerary

    The Hop Farm Family Park

    Type

    Adventure Park / Playground

    Paddock Wood, Maidstone

    The Hop Farm Family Park is Kent’s major visitor attraction and event venue. Open every day of the year and only £3 per person to enter (this includes all day Outdoor Adventure Play, Indoor Soft Play, The Animal farm, Crazy Golf and Free Parking), the Family Park has attractions for all age groups...

  8. Add Biddenden Vineyards to your Itinerary

    Biddenden Vineyards

    Type

    Vineyard

    Biddenden

    Biddenden Vineyards are set in 23 acres on a south facing slope where eleven varieties of grape are grown to produce white, red, rose and quality sparkling wines.

  9. Add Trinity Theatre and Arts Centre to your Itinerary

    Trinity Theatre and Arts Centre

    Type

    Theatre

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    Located in a converted Grade A listed church by the noted architect Decimus Burton, Trinity Theatre hosts a varied programme of art exhibitions, theatre, films, dance, opera and music productions.

  10. Add UK Electric Bike Hire & Tours to your Itinerary

    UK Electric Bike Hire & Tours

    Type

    Cycling

    Biddenden

    Why not try an electric bike, zipping between vineyards or maybe stop at an iconic castle or a world-famous garden?  Our routes take you along the  quiet lanes of the Weald of Kent, passing oast houses and Wealden hall houses, farmsteads and ancient woodland.  You can stop at a village pub for...

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  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 Cranbrook Museum to your Itinerary

    Cranbrook Museum

    Type

    Museum

    Cranbrook

    A 'must' for every visitor to the Weald.

  15. 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.

  16. Add Leeds Castle to your Itinerary

    TripAdvisor Traveller Rating

    TripAdvisor Traveller Rating - from 4316 review(s)from 4316 review(s)

    Leeds Castle

    Type

    Castle / Fort

    Leeds, Maidstone

    Leeds Castle is one of the most spectacular castles in the UK and your first view of the castle will be one you remember, as it is both classical and spectacular. The castle sits serenely on its island in the middle of the moat, with its crenulations, stone buttresses, bridges and arches. There...

  17. Add All Saints Church Tudeley to your Itinerary

    All Saints Church Tudeley

    Type

    Church / Chapel

    Tudeley, Tonbridge

    A delightful 13/14th century church, restored in the 18th century, noted for its stained glass windows by the artist, Marc Chagall.

  18. Add The Queen's Hall Theatre to your Itinerary

    The Queen's Hall Theatre

    Type

    Theatre

    Cranbrook

    Providing entertainment in the heart of the Kent Weald.

  19. Bowles Outdoor Centre

    Add Bowles Outdoor Centre to your Itinerary

    Bowles Outdoor Centre

    Type

    Adventure Park / Playground

    Eridge Green

    A residential outdoor centre with accommodation for 94 offering rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, canoeing and outdoor management development courses.

  20. Hawkhurst Fish Farm

    Add Hawkhurst Fish Farm to your Itinerary

    Hawkhurst Fish Farm

    Type

    Fish Farm

    Hawkhurst

    Carp fishing for the family with a choice of 7 lakes, cafe and pottery.

Search Accommodation

Type:
Area:
Keyword: (OPTIONAL)

Search Things to Do

Type:
Area:
Keyword: (OPTIONAL)

Search What's On

Type:
Area:
Keyword: (OPTIONAL)
Date

Search Food & Drink

Type:
Area:
Keyword: (OPTIONAL)

Search Shopping

Type:
Area:
Keyword: (OPTIONAL)

Search Things to Do

Type:
Area:
Keyword: (OPTIONAL)

Now featuring traveller reviews from TripAdvisor.