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 Georgian times a day's stage-coach ride could get you to Tunbridge Wells, as it was known in its embryonic era.

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 be entertained, to 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: 74

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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 Chalybeate Spring to your Itinerary

    Chalybeate Spring

    Type

    Natural Feature

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

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

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

    Groombridge Place and The Enchanted Forest

    Type

    Garden

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    Update 18 January 2021 - closed for now until further notice. We look forward to welcoming you back again soon.
    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…

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    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 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 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

  7. Add Hever Castle and Gardens to your Itinerary

    Hever Castle and Gardens

    Type

    Historic House / Palace

    Edenbridge

    Childhood home of Anne Boleyn and later of Lord Astor.

  8. 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.

  9. Add Putlands Sports & Leisure Centre to your Itinerary

    Putlands Sports & Leisure Centre

    Type

    Sports Ground

    Paddock Wood, Tonbridge

    Purpose built centre provides sports hall, fitness studio, meeting rooms, outdoor tennis courts, football and rugby pitches.

  10. Add Bewl Water to your Itinerary

    Bewl Water

    Type

    Lake / Reservoir

    Lamberhurst

    Set in the heart of the High Weald and surrounded by 800 acres of outstanding natural beauty, Bewl Water is the perfect place to watch the seasons change and to enjoy some healthy family fun for all ages.

  11. 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.

  12. Add Biddenden Vineyards to your Itinerary

    Tripadvisor Traveller Rating

    Tripadvisor Traveller Rating - from 214 review(s)from 214 review(s)

    Biddenden Vineyards

    Type

    Vineyard

    Biddenden

    Biddenden Vineyards is the oldest commercial vineyard in Kent, established in 1969. It has grown to 23 acres, producing White, Red, Rosé and Sparkling English Wines. The vinyard is also known for producing cider and pressed juices. <br /><br />The vinyard and shop are open to visitors all year…

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

    St. Mary's Church Lamberhurst

    Type

    Church / Chapel

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

  14. 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.

  15. Add Kino Cinema Hawkhurst to your Itinerary

    Kino Cinema Hawkhurst

    Type

    Cinema

    Hawkhurst

    Kino is the UK's first purely digital cinema with the full HD experience.

  16. Add Tunbridge Wells Sports Centre to your Itinerary

    Tunbridge Wells Sports Centre

    Type

    Leisure / Swimming Pool

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    A great local resource for those interested in health and fitness, with most facilities available on a pay and play basis.

  17. 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.

  18. Calverley Grounds

    Type

    Parkland / Woodland Garden

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    Calverley Grounds is a lovely landscaped park of gardens located in the centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells with attractive lawns and ornamental gardens, including an Italianate garden and welcoming cafe.

  19. 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.

  20. Add Kent & East Sussex Railway to your Itinerary

    Kent & East Sussex Railway

    Type

    Steam Railway

    Tenterden

    A visitor attraction since 1974, the railway offers a selection of on-train catering specials, plus ample free parking at Tenterden and Northiam stations.

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