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: 71

, currently showing 41 to 60.

  1. 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.

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

    St. Dunstan's Church Cranbrook

    Type

    Church / Chapel

    Cranbrook

    Cathedral of the Weald.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Add Tonbridge Castle to your Itinerary

    Tonbridge Castle

    Type

    Castle / Fort

    Tonbridge

    Open all year, Mon-Sat 9am-4pm, Sun/BH 10.30am-4pm. Closed Christmas & New Year. Last tour one hour before closing time. Grounds open daily, free of charge, 8am-dusk. Adults £5.00, concessions £3.00, Family £13.50.

  6. Add Mercure Tunbridge Wells Health Club to your Itinerary

    Mercure Tunbridge Wells Health Club

    Type

    Leisure / Swimming Pool

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    It's all about indulgence in the health club.

  7. The Walled Nursery

    Add The Walled Nursery to your Itinerary

    The Walled Nursery

    Type

    Garden Centre

    Hawkhurst

    Garden centre with a difference! Visit a Victorian walled kitchen garden and the Vinery cafe.

  8. Esporta Health Club

    Add Esporta Health Club to your Itinerary

    Esporta Health Club

    Type

    Leisure / Swimming Pool

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

  9. Add Bayham Abbey to your Itinerary

    Bayham Abbey

    Type

    Historic Site

    Lamberhurst

    Historic Abbey ruins

  10. Add Broadview Gardens & Garden Centre to your Itinerary

    Broadview Gardens & Garden Centre

    Type

    Garden Centre

    Hadlow, Tonbridge

    Ten acres of landscaped and themed gardens. All year round interest and colour. Enjoy tea and cakes in the adjacent tearoom. Purchase specialist plants in the garden centre. Open all year. Phone for further details.

  11. Add Cycle-Ops.Co.Uk to your Itinerary

    Cycle-Ops.Co.Uk

    Type

    Shop / Shopping Centre

    Tonbridge

    Choose from cycle hire or moving-on holidays. Modern quality bikes, good routes and support services. Large groups possible. Local routes include the NEW off road trail to Penshurst with lots to see and do. Great for all the family.

  12. 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 things to discover.

  13. Add Burrswood Gardens to your Itinerary

    Burrswood Gardens

    Type

    Garden

    Tunbridge Wells

  14. Add Knole to your Itinerary

    Knole

    Type

    Historic House / Palace

    Sevenoaks

    Set at the heart of the only remaining medieval deer park in Kent, Knole's fascinating links with royalty as well as its literary connections with Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, make this one of the most intriguing houses in England.

  15. Add Go Ape - Forest Adventure Leeds Castle to your Itinerary

    Go Ape - Forest Adventure Leeds Castle

    Type

    Adventure Park / Playground

    Maidstone

    We’ll brief you for safety before you fly down our zip-wires, leap off our Tarzan Swing and tackle our crossings whilst enjoying some of Britain’s most breath taking scenery up in the trees.

  16. Add Sandhurst Vineyards to your Itinerary

    Sandhurst Vineyards

    Type

    Vineyard

    Sandhurst

    25 acre vineyard.

  17. Penshurst Bike Park

    Add Penshurst Bike Park to your Itinerary

    Penshurst Bike Park

    Type

    Sports Ground

    Penshurst

    Off-road biking for all abilities

  18. Add Chapel Down Winery at Tenterden Vineyard to your Itinerary

    Chapel Down Winery at Tenterden Vineyard

    Type

    Vineyard

    Tenterden

    The home of England's premier wine producer. Bistro & wine bar, vineyard walks and guided tours.

  19. Add Odeon Cinema Tunbridge Wells to your Itinerary

    Odeon Cinema Tunbridge Wells

    Type

    Cinema

    Royal Tunbridge Wells

    Multi-screen cinema

  20. Add Fenton's Curling Rink to your Itinerary

    Fenton's Curling Rink

    Type

    Sports Ground

    Near Kippings Cross, Royal Tunbridge Wells

    The only curling rink in England.

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