Spotlight on Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Tunbridge Wells is a majestic town of hills and elegant buildings offering an excellent choice of individual shops, theatres, restaurants and bars

Tunbridge Wells is a majestic town of hills and elegant buildings offering an excellent choice of individual shops, theatres, restaurants and bars

From 1700’s spa town to middle-class haven in the 20th century, Tunbridge Wells is now a relaxing place for anyone to live and a spectacular place to visit, especially at Christmas, with its fine shops, great choice of entertainment and excellent restaurants.

The architecture is mostly Georgian and Victorian, reflecting its growth from the first buildings constructed around the Chalybeate spring, which attracted the wealthy folk who wanted to take the waters (see main picture).

The northern ‘hilltop’ part of town near Calverley Road is joined to the southerly low-lying Pantiles section (opposite the splendid Common) by Mount Pleasant Road and the pretty High Street. There are five convenient car parks and some on-street parking (one-hour limit).

Where to shop Royal Victoria Place is a Westfield shopping centre, with 1,000 different retailers, all major department stores and many independents. There are small independent traders in nearby Calverley Road (partly pedestrianised), Camden Road, Monson Road. Mount Pleasant and Mount Ephraim have big High Street names, and smaller independents and there’s also the Great Hall Shopping Arcade on The Pantiles. 

The fully pedestrianised Pantiles, with marvellous individual and upmarket stores, plus many pubs and restaurants, includes the Corn Exchange, a haven of different businesses under one roof. The bandstand is in regular use for traditional entertainment (male-voice choirs, carollers, Morris men, jazz).

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St John’s Road, north of Mount Pleasant has interesting clothing, gift shops, antiques and homewares, etc. The shop-packed High Street links the ‘top’ part of town with the Pantiles and nearby Chapel Place, which also has sensational stores.

Where to eat and drink Try Woods Restaurant (01892 614411) for contemporary food in the beautiful and historic Pantiles, The Beacon Bar and Restaurant (01892 524252), with excellent food, live entertainment and a great view. The Ragged Trousers (01892 542715) has fine wines, real ales and great food, The Grove (01892 526549) is the oldest and smallest pub in town, with cask-conditioned real ales.

Traders Talking

Padani Jewellers

Andrew Langmaid, Anastasia Cavendish-Fox and Jenny Flynn (pictured) all work at Padani Jewellers (01892 537533) in the High Street near the Pantiles. The shop, whose ceo is Lital Arica, has been trading for five years. “Our skill is finding our clients something unique that’s going to be lasting and different,” says Andrew. Jenny adds: “Tunbridge Wells is a very relaxed, pretty town with lots for people of all ages and tastes to do. I’d like to see more trade coming from the top of town.”

Joseph McCarthy

Joseph McCarthy (01892 527528) and his team of craftsmen design and make mirrors and picture frames, in their shop in the Pantiles, where they’ve traded for the past four years (but have been in Kent for 30). “The Pantiles is a beautiful place to come and enjoy the range of shops, caf�s and restaurants, or simply to take in the relaxed ambience,” says Liz McCarthy (left). “When the sun shines, being here feels just like being on holiday.”

How to get there

Tunbridge Wells is halfway between London and Hastings, about 30 minutes on the A26 from the A21 junction with the M25. It’s about an hour from London by train, with regular services and good bus and coach links.

Satnav postcode: TN1 1JN

Property prices

One and two-bedroom flats are approx. �142,000 and �225,000 respectively, a three-bedroom semi around �305,000, and a four-bedroom detached house costs upwards of �512,000.

My Town

Louise Jameson, actor and director

What’s best about Tunbridge Wells?I’ve been here since 1989 and I like the peace and calm of where I live, the restaurants, the walks on my doorstep, and I also love my neighbours.

Any improvements needed? Definitely improve the parking, and I do wish there was something to stop drunks hanging around the city centres at weekends, but that’s a problem all towns have. Have later-running trains from London, better fringe theatre and I do think more should be done for teenagers, hence my Sunday Drama College. The group perform open-air Shakespeare every July and get one-to-one tuition

Your favourite place?Happy Valley is very beautiful, and where I live near Toad Rock is special to me.

And a favourite restaurant?The Beacon Bar and Restaurant (01892 524252), which is fast becoming the hot ticket in town for its fringe theatre performances.

Tunbridge Wells in a sentence?There’s beautiful architecture and surrounding countryside and a warm and caring community.

Must see •              The Pantiles: site of the original Tunbridge Wells and source of the original Chalybeate spring, this is a colonnaded walkway on two levels with individual upmarket shops

    Satnav postcode: TN2 5SA •              Church of King Charles the Martyr: magnificent historic place with wonderful ceiling and a sundial

    Satnav postcode: TN1 1YX •              Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery: 01892 554171

    Satnav postcode: TN1 1JN•              Assembly Hall Theatre: for live music, comedians, children and family shows, musicals, 01892 530613

    Satnav postcode: TN1 2LU•              The Common: wonderful green space includes the famous Wellington Rocks.

    Satnav postcode: TN4 8BX • Calverley Grounds: sunken Italianate garden and The Grove, with beautiful old trees.

    Satnav postcode: TN1 1QQ • Trinity Theatre: vibrant centre for the arts set in the beautiful Decimus Burton-designed Holy Trinity Church.

    Satnav postcode: TN1 1JP

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