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Town guide to Tunbridge Wells

PUBLISHED: 14:29 05 December 2016 | UPDATED: 14:29 05 December 2016

Chapel Place connects footfall between the old High Street and The Pantiles

Chapel Place connects footfall between the old High Street and The Pantiles

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

It's a town rich in history, with a royal stamp of approval and an enviable reputation. It can only be Royal Tunbridge Wells

Liz Edwards in Grosvenor and Hilbert ParkLiz Edwards in Grosvenor and Hilbert Park

Royal Tunbridge Wells has long held a reputation as the heart of archetypal ‘Middle England’ and it’s not surprising, with the prestigious prefix awarded by Edward VII in 1909. The town was, after all, originally founded by aristocracy and the well-heeled.

Visitors have been drawn to the area since the Chalybeate Spring was discovered in 1606. The Pantiles, where the Spring can still be seen, continues to attract and won the town a place in the Great British High Street finals (results not revealed at time of going to press).

Keen to ‘take the waters’ and be seen in the most fashionable places, the rich and famous of 17th-century society turned the land around the spring into a spa retreat with lodgings. Tunbridge Wells was born.

Its fashionable reputation was enhanced by the Georgians and Victorians, who extended the town up the hill, adding to the impressive architecture and creating two distinct areas: the old town or ‘village area’ at the base of Tunbridge Wells Common and the ‘new town’ a short walk away up Mount Pleasant Road.

Today the historic heart of the old town, The Pantiles, hosts restaurants, cafés, boutiques and pubs along with regular events and markets, with the top part of town offering all the shopping and dining opportunities you would expect of a modern town centre.

Throw in two theatres, an award-winning live music venue and some stunning green spaces, and you have all the ingredients for one of the most desirable places to live in Kent.

Sue Pollard stars in the Assembly Hall panto this yearSue Pollard stars in the Assembly Hall panto this year

Eating and shopping

Popular chain restaurants include Zizzi, Prezzo and Jamie’s Italian Trattoria, with recommended independents including Rendez-Vous (01892 525830), Kitsu sushi bar (01892 515510), Thai café Kai’s Kitchen (01892 534497) and The Old Fishmarket (01892 511422) Oyster and Champagne bar.

Evening entertainment is also popular at several of the town’s eateries, with a monthly music night at Il Vesuvio and fun cabaret evenings and events at Scallyway Café. New establishments include speakeasy-style bar Vale Vault, hotel One Warwick Park (with its restaurant L’Amore) and Framptons restaurant opening on The Pantiles before Christmas.

The ever-changing face of Camden Road now includes Vittle and Swig restaurant and a freshly expanded Bicycle Bakery, while St John’s Road now features La Cosa Nostra Café.

When it comes to shopping, the town is spoilt for choice, with big name brands at the top end of the town – Calverley Precint and Royal Victoria Shopping Centre – and a whole host of independents throughout the eclectic Camden Road area and the high-end ‘village’.

Liz Edwards

Rachel JenmanRachel Jenman

The Friends of Grosvenor and Hilbert Park

Tell us a bit about you

I’m Chairman of the Friends of Grosvenor and Hilbert Park (FoGH), the oldest park in Tunbridge Wells. I’ve lived next to the park for the last 40 years and have enjoyed the benefits of this open space so near to the centre of the town.

In 2011 the council circulated a questionnaire to identify what improvements the local community might envisage for the park, which had become somewhat neglected. People in the area had strong opinions, and a ‘Friends’ group was formed. This has developed into a lively, active group of volunteers.

And the history of the park?

Simon Parker outside Vinyl Revolution before its opening in OctoberSimon Parker outside Vinyl Revolution before its opening in October

The original section of the park, the Grosvenor Recreation Ground, was the first purpose-made municipal park in Tunbridge Wells. Opened in June 1889, it was constructed on four acres of land which had, up to that point, been used for waterworks reservoirs and a refuse tip.

A design by Robert Marnock incorporated the natural features of the water supply and a gently sloping site. Over the following years this included an open-air swimming pool and subsequently a playground and bowling green.

In 1931 a substantial bequest of land was made comprising open fields and valuable ancient woodland which now includes a Local Nature Reserve, bringing the total size of the park to 13.6 hectares.

And its makeover?

In 2014, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the park £2.3m towards refurbishment and restoration. Heritage features such as the Marnock Lake and the Victorian grottos that feed the spring water into the lake have been painstakingly restored and all the original Marnock designs followed, as far as practical, in the restoration of the landscaping.

The playground has many new features and the bowls pavilion and café has been transformed into a versatile community resource centre. A community orchard has been planted and Bedgebury National Pinetum has planted rare specimen trees grown from seed collected in its native wild locations to mirror the original planting.

Ice skating at Calverley Park is back againIce skating at Calverley Park is back again

Activities here?

This park is ideal for families with much of the layout being informal with football pitches, open grassland, woodland walks, lakeside walks, a very popular playground and café. Volunteers from FoGH organise some 12 events a year, which include a Family Fun Day, Dog Show, a visit by the Working Horse Trust, Halloween Party, Apple Day, nature walks and workshops to build bird, bat, and bug boxes. Kent High Weald Partnership maintain the Local Nature Reserve and ancient woodland and the HLF fund a Community Engagement Officer who also arranges a wide programme of events and a team of volunteers to help maintain all the recent improvements.

The park is a brilliant focal point for the whole community in this area and serves as a microcosm of interests for all ages. It is a great place to meet, chat and bring families for all sorts of outside activities – all for free!

Visit www.fogh.org.uk

The Forum invests in its future

The Forum on Tunbridge Wells Common is a renowned music venueThe Forum on Tunbridge Wells Common is a renowned music venue

Tunbridge Wells’ award-winning live music venue, The Forum, became a Community Interest Company – or social enterprise – earlier this year, putting its love of music ahead of profit. This means that any money made by the business will go straight back into it, and owners Richard Simm, Jason Dorman and Mark Davyd can’t claim salaries.

The much-loved venue, which achieved national recognition four years ago when it won the NME’s best small music venue award, plans to spend £10,000 to become fully inclusive for all music fans, with new provisions for disabled access and a hearing loop. Applying for various grants and funding, it also plans to raise money through its new Musicians Club scheme for local artists.

Over its 23-year history, The Forum – a converted Victorian public toilet at the foot of Tunbridge Wells Common – has welcomed acts including Adele, Oasis, Ellie Goulding and Mumford and Sons. Sadly many similar venues throughout the country are closing down and The Forum is doing all it can to secure its future. With help from registered charity The Music Venue Trust, the focus is on the essential role places like these play, both for artists building their careers and as cultural hubs within local communities.

Tunbridge Wells gets its first town-centre manager

Royal Tunbridge Wells Together’s (RTWT) first town-centre manager, Rachel Jenman, has recently taken up her new role within the membership organisation. Started by local businesses and the borough council to develop a vision and a business plan for the town centre, it’s the first step in developing a high street for the future.

Rachel says: “Town centres are changing, they are becoming social spaces and we need to reflect this. What I am most excited about for Tunbridge Wells is that RTWT came about because the businesses took the initiative and came together themselves. This is the best start the organisation could have.”

It’s hoped that having a town centre manager will help increase the number of people willing to shop and socialise in Tunbridge Wells. Meanwhile, works continues on the £70m extension to the town’s Royal Victoria Place Shopping Centre.

The improvement work will see more than 173,000sq ft of new retail, food and leisure space injected into the shopping centre, and will include a town-centre cinema.

Vinyl Revolution

A pop-up shop dedicated to vinyl has just opened in Camden Road. The brainchild of musician Simon Parker and his business partner, Rachel Lowe, Simon says: “Vinyl is enjoying a wider resurgence; sales have been constantly increasing since 2009, with the number of records sold last year outstripping total sales in 1996.

Vinyl Revolution’s extensive offering of records from the sixties to the present day will be supplemented by an exclusive range of gifts created by Tunbridge Wells designer Beth Fraser, a former pupil of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, who graduated from London College of Fashion last summer.

Beth’s works inspired by famous quotes from musicians have been turned into a range of environmentally friendly, sustainable clothing and gifts, including T-shirts, aprons, tea towels, baby clothes, dog jackets, artwork, mugs and teapots.

● Vinyl Revolution is open to the public at 1B Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells until 8 January 2017, www.vinyl-revolution.co.uk.

Events

9 Dec to 2 Jan: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Assembly Hall Theatre. Starring Su Pollard from Hi-de-hi! and children’s TV star Jamie Rickers. Tickets are available through the box office on 01892 530613 or at www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk

Until 2 Jan: Outdoor ice skating at Calverley Grounds. Returning for its sixth year, the ice rink will be offering several sessions a day with special times for parents and toddlers. Book by phoning 01892 554645 or via www.tunbridgewellsatchristmas.com

15 Dec to 2 Jan: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella at Trinity Theatre. A magical musical version of this classic tale, this enchanting Christmas production features a live orchestra. Tickets are available through the box office on 01892 678678 or at www.trinitytheatre.net

Property prices

It’s a highly desirable area with great schools and good commuter links so Tunbridge Wells is unsurprisingly pricey. Expect to pay around £275,000 for a two-bed terraced property and anything between £300,000 and about £550,000 for a three-bed semi. There are large properties on the market currently for anything up to £3.5million. A one-bedroom flat can be picked up for around £220,000.

Getting there

On the western edge of Kent, bordering East Sussex, Tunbridge Wells is accessed via the A21 from the M25. The A21 is currently being widened between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, causing some traffic delays there. The town centre station is on the mainline between Hastings and London, with trips to central London taking around 45 minutes.

Sat nav: TN1 1RS

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