Royal Tunbridge Wells   By Michele Ann Young

Today’s article is by Michele Ann Young, aka Ann Lethbridge, Regency romance author and one-time resident of the famous spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. More recently, she spent some time there on a research trip and provides us with a series of questions and answers regarding the history of this charming town in western Kent. She also explains why the town should never be called "Royal" in any stories set there during the Regency.

And so, the answers to your questions about Tunbridge Wells …

Royal Tunbridge Wells, or "The Wells" as most locals, of which I was one a few years ago, would call it, appears in my as yet to be published novel — The Courtesan’s Quest. The town makes a brief appearance as a stop on the road to London for my hero and heroine. Since I had enjoyed many visits there when I lived in England, I wanted to represent it accurately, even if I only accorded it one sentence in my book.

In 2004, during my annual research visit I renewed my acquaintance with this ancient town. I hope I have thought of the questions you might feel inclined to ask.

Q:   Why is it called Royal Tunbridge Wells?

A.   As you may know, our ancestors were very sure that mineral water that tastes nasty has great restorative powers. It often tastes, smells and looks revolting because it contains iron (and sometimes ugh sulpher), and as all you ladies know, iron actually is good for you. I prefer mine in Guinness I must say.

In 1606, Dudley, Lord North discovered the Chalybeate Springs and decided it was health giving. He told his friends. And they told their friends (no telephones or websites) and visitors from London flocked to the village beside the springs. Royalty were regular visitors, starting with Queen Henrietta Maria, mother of King Charles II through to Queen Victoria.

This picture is a view of the Bathhouse and the Chalybeate Springs which were originally in the middle of a field and gradually became more and more enclosed until it looked like this in 1804.

Bathhouse at Tunbridge Wells

The Town received its royal prefix from King Edward VII in 1909.

Q:   So if it called Royal Tunbridge Wells in a Regency Book, that would be an error?

A:   Bows. Indeed, Madame. — — Bit of the old Beau Nash there, ducks.

Q:   I thought people went to the City of Bath to drink the waters?

A:   Correct, and in time Bath became the more fashionable place. Richard "Beau" Nash, the arbiter of polite society in the 1740’s, also became Master of Ceremonies for Tunbridge Wells. The Town under the auspices of its various patrons continued the tradition into Queen Victoria’s times. So even in the Regency, Tunbridge Wells gave Bath a run for its money and some very famous people continued to visit there because it was so close to London.

Q:   Are the original springs still there?

A:   Yes. And you can taste the water, if you are brave enough. Been there and done that. Hmm. Must get a teeshirt. This is a picture down the length of the pantiles, which surround the springs, named after the tiles on the promenade. More about that next time.

Pantiles at TunbridgeWells

Q:   Where is Royal Tunbridge Wells?

A:   It is a one hour drive from London, in Kent, very close to the Kent Sussex Border. I actually thought it was in Sussex for a while. For more pictures, go to my website and click on My Regency World.

Q:   Are there other sites of interest besides the Springs?

A:   I am so glad you asked that question, because that will be the topic of my next blog post.

If you have any comments, questions or information to add, don’t be shy. I would love to hear from you.

© 2006 – 2013 Michele Ann Young
Originally posted at Regency Ramble
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.

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