In an occasional series the Times looks at the fascinating history of The Pantiles. In this issue we focus on how the town’s famous promenade started off life as The Walks and how it became the cultural heart of Tunbridge Wells
Beginning its life as a Georgian medicinal Mecca, thanks to the discovery of the Chalybeate spring in the early 1600s, The Pantiles was originally known as The Walks and then as the Royal Parade.
The area was created by planting two lines of elm and lime trees with pathways in between which quickly was named ‘The Walks.’ The trees were positioned on both the upper and lower sides of a grassy bank.
In 1687, a fire swept through the wooden buildings either side of The Walks and these were rebuilt with the colonnades that to this day give The Pantiles its distinctive look.
When the future Queen Anne came to town in 1698, her son Prince William fell over and she demanded that The Walks should be properly paved. She funded the work with a gift of £100, but when she came back the following year the work had not been done and she vowed never to return.
With alacrity the repairs were duly carried out and inch-thick square paving stones made from Wealden clay and known as ‘pantiles’ were laid.
In 1792 the original pantiles were replaced with stone flag tiles and the following year the area was renamed ‘The Parade’. It quickly became a bustling area where the rich and fashionable would frequent, not only to drink from the spa waters at Chalybeate but also to shop, gossip and gamble.
In 1887 the walkway was given its The Pantiles moniker and over the next few centuries the area built up into a busy commercial one with ale houses and shops locating there.
Nowadays of course The Pantiles is known for its diverse range of independent shops and cool cafes, as well as for the brilliant jazz evenings that are held there on Thursday evenings.