Homegrown tourists help unlock the heritage gems

    Tunbridge Wells Common 1914
    Soldiers gather on Tunbridge Wells Common in 1914

    Thousands took advantage of the Heritage Open Days last week, allowing them the chance to ‘be a tourist’ in their own town.

    The event, organised locally by the Civic Society, opened up historically significant locations in Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area.

    It allowed visitors free access to properties that are not usually open, or would normally charge an entrance fee, as well as giving the public a chance to try their hand at historical activities, such as bell ringing.

    Heritage Open Days have been running for 14 years, since the Civic Society revived the tradition in 2002.

    This year was the biggest so far, with 42 places and events opened up to the public.

    Tours included behind-the-scenes access to locations that included the Assembly Hall and the Opera House.

    Further afield saw the first public opening in ten years of Mabledon House, the childhood home of Decimus Burton – the celebrated 19th-century architect who designed much of Tunbridge Wells.

    A local organiser from the Civic Society, John Cunningham, hailed the success of the event, adding:

    “We had a great turnout. It tends to get bigger and bigger every year. This time, nearly every event was fully booked – especially Mabledon House, where we had over 400 people attend.

    “We will certainly be putting it on next year and let’s hope for such fantastic weather again.”

    Past and present

    One of the most popular events was the Past and Present Tunbridge Wells exhibition, which presented a collection of hundreds of photos of the town. It was inspired by the popular Facebook group New Old Tunbridge Wells Photos, which currently has 7,860 members.

    Held in Tunbridge Wells Library on Saturday, more than 100 people visited throughout the day to catch a glimpse of days gone past, reminiscence, and share their own memories of the town.

    Collections Development Manager of the Museum and Art Gallery Liz Douglas, who helped organise the exhibition, enjoyed spending the day talking to people about the town’s history:

    “Connecting with local history is really important. It gives people a greater sense of their own town and a deeper connection to where they live,” she said.

    “Also people quite enjoy trying to spot themselves or their parents in lots of shots.”

    Photos: Tunbridge Wells Library, Museum & Art Gallery