Tomorrow [Thursday] the Queen celebrates her 90th birthday, and across the United Kingdom 1,000 beacons will be lit in her honour. Here in Tunbridge Wells, one of only three towns in England to bear the title ‘Royal’ and a favourite of our second-longest reigning monarch, we look at our regal connections
Many local people will remember when Diana, the Princess of Wales, visited Tunbridge Wells to open Royal Victoria Place in October 1992. But no one will recall a young Princess Victoria riding her own donkey, apparently called Flower, along Church Road.
In her childhood Victoria came down with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and would stay at Decimus Burton’s Mount Pleasant house on Crescent Road, which now houses the Hotel du Vin, and Boyne House on Mount Ephraim, enjoying her summer days playing in Calverley Grounds.
In 1835 the 16-year-old princess – who would become Queen two years later – attended the races on the Common and noted ‘numbers of beggars, itinerary musicians, actors etc of all sorts and kinds’ She added: “It was very amusing. The day was beautiful and we sat under a sort of covering of cloth decorated with flowers.”
Walking through the town later that week with her mother, she came across a man selling parrots.
“Amongst them was one dear little paroquet of a green colour with a pale brown head and so very tame that mamma took it on her finger and it would hardly leave her. It talks also, the man says. Mamma bought the dear little thing… it is now in Mamma’s room.”
The Royal Opera House in the centre of town and the Royal Victoria Hall in Southborough were opened to mark Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The latter was opened in 1900 but is set to be demolished in the coming months; the former, unveiled in 1902, has variously been reincarnated as a cinema, a bingo hall and a public house.
The royal patronage of the town began in 1630 with Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I, after the birth of her son – the future Charles II. He also frequented the area, and in 1678 the Chapel of King Charles the Martyr was built near what came to be known as The Pantiles.
The town’s most famous landmark was developed following a visit by the future Queen Anne in 1698, when her son Prince William fell over on ‘The Walks’. She demanded that they should be repaved, but when she came back the following year the work had not been carried out and she vowed she would never come back.
More recently, the Queen Mother came to town for the Silver Jubilee in 1977, and for the Diamond event three years ago the Earl and Countess of Wessex were here, while Princess Anne attended Tunbridge Wells’ 400th anniversary a decade ago.