In an occasional series the Times looks at the fascinating history of The Pantiles. In this issue we focus on the heritage of the Chalybeate Spring.
The Pantiles are Tunbridge Wells’ most enduring landmark, a major tourist attraction – and a haven for local business. This is entirely appropriate because the area is literally the source of Tunbridge Wells’ existence. Since the earliest times, it has been a ﬂ ourishing area for commerce. The reason? A simple hole in the ground…
The town’s Chalybeate Spring was discovered on the site in 1606 when Dudley, Third Baron North was returning to London after convalescing at the Abergavenny Estate in Eridge.
En route he saw a reddish liquid seeping out of the ground and decided to have a drink of it. The distinctive ﬂ avour reminded him of the Chalybeate water he had discovered at a spa in Europe.
The name Chalybeate means rich in iron, which characterises the taste and colour of the water.
Not immediately marketable, you might think. However, noting its reviving properties, Dudley collected samples of it to bring to London and soon enough many doctors were in agreement.
They hurried back to investigate the properties of the water properly and two years later Lord Abergavenny sunk the first well.
“Taking the waters”, according to Dudley’s physician, was a cure for “the colic, the melancholy, and the vapours; it made the lean fat, the fat lean; it killed flat worms in the belly, loosened the clammy humours of the body, and dried the over-moist brain”.
Dr Rowzee of Ashford recommended drinking 10 pints a day – followed by a stroll.
Word soon spread about the restorative powers of the Chalybeate spring and many others started to flock to it. The small settlement that grew up developed into the town we know as Tunbridge Wells.
Dudley lived to the impressive age of 85 – quite a feat in those days where the average person survived no longer than 40 years.
The lady from the cottage next to the waters, Mrs Humphreys, became known as the first “dipper” – a title she held until her death.
The dipping tradition is still kept to this day by generations of “dippers”, although not all of them have lived to the ripe old age of 102 like Mrs Humphreys.
The Chalybeate Spring is situated in the heart of The Pantiles and open from April until September from 10am to 3pm on Wednesdays to Sundays and also on Bank Holidays.