The historic spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells has been attracting visitors for over 400 years thanks to the chance discovery of the Chalybeate Spring by young nobleman Lord North in 1606, which was thought to provide health-giving properties. Tired visitors, including royalty and the aristocracy, flocked to the town, located about 30 miles south of London, to take the waters and it soon became a destination to rival other popular spa resorts such as Brighton and Bath.
Shops, coffee houses, gaming houses and lodgings soon appeared near the spring and formed a covered colonnaded walkway which came to be called the Pantiles. In 1909 the King Edward VII officially recognised the popularity of Tunbridge Wells with its many noble visitors - including his mother Queen Victoria - by granting the town its “Royal” prefix, one of the few towns in England in receipt of such an honour.
Tunbridge Wells is based in the heart of Kent, the county often referred to as “the Garden of England”. As a result it has bountiful supplies of locally grown organic and non-organic fruit and vegetables such as cherries, strawberries and raspberries and hard fruits such as pears and apples. The area is also known for its locally produced meats, honey, cob nuts, asparagus, hops (used for making beers) and wine. Up the hill in the town centre, there is a regular farmers’ market - Tunbridge Wells Farmers' Market - held outside the Town Hall and Library buildings in Civic Way every second and fourth Saturday in the month. Bringing together over 40 stalls, the farmers’ market features locally produced food and drink from within a 30 mile catchment area, including goat’s meat sausages and onion bhajis alongside eggs, fish, wine, game, olives and sauces.
The picturesque historical area, a 10 minute walk downhill from Tunbridge Wells’ railway station, meanwhile, still boasts a large range of cafés, bars, pubs and restaurants including the Grade II listed Duke of York: which sources seasonal ingredients from Kent; The Ragged Trousers: which uses local independent suppliers; and the Cake Shed: which unsurprisingly specialises in freshly prepared cakes alongside gourmet sandwiches, coffee and tea. The Association of Pantiles Traders organises the Tunbridge Wells (Pantiles) Food & Craft Market on the first and third weekends of every month, with Saturdays featuring local food produce and Sundays focusing on food and artisan crafts.
The Lower Pantiles is also home to the Rosemary Shrager Cookery School, providing a programme of one day courses and two day weekend courses aimed at both the complete novice and the budding chef. Based in the old Corn Exchange, a three storey Regency building, the school includes a domestic and professional school as well as spaces for private functions.