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History of Tunbridge Wells.
Royal Tunbridge Wells grew up around the Chalybeate – or iron-bearing – Spring discovered and publicised by Dudley, Lord North, in 1606. The twenty-five year old nobleman was in poor health – due, it is said, to over-indulgence at the court of James I. In the hope that country air would provide a cure, he went to stay with Lord Abergavenny on his Eridge estate. While riding along the bottom of Tunbridge Wells Common, he noticed a spring spilling out orange-coloured water. There was already a well-known health-resort at Spa in present-day Belgium, based on springs of a similar nature, so Lord North quickly realised that he had found a new spa resort for England. Claiming that drinking the water had restored him to perfect health, he spread the word among royalty, nobility and gentry.
The first recorded royal visitor to ‘take the waters’ was Queen Henrietta Maria, who spent six weeks here in 1629. Charles II and Queen Catherine came on several occasions in the 1660s. They are said to have stayed at what is now Mount Ephraim House, while the bulk of their court camped out on the open Common. The future James II visited in 1670, popularising the High Rocks as a favoured venue for a day’s outing.
An article with links constantly maintained
Based on CHARLES II AND HIS COURT
BY A. G. A. BRETT
NEW YORK: G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
LONDON: METHUEN & GO. LTD.
From 1662-1670 Queen Catherine still hoped for children, and in default of shrines whither to make pilgrimages, she sought physical aids in the various watering-places of England, of which Bath and Tunbridge were then the most famous.
TUNBRIDGE WELLS 185
In July, 1663, the Court went to Tunbridge, "the place of all Europe most rural and simple, yet, at the same time, most entertaining and agreeable. Tunbridge is the same distance from London that Fontainebleau is from Paris, and is, at the season, the general rendezvous of all the gay and handsome of both sexes. The company, though always numerous, is always select: since those who repair thither for diversion, ever exceed the number of those who go thither for health. Everything there breathes mirth and pleasures; constraint is banished, familiarity is established upon the first acquaintance, and joy and pleasure are the sole sovereigns of the place.
"The company are accommodated with lodgings in little, clean, and convenient, habitations, that lie straggling and separated from each other, a mile-and-a-half all around the Wells, where the company meet in the morning. This place consists of a long walk, shaded by spreading trees, under which they promenade while drinking the waters. On one side of this walk is a long row of shops, plentifully stocked with all manner of toys, lace, gloves, stockings and where there is raffling, as at Paris, in the Foire de St. Germain; on the other side of the walk is the market; and, as it is the custom here for every person to buy their own provisions, care is taken that nothing offensive appears on the stalls. Here young, fair, fresh-colored country girls, with clean linen, small straw hats, and neat shoes and stockings, sell game, vegetables, flowers, and fruit; here, one may live as one pleases: here is, likewise, deep play, and no want of amorous intrigues. 1
“As soon as evening comes, everyone quits his little palace to assemble at the bowling-green; where in the open air, those who choose, dance upon a turf more soft and smooth than the finest carpet in the world ... the Queen even surpassed her usual attentions in inventing and supporting entertainments; she endeavored to increase the natural ease and freedom of Tunbridge by dispensing with, rather than requiring, the ceremonies due to her presence."
And the annotation:
1 Cf. de Comminges (Jusserand, pp. 89-90, and Madame, p. I4S)> July, 1663: "Well may they be called les eaux de scandals [the waters of scandal], for they nearly ruined the good name of the maids and of the ladies (those, I mean, who were there without their husbands)." ... "The waters are a little mtriolles."
So Defoe says of Tunbridge: "Any person that looks like a gentleman, has an agreeable address, and behaves with decency and good manners, may single out whom he pleases, that does not appear engaged, and may talk, rally, and say anything decent to them."
The story of Dudley, Lord North's discovery of the famous spring:
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.