Royal Tunbridge Wells was previously known as just Tunbridge Wells and is a town located in western Kent, England, 30 miles south-east of central London.
Tunbridge Wells is close to the border with East Sussex upon the northern edge of the High Weald, whose special sandstone geology is characterised by the rock formations at the Wellington Rocks and High Rocks.
The centre of Tunbridge Wells is called the Pantiles because of the old tiled pavements. The historic market district grew up organically from the main Chalybeate Spring in the heart of the town. Today it is a museum where you can sample the iron rich spa water but it is not possible to swim in it nowadays. (1)
The music shop Brittens has supported locals with instruments, music scores and all the accessories that they need this year. The manager said that many people have had more time than ever to devote to their musical practice at home this year as a result of lockdown and the furlough scheme. Brittens Store Manager explained how “We have been operating on limited opening hours this August but we are looking forward to returning to normal hours again this September.” (2)
Retailers with expensive showrooms such as Tunbridge Wells Interiors have continued to open for a few customers at a time. The Zero Waste Company offer a wide variety of ethical products and have a cafe with outside seating and were trading as near to normally as possible with the usual social distancing measures in place.
On the day we visited the stunning lighting store Lumiere were recording a live webinar. This in store and online event demonstrates how the nature of retailing is changing and how online and traditional shop keeping is now so closely blended.
Susie Watson designs have outlets in Chichester and Tunbridge Wells and continue to offer high quality furnishings in a spectrum of soft colours. Their deep window displays are tempting for anybody who is lucky enough to live in an English home. The amount of people that are allowed through the doors at one time is now closely monitored.
The design led fashion and home international retail brand Anthropology arrived in Royal Tunbridge Wells in the spring of 2019. Managing Director Peter Ruis has “recognised that its UK customers do not want to shop in cavernous stores, and instead have a thirst for bijou, localised retail experiences.” according to Isabella Fish of the respected industry publication Drapers.
The Sales Manager explained to me that since opening up after lockdown finished this summer the boutique has been “selling steadily and exceeding their own commercial expectations this season”. (3)
It seems that rejecting the traditional department store franchise format that designer brands have favoured over the last few decades has been a savvy choice this year. Visitors to Anthropology are enjoying exploring the special ranges with a French twist that are presented throughout the four floors of the store and are choosing to purchase in this more relaxed setting out of the city.
Hand sanitisers are at the entrances to all businesses now and have become part of the way we expect to be greeted in the ‘new normal’.
Many stores are conveying the message that they are open and ready for customers with bold decorative frontages in a rainbow of hues. At the London Nail Company’s Tunbridge Wells branch cascading bright flowers cheer everyone up. At Juliets cafe bakers pastels clash merrily with primary hues in a jolly collection of tea sets topped off with dyed dried flowers.
Mirror Mirror beauticians have happily hung a hundred tulips from their ceiling in their front windows. Pots of tulips complete their uplifting floral entrance. Champneys and a good selection of beauty companies sit alongside other luxury labels like Whistles and The White Company.
Traditional department store Hoopers sells its designer wares but because of Covid-19 complications the Zest cafe is currently closed. It is not known when it will be serving food and drinks or when all the facilities will be available for its patrons to use.
A good selection of independent cafes provide places for refreshment and relaxation between shopping. This now involves some patient queuing outside on the street for a little while until the people inside have already made their purchases.
Nearly everything is upmarket in ‘Tun Wells’ as residents like to call it and the architecture is Georgian and Victorian. Even posh pooches are catered for in what looks like it could be a bespoke gentleman’s outfitters named Collared that features a very smart vintage mahogany framed exterior.
Royal Tunbridge Wells was frequented by members of the Crowns court who rode down to the area to enjoy the healing waters of its natural springs. The posh title was given by “Edward VII in 1909, partly to commemorate the fact that his mother, Queen Victoria, had loved the town so much.” (4)
During a pandemic in 2020 the town still offers a country escape from the challenges of the city at relatively close proximity and in much less time by car than it would have taken on horseback for courtiers all those years ago.
When visiting and enjoying tea French cafe style on a weekday morning, it is easy to see that there seems to be enough ‘comfortably off folk’ and ‘well to do families’ with a list of things to buy to keep this community thriving. With the Pantiles market open for trading again on the first and third weekend of the month, there is lots to draw visitors from all over the region to experience the delights of this prestigious and characterful place.
(1) ‘ The Chalybeate Spring’ Tunbridge Wells offical tourism website 16 September 2020 The Chalybeate Spring
(2) Brittens ‘Where Music Matters’ website 16 September 2020 Brittens Music
(3) ‘Inside the new Anthropologie ‘local’ store’ Isabella Fish, Drapers Online, 11 April 2019 Drapers Online Inside New Anthropology Store
(4) ‘Why You Should Go To…Tunbridge Wells’ Laura Reynolds, July 2018 Londonist: Why You Should Go To Tunbridge Wells
(5) Anthropologie website Anthropologie
(6) The Zero Waste Company website The Zero Waste Company
(7) Mirror Beauty Company website Mirror Beauty Company