The Fateful Marriage


Tunbridge Wells was a well-known watering place in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s heyday was in the middle years of the 18th century. By the latter end, it had become less fashionable and was the haunt of the elderly, invalids who came to tend the waters, and the local residents. The young thought of the town as stuffy and old-fashioned, but were often to be seen accompanying their relatives who came to take the waters.

Most of the “amusements” described below were still to be enjoyed, so it does give a picture of what life was like for visitors who usually came in the summer months. Thus we discover Sybilla, the Dowager Marchioness of Polbrook, who has come to take the waters, accompanied by her grand-daughter, Lady Elizabeth Fiske. Summoned to join them arrive the Fanshawes, along with their retinue.

As you can see, Tunbridge Wells offered a lively scene of entertainment even without the addition of murder.

A square off the Pantiles looking much like it would have done in the 18th century

In 1766, the following were the prescribed amusements :- “The company usually appear on the parade between seven and eight o’clock in the morning, to drink the water, and practice the necessary exercise of walking, which is very sufficient amusement for an hour or two. They then return to their lodgings to breakfast, or else assemble together in parties at the tea-rooms, where it is customary for gentlemen to treat the ladies, and their male acquaintance, every one in their turn, and frequently to give a public breakfast to the whole company without exception; which, in fine weather, is often given under the trees upon the open walk, and attended with music the whole time. After breakfast it is usual to attend morning service in the chapel, to take an airing in coaches or on horseback, to assemble together in the bookseller’s shop, or else to saunter upon the parade. When prayers are ended, the music, which had only ceased during the time of divine service, strikes up afresh, and the company thickening upon the walks, divert themselves with conversations as various as their different ranks and circumstances, till the important call of dinner obliges the different parties to disperse. Dinner finished, the band of music again ascends the orchestra, and you once more behold the company returning in crowds to the walks; but now the morning dress is laid aside, and all appear in full and splendid attire. The general desire of all is to see and be seen, till the hour of tea-drinking, when they assemble together, as in the morning, commonly at the expense of the gentlemen. This over, cards and all sorts of lawful gaming succeed in the great rooms, which are supplied with a proper number of tables and all necessary accommodations. Twice in the week, that is, on Tuesdays and Fridays, there are public balls in the great assembly rooms, where all ranks are mingled together without any distinction. The nobility and the merchants, the gentry and the traders, are all upon an equal footing, so long as you behave with that decorum which is ever necessary in genteel company.”

“The Wells, properly so called, is the center of business and pleasure, because there the markets, the medicinal water, the chapel, the assembly-room and the public parades are situated. These parades are usually called the upper walk and the lower walk; the first being neatly paved with square brick, raised about four steps above the other, and particularily appropriated to the company; the second remains unpaved, and is chiefly used by country people and servants.”

Parade 1880

“On the right hand of the paved walk in the way from the well is the assembly-room, the coffee-houses, and the shops for silver-smiths, jewellers, milleners, booksellers, Tunbridgeware, &c. From thence a portico is extended the whole length of the parade, supported by Tuscan pillars, for the company to walk under occasionally. This walk is shaded by a long row of large and flourishing trees planted on the left hand of it, in the midst of which is erected a gallery for musick; and the whole is properly separated from the lower walk by a range of neat palisades, opposite to which are the taverns, a few decent lodging-houses, and a very elegant assembly-room, with a coffe-house, and all needful conveniences for the entertainment of company.”

From the year 1790 to 1827, scarcely anything occurred worthy of particular notice. The place gradually increased and improved both in the number of buildings and of population. It was regularly visited by the most distinguished characters in the literary, political, and fashionable world; to enumerate whom, would be to republish the Court Guides and Peerage Books of the last half century.

The Pantiles at Tunbridge Wells in the Victorian era but looking as it did in the 18th century