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Tunbridge Wells is a properly ‘Royal’ place!

IT HAPPENS often that James the Sweep gets called ‘Sir’ when he pops into his favourite newsagent in Royal Tunbridge Wells to buy his favourite chocolate bar (milk choc with a caramel centre, in case you’re wondering).

Nothing unusual about that, on the face of it. But it makes James twirl his brush for two very good reasons: [1] Everyone is polite in T Wells and that’s wonderful and [2] T Wells is so closely associated with Royalty… Lords… Ladies… ‘Sirs’… that James is never sure if the newsagent believes the town’s master sweep is, in fact, one of the landed gentry.

James is used to sweeping chimneys in stately homes and castles all over the county of Kent, alongside terraced, bungalow, semi detached and detached homes. That’s a simple fact – Hever Castle, the Knole estate, for example. Yet the relationship between royalty and Tunbridge Wells continues to fascinate him. For a start, Royal T Wells has a unique standing with the Royal prefix. Not many towns in Britain can claim to be royal.

Yet the ‘royal’ part wasn’t added by the townsfolk – they’re much too humble for that. It was King Edward VII who decided that Tunbridge Wells deserved wider recognition. He also wanted to honour his late mother, Queen Victoria who loved the place and would often visit to enjoy the bathing waters and other leisurely pursuits. That’s why the king gave T Wells the new name of ‘Royal Tunbridge Wells’. More than a hundred years later, the title still stands and it is completely relevant for the settlement pioneering the highest living standards, which hits the right notes when it comes to balancing the positives in hearth and home, work and education, hospitality and service.

Of course, the prefix is not the only royal connection with T Wells. Apart from the fact that our present Queen’s favourite chocs were made in the town (probably not the same caramel type which James the Sweep likes to chomp) – the connections go much further back in history.

The popularity of the Chalybeate Spring in 1606 invited interest from the aristocracy and saw the town boom in popularity as the ‘Must Visit’ location for top-end holiday breaks.

Fashionable society brought with it the development in T Wells of facilities for balls and dances, games and coffee houses, theatre and the like. To say nothing of the accommodation such as lodging houses in the northern tip of the Pantiles, provided by Margaret, widow of the Viscount Purbeck in the 1680s.

Royal Tunbridge Wells is definitely ‘Royal’ – a special place. James the Sweep is privileged to be the town’s master chimney sweep, making sure residents are free to enjoy indoor fires without the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or chimney fires.