TUNBRIDGE WELLS is to Kent what Bath is to Somerset. The gracious crescents and elaborate terraces, designed by Decimus Burton to serve its image as a fashionable 18th-century watering hole, still give it an air of great prosperity. Beau Nash was master of ceremonies at the wells from 1735, and you can still take a foul-tasting sip from the dipper at the Pantiles. For a more complete re-creation of the past there is ‘A Day At The Wells’, one of those sight, sound and smell museums that aim to leave as little as possible to the imagination. Modern Tunbridge Wells caters for recreational tastes of every kind. There are a couple of art galleries, theatres, a cinema, a lively arts centre and two golf courses, as well as a rugby club and Kent County Cricket Ground. It is a shopper’s paradise, with a huge range of specialist shops, kitchen shops, chocolate shops, tea-rooms, antiques shops and bespoke jewellers. In the Royal Victoria Shopping Mall you find all the chain stores. There is a farmers’ market every Saturday, alternating between the Town Hall and the Pantiles. The town is also rich in good primary and secondary schools.
Undoubtedly one of the best addresses in Tunbridge Wells is Nevill Park, a private road with lodge gates at each end, ten minutes’ walk from the station, where large and sumptuous houses dating from the 1800s to the present day overlook the town from a ridge. On one side is the green expanse of Tunbridge Wells Common, on the other is Hungershall Park where a semi-detached house would cost between £1m and £2m and a grandly proportioned, villa with seven bedrooms and three reception rooms might cost £3.95m.
You will need a similarly deep pocket if you want to consider one of the 21 exquisitely-designed houses by Decimus Burton in Calverley Park. A house here might cost from £1m to £2m, or £3m for an exceptional property. In Calverley Park Crescent, where shops were originally designed into the ground floors beneath heavily-gardened balconies, you could find a home for around between £1m and £2m. The imposing private houses built along Mount Ephraim are also sought after, though 70 per cent of them have been turned into flats. A one-bedroom flat will cost around £175,000 while a three-bedroom house will cost £675,000. There are some smaller ones at around £225,000. A detached Victorian house here would cost £1m to £1.5m.
Ordinary family houses are to be found in Royal Chase and Culverden Down, behind Mount Ephraim and only a short walk from the station and shops. Many of these were built during the various building booms of the 20th century. A family-sized house here might be bought for £500,000 to £770,000. Buyers of more modest means head east to the tightly-knit area of terraces and semis where a three-bedroom semi with no garage will cost between £190,000 and £235,000.
The reputation of the local schools is another major factor in the town’s popularity. They include Skinners, a boys’ grammar school; Tunbridge Wells Boys’ Grammar; Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar, and two comprehensives. All are close to St John’s Sports and Indoor Tennis Centre and swimming pool.
Tunbridge Wells is surrounded by rich riding country, well provided with bridleways and livery stables. The Eridge and South Downs Hunt and the Pony Club are both vigorously attended. Langton Green, two-and-a-half miles to the west, is a favourite with local businessmen. It has its own village shops, pubs, some old village houses and cottages, plenty of new housing and a popular mixed prep school, Holmwood House. A four-bedroom detached house here will cost between £500,000 and £600,000, but in private roads close to the school prices rise steeply to between £875,000 and £2.5m. A two-bedroom cottage would cost £250,000.
Immediately to the north of Tunbridge Wells is Pembury, which has a bypass and offers a large volume of middle-range modern housing. A three-bedroom detached house here would cost around £300,000, but you need to avoid the roads used as peak-time rat runs. For a grand Georgian house on the green at Pembury, you could pay £1.5m. See also Penshurst, Leigh and Chiddingstone on the North Downs line.