Only three towns in England can call themselves ‘Royal’ – and Royal Tunbridge Wells, a town of 56,000 people which lies 30 miles south-east of London in Kent, is one of them.
King Edward VII bestowed the title on it in 1909, partly to commemorate the fact that his mother, Queen Victoria, loved the town so much. She frequently took herself on countryside ‘retreats’ there as a young woman, even making her first-ever train journey to get to the town.
It may not have a regular royal visitor these days, but RTW (as the locals call it) has retained an air of refinement.
“Tunbridge Wells is a wonderful place to live. A pretty and historic town steeped in history,” says Ben Hosmer, partner at estate agent Mr and Mrs Clarke.
It has long been attractive to buyers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of London, while also gaining some extra space or saving a pretty penny.
House styles vary from the historic Regency elegance of the Tunbridge Wells Parks to the beamy 17th century, Georgian and Victorian farmhouses and cottages in the villages, magnificent rural country estates, equestrian properties and many striking individual contemporary houses.Natasha Selbie, Savills Tunbridge Wells
Commuters can reach Charing Cross, London Bridge, Waterloo East or Cannon Street in less than an hour. And when it comes to finding the perfect property, there’s something for everyone.
“Tunbridge Wells and its immediate surrounds offer the best town and country houses to suit all requirements,” says Natasha Selbie of Savills Tunbridge Wells. “House styles vary from the historic Regency elegance of the Tunbridge Wells Parks to the beamy 17th century, Georgian and Victorian farmhouses and cottages in the villages, magnificent rural country estates, equestrian properties and many striking individual contemporary houses.”
According to Hamptons International, the average house price in Tunbridge Wells is £383,410, and has increased by 26 per cent in the past five years with a slight dip of 1.4 per cent in the last twelve months. This is 19 per cent cheaper than the current London average.
“We see lots of young couples and families who move from areas such as Blackheath, Battersea, Clapham and Wimbledon, to a family-sized period house with a garden for around £750,000,” says Natasha Firman of Winkworth Estates in Tunbridge Wells.
Families are attracted by the area’s schools, particularly as Kent is one of only a handful of areas that still has a grammar school system. Tonbridge and Sevenoaks public schools are also nearby.
The most sought-after streets are those surrounding Tunbridge Wells’ many green spaces. “Historically, some of the most exclusive neighbourhoods include those around Nevill Park such as The Midway or Hungershall Park,” says Jason Tema, director at Clearview Developments which is working on two conversions of period buildings in the town.
Market is livening up
But what about first-time buyers, who according to Hamptons make up around a fifth of the Tunbridge Wells market?
“Young professionals might favour the streets around Grove Park, which offers period properties in the midst of the town centre, or Camden Road which has a slight bohemian feel to it,” Tema adds.
As well as period properties, there are an increasing number of new builds going up in Tunbridge Wells.
For example, there are 243 new homes at Berkeley Homes’ luxury Royal Wells Park development, where many existing buyers have relocated from London.
Like in many areas the market has been sluggish in recent years, but things are starting to pick up.
“With the beginning of the New Year there has been a significant increase in activity, and houses have been selling in all price ranges,” says James Cairns, director at the local branch of Hamptons International. “There is a considerable demand but the choice is limited, not unexpected at this time of year.”
Fancy a dip?
There was a time when the height of excitement was being served a glass of water from its historic spring by a costumed ‘dipper’ (this still goes on today, but the water contains high levels of iron which gives it something of a ‘unique’ taste).
But today there is much more to do around Tunbridge Wells, as new restaurants and bars join the old favourites that are clustered around the Pantiles Georgian colonnade.
“There is the family-owned Sankey’s Old Fish Market at the Pantiles, Hotel Du Vin & Bistro, Thackerays and the recent addition of The Ivy on the High Street,” says Selbie. “There is also The Secret Cellar for wine and for the beer connoisseur, Fuggles, which embraces all that is current in craft beer and spirits.”
If you’re looking at a move outside of London, there is plenty to recommend Tunbridge Wells. And who knows – maybe you’ll love it as much as Queen Victoria.
Homes on the market in Tunbridge Wells this week
Manor Lodge, £2.45m
This five-bed Victorian villa is on the market for the first time in almost 60 years. It has a wealth of period features, including a detached ‘bothy’ in the garden, and is located in a prime area close to the common.
Call Savills on 01892 507 002
The Pantiles House, £385,000
Sitting on the first floor of a grade II listed building close to The Pantiles, this two-bed leasehold apartment is in a central, yet incredibly quiet area in the heart of the town.
Call Winkworth Tunbridge Wells on 01892 519 600
Sutherland Road, £895,000
Commuters will love this four-bed townhouse, which is just 0.15 miles from the train station. It has a secluded, west-facing courtyard garden laid with stone tiles, an ideal place to sit and relax.
Call Knight Frank on 01892 887166
House prices Source: Zoopla
Transport Source: TfL
Time to Canary Wharf: 64 mins
Time to Liverpool Street: 74 mins
Nearest train station: Tunbridge Wells
Best roads Source: Zoopla
Most Expensive: Holmewood Ridge, £1.45m
Best Value: The Goodwins, £176,000
Price difference: £1.27m – 724%
Tunbridge Wells has no shortage of good restaurants. For Italian, head to authentic trattoria La Follia, or for Japanese, sushi bar Kitsu comes highly recommended. If a gastropub is more your thing, try The Mount Edgcumbe, which boasts its very own sandstone cave. There are plenty of National Trust sites, including Scotney Castle where you can see the castle ruins as well as an on-site hop farm, and Chiddingstone Village, a one-street Tudor village with a historic pub and quaint tea room. For sporty types, Calverley Grounds offers three croquet lawns as well as tennis, netball and basketball courts, and Fenton’s Curling Rink is the first dedicated venue of its kind in England. Finally, head to The Forum music venue, a converted public loo where Oasis and Green Day played early gigs.