I am a writer and historian living in a converted coach-house in the middle of Tunbridge Wells. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in a village not far away, although my memories of visiting the town as a child are sparse. I remember reaching up to pay a cashier way above me in the kiosk at the greengrocers on Mount Pleasant. I remember the arctic cold of the draughty changing rooms in the Monson Road swimming baths. I remember queueing to get into the cinema (when it was the Classic) with my first boyfriend. I remember the time I was bitten by a swan at Dunorlan Park.
In 2007 I returned to the area, this time to live in the town itself. Some aspects have changed. The swimming baths and cinema are long gone. Coffee shops, charity shops and estate agents are everywhere and the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre dominates the top end of town. Other things are unchanged – walking in Dunorlan Park brings back childhood visits (and the swan) and the first time I sang in a choir concert at the Assembly Hall I was transported immediately back to playing viola in a music competition forty years’ earlier. I swear the royal red seats and mud brown curtains were the same ones.
One of the things I enjoy most about living here is a sense of history. While development has destroyed some of the town’s past, the Pantiles, churches and other buildings, such as the Opera House and the Great Hall, remain (even if the use has changed in some cases). A high level of local interest in the past manifests itself in many forms – books, pamphlets, talks, exhibitions, guided tours, local societies, campaigns, websites, Facebook groups and so on.
Of course at its heart history is more about people than about buildings. I’ve spent many hours researching the lives of my ancestors (including a chemist, a coastguard, a mathematician and numerous miners), as well as the lives of others (both famous and little known) from the Victorian era. Now for Tunbridge Tales, I am researching and writing the lives of past residents of Tunbridge Wells – people such as Selina Countess of Huntingdon (who tried to convert the town’s immoral residents in 1768), town clerk Benjamin Lewis (who embezzled public funds in 1851) and suffragette Olive Walton (who disrupted a Liberal Party meeting at the Opera House in 1913).
Hopefully over time the tales will combine to paint a good picture of Tunbridge Wells over the years.
I am also writing a book based around the lives of a particular set of local residents. More details to come later…….
You can find me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/AnneCarwardine