In the next Bald Explorer programme, hopefully aired on the Community Channel in 2014, I am in search of the spring water of a Spa town in Kent. I am referring to Chalybeate of Tunbridge Wells – that’s pronounced ‘kal-eeb-ee-ot’ by the way, meaning iron water. I want to tell how the original orange coloured waters were discovered, by whom and how a fashionable resort arose from nothing at the beginning of the 17th century. Jason Reeve, my son Billy and myself have been stalking around the Kentish weald with camera and tripod, boom pole and microphone getting the facts (as far as they are known) onto digital media. I will be editing the footage and shaping it up into a TV programme fairly soon. There is still much, however, to do.
Today, for example, I was over at an actor friend of mine’s abode shooting a short sequence depicting the eminent physician and Spa enthusiast, Augustus Granville, who wrote an entertaining book The Spas of England, published in 1841. He wasn’t terribly impressed with the spring water or the resort when he visited at the beginning of the Victorian period, although to be fair to the town of Tunbridge Wells, it was a few years after its most fashionable period, the 18th Century. He bemoaned that few used the cold bath and that there was little mineral quality to the famous water. Nick Scahill, who collects all things Victorian, agreed very kindly to play the part of Granville.
The wells, named after the local medieval town of Tunbridge (now spelt Tonbridge and four miles to the north) are located in an area known as the Pantiles. It has nothing to do with the architectural titles you find on roof tops. These were small square clay fired titles baked in special pans and laid on a walkway in front of the spring head. Unfortunately, they have now gone, but the name lingers on, much to the confusion of visitors and no doubt some residents of the town.
I am hoping to film in the privately owned Pantiles area very soon and obtain an interview a Dipper (a lady in traditional dress who dishes out the water for tourists to taste) and record a conversation with the curator of the Tunbridge Wells museum about the fine Tunbridge Ware that became all the rage in 1700s.
Don’t forget, you can help make the Bald Explorer programmes happen by making a small donation via the special button on the right hand side of the website. The shows are completely self-funded for transmission on the Community Channel which is a not-for-profit TV station. If you do make a contribution, I will make sure you get to see a copy of the finished episode before it is broadcast. Thank you very much.