The Weald of Kent, Surrey and Sussex
Assemby [a.k.a. Ball] Rooms    The Pantiles [a.k.a. The Parade, The Walks]  Tunbridge Wells  

Books and other documents
PublishedTitle, author and references
1840New Guide for Tunbridge Wells by John Colbran and edited by James Phippen ⇒ p. 120

Historical records

1687Historyassembly-roomBurr's Tunbridge Wells

In 1687, a fire broke out in the house … at the bottom of the walk, by which the life of one poor child was lost, and all the shops, and other buildings, so lately erected on the green bank, were entirely consumed

It rose more glorious from its ashes, the buildings being afterwards more regularly planned, and better contrived … an assembly-room, coffee-houses, shops, and dwelling-houses have been erected in one continued line, and a convenient portico placed in front, and carried on from the upper end of the parade quite down to the well.

1726 to 1740Historyassembly-roomBurr's Tunbridge Wells

About 1726, the lord of the manor's building lease expired, and … this occasioned a tedious law-suit between the lord and the tenants, which … was finally determined in favour of the latter, who were adjudged to have a just claim to a third part of the buildings, … all the shops and houses on this estate were divided into three equal lots … and they happened to draw the middle lot, which included the assembly-room on the walk

After this the landlord and tenants entered into a long agreement to restrain and prevent the increase of buildings on the manor, which was confirmed and established by an act of parliament, that passed royal assent on 29th April 1740.

3rd Jul 1728HistoryAssemby [a.k.a. Ball] RoomsColbran's Tunbridge Wells

Register of the Chapel of Ease: "July 3, 1728-- Lower walk levelled and repaired, and gates made to keep horses from coming upon the Lower walk." A much respected nobleman now living has often " tripped it featly here and there," in the open air on the Upper parade, and within forty years it was by no means an uncommon occurrence on ball nights for the windows of the Assembly-rooms to be opened to their full extent, and the tradespeople of both sexes to dance on the Parade to the enlivening strains that were animating their more aristocratic neighbours within.

1735HistoryThe first "King" or Arbiter Elegantiarum of Tunbridge WellsAssemby [a.k.a. Ball] Rooms

Beau Nash, born in 1674 in Swansea in Wales. He served as an army officer and was then called to the bar but made little of either career. In 1704 he became Master of Ceremonies at the rising spa town of Bath, and he retained that position until his death in 1762. He is buried in an unmarked pauper's grave.
He was a "man who for more than fifty years presided over the pleasures of a polite kingdom." The pains he took in pursuing pleasure, and the solemnity he assumed in adjusting trifles, may one day claim the smile of posterity. He was the first who diffused a desire of society and an easiness of address among a whole people, who were formerly censured by foreigners for a reservedness of behaviour, and an awkward timidity in their first approaches. He first taught a familiar intercourse among strangers at Bath and Tunbridge Wells, which still subsists among them. The ease and open access first acquired there, our gentry brought back to the Metropolis, and thus the whole kingdom by degrees became more refined by lessons originally derived from him. Nash was an adventurer, whose manners, dress, and (not least) his assurance, gave him a vast influence over the society that resorted to the fashionable watering-places. His equipage was sumptuous, and he usually travelled to Tunbridge Wells in a post chariot and six greys, with outriders, footmen, French horns, and every other appendage of expensive parade. In order to support his extravagances, Nash had recourse to gaming. Where the wealthy and the idle assemble, there the sharper and the flatterer will certainly be found. As is still the case at Monaco, so during the last century at Tunbridge Wells, gambling was one of the chief attractions.
Nash became, about the year 1735, the first "King" or Arbiter Elegantiarum of Tunbridge Wells, an office which he had long sustained in the famous city and watering-place of Bath. The chief decree enforced by this despot of the beau monde, was that every visitor should live in public. The lodging houses were merely places of accommodation for eating and sleeping. The whole of the intermediate time of their temporary inhabitants was spent on the Walks, in the Assembly Rooms, in pleasurable excursions, or at chapel. Thus every hour of the day had its allotted occupation; the whole was regularly digested into system; and from the nobleman of the first rank to the meanest visitor, all were compelled to obey, and to yield to the established customs. Nash did indeed owe to the air of Tunbridge Wells his own recovery to health, but under his regime it was considered chiefly as a place of amusement, gaiety and society. Partly by the use of reason and sarcasm, and partly by assumption and impudence, Nash removed many of the obstacles to social enjoyment. He banished riding-boots and swords, he discouraged private gaming parties, he insisted upon early hours, and repressed flagrant immorality and vice. It should also be said, to his credit, that he was capable of generous and of charitable actions.

1761 to 1836HistoryAssemby [a.k.a. Ball] RoomsColbran's Tunbridge Wells

After the celebrated Beau Nash had ceased to reign, the following gentlemen presided in succession as Masters of the Ceremonies : - Messrs. Collet, Derrick, Blake, Tyson, Fotheringham, Amsinck, Roberts, Captain Merryweather, and Lieut. Madden, R. M. The latter gentleman held his office for eleven years and resigned at the end of the season of 1836. Since then the office has been dispensed with, and when public balls are now given, certain gentlemen act as stewards for the evening.

1766HistoryAssemby [a.k.a. Ball] RoomsColbran's Tunbridge Wells

In 1766, the following were the prescribed amusements :- " The company usually appear on the parade between seven and eight o'clock in the morning, to drink the water, and practice the necessary exercise of walking, which is very sufficient amusement for an hour or two. They then return to their lodgings to breakfast, or else assemble together in parties at the tea-rooms, where it is customary for gentlemen to treat the ladies, and their male acquaintance, every one in their turn, and frequently to give a public breakfast to the whole company without exception; which, in fine weather, is often given under the trees upon the open walk, and attended with music the whole time. After breakfast it is usual to attend morning service in the chapel, to take an airing in coaches or on horseback, to assemble together in the bookseller's shop, or else to saunter upon the parade. When prayers are ended, the music, which had only ceased during the time of divine service, strikes up afresh, and the company thickening upon the walks, divert themselves with conversations as various as their different ranks and circumstances, till the important call of dinner obliges the different parties to disperse. Dinner finished, the band of music again ascends the orchestra, and you once more behold the company returning in crowds to the walks; but now the morning dress is laid aside, and all appear in full and splendid attire. The general desire of all is to see and be seen, till the hour of tea-drinking, when they assemble together, as in the morning, commonly at the expense of the gentlemen. This over, cards and all sorts of lawful gaming succeed in the great rooms, which are supplied with a proper number of tables and all necessary accommodations. Twice in the week, that is, on Tuesdays and Fridays, there are public balls in the great assembly rooms, where all ranks are mingled together without any distinction. The nobility and the merchants, the gentry and the traders, are all upon an equal footing, so long as you behave with that decorum which is ever necessary in genteel company."

1776Historya very elegant assembly-roomBurr's Tunbridge Wells

The Wells, properly so called, is the center of business and pleasure, because there the markets, the medicinal water, the chapel, the assembly-room and the public parades are situated

These parades are usually called the upper walk and the lower walk; the first being neatly paved with square brick, raised about four steps above the other, and particularily appropriated to the company; the second remains unpaved, and is chiefly used by country people and servants.

On the right hand of the paved walk in the way from the well is the assembly-room, the coffee-houses, and the shops for silver-smiths, jewellers, milleners, booksellers, Tunbridgeware, &c. From thence a portico is extended the whole length of the parade, supported by Tuscan pillars, for the company to walk under occasionally. This walk is shaded by a long row of large and flourishing trees planted on the left hand of it, in the midst of which is erected a gallery for musick; and the whole is properly separated from the lower walk by a range of neat palisades, opposite to which are the taverns, a few decent lodging-houses, and a very elegant assembly-room, with a coffe-house, and all needful conveniences for the entertainment of company.

1839Tunbridge WellsTunbridge WellsBall RoomsColbran's Tunbridge Wells

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