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Discovery of the Spring

Pantiles and bath house (1800)The town of Tunbridge Wells owes its birth to the discovery of the chalybeate (iron bearing) spring by Dudley, Lord North, in 1606. In poor health due to over-indulgence at the court of James I, the twenty-five year old nobleman was staying at Eridge Castle with Lord Abergavenny, whose estate adjoined the Manor of Rusthall at the county boundary (marked at that time by a stream running along the southern edge of Tunbridge Wells Common).

While riding along what is now known as Eridge Road and London Road, he noticed some orange coloured water which he recognized as coming from a chalybeate spring similar to those at the German resort of Spa which were already famous for their supposed health giving properties. Borrowing a cup from a nearby cottage (said to have stood on the site of the present Fonthill pavilion), he tasted the waters and confirmed his initial impression. Subsequently, Lord North began to drink the spring water regularly and claimed that it restored him to perfect health. News of the discovery spread rapidly, and in 1608 Lord Abergavenny obtained permission from the Lord of the Manor of Rusthall (as the spring was on the edge of the Common) to sink the first well on the site for the convenience of visitors. Mrs Humphreys, the occupant of the nearby cottage, is said to have become the first 'dipper', inaugurating a long tradition whereby the women dispensing the water were appointed by the Lord of the Manor.