Tunbridge Wells Museum displays an unrivalled
collection of Tunbridge ware, a distinctive woodware that was a
speciality of the area for over two hundred years.
Visitors to Tunbridge Wells in earlier times would have had no
difficulty in finding souvenirs to take home for friends and
relatives. A gift of Tunbridge ware would be the obvious choice.
Celia Fiennes, a late seventeenth century visitor to the town,
found the shops on the Pantiles 'full of ... all sorts of curious
wooden ware, which this place is noted for', and for over 200 years
after that the shops of Tunbridge Wells continued to be full of
Tunbridge ware, as these articles soon became known.
the nineteenth century, Tunbridge ware was highly esteemed
nationally as well as locally. The young Princess Victoria, a
frequent visitor to the town with her mother the Duchess of Kent,
used to buy articles of Tunbridge ware as gifts for her family, and
in 1826 the town's inhabitants decided to present her with a
specially made example of the local industry. This was a king-wood
work table, 'veneered with party-coloured woods from every part of
the globe' and 'lined with gold tufted satin'. It cost the
townspeople twenty-five guineas, and to prevent jealousy the
principal manufacturers of the time had to draw lots for the
privilege of making it.
Today's visitors to Tunbridge Wells can still take home
Tunbridge ware souvenirs, but they will probably have to purchase
them from an antique shop as none has been made on a commercial
basis since 1939. Modern revival pieces by individual craftsmen are
not widely available, although usually the Museum shop has several
modern pieces for sale.