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Tunbridge ware

Tunbridge ware face screen made by Thomas Barton (1860)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.

Tunbridge ware work table by Edmund NyeIn 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.