Features to explore

Pick and choose how to fill your visit with our extensive list of ideas for each Common. Maybe take a look at the new Marlpit ponds on Rusthall Common or take a circuit of the old race course on Tunbridge Wells Common?

  • Rocks

      Wellington Rocks

      Wellington Rocks (4 on map)

      Wellington Rocks were named after then named Wellington Hotel, currently the Travel Lodge, on Mt Ephraim. In earlier times they were variously described as the High Rocks on Mount Ephraim, and Castle Rock (either named after the nearby Castle Tavern, or because of the shape of rocks’ highest point).

      Early nineteenth century guides report that “small transparent pebbles are found on the paths of the Common, especially after rain. These crystals are called ‘Tunbridge Wells diamonds’, and, cut and polished, form brilliant additions to the jewel-case.” Small-rounded pebbles can still be seen today embedded in the sandstone, and it was probably the most attractive of these, eroded out of the rock, that were collected.

      Mt Edgcumbe Rocks

      Mt Edgcumbe Rocks (5 on map)

      Mt Edgcumbe Rocks  were well known in Victorian and Edwardian times, and popular vantage points for views across the town. They were known to children of the mid-twentieth century as the Devil’s Dyke. A pond at the foot of the rocks was filled in in 1879. By the 1960s, the open grassy space in front of the rocks had become overgrown by scrub which obscured them completely, but the area was cleared in 1994-1995.

  • Ponds
      Brighton Lake (18 on map)

      Brighton Lake is fed by a chalybeate spring (visible on the northern edge). It was excavated in 1858 as part of a scheme instigated by William Law Pope, minister of King Charles’ church, to provide work for the town’s unemployed, wages being paid by public subscription. It was nicknamed Pope’s Puddle, and Pope’s Folly.

      The official name relates to the fact that it lies alongside the road to Brighton. Today the pond is an important habitat for wildlife, including frogs, toads, newts, grass snakes, and dragonflies.

      Fir Tree Pond

      Fir Tree Pond (21 on map)

      Fir Tree Pond was a noted beauty spot in Victorian and Edwardian times, named from a pair of Scots pines (affectionately named Darby and Joan) with a seat around them which stood on top of the slope above.

      Having succumbed to old age, the firs were cut down in 1914 and replaced – the replacements are still to be seen today (2020). The pond is situated in an extensive hollow described in 1957 as an ‘old quarry’. It was restored in 1992.

      Bracken Cottage Pond

      Bracken Cottage Pond (22 on map)

      Bracken Cottage Pond is a modern name for a survivor of several informal ponds scattered over the Commons up to the mid-nineteenth century and maintained as watering places for cattle and sheep.

      Most were filled in at various dates between 1850 and 1900. This pond was restored in 1992. It is fed by a spring via a small watercourse to the east.

      Cabbage Stalk Lane Pond

      Cabbage Stalk Lane Pond (20 on map)

      Cabbage Stalk Lane Pond, named as it lies near the path, sometimes referred to as the Old Road to High Rocks, that joins the eastern end of Cabbage Stalk Lane (near the Cottage). It lies just above The Old Road, in an old marl pit. The pond is sometimes dry; it dried up completely in springtime 2017 and the Warden had to rescue the tadpoles by transferring them to the newly restored Bracken Cottage Pond. In springtime 2020, the same Warden saw that the pond was full of frogs.

  • Commemorative trees
      Queen Anne Grove

      Just to the north of Royal Victoria Grove was the earlier Queen Anne’s Grove, planted for the coronation of Queen Anne in 1702 and replanted in 1811; but this never did well and died out before 1838.

      Jubilee Oaks

      Contemporary press accounts report that a pair of scarlet chestnuts were planted near Fonthill in May 1935, to celebrate George V’s Silver Jubilee. It seems these trees did not survive, and that the two oaks on the site today are replacements.

      Royal Victoria Grove

      Royal Victoria Grove (3 on map)

      Royal Victoria Grove was planted in February 1835 to commemorate visits to the town by Princess Victoria with her mother the Duchess of Kent. Forming a double avenue, sycamores, limes, and elms were planted in three separate rows, 25 apart; the 44 trees in each row were kept twelve and a half feet apart. Some of the trees had to be replaced in later years and often did not conform to the double-avenue arrangement. The elms succumbed to disease in 1972, and in 1992 the third row was replanted to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Elizabeth II’s accession. For a few years from 1911 a moveable bandstand was set up to the south. To the north of the Grove is a small patch of surviving heathland, a type of vegetation once much more widespread on the Common.

      Princess Anne Oak

      Princess Anne Oak (19 on map)

      Overlooking London Road, between Mount Edgcumbe Road and the Vale Road corner, is an oak tree said to have been planted around 1700 to commemorate the several visits, between 1684 and 1698, of the Princess Anne (later Queen). The Victorian railings around the tree were restored in 1995, and a plaque affixed.

      The Lutwidge Group

      The pine tree on the south corner of the junction between Hungershall Park and Major York’s Road is the most conspicuous survivor of five planted in November 1895 by the mayor elect, Major C R Fletcher Lutwidge. This was part of a scheme promoted by the Tradesmen’s Association, by which individuals and organisations subscribed around 150 trees.

      Salomon Group

      Trees planted near the junction between Major York’s Road and Fir Tree Road, planted between those roads by mayor, in 1895 by Sir David Lionel Salomons, subsequently succumbed to a gorse fire.

      Jubilee Oak

      Jubilee Oak, located halfway between The Forum and the junction between Castle and Eridge roads, was planted in June 1887 by Mrs Stone Wigg, wife of the Chairman of the Local Board, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

      Jubilee Lime

      Jubilee Lime, located to the north of the northern corner of the upper cricket field, was planted in March 1977 to commemorate Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.

      The Charter Group

      A group of limes located on the east side of Fir Tree Road, north of the junction between Hungershall Park and Major York’s Road, was planted by John Stone Wigg, the first mayor of Tunbridge Wells, to celebrate the granting of borough status to the town in February 1889.

      Strange’s Avenue

      Edward Hilder Strange, proprietor of the Royal Kentish Hotel, had planted an ornamental avenue between 1810 and 1820 leading down to his front entrance. It originally consisted of forty sycamores and chestnuts, but many of these have been replaced in subsequent years.

      Coronation Chestnut

      A red-flowered tree was planted in December 1911 near the path leading to the easterly corner of the Common, near Vale Road, to commemorate the coronation of George V. The tree is now surrounded by other trees that have grown thereafter.

  • Other features

      Racecourse

      Racecourse

      The racecourse appears on Bowra’s map of 1738 and remained in use until 1851. Race meetings were held for two days each year, in August or September. The winning post, stand, and enclosure stood on the north side of the present upper cricket ground. The Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria attended in 1834. In 1845 residents petitioned for the suppression of the races, on the grounds that they were a cause of drunkenness and riotous behaviour. After races ceased to be held, the course (apart from the section crossing the Cricket Ground) was preserved as a footpath and bridleway and can still be followed today. Along the southern section, between Major York’s Road and Hungershall Park, is a clearing where heathland restoration is in progress. Near the north west corner is the site (formerly marked by a plaque) of a thatched shelter destroyed by a flying bomb in 1944, with the death of an elderly resident. Hidden in the undergrowth north of the car park where the racecourse meets Fir Tree Road is the site of a small quarry.

      Bat refuge

      Bat refuge

      What were once public toilets were transformed into a refuge for bats in 2007. The work involved closing up the old doorway and windows with sandstone, leaving small gaps at the top for the bats to enter and exit. A pipe was placed at the very bottom of the doorway at the left for reptiles.

      Lower cricket ground

      Upper cricket ground

      Although cricket was played informally on the site of the upper cricket ground from the mid-eighteenth century, its status as an official ground dates from 1839, when the newly formed Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club were given permission to use and improve it. It was enlarged in 1859 and 1875. County matches were played here from 1845 to 1880, but they ceased due to the poor condition of the pitch which was regularly trampled by the public and grazing animals. On either side of the pavilion are flowering cherries planted in June 1953 to commemorate Elizabeth II’s coronation. Around the cricket ground, and elsewhere on the Common, can be seen several cast iron ‘hawthorn’ benches dating from the 1860s and restored in the early 1990s; subsequently, many replicas of the originals have also been made and installed.

      Lower cricket ground

      First used as a cricket pitch in the 1850s by the pupils of Romanoff House School. From 1860 it was the site of an annual bonfire on 5 November, and it was regularly used as a venue for civic celebrations of coronations and jubilees. It was levelled and railed in 1885-1886. There was a Territorial Army encampment here in 1914. The original railings, along with those of the Higher Cricket Ground, were taken for the war effort in 1942.

      Cold bath and chalybeate spring (14 & 1 on map)

      The Cold Bath was constructed around 1766, falling into disuse with the construction of the Bath House in 1804. The well was sunk over a chalybeate spring about 1700. Both structures became buried in the early nineteenth century and were rediscovered during road works in 1971.

      Mt Ephraim Promenade

      Originally levelled as a turf walk, Mt Ephraim Promenade, on the northern edge of the Common in 1881, was later gravelled (1891) and asphalted (1925). Just as in the early nineteenth century seaside resorts modelled themselves on the older spas, so in later times Tunbridge Wells adopted seaside terminology. Alongside the Promenade is one of the Common’s surviving areas of acid grassland, an important wildlife habitat.

      Milestone

      Near the end of Major York’s Road, on the eastern side, is a small pillar of local sandstone. It originally indicated thirty-six miles to London, but is now illegible. It dates from at least the early nineteenth century.

      Terrace Walk

      Besides forming Brighton Lake, Reverend Pope’s used his team of unemployed workers to create a ‘greensward terrace walk’ above the pond.

      The Brook

      The small stream which once marked the county boundary flowed beside what is now Cumberland Walk, behind the Lower Walk of the Pantiles, and along Eridge Road before crossing the corner of the Common below the Cottage, the footpath to which once crossed a small bridge. In 1853, following years of complaints that it had become an open sewer and was a hazard to public health, it was finally enclosed in a barrel drain at the expense of the Local Board, assisted by a contribution from the Earl of Abergavenny. It now emerges in the garden centre beyond the western boundary of the Common. Although local residents never dignified it with a name, it is the beginning of the River Grom.

      Bishop’s Down

      Bishop’s Down refers to the triangular portion of Tunbridge Wells Common that lies between Bishop’s Down Road on the north, with adjacent houses, and the section of the A264 on the south, also known as Bishop’s Down Road. The portion of the Common preserves the ancient name of the entire Common. There was formerly a pond here, but in 1865 it was filled in.

  • Structures on the Common
      The Forum (16 on map)

      The Forum was built in 1939 by the local Council to provide “rest rooms and general conveniences” for locals and visitors enjoying the Common. It replaced a forge, coach builders’ workshop, and attached cottage (Fonthill House) dating from 1833. An earlier forge on the site is shown on Bowra’s map of 1738. This is said to be the site of the cottage occupied by Mrs Humphreys, who provided Lord North with a cup to drink from the chalybeate spring when he discovered it in 1606. The buildings on the east and west of Fonthill were from early times an untidy clutter of small cottages and rough working buildings. There was a garage on the site of the Kentish Stables, then belonging to the Royal Kentish Hotel opposite, and redeveloped in about 2015 as a small block of apartments. The present pavilion has functioned since 1993 as a live music venue.

      St Helena (9 on map)

      St Helena was built between 1828 and 1838 on the floor of a small stone quarry and used in early times as a lodging house. It is located almost opposite the Royal Wells Inn on Mt Ephraim, on the eastern end of the Common. It replaced an earlier and much smaller cottage shown is shown in several eighteenth and nineteenth century illustrations along with a second small structure to the north, on the other side of the rock. At the foot of the rocks a manhole cover marks the entrance to caves excavated for sand and open to the road until its level was raised in a controversial road levelling scheme carried out by the local Turnpike Trust in 1833. Residents complained that the loss of the caves spoiled the picturesque and much illustrated first view of the town which visitors saw as they travelled in from London. The caves were reopened at the outbreak of World War II to serve as air raid shelters.

      Mt Edgcumbe

      Mt Edgcumbe was the hillock named after Emma, Dowager Countess of Mount Edgcumbe, who spent the summers of 1795-1797 in the town and was the only daughter of Dr John Gilbert, the Archbishop of York from 1757-1761. The site lies between the top (eastern) end of Mt Edgcumbe Road and Mt Ephraim. The group of three buildings on the hillock here appear as early as Bowra’s map of 1738. They were originally two lodging houses (Mount Edgcumbe, now a Hotel, and Ephraim Lodge); a private house (Mount Edgcumbe Cottage) is now located between the other two structures. The Arctic explorer Rear Admiral Sir William Parry stayed at what is now the hotel in 1839.

      Romanoff Lodge

      Romanoff Lodge (13 on map)

      Romanoff Lodge was built in 1852 by Thomas Allfree on the site of a late eighteenth century cottage occupying, about halfway down Castle Road, along with Castle Cottage, the site of old gravel or sand pits. Allfree was the proprietor of Romanoff House School (occupying the building in London Road now known as Vale Towers), founded by him in the 1830s; the present Rose Hill School is in lineal descent. Allfree used the name Romanoff because of the time he spent previously in Russia, as an English-language tutor to the children of Czar Nicholas I’s children.

      Belleville (10 on map)

      Belleville, the most easterly structure on Tunbridge Wells Common was probably built about 1840. Thackeray describes a house on the Common near Rock Villa in which he stayed as a child in 1823; this has been identified with Belleville but was more likely Gibraltar, the only one of the three rock built cottages at the apex of the Common known to have been used as a lodging house at that date.

      Gibraltar Cottage and Rocklea (7 on map)

      Gibraltar Cottage and Rocklea was built as a single lodging house in the 1820s on the site of an earlier and smaller cottage of the same name. It is located almost due north of the junction between London and Church roads. It was occupied by members of the Tunbridge-ware making family of Burrows from the 1820s to about 1845. It was James Burrows who invented the technique of creating mosaics from wooden tesserae around 1830.

      Having fallen into decay, it was restored and altered in 1970/1971. The name is an allusion to the rocks on which the cottage stands; in the past Gibraltar has been used as a general term for the rocky eastern apex of Tunbridge Wells Common. Until the mid-nineteenth century, a pond known as Parson’s Pond existed below the cottage alongside London Road.

      York Cottage (2 on map)

      York Cottage  is currently occupied by an architecting business. The building is located just north of the junction between Major York’s Road with Eridge Road, on the western side of Major York’s Road and was built by George Mercer, a chaise driver, who had obtained permission from the Freeholders and the Lady of the Manor (Elizabeth Shorey) in 1820 to enclose a small portion of the Common for the purpose. It is a survivor of a number of small cottages on the Commons, most of which were replaced by more substantial structures in Victorian times.

      Highbury

      Highbury

      Highbury was built around 1906 on the site of Exeter Villa, a late eighteenth or early nineteenth century lodging house. It lies on the southern edge of Tunbridge Wells Common opposite Castle Street on the other side of London Road. Near the house is one of the Common’s surviving areas of acid grassland, characterised by the nest mounds of the Yellow Meadow Ant. Lizards are frequently to be seen here.

      Onslow House

      The original Onslow House, on Castle Road next to and south of Romanoff Lodge, was built in the early 1880s on the site of the late eighteenth century Castle Cottage. As a condition of permission to build, an old sand pit on the opposite side of the road latterly used as a stonemason’s yard was filled in and restored to the Common. Onslow House was replaced by the present row of houses in 1965.

  • Structures beside the Common

      The Pantiles

      The Pantiles

      The Pantiles, formerly known as The Walks and the (Royal) Parade, which led from the well that gave the town its name (see on Google Maps). They are a star attraction of Tunbridge Wells and owe their origin to the presence of, and built adjacent to, the chalybeate spring discovered in the early 17th century.

      Church of King Charles the Martyr

      Understood to be the first permanent structure in Tunbridge Wells, the Church of King Charles the Martyr was built in 1676. It is located above the north end of the Pantiles. Princess Victoria, then a girl of sixteen, attended the church, a large brass plaque now attached to the panelling commemorates her visits.

      The Cottage

      The Cottage

      The current Cottage is an enlargement of the late seventeenth- to early eighteenth- century Kentish Cottage, named after the long-vanished farmhouse known as Kentish Villa a little to the north. It is located at the eastern end of Cabbage Stalk Lane. It was the summer retreat from about 1850 of the Scottish preacher Dr John Cumming. In front of the Cottage are oaks probably planted around 1700 to mark the boundary of the Common: others of similar age can be seen further along the path to the north.

      Gorse and Bracken Cottages

      Gorse and Bracken Cottages are located on the western edge of the Common. They were built about 1912 on the site of the early Victorian Spring Bottom Cottage, also known as Shoebridge’s Cottage, after a laundress who lived there in the 1860s.

      Thackerays

      Located close to the eastern end of Tunbridge Wells Common, on the corner of London and Mount Ephraim roads, Thackerays is now a restaurant. It was a lodging house of the late seventeenth century known as Rock Villa and where novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) stayed in 1860. In a letter his daughter Lady Ann Isabella Richie described Rock Villa as “an old wooden house at the foot of Mt Ephraim”. William Thackeray greatly enjoying his walks over the Common, which he describes in his Roundabout Papers.

      Summerhill House

      Summerhill House, is located at 73 London Road. A notable occupant was Jacob Bell MP, founder of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain in 1841 which become the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in 1988. By the 21st century the building was in a poor state but was awarded for the work done to restore it in 2012, the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society.

      Ashton Lodge

      Known earlier as Jordan Lodge, Ashton Lodge was shown on John Bowra’s 1738 map as belonging to John Jeffrey. Its most famous occupant was Thomas Bayes, who resided there from 1734 to 1761. Thomas was the minister of the Presbyterian Church that located in Little Mount Sion, but his name became known worldwide for his statistical work that led to Bayes Theorem, a mathematical model for estimating probabilities.

      Earl’s Court Hotel

      Earl’s Court Hotel, thereafter Reliance House and now Molyneux Place, is said to have once been the residence of Mrs Tighe, a noted member of the local gentry, and had been built by Sir Edmund King (1629-1709), a physician to King Charles 2nd. It is located on the corner of Molyneux Park Road and Mt Ephraim. An old postcard shows it sitting proudly on Mt Ephraim at the top end of Castle Road, much more prominent than that road is today (2020).

      Jordan House

      The premises at 68 London Road, Jordan House, earlier known as Jordan Place and built around 1685. They were occupied in the first half of the nineteenth century by Tunbridge-ware makers Humphrey Burrows, Senior and Junior. Their factory and show room were patronized by Princess Victoria, as is commemorated on a well-known print, by W Day of London.

      Manor House

      The Manor House (6 Bishops Down) is not a true manor house, but a late seventeenth century lodging house acquired along with other property at Bishops Down by George Kelley at the time when he purchased the Manor of Rusthall. In lodging house lists of around 1800 it appears as Mrs Shorey’s Great House, after the then Lady of the Manor. The present name dates from about 1822.

      Mt Ephraim House

      Charles II and Queen Katharine stayed at Mt Ephraim House (87 Mt Ephraim) in 1663 while their court camped on Tunbridge Wells Common. The house served as the Assembly Room for the entertainment of visitors from 1665 to 1670. It was substantially altered in the 1840s, acquiring an extra storey and a new facade. Together with the Chalet, built in its grounds around 1800, it served as the Tunbridge-ware manufactory of William Fenner from the 1790s, the business being subsequently taken over by Edmund Nye around 1840 and Thomas Barton in 1863. Manufacture continued until Barton’s death in 1903. On the edge of the Common around the corner of the boundary wall is a row of seats: this area was traditionally noted as a sun trap and named the South of France.

      Royal Wells Inn

      Built in 1834 as the Mt Ephraim Hotel, and located near the northern end of Tunbridge Wells Common on Mt Ephraim, the now named Royal Wells Inn owes its title to Queen Victoria, who visited frequently as a young Princess in the early 19th century, and later granted the use of her coat of arms, which is proudly displayed at the top of the building.

      Spa Hotel

      What is currently (2020) the Spa Hotel (located above the northern end of Major York’s Road) was built in 1765 by Sir George Kelley, Lord of the Manor, as Bishops Down Grove. It was purchased from his heirs by Major Martin Yorke of the East India Company (after whom the road is named) in 1772. Its life as a hotel dates from 1878, when, following enlargement, it was opened as the Bishops Down Grove Spa and Hydropathic Sanatorium. On the strip of the Common in front of the hotel is a drinking fountain erected in 1887 in memory of the Hon. Francis and Lady Georgina Molyneux. Francis Molyneux moved to Tunbridge Wells in 1853, living first at Gibraltar Cottage and subsequently building Earls Court (now Reliance House) on Mount Ephraim. He was a leading member of the Freeholders, as well as the Local Board. Nearby, a plaque indicates an oak planted in July 1954 to commemorate a summer school held by the Men of the Trees, an early environmental group, at the Hotel.

      While he owned the house, Major Yorke gained a reputation for his lavish entertaining and even welcomed Princess Victoria, later Queen, as a guest. (One can read a little more about Major Yorke in the book by Paul Amsinck, Tunbridge Wells, and Its Neighbourhood, Illustrated by a Series of Etchings, and Historical Descriptions. The text of this book is also available online.)

      The Major Yorke

      Previously known as the Brokers Arms, was renamed in 2002 as the Major Yorke, under the ownership of the Spa Hotel. It was a 16th century coaching inn. It was renamed after Major Martin Yorke who bought the Spa Hotel in 1772, after serving under Lord Clive of India and making his fortune with the East India Company. It has been closed for since 2018.

      Wellington hotel

      The Wellington Hotel (now Travel Lodge) opened in 1875 by John Braby. Braby was an admirer of the Duke, whose wife stayed in the town on several occasions.

  • Rocks

      Toad Rock

      Toad Rock (9 on map)

      First popularized in a local guide in 1810, Toad Rock was not named until the 1823 edition of Clifford’s Visitor’s Guide for Tunbridge Wells. It was fenced and the base strengthened with masonry in 1881-1882. The original railings were renovated during the winter of 1993-1994.

      Before geologists were able to explain its origin, it aroused much speculation, including the idea that it was possibly manmade. Some nineteenth century observers believed that it was “the remains of an ancient sphinx”, and as late as 1933 H G Wells referred to this idea in his novel Christina Alberta’s Father. The Toad and other outcrops were eroded into their present forms by wind action during the last Ice Age. As a result of this geological history, the surrounding area was designated a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1992.

      Toad Rock and other outcrops were in fact eroded into their present forms by wind action during the last Ice Age. As a result of this geological history, the surrounding area was designated a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1992.

      The Lion, Denny Bottom

      Denny Bottom rocks

      In Victorian and Edwardian times visitors to Toad Rock were liable to be accosted by self-appointed guides who would offer to point out the names of many other rocks in the vicinity. The oldest names appear to be the Loaf, the Lion (mentioned in the 1850s), and the Parson’s Nose (painted under this name by Charles Tattershall Dodd in the 1840s but named the Old Man’s Head on a sketch of 1824, and the Pulpit on Edwardian postcards).

      Martin and Row’s guide Tunbridge Wells of Today (c. 1895) provides the only substantial published list (said to be far from complete) but gives no clue as to precise locations. As well as the three mentioned above, they name:

      • Little Toad, the Elephant, Fox’s Hole, Footsteps, located through oral tradition for the present map;
      • The Bloodstain, known to other sources as the Bleeding Rock, is generally understood as a spot where dripping water left an iron stain, but no site fitting this description can be pointed out today;
      • The Cradle and Pig’s Head, and the Dog’s Head, which is illustrated in a late Victorian print.
      • Edwardian sources also mention: the Table, the Camel, and the Double Rock, of which only the former can be identified today. Other names on the present map have been preserved only by oral tradition.

      Bulls Hollow rocks

      Bulls Hollow rocks (15 on map)

      Bull’s Hollow, with its rocks, is the site of a quarry (disused by 1890), named after Robert Bull, a quarryman who worked there and built a cottage in the early nineteenth century. The original cottage, occupied by several generations of the Bull family, was enlarged into its present form in the 1950s. There was a military rifle range here in 1918-19.

      It became an early twentieth century beauty spot frequently illustrated in town guides, Bulls Hollow was first popularised when in 1905 the Commons Conservators cleared it of undergrowth and provided seats. At the time it was noted that the rock surface “presents different colours of a rich and varied character”, although this is not evident today.

      Happy Valley rocks

      Happy Valley rocks

      Mesolithic flint implements found here suggest these were used as camp sites by nomadic hunters of the period, as the cliffs at High Rocks are known to have been; they would have used the overhangs (much higher above ground level than we see them today) as shelters.

      Early local botanists knew them as the Cold Bath Rocks. The rock nearest to the path is known as the Cheesewring Rock (i.e. ‘cheese-press’), on account of the narrow gap separating the isolated stack from the cliff behind. The stack was underpinned with masonry in 1932.

      In the post-war period, the rocks above the path became obscured by undergrowth, but they were cleared in the mid-1990s.

      Happy Valley caves

      Sometimes described as Sweeps’ Caves because they were once used as a dump for soot, Colbran’s town guide of 1839 describes them as ‘dormitories for gipsies etc.’

      They were probably intended originally to shelter wooden seats and excavated at the time of development of the Cold Bath to provide viewpoints over the valley.

  • Ponds

      Marlpit ponds

      Marlpit ponds

      The most notable relics of several excavations for marl on Rusthall Common are two depressions, which by the 1870s had developed into ponds. A bowling green was established to the south in 1913, but in time the site proved unsatisfactory and only one edge of it remains today. Today the ponds are notable habitats for amphibians. The larger of the two was restored early in 1993, with further work in 1996.

      In the latter year, efforts were made to restore the second pond, but this was not ultimately successful. The original remaining pond seen today is simply the lowest points of a much more extensive, relatively shallow, excavation whose boundaries can be seen on older maps.

      Marl was a generic term for various kinds of clay which could be employed, it was believed, as fertiliser to make poor soils more suitable for agriculture. This practise was popularised locally by Gervase Markham in his Inrichment of the Weald of Kent (1683).

      Other marlpit sites, some of which are much deeper, can be found north of St Paul’s Church, north and north-east of the Cricket Ground, and near the south-westerly corner of the junction between Tea Garden Lane and Langton Road.

      This pond has always been important as a site for Great Crested Newts and although numbers have decreased in recent years, there is still a breeding population using the pond. Like other ponds on the Commons, there are also good populations of Dragonflies and Damselflies present, along with many other aquatic invertebrates.

      Second Marlpit pond

      In 2020, the site of the original second Marlpit pond was cleared and a complex of four smaller ponds have been created. One of these was present as a much smaller body of water in the last two years and has proved to be a popular frog breeding site and we are hopeful that they will quickly colonise the new pools in the coming years, along with a new population of Great Crested Newts from the original pond.

      Tarry Path pond

      Tarry Path pond

      This pond is also thought to have been an old marlpit, which had become silted up until it’s restoration in the 1990s. A number of large trees have grown up on the perimeter of the pond, which consequently receives a large fall of leaves each Autumn and is heavily shaded for much of the year. In spite of this, it still supports a healthy population of Smooth and Palmate newts each Spring who use the floating sweetgrass in the pond to conceal and protect their eggs.

      Bulls Hollow

      Bulls Hollow (15 on map)

      A series of three shallow scrapes and an adjacent area of boggy soil were created in the bottom of Bulls Hollow in the Autumn of 2020 with funding from the Sussex Lund, secured by the Friends of the Commons. This project added new habitats at this already diverse site and it will be fascinating to monitor this area as it matures in the coming years.

  • Other features

      Happy Valley

      Happy Valley

      Happy Valley was one of the town’s chief beauty spots in Victorian and Edwardian times. There are many pictures of that period showing what was said to be “as beautiful a view as England affords” from the traditional viewpoint marked today by a clearing to the east of the Hundred and One Steps. Nowadays, due to obscuring trees, the best view can be obtained from the footpath between the Steps and the Beacon Hotel. The name was invented around 1870 (after the earthly paradise in Samuel Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, 1759) for what are now the grounds of the Beacon Hotel but were originally the pleasure grounds surrounding the Cold Bath of 1708.

      101 steps

      101 steps

      The flight of 101 steps into Happy Valley were constructed to provide the main access to the Cold Bath of 1708 and is therefore presumed to be contemporary with it. The steps are also clearly visible on John Bowra’s 1738 map. By 1840 the steps had become covered by turf and were apparently not revealed to view again until early in the twentieth century. Some postcards following their rediscovery erroneously describe them as ‘the Roman Steps’, creating a local legend that has endured to the present day. Missing and damaged steps were replaced by old kerbstones in 1959.

      Marlpit ponds

      The most notable relics of several excavations for marl on Rusthall Common are two depressions, which by the 1870s had developed into ponds. A bowling green was established to the south in 1913, but in time the site proved unsatisfactory and no trace of it remains today. Today the ponds are notable habitats for amphibians. The larger of the two was restored early in 1993, with further work in 1996. In the latter year, efforts were made to restore the second pond, but owing to its small size this is likely to remain a seasonal pool. The two ponds seen today are simply the lowest points of a much more extensive, although relatively shallow, excavation whose boundaries can be seen on older maps.

      Marl was a generic term for various kinds of clay which could be employed, it was believed, as fertiliser to make poor soils more suitable for agriculture. This practise was popularised locally by Gervase Markham in his Inrichment of the Weald of Kent (1683).

      Other marlpit sites, some of which are much deeper, can be found north of St Paul’s Church, north and north-east of the Cricket Ground, and near the south-westerly corner of the junction between Tea Garden Lane and Langton Road.

      Cricket ground (and Bumps)

      Levelled in 1885-1886, the current Rusthall cricket replaced an earlier unsatisfactory site established in 1865 at the north-western corner of the Common. It was enlarged in 1906. The informal playing field to the east, known as ‘the Bumps’ was cleared in the 1950s and levelled in 1961. (Visit the sketch map to see the relative positioning of these two features.)

      Coach Road

      Coach Road is a surviving section of a road which, in the mid-nineteenth century, continued across Langton Road to the end of the road now known as the Midway begins, after which it continued south to meet High Rocks Lane. (A hint of this route can be seen in a Britton Billings 1852 map, and in the Ordnance Survey Map of 1945-1947, but otherwise in no intervening map that has been made available.)

      Cunliffe Drinking fountain

      In 1886 Roger Cunliffe of neighbouring Nevill Park requested the erection of a drinking fountain in memory of Margaret Cunliffe. The fountain (now Grade II listed) was erected in 1887 near the south-westerly side of the junction of Coach Road and Rusthall Road. In St Paul’s Church, Rusthall there is an inscription to the same lady which reads, “She hath done what she could. She hath been a succourer of many.” It is this helpful lady who inspired the memorial fountain at Rusthall.

      The first mention of this fountain is made in Local Board Minutes of 5 May 1886 which noted a request by banker Roger Cunliffe of Stoneleigh, Nevill Park, to erect a fountain. At a meeting on 30 August 1886 the Freehold Tenants of Rusthall Manor gave their permission, subject to approval of the Lord of the Manor. A Waterworks Committee meeting-minute on 29 April 1887 relates to the supply of water to the fountain implying that it had been built by that date. It is pleasant to think that the good lady continues, even after her death, to ‘succour’ many thirsty people and animals.”

      Denny Bottom

      The settlement of Denny Bottom was described in 1832 as consisting of “broken ground, pigsties, rude cottages and small enclosures.” Apart from the Hobblies (built in 1569), Rusthall Park, no buildings survive from that period, but the present layout of the area, with small dwellings clustering close to the rocks, preserves something of its early character. Small-scale quarrying and sand digging continued here much later than elsewhere on the Commons, a quarry along Apsley Street being in use as recently as 1914. The Toad Rock Retreat, established around 1880 and subsequently enlarged, was destroyed by fire in 1998 and rebuilt in similar style.

      Still Green

      ‘Still Green’ refers to a small detached portion of Rusthall Common which seems to sit as an appendage to Hurst Wood. It largely lies to the west side of the footpath that runs in a north-easterly direction from the end of Woodside Road. It is named Steel Green on John Bowra’s map of 1738.

      Lower Green

      ‘Lower Green’ refers to a small detached portion of Rusthall common near the Red Lion public house. Lower Green itself was an early settlement like Denny Bottom. Originally the Green boasted a spring and a pond, but in 1899 the latter was filled in. Through road widening the Green proper is now much reduced in size, the remnant being located on the west side of the junction between Lower Green Road and Ashley Gardens, and embracing the small traffic island at that point.

  • Structures on or near the Common
      St Paul’s Church

      St Paul’s Church was built 1849 to 1850, and a north aisle was added in 1864. Edwardian views show on the western side of the footpath between the Church and Langton Road a now-vanished pond within the bounds of the enormous marl pit marked on Stidolph Rusthall Manor 1850 map. The avenue leading up to the Church was planted to commemorate the accession of George V in 1910.

      Beacon Hotel

      The Beacon Hotel was built in 1895 as Rusthall Beacon by Sir Walter Harris on the site of two cottages attached to the original Tea Gardens (which had been opened c.1818), after which the road is named. Together with the Tea gardens site, he bought part of Cold Bath Farm, the area known as Happy Valley.

      The estate was bought in 1907 by Colonel Edward Sydney Sladen (mayor of Royal Tunbridge Wells 1910-12), who erected in the grounds the Burmese Bell, brought back by his father Sir Edward Sladen, which was later placed in Calverley Grounds. Since 1991 it has been permanently displayed in the council chamber foyer of the Town Hall.

      From 1938 and through World War II, the house was used as a residential home for Jewish refugee children. The building became a hotel in 1950.

      Two Yews Cottage

      Two Yews Cottage (5 Lower Green Road), or The Yews, is one of the oldest surviving houses in Tunbridge Wells, dating from the mid to late fifteenth century. (Also see the sketch map.) The main part of the house would have been an open hall prior to alterations around 1600. There is a nineteenth century addition to the original building.

      Assembly Room site

      A bramble-filled pit marks the site (on the north side of the junction between Langton Road and Tea Garden Lane) of the first Assembly Room for the entertainment of the visitors to the Wells, built in 1655 when most still lodged at Rusthall. In 1665 this facility was transferred to Mount Ephraim House. A contemporary bowling green extended to the west. (L Melville, Society at Tunbridge Wells in the 18th Century, 1912.)