35-42 The Pantiles
Reprint of an article that appeared in the Summer 2009 Edition of Common Ground.
Built in the mid-19th century by the successful Tunbridge Wells entrepreneur William Willicombe, nos 38-42 The Pantiles are probably best known for their bay windows overlooking the Upper Walk. Also, they house the enjoyable premises of the Cafe Chocolat and Messrs Gardener & Cook on the Upper Walk frontage.
Perhaps less familiar is the London Road frontage of these buildings, part of which is illustrated here. This elevation, which faces The Common, exhibits similar classical features to those used by Willicombe in his other stucco-faced developments, such as Lansdowne Road and Mount Ephraim Road. The roof has a deep bracketed eaves, and the heads ofthe main openings have cornices above them, supported on consoles.
Born in 1800, William Willicombe came to Tunbridge Wells from Bath in 1829, and worked initially with Messrs Bramah, the builders of Decimus Burton’s Calverley New Town. Such was the confidence inspired by Willicombe in all concerned, that he became entrusted with many important developments on his own account, earning himself a reputation as “The Cubitt of Tunbridge Wells”. He is buried in the family chest tomb in Woodbury Park Cemetery, and the Friends of the Cemetery have recently published a booklet about his life and work.
Nos 38-42 The Pantiles occupy the site of the old Assembly Rooms where Beau Nash, the colourful Master of Ceremonies, presided over the gaming, dancing and other social activities of the distinguished company that gathered in Tunbridge Wells in Georgian times.
Sadly, the London Road frontage ofthe buildings on the Upper walk of The Pantiles has tended to be regarded as the back. Thus there are issues concerning the standard of maintenance and decoration on the London Road side, as compared with the better standard on The Pantiles side. Yet the London Road frontage is a highly prominent one, situated at a key entry point to the town from the south, and forming an important backdrop to The Common.
To their credit Targetfollow, who now own The Common and much of the Upper Walk, have recognised the problem, and improved maintenance of the London Road frontages is among the thoughts that have been put forward for consideration in their recent strategy for The Pantiles. However, not all of the buildings on the Upper Walk are in the ownership of Targetfollow, nos 38-44 being cases in point. So a concerted effort by all owners will be needed, if The Pantiles frontage to The Common is to be brought up to the standard that should be expected of such an important feature of this historic town.
By Philip Whitbourn.