Chalybeate springs at Tunbridge Wells: site of a 17th-century new town
Among Wealden towns Tunbridge Wells is comparatively new. Before the Civil Wars of the 1640s there was no village here, nor any name on a map. Chance finding of chalybeate springs a few miles south of Tunbridge (now Tonbridge) attracted attention at Court, and even gynaecological interest. Curiously, this provides explanations both for the supposed virtues of the waters and the founding of a summer resort. By repute, the springs were discovered in 1606, though this story was already 160 years old before it first appeared in print. Verifiable facts indicate that Thomas Neale, FRS, (1641–1699) was the main agent in organizing the nascent resort’s amenities, beginning in 1676 with plans to construct a chapel or assembly room. The springs themselves issue from Lower Cretaceous Wealden beds, a few feet above the Wadhurst Clay, in a shallow valley formed by the headwaters of the River Grom. Siderite (iron carbonate or chalybite) abounds in these formations.