The Grove, Tunbridge Wells 1552

Tunbridge Wells, England, Kent, Tunbridge Wells

Brief Description

The Grove is a designed urban space laid out in 1703. It was designed for the citizens of Tunbridge Wells to use as a shady rest area when visiting the Spa at Sion Hill. Many improvements were made during the late-19th-century, but during World War 2 the railings and gates were requisitioned by the military. Subsequently they, and the dilapidated Victorian bandstand, were never replaced.

Visitor Facilities

This is a municipal site for general public use. Please see:

Detailed Description

The Grove was described as ‘a place of umbrageous shade' in Victorian times when it was transferred to the care of Corporation. Time has thinned out the oaks, and more exotic species were planted for the restoration that was needed after the storm of 1987.

The following text is taken from the Kent Compendium of Historic Parks and Gardens for Tunbridge Wells Borough:

A small wooded area donated as public open space in 1703 and formally laid out with walks in the C19.



The Grove lies on high ground within the residential area of Mount Sion and enjoys fine views west over Tunbridge Wells to the Common. The 1.8ha site is located some 100m east of Tunbridge Wells High Street. It is bounded to its east by Buckingham Road and to its south-east by Claremont Road while the north, west and south-west boundaries abut the C18 and C19 properties in Mount Sion.


The main entrance is from the south, from the west end of Claremont Road at its junction with Buckingham Road. To its west is a garden store, constructed on the site of a 1940s air-raid shelter. The entrance from Birdcage Walk at the north-east corner of the site is the only one with an entrance feature. The way in is through the southern arch of a pair of mid-C19, stuccoed arches flanking a stuccoed wall on the property boundary (listed grade II). The arches' square Doric columns support a heavy cornice. Pelton's 1876 map shows only three entrances, but in 1889 the new Tunbridge Wells Council proposals included al lthe present ten entrances.


The Grove, roughly oval in shape, is laid out and managed as rough grass which is informally planted with birch, oak and beech trees, many surviving from C19 plantings (some in poor condition). Its boundaries are enclosed variously by fences, railings and brick walls along the inside of which are mixed shrubberies, some of their plants also surviving from the C19.

A tree-lined, gravelled path, some 10m wide and formally lined with lamp posts and benches, runs 150m north from the main, Claremont Road entrance to form the Grove's major, south-north axis. It is crossed by two secondary, diagonal paths. The site also is encircled by a perimeter path, some 450m in overall distance and joined at various points by smaller paths from the pedestrian entrances. The south-north axial path divides the site into two unequally sized areas of approximately 1.1ha and 0.7h; in the smaller, eastern area, approximately halfway along the path is a children's playground which occupies the site of the C19 bandstand and the playground built in 1899 (2nd edn OS map; photographs). The Grove retains its woodland character and the path layout as shown on established in 1889.


Books and articles

Benge Burr,The History of Tunbridge Wells (Tunbridge Wells, 1766).

Arthur William Brackett,Tunbridge Wells through the Centuries (Tunbridge Wells: Courier Co. Ltd, 1937).

Charles Hilbert Strange, Royal Tunbridge Wells - Past and Present Centuries (Tunbridge Wells: Courier Co. Ltd, 1946).

Roy Douglas, Memories of the Grove (1990).

400 years of the Wells (Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society local history monograph no. 5, 2005).

An historical atlas of Tunbridge Wells (Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society local history monograph no. 7, 2007)

Roger Farthing, History of Mount Sion (The History Press Ltd, 2008).


John Bowra, A Survey of Tunbridge Wells and all Places of Note Within a Mile and a half of the Chappel (1738).

Edward Hasted map of Tunbridge Wells 1778.

Charles Greenwood, Map of the County of Kent 1821.

Tithe map 1840

Pelton's New Map of Tunbridge Wells (1876) in Pelton's Shilling Guide Tunbridge Wells Improvement Plan 1889

OS maps 1st edn 6" 1870

2nd edn 6" 1897

3rd edn 6" 1907

4th edn 6" 1929

OS maps 1st edn 25" 1870 Sheets 60/15 and 60/16

2nd edn 25" 1896 Sheets 60/15 and 60/16

3rd edn 25" 1909 Sheets 60/15 and 60/16

Revd edn 25" 1938 Sheets 60/15 and 60/16

Modern Mastermap 1:25,000. 2007.

Map showing listed buildings within The Grove site boundaries 1:5000.


Joseph Josiah Dodd, pencil drawing of ‘Duchess of Kent's House, from the Grove' (c.1830).

Early C20 b/w postcards of Mount Sion Grove 1907.

Aerial photograph 2003.

Archival items

Plant list 1864-68 from Rev. W. L. Pope, A Word About the Grove (1868).

Council minutes 1891-1967 (TWBC).

English Heritage Listed Buildings entries: undated.

Ian Beavis, Notes on The Grove (2003).

Research by Carole Leith

Description written by Barbara Simms

Edited by Virginia Hinze

May 2009

Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

This is a municipal site for general public use. Please see:

Detailed History

By a deed of 1703, the self-styled ‘Earl of Buckingham' secured The Grove on Mount Sion, as ‘a grove, shade or walke for the benefit of the inhabitants, lodgers and servants of Tunbridge Wells'. An entrance arch in classical style was erected. Visitors to the spa climbed Sion Hill to walk or drive through the grove of wealden oaks.

The following text is taken from the Kent Compendium of Historic Parks and Gardens for Tunbridge Wells Borough:

The Grove (sometimes referred to as Mount Sion Grove) lies at the centre of an urban area of Tunbridge Wells (Mount Sion) which until the early C17 was a remote corner of the Manor of South Frith (Historical Atlas of Tunbridge Wells). The town of Tunbridge Wells takes its name from the neighbouring and much earlier Tonbridge (which was known as Tunbridge until the late C19), with 'Wells' denoting its status as a spa. Its development as a spa town and resort began in 1606 when it is said that Dudley, Lord North, discovered a chalybeate spring there (400 years of the Wells). Its popularity grew so greatly during the C17 that in 1684, Viscountess Purbeck, the owner of Mount Sion, realized its potential for development and began selling off plots of land to provide lodgings and other facilities for the visitors who came to take the waters.

The Grove, which was originally a small wood surrounded by open heathland, remained part of the Manor until April 1703 when Viscountess Purbeck's son, the Duke of Buckingham, placed the area in trust ‘to be continually preserved for a grove and shade, and walks, for the use of all the inhabitants' (Brackett). By 1738 Mount Sion was occupied by substantial properties, many of which were lodging houses (Bowra) and was described as ‘in the full bloom of prosperity' (Burr). In 1782 The Grove contained 200 oak and 10 beech trees surviving from the original wood as well as many smaller trees (Hasted) and is still shown as woodland on Greenwood's map of 1821. By 1830, however, the area appears to have been formally laid out with at least one tree-lined walk (Dodd), although this is not shown on the Tithe Map.

In 1863, many improvements were carried out under the direction of the Reverend William Law Pope, minister of King Charles' Church in the Pantiles and honorary curator of The Grove (Beavis). His actions in removing aging trees and replacing them with new ones led to accusations of vandalism, against which he defended himself in a pamphlet in 1868. By that date Pope had planted nearly 100 trees of 31 species, along with around 400 shrubs and argued for moving away from the exclusive use of oak and beech, saying that diversity ‘is suitable to a Grove, as distinguished from a wood' (Beavis). His publication lists the trees he planted as well as recording the land sold for development around The Grove and the effect on its mature trees of the new railway tunnel built below it. In 1876 The Grove is shown as laid out with a perimeter path, a main axis from south-west to north-east and a cross-axis from west to east (Pelton).

In 1889 the town of Tunbridge Wells was incorporated and the new Council, chaired by Tunbridge ware maker, Thomas Barton, took over the management of The Grove. He embellished it with ornamental gates, iron railings, seats and lamp standards, the Council's plan also showing the open space populated with mature trees (1889 plan). Changes were also made to the path layout and a bandstand (brought from Warrior Square, St Leonards) was installed (3rd edn OS map; postcards). Press cuttings describing Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 reported that The Grove held a spectacular musical event ‘almost Parisian in variety, beauty and extent' with ‘over 7000 coloured lamps and Chinese lanterns [and] festoons of fire on and around the fine old trees' (Beavis). A children's playground was introduced in 1899 and a summer pavilion for concert parties was added in the early years of the C20. A local resident of 1911 recalled ‘happy hours in The Grove: bowling our hoops, whipping tops, skipping, playing hide-and-seek in the shrubbery ... and chalking hopscotch markings on the paths ... much frowned on by the Grover, who was a sort of full-time caretaker and gardener' (Douglas).

During World War Two, much of The Grove, including the bandstand, was requisitioned by the military and the ornamental iron railings and gates were dismantled for the war effort (Beavis). In 1946, The Grove was in a poor state of repair; the bandstand was demolished and in 1947 a ‘scheme providing for the reinstatement and improvement' was recorded in Council minutes. Improvements continued in subsequent decades with new tree plantings and reinstatement of seats although the summer pavilion was dismantled.

During the October 1987 storm many trees were lost but a planned replanting scheme, promoted by the Friends of the Grove, is now (2009) beginning to mature. The site, which has a Green Flag Award, remains the property of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council whose policy is to preserve the landscape according to the aims and objectives of The Grove's benefactors while maintaining it to modern standards.




  • Kent Gardens Trust