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A TOUR OF RUSTHALL COMMON

Extracted from the booklet Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons - Past and Present, published by Tunbridge Wells Museum. The booklet is out of print, but the museum has since published a revised and expanded edition with many new illustrations.

© Copyright 1993 and 1996 Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery

Any additions to the original text are in italics, or in captions to enlargements of the illustrations.

DENNY BOTTOM
The settlement of Denny Bottom was described in 1832 as consisting of 'broken ground, pig-sties, rude cottages and small enclosures'. 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.

TOAD ROCK
First popularised in a local guide in 1810 and named about 1820. It was fenced and the base strengthened with masonry in 1881-2.

Parson's Nose rock

DENNY BOTTOM ROCKS
In Victorian and Edwardian times visitors to the Toad 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 those of the Loaf, the Lion (mentioned in the 1850s) and the Parson's Nose (painted under this name by Charles Tattershall Dodds in the 1840s, but named the Old Man's Head on a sketch of 1824 and renamed the Pulpit by Edwardian times). Martin and Row's guide 'Tunbridge Wells of Today' (c. 1895) provides the only substantial list (said to be far from complete) but gives no clue to precise locations. Oral tradition has enabled many rocks to be identified for the present map, but others remain as yet unlocated. [Editor's note: For copyright reasons we could not include the map referred to but below we have some schematic ones by Matt Meyritz showing some old and new names of the rocks. Click on them for enlargements.]

Parson's Nose rock Parson's Nose rock

Old photograph of Bull's Hollow

BULL'S HOLLOW
An Edwardian beauty spot frequently illustrated in town guides. The site of a quarry (disused by 1890), said to be named after a quarryman who lived and worked on the site in the mid-nineteenth century (there was certainly a Mrs Bull in occupation in 1864). The present cottage was adapted in the 1950s from what was originally a pair of cottages dating from the early nineteenth century. There was a military rifle range here in 1918-19. The rocks of the quarry were first publicised as a site for climbers in 1936.

STILL GREEN
A detached portion of Rusthall Common which today resembles an appendage to Hurst Woods. Named Steel Green on Bowra's map of 1739.

LOWER GREEN
This is another early settlement like Denny Bottom, clustered around a small detached portion of the Common. The Green proper is now much reduced in size through road widening but originally boasted a spring and a pond. The pond was filled in 1899. The Red Lion inn is reputed to date from 1415, but there is no evidence that the present structure predates the nineteenth century.

TWO YEWS COTTAGE
Probably the oldest surviving house in Tunbridge Wells, dated to the sixteenth or seventeenth century on structural grounds, which gives support to the date of 1571 on the main chimney. There is a nineteenth century addition to the original building.

MARL PITS
Two survivors of several excavations for marl (used as fertiliser) on the Commons, 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 remains today. One pond was restored early in 1993.

ASSEMBLY ROOM SITE
A bramble filled pit marks the site of the first Assembly Room for the entertainment of visitors to the Wells, built in 1655 when most still lodged at Rusthall. In 1665 this facility was transferred to Mount Ephraim House. A bowling green extended to the west.

RUSTHALL CRICKET GROUND
Levelled in 1885-6, replacing an earlier unsatisfactory site established in 1865 around 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.

ST PAUL'S CHURCH
Built in 1849-50, with a north aisle added in 1864. Edwardian views show between the Church and Langton Road a now vanished pond within the bounds of the enormous marl pit marked on Bowra's 1738 map.

BEACON HOTEL
Built in 1895 as Rusthall Beacon by Sir Walter Harris (later Lord Mayor of London) on the site of the original Tea Gardens, opened c. 1820, after which the road is named; two cottages formerly stood on the site. Together with the house he bought part of Cold Bath Farm, the area known as Happy Valley. The estate was bought in 1907 by Sidney Slades (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. The building became a hotel in 1950.

HAPPY VALLEY
One of the town's chief beauty spots in Victorian and Edwardian times, from which period there are many pictures from the traditional viewpoint to the east from the head of the steps. The name was invented in the early 1870s for what is now the grounds of the Beacon Hotel, but originally the pleasure grounds surrounding the Cold Bath of 1708.

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 overhangs as a basis for simple shelters. Rocks by the path were underpinned with masonry in 1932.

The 'Roman Steps'

101 STEPS
Constructed to provide the main access to the Cold Bath of 1708 and therefore presumed to be contemporary with it. They appear on Bowra's map of 1738. By 1840 they had become covered in 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'. Missing and damaged steps were replaced by old kerbstones in 1959.

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

COLD BATH
Lying just over the boundary of the Common in the Beacon Hotel grounds, the bath was constructed in 1708. It was originally covered by an ornamental pavilion and surrounded by gardens with lakes, watercourses and fountains. By 1766 it had fallen into disuse.


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