This website began because of newcomers to the area asking where they could learn something of its history. Well, there is plenty of history around and a Local History Group that stages occasional exhibitions, but there was then no handy booklet one could just pick up and give them.
So the idea was to correct that by gathering all the info we could get here. If you have anything to add feel free to
EMAIL because that's mostly how the site grows. On the right and below are some old postcards sent in by web visitors.
Below is a gallery of old postcards and photos contributed by various Rusthall residents. Click on the cover to view them. If you have any similar pictures you think will fit, please send them in.
One picture in there of the old Marquee Tavern in the now vanished Salisbury Road prompted the following correspondence from Rosemary Hollands in October 2008:
"I used to live at No 14 Salisbury Road, Rusthall from 1947 until 1962. My mother and her siblings lived there as children, her maiden name was Dadson, her married name was Blake. The Marquee or Marquis pub was 2 doors down from where I used to live, in the same terrace of houses in Salisbury Road. My mother worked there for a while doing some cleaning for the licensee Mr Hollands. This was in the early 1950s. My mother's family lived in the same house as I did for many years before my mother married.
"Sometime in the late 60s or even early 70s all of Salisbury Road was demolished and the Old people's complex that parallels the school drive replaced it. Originally if one stood at the bottom of Salisbury road one could see the front of the first house at the bottom of Summer Cottages, which still exist. The Marquee tavern used to be about halfway up on the right hand side."
For more of what Rosemary has to say about growing up in Rusthall in the 50s and additional material from Fred Smallwood in February 2010, click on the Marquee picture.
Rusthall Common 1878
Denny Bottom 1878
FROM THE BEGINNING . . .
As most people around here know, Speldhurst, Rusthall, Denny Bottom and most other villages in the area are far older than Tunbridge Wells itself, a mere 17th century upstart. Apparently the earliest mention of Rusthall and Speldhurst is in a grant of lands by Egeburth, the Anglo-Saxon (or possibly Jutish) king of Kent, to Diora, Bishop of Rochester in the 8th century. Rochester still in fact governs Speldhurst parish, whose church has some great Pre Raphaelite stained glass windows.
Rusthall probably gets its name from the rusty quality of the local water, and its wells have sometimes rivalled the more famous ones down the road for popularity and supposed curative powers. The foundations of a once-popular cold bath house can still be found in Happy Valley below the Hundred Steps and in the grounds of the Beacon Hotel.
The stone-lined spring which fed it is in much better condition, though a bit choked with debris. Local tradition often attributes it and the steps to the Romans, and this legend was spread by being mentioned on at least one old postcard of Happy Valley (right), but it is very unlikely. A Roman road does run through Edenbridge about 12 miles away and they must have been aware of the Celtic settlement at High Rocks, but there's no evidence of any Roman building around Rusthall. For more on the history and development of Rusthall, visit this page from the Tunbridge Wells Commons Conservators site.
A view of Rusthall's famous Toad Rock in the 1930s and today, showing that not much around the Toad Rock has changed apart from the vehicles and trees. Click on the images for enlargement.
Here's what PAUL AMSINCK, ESQ. had to say about the baths in his 1810 guide to TUNBRIDGE WELLS, AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD: 'There was indeed an excellent cold bath near Rust-Hall Common; which had formerly been an appendage on a place of public entertainment: but this was at too great a distance for invalids; difficult of access; and moreover, in a very dilapidated and uncomfortable condition. Warm baths there were none. It was suggested that some benefit might be derived from baths composed of the mineral water, and a desire manifested itself on the part of many of the inhabitants, to embark in an undertaking to this effect. Mrs. Shorey, however, as lady of the manor, put in her exclusive claim to the advantages of the undertaking; and with a liberality and zeal for the public good, which, it is apprehended, can scarcely in point of profit have answered to herself, erected about six years since the present handsome edifice, on the site of the antient enclosure. Cold and warm, vapour;
and shower baths are herein contained; all excellent in their kind and well-appointed. The Well still retains its antient situation, though better protected, in front of the building: but in a handsome room, facing the parade, the same water is supplied from a pump, for those who prefer that method of taking it. Over this pump-room and the baths, are various comfortable apartments; intended for the accommodation of invalids, with small establishments, who might wish to make constant use of the baths. They have not, however, yet been fitted up for the purpose.'
for a facsimile account of the Rusthall baths in Happy Valley from Pelton's 1881 Guide to Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area. Elsewhere (i.e. we've forgotten the source) the spot is described as a: 'pleasure garden laid out by James Long, the owner, in 1708 around a cold bath fed by springs. A series of pools descended to the valley below and a lengthy staircase of rock-hewn steps led down from Rusthall Common to the bathhouse. By 1818 the gardens were revived as tea gardens. In 1895 a house, now the Beacon Hotel, was built on the site of the teahouse and the gardens were developed as private grounds with trees planted from 1907 by Colonel Sladen.'
The name Denny Bottom comes from the Anglo-Saxon word 'dene' meaning 'vale'. So basically it is the same word repeated in two different languages, as with Hurst Wood, 'hurst' simply being Anglo-Saxon for 'wood'. Everyone is reminded of how much of a valley Denny Bottom is when the roads ice up and they can't get their cars out, but that's always a good excuse for taking the day off work and taking the kids sledging on the Spa golf course.
HERE for a description of the area from Pelton's 1881 Guide to Tunbridge Wells.
Or HERE for a 1904 piece from Highways and Byways in Sussex by E V Lucas.
Between Rusthall and Speldhurst lie Shadwell Woods, which take their name from Chad's Well nearby. These woods and the ancient bridleway cutting through them are mentioned in the following wonderful historical sketch by one lifelong resident,
N.M. Bailey, who was born close to Bull's Hollow. We came across the piece purely by accident and have no idea when or why s/he wrote it, but we'll let you know if we find out.
The Bailey piece mentions Sir George Kelley, a famous Sheriff of Kent who did much for the development of Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells in general, having built in 1765 and lived in what is now the Spa Hotel, among many other achievements. His descendant Ronnie Strachan of Co Waterford, Ireland has built a fascinating website around his research into the Will of Sir George's wife Johanna, who died around 1774. To take a look, click
Watercolours of Rusthall
Common by Jif Peters
Next, courtesy of
Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery, we attach an extract from
the catalogue of their 1993 exhibition of pictures of Tunbridge Wells
and Rusthall Commons, both of which are actually
owned by Rusthall Manor. This contains a wealth of interesting history
even without the pictures. The gallery had another exhibition of local
pictures in February 2001. Many paintings on show were by William Conyers Fisher, a Denny Bottom resident famous for wandering about the Common in a long black coat and a distracted air. The local kids thought him mad and teased him mercilessly, but that doesn't seem to have affected his love of the area.
From the same catalogue comes this survey of Rusthall Manor, with additional thanks to Rachel Amphlett who typed it all out when she lived at the Toad Rock Retreat.
The picture on the left (and others on the site) is from an old postcard
collected by Ursula and Ben Bennett of Upper Street in Denny Bottom. It shows Loaf Rock and their house prominent on the left. Click on it for an enlargement,
or on the heading below for the story of a creepy discovery Ben made soon after he first moved into Denny Bottom in the 1960s.
Continuing the morbid theme, here are a couple of ghost stories you may enjoy, taken from Andrew Green's booklet Ghosts of Tunbridge Wells. Green was a famous ghost-hunter who lived in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, until his death in 2004. As President of the Tunbridge Wells Fortean Society in 1999 he kindly gave permission for this piece to be included on our site.
Below are a couple more spooky tales from Robin Snook, a long time Rusthall resident.
Tree in Happy Valley
View along Upper Street
There is a Rusthall Local History Group for anyone
who'd like to know more. It usually meets on the last Monday of each month in the United Reformed Church hall, facing One-Stop across Manor Road in the village, from 7 to about 8.30. Check the local papers for confirmation or try ringing either Jenny Blackburn on 01892 546520 or Dennis Penfold on 01892 537939. The Group also mounts interesting exhibitions of local history in the village from time to time .