37 posts categorised "The Tunbridge Wells Project"

Burlsem House

One of the last parts of the old Kent & Sussex Hospital site was being locked-up and prepared for demolition this week. I had just four hours to get there and photograph Burslem House before it was too late.

Burslem House

I arrived to a busy scene, porters were loading vans with furniture and trolleys full of unwanted possessions ready for the dump were being piled up outside. NHS staff were milling around inside making sure nothing was left behind. I didn't have much time before the keys were handed over to the demolition contractor so I quickly made my way in.

Not much was left inside. Aside from a scattering of old furniture, some worrying-looking stains, and a few dents in the carpet, it was pretty lifeless and looking very sorry for itself. Mind you I never got the chance to see it when it was full of people living there.

Burslem House

One of the many bedrooms on the upper floors.

The former nurse accommodation block was opened back in 1934 just a week after the official opening of the main hospital. It was opened by Robert Burslem who was the mayor of Tunbridge Wells from 1932 to 1934. He was a man who not only worked tirelessly to support the hospitals in the area but also to support the victims of war, he owned a stonemasons which specialised in the carving of names onto war memorials. After Mr Burslem died in 1960 the building was named in his honour.

Burslem House

Quiet please.

The top three floors were dedicated to living accommodation whilst the ground floor housed treatment rooms, offices, and physical rehabilitation facilities. The bedrooms upstairs were small but seemed to have everything you'd need and each floor had communal kitchens, laundries, and bathrooms - some of these had definitely seen better days. There were also resident lounges scattered throughout the floors where doctors and nurses could watch television, play pool, and get up to all sorts of other recreations.

Burslem House

One of the cleaner baths I found.

Whilst I was up on the top floor I couldn't resist a quick panorama of the work currently underway at Royal Wells Park. You can see just how big the site is from this picture can't you.

Royal Wells Park Panorama

Panorama of the Royal Wells Park building site from Burslem House. Click for larger.

So that looks like the last you'll see of the old site. Once Burslem House is gone the new offices and homes will start going up pretty quickly - in fact you can see from the photograph above that one block is halfway up already.

Burslem House

The main gymnasium.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to John Weeks for the very-early-morning email and subsequent permission to shoot inside, and in return I'd like to take this opportunity to quickly plug his book Bandages & Benevolence. It's a really terrific read on the history of the Tunbridge Wells Hospitals and contains loads of unique photography and material. The book is available from the hospital at Pembury (7am-7pm in the hospital restaurants), in Waterstones, or send a cheque for £10 (P&P free!) to: Bandages & Benevolence Book, Emergency Planning Unit, Level 3, Tunbridge Wells Hospital, Tonbridge Road, Pembury, Kent TN2 4QJ.

Burslem House

One of the few exterior details showing Pan, the god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music.

See lots more photos on our Tunbridge Wells Project.

I'd love to hear from you if lived inside Burslem, why not see if you can spot your room in the gallery (I think I got most of them, to be honest they all looked very similar after three hours) and let me know what it was like.

Exploring The River Grom Tunnels

Ever wondered where the River Grom goes when it disappears underneath The Pantiles?

River Grom Pantiles Tunnels

David and I have been waiting nearly a year to get the chance to find out, and thanks to Michael and Sarah, and some very favourable weather conditions, we donned some waders and headed down into the abyss.

River Grom Pantiles Tunnels

Kip's Map of 1719 showing the River Grom passing alongside The Pantiles.

We descended through a tight circular drain with barely enough room for us to squeeze through, luckily we both skipped breakfast that morning, and awaiting us there at the bottom was a sight that took our breath away. If you love tunnels, and Tunbridge Wells really loves its tunnels, this is the pièce de résistance.

River Grom Pantiles Tunnels

We both stood and looked at our feet and watched the River Grom passing across them, thanks to the lack of rain recently it was nothing but a trickle. In wetter weather these tunnels are filled to the very top with water raging through. In places the walls were stained that characteristic Chalybeate iron brown and made for incredibly slippery going, and what with the just-under-six-foot height of the tunnel we were careful to take it easy no matter how excited we were.

Actually, they say a picture is worth a thousand words so instead why not watch the video we made instead.

Once you've watched the video click below to see all the photographs we took whilst down there, there are some absolute stunners.

Go see all the photographs of the tunnels.

The Princess's Slipper?

Alex at Trinity Theatre has been inviting our Tunbridge Wells Project into the building for the past few weeks to document the changes that are underway in the foyer (link at the end of this post). Amongst all the building work there was a bit of a treat waiting for us.

Show Under Trinity Church Floor

Photographed above is the remains of a leather shoe that was found underneath the floor. It was discovered by the builders that are refurbishing the bar and café by extending the storage behind the bar. The shoe was found as they were lifting the original floor stones and digging down into the foundations. From this we can deduce that the shoe was placed in situ at the very start of construction of the church, but what was it doing there?

There are lots of theories as to why shoes are placed into the very fabric of a building, the most fitting of which is that is will protect against evil spirits. Most interestingly my limited research seems to indicate that they are quite rare to find in ecclesiastical buildings.

Beyond it falling there by accident, that seems to be the most reasonable explanation as to why it's there. But whose is it and who put it there?

The first stone of Trinity Church was laid on the 17th August 1827. This date also happens to be the birthday of Queen Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, who was residing at nearby Calverley House at the time. The young Victoria is known to have attended Holy Trinity on more than one occasion. What I am trying to say here is, is this her shoe? You never know. It could of course also have belonged to the wife of one the builders and although that's more plausible it's just not as fun is it.

Show Under Trinity Church Floor

The part of the church that the shoe was found, just to the left of the ladder.

Whoever it belongs to, and whoever put it there, there is a small part of this that is playing on my brain. Not that I'm superstitious or anything but would it not be the best idea to just leave the shoe where it is? Reading about such finds in other buildings I have come across many cases where bad luck and strange happenings occur when the shoe leaves the building. We wouldn't want anything to happen to Trinity now would we?

The shoe is now heading over to the museum to be appraised and if anything interesting turns up I'll pass it on. Fingers crossed.

Click to see photos of the refurbishments.

Thank you to the friendly welcome extended by Shepherd & Son Builders throughout the refurbishment, and to Alex and Trinity for allowing us to record this work.

Exhibiting in Wiesbaden

If you haven't been keeping up with our Tunbridge Wells Project blog then some of you may have been wondering why I have been neglecting you for the past couple of weeks. David and I were invited to our twin town of Wiesbaden to participate in their bi-annual photography festival, the Wiesbadener Fototage.

Tunbridge Wells Project Exhibition

The Fototage is 62 photographers exhibiting for 3 weeks in 11 venues all over the city and we were the only photographers from the UK to attend, we felt very privileged. You can read the daily diary of our trip over on our Project blog so I'll just quickly speed through some of the basics here.

We set off from home very early last Thursday morning to catch the 07:20 Eurotunnel train in our bright yellow Fiat 500L. This rather cool set of wheels had been donated to us by the kind people at Thames Motor Group (full review soon) and was a vital cog in the whole trip-machine.

Fiat 500L Trekking

How cool does this look with our Project logos on it? Very. Exactly!

For the next five hours the countryside of France, Belgium and Germany whizzed by in a blur until we reached the familiar roads of Wiesbaden. We were too excited to do much else so quickly checked in to our hotel - we'll ignore the four laps of the hotel we took trying to find the entrance to the car park - and raced off to find our exhibition space.

We had been assigned one of the largest spaces in the entire festival at das altos gerichtsgebäude (the old courthouse). We'd seen photographs of the space before we left so had tailored our choice of photographs to exhibit there. It was a wonderfully grotty space, perfect for our Project photos.

Tunbridge Wells Project Exhibition

Das altos gerichtsgebäude

We had a brief tour of the building by the gallery manager Stefan Grötecke before returning to the hotel exhausted. We rose early the next day to take our prints over to the gallery space to hang them. Underestimating the time this takes we spent the best part of half a day adjusting, readjusting, putting up, pulling down, until finally we were satisfied that the photographs looked as good as they could do. We left the place in a jubilant mood and set off across the city to another gallery for the pre-exhibition party where all the photographers were mingling and relaxing before the grand opening. We were loudly introduced to the whole party when we arrived but not understanding a word of German we had no idea what was said (mental note: learn German)

Over the next couple of days we kept popping our heads back into the exhibition and each time we saw a constant stream of visitors wandering in to look at our photographs. This is quite a lovely feeling I can tell you.

Tunbridge Wells Project Exhibition

We weren't tied to the exhibition though, there were handy volunteers to guide people around, so we'd planned to meet up with some friends we had made on our last visit, make time for some brief sightseeing, and relax with a beer. Amongst other things our trip was planned to coincide with the handover of the Wiesbaden Projekt, yes we have built a matching twin website to the Tunbridge Wells Project. We met up with local photographer Axel Sawert to handover the site and to explain how it works. With the support of the local government it looks like being a great resource in the future. Whilst doing that we were lucky enough to be able to help on one of the first Wiesbaden Projekt shoots, in an old church called Lutherkirche. It's quite the understatement to say that Wiesbaden has some amazing old buildings.


Inside the roofspace of the Lutherkirche. We also walked around the walkway you can see right at the top.

We were given privileged access to the church tower and roofspace so the Wiesbaden Project will get off to a flying start here.

Monday, our final day, had come around far too soon. We had a very quick hour to buy our wives some presents and say some auf wiedersehens before embarking on the long trek back to the UK.

As well as help in Germany, especially Frank Deubel, we couldn't have made the exhibition without some local help too. We'd like to thank Thames Motor Group for their donation of a fantastic Fiat 500L, and Signal UK who printed our photographs and also stickered up the car with our logos. I am hoping that both these local firms will continue to help us when we plan to exhibit here at home in 2014. As well as this we really hope that at some point in the future we can bring photographers from Wiesbaden to Tunbridge Wells as part of the Twinning Association.

Stay tuned because I'll be sharing a gallery of lots more photographs and videos of this epic trip very soon.

Kent & Sussex Hospital Demolition

Forgive me for my lack of updates, I've been rushed off my feet preparing for our trip to Wiesbaden next week. But to sate your appetite for all things local how about some photos of the demolition of the main buildings of the Kent & Sussex Hospital which began this week.

Kent & Sussex Hospital Demolition

Looks quite a bit different doesn't it?

Click the photo above to see lots more photos.


  • I am a spritely 30-something living with my beautiful wife in the most fabulous town in the entire world, Royal Tunbridge Wells.

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