Much of present-day Tunbridge Wells was originally included in the enormous parish of Tonbridge, and when that was surveyed in 1838 there were only two buildings in the area now covered by St. Barnabas’ parish. One of these was the ancient Charity Farm which, against all the odds, has survived to this day in the present Hilbert Recreation Ground. The other was an engine house, which had been built in connection with the waterworks and reservoirs established to supply the houses in the new upper class development in Calverley Park. The stone to build these villas was hewn from stone quarries to be found around the present Quarry Road, as shown in the detailed map of 1849.
The arrival of the railway in 1844 brought further extensive changes in Tunbridge Wells. Until the tricky tunnel into town had been completed, passengers had to alight at a station called (after an old field name) Jackwood Spring, which became the Goods Station after Tunbridge Wells Central was opened in 1845. In its turn the Goods Station, which had been disused for its original purpose for some time, became a true “brownfield site”. It has recently been developed with the building of blocks of apartments, but the original field name has been perpetuated in that given to the access road – Jackwood Way.
Although people generally think of Tunbridge Wells as a “genteel” town of maiden aunts and retired colonels (and there was formerly much truth in this impression) such people needed great armies of servants and artisans. It was in order to house them that large numbers of cottages began to be built around Camden Road, which had originally been known as Calverley Quarry Road. By 1870 a considerable population was living in that area, which had been allotted to St. James’s parish, itself carved out of the parish of Holy Trinity. It was an unwieldy district, with great contrasts between the mansions of the wealthy in Sandrock Road and Ferndale, and the cottages in the lower part of the parish.
This poorer district was established as the separate parish of St. Barnabas in 1881. It became the main industrial area of town, and apart from the Goods Station and the Waterworks it housed the Municipal Electric Works with its tall chimney and enormous water cooling towers. Fortunately for the residents the Grosvenor and Hilbert Recreation Grounds were within its bounds, and one of the three reservoirs having outlived its purpose was converted into the town’s first swimming pool. Another of the former reservoirs has the distinction of having been laid out as an ornamental lake by the distinguished landscape designer Robert Marnock, who had earlier created the much larger Dunorlan Park.
In the 1970s, much of the parish was under threat from the proposed building of a ring road. This was successfully fought off in a long-running battle, and the area has since had its fair share of change, which has seen the demolition of some interesting old buildings, and the decline of many small shops and the loss of public houses which had been such a feature of the district. On the other hand, many of the substantially built cottages have been successfully converted to suit present-day needs.
Geoffrey Copus, March 2011
Black Horse Yard, Tunbridge Wells