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VM inspiration: the storefronts of Tunbridge Wells

It is striking how the store designers and VM staff in Royal Tunbridge Wells have respected their lovely architectural heritage, employing VM to enhance the retailers’ offers. Royal Tunbridge Wells was founded as a spa and was popular from the mid-17th to the early 18th century, when royalty and the fashionable came to drink the beneficial water of the chalybeate spring. Social entertainments were presided over by the town’s self-appointed Master of Ceremonies, Beau Nash (1674 - 1761).

Cotswold Outdoor, together with a café called Ismail, occupies what was a Congregation church built in 1851. The beautifully clean, classical stone façade is nicely broken by two by restrained but effective posters.

How many jewellery business announce their High Street presence through flowers, as Collins & Sons does here? The bright geraniums neatly unify the three stores.

Tile-hung buildings are part of the local architecture. The green-glazed version popular in the 1920s, along with metal window-frames as seen here above the bar and grill, neatly sandwich the Victorian street level with an early 20th century roof above. Note the two topiary box cubes in their mirror-sided tubs, neatly picking up on the green tiles either side of the door.

I liked that where a store has been repurposed, as with this former butchers in The Pantiles, the original name has been allowed to remain in the immaculate tile pattern below the window, patina-fashion. It’s as though the current retailer, a home store, is building its business phoenix-like, recognizing, rather than obliterating the past.

The imposing former Royal Kentish Hotel, now known as Kentish Mansions, has retained its decorative ironwork and its marbled entrance. Today, at street level it is flanked by Mark Maynard antique store, specializing in Shabby Chic-style painted furniture, and a fish-and-chip shop.

This store, a vintner, doesn’t have a window at all, just a glossy, double-door entrance accessed via an elegant series of steps. A neat sign announces its business and contact details: that is all it needs.

In a retail world where plate glass reigns, I loved that this rare book-store has retained its original sash windows.

Garden furniture brand Westminster has neatly unified a row of Victorian stores on the London Road using colour and a simple canopy.

The Futon Company now occupies the building adjacent to the chalybeate spring, part of The Pantiles, the market and parade of stores laid out in 1687 as the spring increased in popularity. The area was originally paved in ceramic pavers, known as pantiles, hence the name, although these were later replaced by paving stones.

The Pantiles, built by Thomas Neale, Master of the Royal Mint (1641 - 1699) who was also responsible for developing London’s Seven Dials and Shadwell, might be thought of as one of England’s earliest purpose-built shopping streets. I loved that the wooden canopy of this store, decorated here with hanging baskets below the balcony, has survived intact.

Jeweller Peter Jenner’s store is the former Musick Gallery, an elevated and canopied building with wrought-iron balustrading, at the centre of the Pantiles. The upper floor was used by musicians to perform for the promenading visitors. The Rustall Act of 1739, referred to on the sign on the balustrade, refers to The Pantiles’ subsequent ownership by Maurice Conyers, and his freehold tenants who demanded compensation for the loss of the common land on which The Pantiles were built. How charming that this building remains of small substance despite its central position.