Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery - Tunbridge ware
Tunbridge Ware Butterfly on a Box

Tunbridge ware

Discover the unrivalled collection of Tunbridge ware on display at Tunbridge Wells Museum.

For over two hundred years, local makers specialised in this distinctive wooden ware. The rise and fall of this craft was linked to tourism, developing techniques and eventually changing public tastes.

From the late 1600s, nearby communities of woodworkers sold their wares to early visitors to the new spa town of Tunbridge Wells. Visitors bought Tunbridge ware, as it became known, as souvenirs to take home for friends and family.

The first Tunbridge wares were undecorated but in the second half of the 1700s more decoration appeared. Some were painted in colours on a whitewood background or painted in black to imitate oriental styles.  Print decorated wares also emerged in the 1800s, often showing views of Tunbridge Wells and other local attractions.

Tunbridge ware’s popularity grew over the 1800s and it was even favoured by the young Princess Victoria. Local makers drew lots to present Princess Victoria with a single example piece of their artistry. A work table described as ‘veneered with party-coloured woods from every part of the globe' and 'lined with gold tufted satin' was given to the royal visitor.

At the Great Exhibition of 1851 Tunbridge ware was represented by three major manufacturers: Edmund Nye, Robert Russell and Henry Hollamby.

By 1900, the great days of Tunbridge ware were over. Public tastes had changed and after 1903 there was only one surviving firm of makers: Boyce, Brown and Kemp.