I should probably declare an interest. This park is my local – just a few hundred yards from my house, and one of the reasons I decided to move to Tunbridge Wells. It even has a pub that backs on to it, so you can bring drinks out and sit on the grass in the summer.
It’s a park for trees rather than flowers, and for people even more than trees. In 1703, the Earl of Buckingham gave it – or Inmans Bush as it was then called – to the people of Tunbridge Wells ‘to come and go and walk in and upon the said Grove at their will.’
By 1782, the records show that there were 174 oaks, 10 beeches and diverse small trees, but many of these have been lost in ‘Victorian improvements’ and also the hurricane in the 80s.
However, small reminders of gentler times remain, and you can imagine the promenades that must have taken place. I do love how this cat looks so hopeful hanging around Birdcage Walk!
And as well as cats, there are other Grove locals. This huge Teddy looks out from one of the houses overlooking the park. My children always used to wave to it faithfully every day, and I love that it has probably seen numerous generations of Tunbridge Wells children off to school.
And, I have to say, the Grove has the fattest squirrels I have ever ever seen.
As for literary inspiration, it was this bench – Sophie’s Bench – that sparked my second novel, Tell Me Everything.
I have no idea who Sophie was, and I don’t want to know, but there was something about the love on show in that moving and simple dedication that meant it just wouldn’t let me go. In the end – and in the novel – it was my heroine, Molly, who used sit there, and although I imagine her as someone very different from my idea of Sophie, she still got comfort from the bench. In my novel, it became Jessica’s bench, but I always clearly pictured the Grove in my mind as I was writing that book. Not just the physical layout, but the different emotional atmospheres layered on it at different times of day. It’s hard to believe that the leisurely 10am park when parents and toddlers come to play on the swings and slides is the same place as at 6pm when commuters march through it as a short cut from the train station to their homes.
And so I was very pleased to find this extract from a Saki short story about another suburban park. It’s read by Ellen Montellius, another Grove resident and dog walker!