Tunbridge ware is the name given to mosaic work in wood, named after the Kentish Town of Tunbridge Wells, England. This intricate form of carpentry was popular for over three centuries before reaching its peak in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Tunbridge ware is made out of thin rods of wood which are usually dyed in different colours and stuck together to form a solid block.
Thin veneers are then cut from these blocks and are used as decoration on other wooden objects for example lids of boxes. The designs were not restricted to patterned strips and included very intricate designs and even complete pictures.
The popularity of Tunbridge ware grew between 1810 and 1840. This was probably thanks to the spa town of Tunbridge Wells, a popular royal vacation spot. Souvenirs were highly in demand among the tourists and Tunbridge boxes made a perfect gift for family and friends at home. As it grew in popularity the demand grew and the quality declined and by the end of the nineteenth century the demand for Tunbridge ware significantly decreased and died out.
All Tunbridge ware are sought after by collectors but items made during the 1850s and 60s are in high demand. Prices range between one thousand rand and twenty thousand rand depending on the quality of the craftsmanship.
A beautiful Tunbridge ware box is on display in the main bedroom in Freshford House Museum a satellite of the National Museum.