Tonbridge claims Kent's best example of a Motte-and-Bailey Gatehouse, and its powerful gatehouse is among the best in England.
TonbridgeCastle has little more than a few patchy ruins of its shell keep and curtain walls surviving as a modern-day reminder of the tumultuous past it suffered. But TonbridgeCastle's great 13th century gatehouse remains amazingly complete.
Following the Norman Conquest, William granted land at Tonbridge to Richard de Clare (or Fitzgilbert). A timber castle was soon constructed on the site and this became the de Clare family home for the next 250 years. Located high up on top of the imposing mound, the original wooden construction was replaced by a stone shell keep before the end of the 11th century, and was further toughened during the 13th century, at the same time as the town walls were approved. When the gatehouse was built a few years after Edward I had been sumptuously entertained at TonbridgeCastle, his influence was evident in the layout.
As with many English castles the end of the Civil War in effect signalled the downfall of TonbridgeCastle. Orders were given for it to be pulled down, and the following years saw most of it disappear through use as a local quarry. Incredibly the twin-towered gatehouse remained. This huge stronghold, four storeys high, and faced with ashlar, was defended by a series of portcullises, murder holes, and guardrooms at ground level. Above this were the domestic chambers, and on the next level the main hall once extravagantly decorated and lit by a row of fine traceried windows. When the estate was bought in 1790, the owner built a Georgian mansion against the east wall of the gatehouse. For the next hundred years TonbridgeCastle had several owners and tenants; it was used as a military academy and as a boys’ school. The site was ultimately purchased by the local council in 1900, using the mansion as offices, and opening the grounds as a public park.
Yet its glory lies not only in what can be seen. Its story is interwoven with that of kings and archbishops, tyrants and heroes, murderers and mercenaries who, on this ancient site and inside these weathered stone walls, have helped write 900 years of English history. Within the remains of the castle today, visitors can experience the sights and sounds of medieval times, and explore nine centuries of vivid history. Exhibition areas have vignettes of life in the castle - servants drawing water from the 38ft well; beeswax and parchment-wrapped soap, provisions and costly spices in a basement store; the armoury, where chain mail coats are wrapped in oiled cloth, and swords kept in barrels of sawdust to stop rust. An audio-visual display recounts the story of the castle. Visitors are guided around the Gatehouse and grounds by personal headset tour available in English, French or German.
The Castle grounds are open all year.
TonbridgeCastle is located in the town centre, off High Street. It is 14 miles south-west of Maidstone, on the A26. There are car parks nearby.
For further information Tel:- 01732 770929
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Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015