Tonbridge Tourist Guide
Explore this interesting town in the Garden of England and discover its fascinating past. Plan a whole holiday visiting the many attractions in and around Tonbridge.
Tonbridge is a market town with a population of approximately 32,000 in 2001. It is positioned on the River Medway, about four miles north of Tunbridge Wells, 12 miles south west of Maidstone and 25 miles south east of London.
The town is positioned at a point where the Saxons built a bridge across the River Medway. During its early history the town remained to the north of the river, as the land to the south was given to extensive flooding. One part of the town is still called 'Dryhill'.
Tonbridge was recorded in the Domesday Book 1087 as ‘Tonebrige’, which possibly suggests there was a bridge belonging to the estate or manor (from the Old English ‘tun’), or alternatively a bridge belonging to Tunna, a common Anglo-Saxon man's name. In the late 1800s, the 'Tonbridge' name was actually known as Tunbridge: old maps made before this date show it as such, as do an 1871 map and contemporary issues of the Bradshaw railway guide. In the late 1890s/early 1900s, this was altered to Tonbridge by the Royal Mail as it caused confusion with Tunbridge Wells, a much more recent town.
An 11th Century castle was built here by Richard Fitz Gilbert, a nobleman in William the Conqueror's invading army. The town was besieged by William Rufus, soon after his accession to the throne because the lord of the manor had pledged loyalty to William's brother, Robert. It was afterwards occupied by King John, during his conflict with barons and was consequently besieged by Prince Edward, son of Henry III. On this occasion the besieged garrison burnt the town rather than see it fall. The town and Tonbridge Castle were rebuilt after this and in the 13th century it became an official residence and records repository of Edward II.
At that time, Tonbridge was proposed to be a medieval walled town. Walls were never built however, almost certainly because the castle's large bailey could have easily taken in the town's population in times of danger. A surrounding bank and ditch known as The Fosse was built, although only traces of this encompassing defence now remain. The historic centre of the town still contains a great number of working buildings dating from the 15th Century. During the Civil War the town was on the Parliamentarian side and a Royalist attempt to take it was defeated.
In 1740, the River Medway was made passable to Tonbridge, allowing such materials as hops and timber to be transported down the river to Maidstone and London. Some of the buildings and the wharves can still be made out today, downstream of the bridge.
Later, the town and its surrounds became well known for the production of delicately inlaid wooden cabinets, boxes and other items called Tunbridgeware. Another speciality is the production of cricket balls.
The town has retained its 'market town' atmosphere and has many attractions to visitors and residents alike, including the well-maintained Castle Gatehouse, a large country park and activities based around the river. Sports facilities including an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, a leisure centre and a large sports ground are all located close to the town centre. Many of the facilities are provided or subsidised by the local authority.
Most of the town's shopping amenities are clustered around its high street, which runs for about one mile through the town centre.
Tonbridge railway station is an important railway junction with lines to London, Ashford, Hastings and Redhill. The town is served by the A21 trunk road between London and Hastings and is close to the M25 motorway.
Said to be one of England's finest examples of a motte and bailey castle with a impressive 13th century gatehouse, Tonbridge Castle is set in landscaped gardens overlooking the River Medway. From the battlements there is a wide ranging view over the rooftops of Tonbridge and along the River Medway.
St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Church Lane was, until the 19th century, the largest parish church in Kent. The present chancel dates back to the early 12th century and in Norman times made up the entire church. Other interesting features include the remains of the 13th century water stoup, used by parishioners to wet their fingers in holy water before making the sign of the cross, and the piscina, a string of basins used by the priest to wash his hands before celebrating Mass. Both of these were partly destroyed during the Reformation. Tel: +44 (0)1732 770962.
Although a church has stood on this location for over 1000 years, most of All Saints Church in Sychem Lane was built between 1760 and 1770. There are also some remnants of a medieval church in the west tower, aisle, nave and chancel. All Saints has become one of the most famous churches in Kent due to the stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall to remember the death of Sarah Venetia who drowned in a sailing accident. The windows were installed in the 1960s to the 1980s. The church is still used for services. Tel: +44 (0)1892 836653
Tonbridge Bridge - The first bridge only appeared in Tonbridge in 1526 so was not the origin of the town’s name as some like to believe. The original bridge, paid for by Henry VIII, was built of stone with five arches. It was replaced in 1775 as Tonbridge’s status grew as a significant stop for stagecoaches travelling from London to Gravesend, Hastings and Rye. Today’s bridge dates from 1888 and is a result of the increase in horse-drawn traffic through the town at that time.
The 14 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens which make up Tonbridge Riverside Gardens were originally part of Tonbridge Castle’s grounds and it is still possible today to see considerable evidence of the motte and bailey’s existence. Particularly interesting are the remains of the fosse or ditch that was built along three sides (the river protected the fourth side) of the site in 1259 to secure the town from invaders. Many local roads contain the word fosse in their name which indicates the importance of this ditch.
In the High Street stands Tonbridge School which is one of the most striking buildings in the town. Situated in 150 acres, the school was founded in 1553 by Sir Andrew Judde under the Letters Patent of King Edward VI. This Charter stated that the Governors of the school, after the death of Sir Andrew, had to be the Worshipful Company of Skinners, one of the oldest City Livery Companies. The original buildings were pulled down and replaced in the present Victorian Gothic style between 1864 and 1894.Tel: +44 (0)1732 365555.
Penshurst Place and Gardens is one of England's grand ancestral medieval manor houses and a former hunting lodge of Henry VIII. Penshurst was already many centuries old when Elizabethan courtier-poet Sir Philip Sidney was born here in 1554 from whom the current owners are descended. The splendid Baron's Hall dates from 1341 and the state rooms feature portraits of kings and queens, tapestries and impressive furniture. It is surrounded by 11 acres of formal Tudor gardens, with a toy museum, Venture playground, 2500 acres of parkland and a gift shop.
Why not try out the one-hour return trips from Tonbridge Castle on the barge 'Caxton' on Tonbridge Waterways at Riverside Studio? Travel under the town bridge, through a lock and out into open countryside where passengers may see kingfishers and mink. There is also a commentary, bar and toilets on board. Rowing boats and motor boats are also available for hire. Tel: +44 01732 360630.
Broadview Gardens & Garden Centre is a wonderful place to spend a day.
Downderry Nursery in Pillar Box Lane is set in the peaceful beauty of a walled garden. Downderry is the home of National Plant Collections of lavender and rosemary.
Located in the Angel Centre in Angel Lane. Tel: 01732 359966.
Tonbridge Farmers Market, Cannon Lawn, Secretts Farm, The Castle Tel: 01732 844522.
Tonbridge Cottage Hospital, Vauxhall Lane, Tonbridge, TN11 0NE PALS Tel: 01622 224960
Please check any details given with Tonbridge Tourist Information Centre, Tonbridge Castle, Castle Street, Tonbridge TN9 1BG or use the telephone number/email address given above.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015