Tonbridge - a town with a long history

Tonbridge is a medieval river-side market town recorded in the Domesday Book in 1087 as Tonebrige. It became known as Tunbridge but in 1870 the GPO changed this to Tonbridge to avoid confusion with its neighbour Tunbridge Wells, despite Tonbridge being older.

The town stands on raised land where the marshy River Medway could be more easily forded, thus it has always been a natural crossing point for travellers between London and the coast - in 700 the Anglo-Saxons built a wooden bridge across the river to improve this. The church was originally built in 1070 and fully restored in the 1870s - the oldest remaining part is a 13th century water stoup next to the main door.

The Norman conquest resulted in the building of the original castle in the 11th century, its massive gatehouse now considered to be the best surviving example in the UK. The Normans considered the town an important strategic settlement and in 1259 a charter was issued allowing for boundary walls to be built, a weekly market to be held within the walls, court sessions to take place, and two members from the town to attend parliament - the markets became the most popular and important in Kent.

In 1553 the famous Tonbridge School was founded by Sir Andrew Judde and many famous people were students here: Jane Austen’s father George and cousin Henry, the author E.M. Forster, and the cricketer Colin Cowdrey. During Queen Mary’s reign Tonbridge was involved in an unsuccessful uprising against the Queen’s marriage to the King of Spain, with 500 townspeople involved in the Battle of Hartley in 1554.

During the Civil War the town was garrisoned by the Parliamentarian side; Royalist sympathisers made several attempts in 1643 to take the town but were repulsed (the Town Town plans to stage a re-enactment of this event in 2018). The historic core of the town still contains a large number of working buildings dating from the 15th century. The town grew rapidly when the River Medway became navigable to Tonbridge allowing materials to be carried downriver to Maidstone and the Thames, and continued with the arrival of the railway in 1842.

Tonbridge railway station is now one of Kent’s busiest with over 4 million passengers every year. In 1896 the UK’s first speeding fine was handed out by Tonbridge Petty Sessions, the guilty driver being fined one shilling for speeding at 8 miles per hour in a 2 mph zone - the driver had been apprehended by a policeman on a bike.

In the early 20th century the town housed the Crystalate Gramophone Record Company, the oldest record producer in Britain, and the town also produced most of the UK’s cricket balls. In 2004 local girl Kelly Holmes won 2 gold medals at the summer Olympics. In 2006 the largest cash theft in British criminal history took place in the town, when £53.1 million was stolen from a cash-handling depot to the east of the High Street. Fortunately, though, Tonbridge has a lower than average crime rate.

Read more about Jane Austen's links with Tonbridge and places to visit HERE>

To find out more about the fascinating history of our town, visit the Tonbridge Historical Society's website HERE>