For other uses, see Tonbridge (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Tunbridge Wells.

Tonbridge Castle
 Tonbridge shown within Kent
Population 38,657 (2011)[1]
OS grid referenceTQ591468
DistrictTonbridge and Malling
Shire countyKent
RegionSouth East
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode district TN9 (North-South), TN10 (North East), TN11 (East),
TN12 (Rural)
Dialling code 01732
Police Kent
Fire Kent
Ambulance South East Coast
EU Parliament South East England
UK ParliamentTonbridge and Malling
List of places

Coordinates: 51°11′55″N 0°16′35″E / 51.1987°N 0.2764°E / 51.1987; 0.2764

Tonbridge (pronunciation and historic spelling Tunbridge) is a market town in the English county of Kent, with a population of 38,657 in 2011.[1] It is located on the River Medway, approximately 4 miles (6 km) north of Royal Tunbridge Wells, 12 miles (19 km) south west of Maidstone and 29 miles (47 km) south east of London. It belongs to the administrative borough of Tonbridge and Malling (population 120,805 in 2011).

There are several independent educational establishments in the town, including the prestigious Tonbridge School.



The town was recorded in the Domesday Book 1087 as Tonebrige, which may indicate 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. Another theory suggests that the name is a contraction of "town of bridges", due to the large number of streams the High Street originally crossed.[2]

Until 1870, the town's name was spelt Tunbridge, as shown on old maps including the 1871 Ordnance Survey map and contemporary issues of the Bradshaw railway guide. In 1870, this was changed to Tonbridge by the GPO[2] due to confusion with nearby Tunbridge Wells, despite Tonbridge being a much older settlement. Tunbridge Wells has always maintained the same spelling.

Normans and Tonbridge Castle

Main article: Tonbridge Castle
Tonbridge Castle gatehouse

Tonbridge stands on spur of higher land where the marshy River Medway could be more easily forded. Ancient trackways converged at this point. There is no record of any bridge before 1191.[3] For much of its existence, the town remained to the north of the river, since the land to the south was subject to extensive seasonal flooding.[4] One part of the town is called 'Dryhill'.[5] Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare founded the Priory of St Mary Magdalene in 1124.[6]

A castle was built here in the 11th century by Richard Fitz Gilbert,[7] son of the murdered guardian of William the Conqueror in his infancy. Richard was responsible for governing England in William I's many absences.

The town was besieged by William Rufus, soon after his accession to the throne, because the Earl had pledged allegiance to William's brother, Robert. It is thus hardly surprising that the arrow that killed William Rufus a few years later in the New Forest was fired by Walter Tirel who was born in town as well as the Earl's in-law.

It was soon afterwards taken again, this time by King John only a few months after the signing of the Magna Carta. Both the Earl and his son were signatories and guardians of the document responsible for its compliance. It was subsequently 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 became an official residence and records repository of Edward II.

The castle was finally taken by Henry VIII when its owner, the Duke of Buckingham, was executed for treason.


In medieval times, Tonbridge was considered an important strategic settlement. The King intended it to be a walled town, and a charter was issued allowing for walls to be built, a market to be held, court sessions to be held and two members from the town to attend parliament. The walls were never built, perhaps because the castle's large outer bailey could have easily accommodated the townspeople in times of strife. A surrounding bank and ditch known as The Fosse was erected. Today only traces of this encircling defence now remain.[8] The historic core of the town still contains a large number of working buildings dating from the 15th century: the oldest is Port Reeves in East Street.[9]

Tonbridge School, the famous public school, was established in 1552 under letters patent of Edward VI, to educate the sons of local gentry and farmers (There was already a nearby school in existence for poorer boys, now Sevenoaks School.)

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.[10] As a result, the town was chosen for a place of execution of a number of Protestants; and in 1555 James Tutty[11] and Margery Polley were burned at the stake in the town and Joan Beach met the same fate in 1556 at Rochester.[12] A memorial to Margery Polly is on the green at Pembury.

17th and 18th centuries

During the Civil War, the town was garrisoned by the Parliamentarian side who refortified the castle. Royalist sympathisers made several attempts to take the town but were repulsed.

The Wharf on the Medway Navigation, downstream of the Big Bridge.

In 1740 an Act of Parliament was passed to make the River Medway navigable to Tonbridge by the Medway Navigation Company,[13] allowing such materials as coal and lime to be transported to the town, and gunpowder, hops and timber to be carried downriver to Maidstone and the Thames. For a hundred years the Medway Navigation Company was highly profitable, paying out good dividends to its investors, but after the arrival of the railway in 1842 the company went into a steep decline and all commercial traffic ceased in 1911 when the company collapsed. Some of the original warehouses and the wharves are still recognisable today, downstream of the town's main bridge.

Later, the town and its surroundings became famous for the production of finely inlaid wooden cabinets, boxes and other objects called Tunbridgeware, which were sold to tourists who were taking the waters at the nearby springs at Tunbridge Wells. Another speciality in the town was until recently the production of cricket balls (the original cricket ball factory in Preston Road was demolished in 2012 to make way for housing)[14] and other sports goods.

19th century to present

A map of Tonbridge from 1946

During the March 1880 parliamentary election, Tonbridge was the scene of a riot.[15] On the announcement of the results, several thousand people started to hurl stones and cobbles at each other in the High Street near the Rose and Crown Hotel. The county's Chief Constable Captain Ruskin, with over a hundred policemen, charged the crowds many times during the evening, only to end up as the target of the crowd, who started hurling stones and cobbles at them instead of each other. Many people, including twelve policemen, were seriously injured before the crowd finally dispersed at midnight.

The United Kingdom's first[16] speeding fine was handed out by Tonbridge Petty Sessions court in 1896. The guilty driver was a Mr Walter Arnold of East Peckham, who was fined one shilling for speeding at 8 miles per hour (13 km/h) in a 2 mph (3 km/h) zone in Paddock Wood, in his Karl Benz powered car. Mr Arnold was apprehended by a policeman who had given chase on his bicycle.

During World War II a prisoner of war camp was built at the junction of Tudeley Lane and Pembury Road on land belonging to Somerhill. It held German pilots who had been shot down, and captured Italian soldiers. After the war the camp was used as temporary housing for people made homeless by the Blitz. The site is now occupied by the Weald of Kent Girls' Grammar School.

Ruth Ellis, the last woman in the United Kingdom to be hanged, was married[17] at the registry office in Tonbridge on 8 November 1950.

Securitas depot robbery

Tonbridge was the location of the largest cash theft in British criminal history.[18] On 22 February 2006, over £53.1 million was stolen from the Securitas cash-handling depot in Vale Road to the east of the High Street. During the following police investigation, around half of the money was recovered. On 28 January 2008 five people were convicted at the Old Bailey.[19]


Tonbridge is in the county of Kent. After the Norman Conquest Richard fitz Gilbert acquired Tonbridge and the surrounding area, this district being known as the Lowy of Tunbridge. The lowy covered the approximate area of the later parishes of Tonbridge, Tonbridge Rural, Southborough, Hildenborough and Hadlow. The separate administration of the lowy continued until at least the 14th century, after which it became regarded in a similar way to the other hundreds of the county.[20] In the 1894 local government reforms Tonbridge and Southborough became urban districts and the rest of the area became part of Tonbridge Rural District.[21]

Since 1974 the town has been part of the local government district of Tonbridge and Malling, and is divided into the seven local government wards of Cage Green, Castle, Higham, Judd, Medway, Trench and Vauxhall.[22] These wards have 15 of the 53 seats on the Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council. As of November 2007, all 15 of these seats were held by the Conservative Party.[23] Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council is responsible for running local services, such as recreation, refuse collection and council housing;[24] while Kent County Council is responsible for education, social services and trading standards. Both councils are involved in town planning and road maintenance.

Tonbridge is in the parliamentary constituency of Tonbridge and Malling, currently represented in Parliament by Thomas Tugendhat of The Conservative Party.


The Oast Theatre

Major industries include light engineering, printing and publishing, distribution and financial services. Tonbridge, together with its neighbour Tunbridge Wells, has been designated by the South East Assembly as a Regional Hub.[25]

The town has largely 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.[26]

Most of the town's shopping facilities are concentrated on the High Street, which runs for about 1 mile (2 km) through the town centre. There has been increasing criticism from local residents that there is a relative abundance of restaurants, estate agents, banks and 'cheap' shops, and a lack of major high street retailers. However, there are far fewer empty high street premises than in the mid-1990s, reflecting the town's increasing prosperity. The town traders suffer from its proximity to large shopping centres such as Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone and Bluewater. The Borough Council has published proposals to improve the town's shopping and leisure facilities.[27]

During the early 20th century Tonbridge became the South East hub for plastic moulding / engineering and printing, with many well-known companies such as The Crystalate Gramophone Record Company, which claimed to be the oldest record producer in Britain. They bought out The Vocalion Gramophone Company in 1932 when the principal labels included Rex, Nine-Inch Broadcast, and Ten-Inch Broadcast. From the early postwar years, Crystalate was very much involved in producing the 1 mini-disc, which was sold in Marks & Spencers, Woolworths and probably other stores for 6d (2.5p) each between 1930 and 1937, with labels such as Crown, Embassy and Eclipse. In 1937, Crystalate was absorbed by Decca, which was itself purchased by Polygram (Philips). Some manufacturing still remains in Tonbridge: Enalon Limited, founded in 1946, is the last remaining plastic moulder and toolmaker based in the town.

The River Centre

In 1999, Harvester Trust Tonbridge bought a derelict site on Medway Wharf Road, in the centre of Tonbridge. A £4 million building which can be used as a church, community centre and conference centre was given planning permission in March 2000. Work began in 2001. The River Centre was officially opened in January 2003, and hosts a wide variety of events from product launches to awards ceremonies, as well as international church conferences.

However, the links between the founder of this organisation and Todd Bentley have raised concerns for some.[28]

The police station, on Pembury Road, is the headquarters of the West Kent Police Division.

Royal Mail's TN postcode main sorting office is located on Vale Road in the town.

Tonbridge is also the location of Carroty Wood, an outdoor activity and residential centre run by Rock UK, offering groups of young people the opportunity to try out a variety of outdoor activities.

A former oast house on the road to Hildenborough has been converted to a small theatre called the Oast Theatre.


The South Eastern Main Line crossing the River Medway upstream of the Sports Ground

Tonbridge railway station is one of Kent's busiest with 4.1 million passengers using it each year. It is an important railway junction with lines to London, Ashford, Hastings and Redhill. The town is also served by the A21 trunk road between London and Hastings and the A26 between Maidstone and Brighton. It is also close to the M25 motorway.

Tonbridge is served by numerous bus routes, most of which are run by Arriva Southern Counties.

Dualing of the A21 from Castle Hill to Pembury, where a new regional hospital opened in 2011, has commenced and works are set for completion in 2017.

Before World War I, aviation pioneers Frank Gooden and Richard Johnson tried to establish an airfield to the north of Tonbridge at Cage Green Fields, at the top of the ridge which The Ridgeway ascends, and east of Shipbourne Road. An accident is recorded as having occurred on 24 December 1913 at the airfield, although neither Gooden or Johnson was injured. The scheme was ended by the outbreak of war.[29]


Tonbridge School, founded in 1553 by Sir Andrew Juddie, is a major independent school for boys, which is in the centre of the town. Most boys there are boarders, and live in the school's houses, which are all close to the school. The town is also home to several Grammar Schools, including The Judd School, Weald of Kent Grammar School and Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls. A number of Tonbridge's secondary schools have specialist status, including Tonbridge Grammar School for Maths and ICT, as well as Languages; Weald of Kent Grammar School for Girls, a specialist school for languages and science; the Judd School for Music with English and also now Science with Maths; Hayesbrook School for boys, a specialist sports college; and Hillview School For Girls, with Performing Arts Status.[30] Hugh Christie Technology College has IT expertise,[31] and allows students to take GCSEs in year 9, rather than in the usual year 10.

Further and higher education is available at West Kent College on Brook Street. There is also a small campus of the University of Kent.[32]

Tonbridge has many primary schools including Hilden Grange School, Slade Primary School, Sussex Road County Primary School, Long Mead Community Primary School, Cage Green Primary School, Woodlands Junior and Infant Schools, St Stephens Primary School and St Margaret Clitherow R C Primary School. There are more in the surrounding area.


The 2007 Tour de France passed through the centre of Tonbridge on 8 July, as part of the first stage (London to Canterbury). The riders climbed Quarry Hill at the south of the town, a Grade 4 and the first King of the Mountains climb of the Tour.

The town is home to two cricket clubs; Tonbridge CC and Cowdrey CC. Tonbridge Cricket Club is the longest established cricket club in Tonbridge. Its secluded ground is large compared to many and features a modern pavilion, offering facilities to club members and visitors alike. The club competes in the Kent Cricket League on a Saturday and plays friendly matches, under the banner of Tonbridge Exiles CC, on a Sunday. The club has a junior section. Renamed from Tonbridge Printers CC on the club's 50th anniversary in 1997 in honour of Lord Colin Cowdrey of Tonbridge, Cowdrey Cricket Club[33] has a junior section and academy, as well as two Saturday teams. Cowdrey CC's 1st XI plays competitively in Division III of the Kent League, and the 2nd XI is a starting point for young cricketers, playing its games in the Division 5 of the Kent League for 2nd XIs. The club plays at the Swanmead sports ground.

Tonbridge Athletic Club which trains on the Tonbridge school track, is Kelly Holmes' former club. The Tonbridge Half Marathon has been held in September since 2011.

Tonbridge has a Rugby union club, Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Football club.,[34] often referred to as TJs. The 2009/10 season saw the club's first XV win promotion and go unbeaten in the league for the second year running, they played their rugby in 2010/11 in London 1. The senior men's section of the club fields five sides plus a Vets team. The club has two girls teams (Under 15 and 18), and a junior and mini section.

Tonbridge's football team, the Tonbridge Angels, play in the Ryman Premier league - with the current manager of the The England National Football Team, Roy Hodgson having played for them. The town has a canoe club that has produced a number of Olympic participants, and a dinghy sailing club, the Tonbridge Town Sailing Club, which holds events at Haysden Country Park on the outskirts of the town.

Tonbridge Swimming Club is based at the Tonbridge swimming pool which has indoor and outdoor pools.

Tonbridge Baseball Club play in the town,[35] after forming an adult team in 2000 from the junior team the Bobcats. The Bobcats were coached for many by Tonbridge Baseball Club's president Margaret Borley MBE.


To make Tonbridge cleaner and safer, a Pedestrian Action group called PATHS was set up to turn Tonbridge High Street into a pedestrianised street. In 2014, the High Street is a throughway for numerous HGVS and heavy commuter traffic.

In 2014 the Angel Community Garden was created to eliminate eyesores in the area, and encourage bees which are declining. The garden has put along the edge of Sainsburys car park. It was formed in collaboration with Tonbridge Friends of the Earth and Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council. The project also received some support from some local shopkeepers and residents, some being members of the West Kent Green Party.

Local media

Tonbridge has two local commercial radio stations, KMFM West Kent, and Heart Kent, previously Invicta FM. The studios for KMFM are now based in Medway but were originally based in Tonbridge. The town is also served by county wide station BBC Radio Kent, and many London based stations can also be received. The local newspaper with the widest readership covering Tonbridge is the Kent and Sussex Courier.


The Köppen Climate Classification subtype for this climate is "Cfb" (Marine West Coast Climate).

Twin towns

Tonbridge is twinned with the following places:


  1. 1 2
  2. 1 2 "Tunbridge Or Tonbridge". Tonbridge Collectables. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  3. "Tonbridge Timeline". Tonbridge Historical Society. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  4. "Tonbridge – a brief history". Tonbridge Historical Society. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  5. "Martin Hardie". Tonbridge Historical Society. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  6. "The Priory". Tonbridge Historical Society. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  7. "Tonbridge Castle history - 11th & 12th Century". Retrieved 29 December 2007.
  8. "History of Tonbridge: introduction". Tonbridge Historical Society. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
  9. "Tonbridge History - The Port Reeve's House".
  10. "Battle of Hartley 1554". Hartley-Kent. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  11. "Brenchley Kent - (A beautiful Kent village) - an English Village UK". 18 May 2013. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  12. "History of Christianity in Tonbridge | The early years". 4 March 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  13. "River Medway". 24 January 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  14. visual
  15. "Past Times - Articles on Kent Police History". Kent Police Museum. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  16. Winn, Christopher (2005). I Never Knew That About England. Ebury Press. ISBN 978-0-09-190207-0.
  17. Jones, Thomas L. "The Mad Scientist — RUTH ELLIS: THE LAST TO HANG — Crime Library". Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  18. "Record £53m stolen in depot raid". BBC. 27 February 2006.
  19. "Five found guilty of £53m robbery". BBC. 28 January 2008.
  20. British History Online Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. Vision of Britain Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. "Election Maps". Ordnance Survey. Archived from the original on 13 November 2007. Retrieved 23 November 2007.
  23. "Member and Committee Information". Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council. Retrieved 25 November 2007.
  24. "Council Services". Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council. Retrieved 25 November 2007.
  25. "Regional Hubs". Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council.
  26. "Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council - Leisure Facilities". Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council.
  27. "Our Work - Tonbridge Town Centre". David Lock Associates. 2007.
  28. Archived 2 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  29. "Magnificent men in their flying machines". Courier Group Newspapers. 14 May 2010. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  30. "Hillview School for Girls - Specialist School Status". Hillview School for Girls.
  31. "Hugh Christie information". Archived from the original on 10 October 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  32. "University of Kent Locations". Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  33. "Cowdrey Cricket Club". Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  34. "Home". Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  35. "tonbridge baseball". Retrieved 26 March 2014.
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