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River Medway: Map


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Isle of Grain and the Medway Estuary from the air

The River Medway, which is almost entirely in Kentmarker, Englandmarker, flows for from just inside the West Sussexmarker border to the point where it enters the Thames Estuarymarker.

It has a catchment area of , the largest in southern England. The map opposite shows only the major tributaries: a more detailed map shows the extensive network of smaller streams feeding into the main river. Those tributaries rise from points along the North Downsmarker, the Wealdmarker and Ashdown Forestmarker.


-The major tributaries are:

Minor tributaries include:

Former minor tributaries include the Old Bourne River, that flowed through the Brook, Chatham (not to be confused with the main tributary River Bourne)

The river and its tributaries flow through largely rural areas, Tonbridgemarker, Maidstonemarker and Medway being the exceptions. The Medway itself initially flows in a west-east direction south of the North Downsmarker; at the confluence of the River Beult, however, it turns northerly and breaks through the North Downs at the Medway Gap, a steep and narrow valley near Rochestermarker, before its final section to the sea.


See main article Medway Navigation
Allington Lock and Sluice, it is at this point that the river becomes tidal.

Until 1746 the river was impassable above Maidstone. To that point each village on the river had its wharf or wharves: at Hallingmarker, Snodlandmarker, New Hythe and Aylesfordmarker. Cargoes included corn, fodder, fruit, stone and timber.

In 1746, improvements to the channel meant that barges of could reach East Farleighmarker, Yaldingmarker and even Tonbridge. In 1828 the channel was further improved to Leighmarker in 1828. There are eleven locks on the river. The lowest, opened in 1792, is at Allingtonmarker, and is the extent of tides. The others are East Farleighmarker, Teston, Hampstead Lanemarker, Stoneham Old Lock (disused), Sluice Weir Lockmarker, Oak Wier Lockmarker, East Lock, Porter's, Eldridge's and Town Lock in Tonbridgemarker. The locks will take craft up to by , and vessels with a draft of can navigate the river. The shallowest point is just below Sluice Weir Lock which is prone to silting after heavy rain.

Small craft such as canoes can sometimes travel as far as Penshurstmarker. The stretch from Leighmarker to Allington is known as the Medway Navigation, and is in length. The Environment Agency is the navigation authority.

River crossings

Until recently, the lowest crossing of the Medway was at Rochestermarker, where there has been a bridge since Roman times. In the 14th century, the Wardens and Commonalty of Rochester Bridgemarker were instituted by Sir John de Cobham to pay for the rebuilding and upkeep of the bridge. Until 1963, the nearest crossing to Rochester Bridge was the 14th century bridge at Aylesford, upstream. Since then the following additional crossings have come into use:
  • 1963 A viaduct over the river was built south of Rochester to carry the first section of the M2 motorway. In 2003 this was widened to two separate spans.
  • Between 1963 and 1996 the M20 was built so a bridge by default was built over the Medway south of Aylesford.
  • 1996 The Medway Tunnel became the river's lowest crossing, connecting Gillinghammarker to Stroodmarker. The four-lane tunnel was constructed using the immersed tube method, and was partially paid for by Rochester Bridge Trust, the current form of the Wardens and Commonalty.
  • 2003 A railway bridge, with a central span of , was constructed for High Speed 1. The railway bridge lies parallel to the M2 motorway bridges.
Three other major crossings are at Tonbridge where bridges carry the A227 road and a rail link over the river, there is also a two-span viaduct which takes the A21marker over the Medway Valley near Haysden.


The middle section of the Medway above Tonbridge, because of the many tributaries entering the river in this stretch, has always been subject to extensive flooding. The town itself has suffered frequent flooding over the centuries - so much so that the higher part of the town to north is called Dryhill. Flood protection measures have therefore had priority. In 1981, a flood barrier was constructed near Leighmarker to protect Tonbridge, which had been severely affected by the flooding of 1968. During periods of high flow, the downstream flow is controlled by allowing up to of farmland upstream of the barrier to flood.


The Medway Valley Walkmarker follows the river from Rochestermarker to Tonbridgemarker along the bank most of the way above Allingtonmarker. It starts on the Saxon Shore Way at Rochester. The North Downs Waymarker crosses the river using the Medway Viaductmarker or motorway bridge. The Greensand Waymarker crosses the river at Yaldingmarker. At West Peckhammarker, it is joined by the Wealdwaymarker which continues through Tonbridge, thus linking with the Eden Valley Walk. Maidstone Millennium River Park is a walk from Teston Country Park to the Museum of Kent Lifemarker at Sandlingmarker. The park, built between 1998 and 2001 has reansformed of wasteland and led to the construction o three new footbridges over the river.


Much of the information in this paragraph is taken from Frank Jessup's book

Ancient sites abound throughout the length of the River Medway. The area around Aylesfordmarker is a particularly important Stone Age site: the Medway megalithsmarker are a group of Neolithic chamber tombs including the Coldrum Stones and Kit's Coty Housemarker. Bronze Age ornaments and beakers have been found all along the river; and burial sites and other finds come from the pre-Roman Iron Age. The Romans have left evidence of many villas in the lower Medway Valley; and burial sites of the Jutes have also been found.

The Domesday Book records many manors in the Medway valley. Castles became a feature of the landscape: Rochester, Allington, Leeds, and West Mallingmarker being some of them.

Two military actions are named after the river: the Battle of the Medwaymarker (43 CE, during the Roman invasion of Britain; the other, the Raid on the Medway, took place in 1667 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

In the eighteenth century Samuel Ireland published an illustrated book about a journey up the River Medway, although he travels no further than the River Bewl at Bayham Abbey. The book contains a map, which shows some of the tributaries (unnamed). The illustrations of the river include the castles at Queenboroughmarker, Upnormarker, Leybournemarker, Tonbridgemarker and Hevermarker; Penshurst Placemarker; and the bridges at Teston , Maidstonemarker , Aylesfordmarker, East Farleighmarker, Barmingmarker, Branbridgesmarker and Tonbridgemarker. The hop fields in the vicinity of the latter are also described; and the course of the River Len, which then supplied Maidstone with its water supply. The book states that Within about two miles of Tunbridge the Medway branches out into several small streams, five of which unite at the town”)” ... having each its stone bridge. (the river is of course flowing in the opposite direction).

The Thames and Medway Canalmarker, linking the Medway at Strood to Gravesendmarker was completed in 1824, but it was a not commercial success: by 1849 the South Eastern Railway had taken over the tunnel. the western part of the canal remained in use until 1934.
Frindsbury Church above the former entrance to the Thames and Medway Canal

In 1942 the world's first test of a submarine oil pipeline was conducted on a pipeline laid across the Medway in Operation Pluto.

Culture and the river

The Medway's 'marriage' to the Thames is given extensive treatment in the 16th century by Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene in the 16th century (Book IV, Canto xi). Joseph Conrad describes the view up the Medway from the Thames Estuarymarker in The Mirror of the Sea (1906).

For the 1999 film The Mummy the river was filmed at Chatham Dockyardmarker, in an imitation of a “port at Cairomarker”. The scene is brief but involves the main protagonists departing on their mission to the city of the dead.

Every year a festival is held in Maidstone to celebrate the River Medway. Maidstone River Festival, which has been running since 1980, is held on the last Saturday of July. It features events on and around the river and attracts thousands to Kent's county town.

Medway Flows Softly is a song by local man George Gilbert it was written in the mid 60's and is often played in local folk clubs and at festivals in Kent

The River Medway is featured at Maidstone in the Studio back drop of the ITV1 regional news programme Meridian Tonight.

The Maidstone River Festival

The Maidstone River Festival is celebrated during the last weekend in July every year. In 2009, the festival celebrated it's 30th Anniversary. The festival attracts thousands of people, as mooring is free and loads of events are going on around Maidstone, including three band stages and a fairground.

The Medway, "Kentish Men" and "Men of Kent"

The Medway is said to divide the county of Kentmarker into two parts: this may allude to the fact that, since AD 604, there have been two dioceses: Canterbury and Rochester, whose jurisdiction covered much of everyday life. The tradition has grown up, and today is kept alive by the Association of Men of Kent and Kentish Men, that those born in West Kentmarker - the area north of the river, but including Maidstone, Gillingham (other than Rainham), Rochester and Chatham - are labelled Kentish Men (or Maids); while those born in East Kent are Men of Kentmarker (or Maids). This labelling applies equally to those born in those parts of the traditional county absorbed into Londonmarker in the 1880s.


Man has harnessed the power of the Medway for a millennium or more. Waterwheels and turbines powered by the waters of the Medway and its tributaries have been used by man to mill corn, make paper, make cloth, smelt iron, pump water and generate electricity. There are over two hundred sites on the Medway where such usage is known. Today, only one mill is working for a commercial trade.

See Medway watermills, Medway watermills , Medway watermills and Medway watermills for details of the watermills.


Image:TonbridgeSEMLBridge0053.JPG|The Medway flows through Tonbridgemarker using many channels. The South Eastern Main Line crosses the Medway.Image:TonbridgeBotanyStr0038.JPG|The Botany stream, forms another channel in Tonbridgemarker.Image:TonbridgeCastle0031.JPG|Tonbridge Castlemarker a motte and bailey castle from 1066.Image:TonbridgeBigBridge0020.JPG|The River Medway passes Tonbridge Castlemarker and passes under Big Bridge.Image:MedwayOakWeirLock3505.JPG|Oak Weir LockImage:MedwayBourne-3534.JPG|River Bourne enters the MedwayImage:MedwaySluiceWeir3549.JPG|Sluice Weir, right is the lockImage:YaldingMedwaySluice0536.JPG|The sluice at YaldingImage:YaldingHampsteadLock0545.JPG|Hampstead Lane Lock, YaldingImage:WateringburyBowBridge0577.JPG|Bow Bridge, WateringburyImage:KentTestonLock0618.JPG|Teston LockImage:KentTestonBridge0629.JPG|Upstream from Teston BridgeImage:MedwayGrain4176.JPG|Grainmarker and Thamesportmarker, from Horrid Hill,Gillinghammarker.Image:Grain4973.JPG|The Grain Towermarker at low tide.Image:Grain5011.JPG|The mouth of the Medway, looking from Grainmarker to Sheernessmarker.Image:Grain4982.JPG|And into the Thames, youngsters at Grainmarker with Southendmarker in the distance.

See also


  1. Map of the Medway catchment area:The River Medway (and tributaries)
  2. The Medway navigation, Leaflet,March 1991, NRA-National Rivers Authority
  3. BBC News
  4. Kent History Illustrated Frank W Jessup 1966 Kent County Council
  5. Picturesque View on the River Medway from the Nore to the Vicinity of its Source in Sussex
  6. Environment Agency

Further reading

External links

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