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Tonbridge (historic spelling Tunbridge) is a market town in the Englishmarker county of Kentmarker, with a population of 30,340 in 2007. It is located on the River Medway, approximately four miles north of Tunbridge Wellsmarker, 12 miles south west of Maidstonemarker and 25 miles south east of Londonmarker. It belongs to the administrative borough of Tonbridge and Mallingmarker (population 107,560 in 2001).



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.

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


The Motte
The Gatehouse
Tonbridge stands at a point where the Saxons built a bridge across the River Medway. 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. One part of the town is called 'Dryhill'.

A castle was built here in the 11th century by Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare, a cousin of William the Conqueror. 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 Earls 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 Castlemarker 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.


At this time, Tonbridge was considered an important strategic settlement. The King intended it to be a medieval 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 of the town to attend parliament. Walls were never built however, probably because the castle's large outer bailey could have easily accommodated the town's populace in times of strife. A surrounding bank and ditch known as The Fosse was erected. Today only traces of this encircling defence now remain. The historic core of the town still contains a large number of working buildings dating from the 15th century; the oldest being Portreeves on East Street.

Tonbridge Schoolmarker, the famous public school, was set up in 1552 under the letters patent of Edward VI, to educate the male children of locals gentry and farmers (there was already a nearby school in existence for poorer boys, now Sevenoaks Schoolmarker).

During Queen Mary's reign Tonbridge was involved in an unsuccessful uprising against the Queens marriage to the King of Spain resulting in 500 people of the town being involved at the Battle of Hartley in 1554 . As a result of the deffiant action it is not surprising the town did escape being chosen for a place of execution for a number of Protestants and in 1555 James Tutty and Margery Polley were burnt at the stake in the town and Joan Beach met the same fate in 1556 at Rochester. A memorial to Margery Polly's fate is to be found on the green at Pemburymarker.

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 Wharves 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, 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 and other sports goods

19th century to present

In October 1853 the Hartlake bridge a few miles downstream of the town was the scene of tragedy when a wagon carrying over 30 hop pickers toppled off the bridge into the river, which was in flood due to heavy rain. Thirty of the wagon's occupants including entire families drowned, but due to the flood it was many days before all the bodies could be recovered. A service was held at the bridge on the 150th anniversary of the tragedy in 2003.

A map of Tonbridge from 1946
During the March 1880 parliamentary elections, Tonbridge was the scene of a riot. 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 together with in excess of a hundred policeman charged the crowds many times during the night only to end up being the crowd's target who started hurling stones and cobbles at them instead of each other. Many people including twelve policeman were seriously injured before the crowd finally dispersed at midnight.

The United Kingdom's first speeding fine was handed down by Tonbridge petty Sessions court in 1896. The guilty driver was a Mr Walter Arnold of East Peckhammarker who was fined one shilling for speeding at eight miles an hour in a two mile an hour zone in Paddock Woodmarker, in his Karl Benz powered car. Mr Arnold was eventually apprehended by a policeman who had given chase on his bicycle.

During World war II a POW Camp was built on the junction of Tudeley Lane and Pembury Road on land belonging to Somerhill. It was used to house both German pilots who had been shot down, and also 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 RUTH ELLIS:
THE LAST TO HANG - Crime Library on
at the registry office in Tonbridge on the 8th November 1950.

Securitas depot robbery

Tonbridge was the location of the largest cash theft in British criminal history. 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 Baileymarker.


Tonbridge is in the parliamentary constituency of Tonbridge and Mallingmarker. Since the constituency's creation in 1974, its Member of Parliament has been Sir John Stanley of the Conservative Party. The town is within the local government district of Tonbridge and Mallingmarker, and is divided into the seven local government wards of Cage Green, Castle, Higham, Judd, Medway, Trench and Vauxhall. These wards have 15 of the 53 seats on the Tonbridge & Malling District Borough Council. As of November 2007, all 15 of these seats were held by the Conservative Party. Tonbridge & Malling District Borough Council is responsible for running local services, such as recreation, refuse collection and council housing; while Kent County Council is responsible for education, social services and trading standards. Both councils are involved in town planning and road maintenance.


The Oast Theatre
Major industries include light engineering, printing and publishing, distribution and financial services. Tonbridge together with its neighbour has been designated by the South East Assembly as a Regional Hub.

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 sportsground 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 facilities are concentrated on The High Street, which runs for about one mile 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 does inevitably suffer from its proximity to large shopping centres such as Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone and Bluewatermarker. The Borough Council has published proposals to improve the town's shopping and leisure facilities.

During the early 20th Century Tonbridge became the ‘South East Hub’ for Plastic Moulding / Engineering and Printing with many well know companies such as The Crystalate Gramophone Record Company who claimed to be the oldest record producer in Britain who later 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', some of which were sold in Marks & Spencers, Woolworths and probably other stores for sixpence [21/2p] each between 1930 and 1937, with labels such as Crown, Embassy and Eclipse. In 1937, Crystalate was absorbed in Decca which itself was purchased by Polygram (Philips). To this date there still remains a manufacturing presence within Tonbridge, with Enalon Limited founded in 1946 being last remaining plastic moulder and toolmaker based within the town.

The Police Station is the headquarters of the West Kent Police Division and is located on Pembury Road.

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 'Barnabas Adventure Centres' offering groups of young people the opportunity to try out a variety of different outdoor activities.

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


Tonbridge railway stationmarker is one of Kent's busiest with 3.8 million passengers using it each year. It is an important railway junction with lines to London, Ashfordmarker, Hastingsmarker and Redhillmarker. The town is also served by the A21 trunk roadmarker between London and Hastings and the A26 between Maidstone and Brighton. It is also close to the M25 motorwaymarker.

Tonbridge is served by numerous bus routes, most of which are run by Arriva Southern Counties. The main routes are:
  • 402 to Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and Bromley
  • 7 and 77 to Tunbridge Wells, Hadlow, West Malling and Maidstone
  • 218 and 219: run between the town centre, Willow Lea and Cage Green

There are future proposals to dual the A21 at Castle Hill and thereby improve the connection to Tunbridge Wells and Pemburymarker, where a new regional hospital is being constructed.


Tonbridge Schoolmarker, founded in 1553 by Sir Andrew Judde, is a major boys' public school which in the centre of the town. Most boys there are boarders, and live in the school's houses, many of which are in the town centre. The town is also home to several remaining Grammar Schools, including The Judd Schoolmarker, Weald of Kent Grammar Schoolmarker and Tonbridge Grammar Schoolmarker (formerly 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; The Hayesbrook School for boys, a specialist sports college; and Hillview School For Girlsmarker, which has recently been awarded a Performing Arts Status.Hugh Christie Technology Collegemarker is also renowned in the area for its IT expertise, and for allowing students to take GCSEs in year 9, rather than the usual year 11. Further and higher education is available at West Kent Collegemarker which recently has announced it will be building a new multi million pound campus. There is also a small continuing education campus of the University of Kentmarker.


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 first King of the Mountains climb of the Tour.

Cowdrey Cricket Club, renamed from Tonbridge Printers CC (on the club's 50th anniversary in 1997) after Lord Colin Cowdrey of Tonbridge, is the town's main cricket club, boasting a thriving junior section and academy as well as two Saturday teams. The club play at the Swanmead sportsground and can be found online at town is also home to Tonbridge Cricket Club, founded in 1837.

Tonbridge Athletic Club which trains on the Tonbridge school track, is noted for being Kelly Holmes' former club.

Tonbridge has its own Rugby union club, Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Football club. [43381] Often referred to as TJs, the club has a successful minis section that play Tag Rugby for ages U7 and U8, and full contact rugby for U9 and above. TJ's Under 9's were Kent festival winners 2007. During the summer months, the town has a Touch Rugby club.

Tonbridge has its own football team, the Tonbridge Angels who play in the premier division of the Ryman League, and a successful canoe club that has produced a number of Olympic participants. Tonbridge also has a dinghy sailing club, the Tonbridge Town Sailing Club, which holds events at Haysden Country Parkmarker on the outskirts of the town.

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

Local media

Tonbridge has one local commercial radio station, KMFM West Kent. The studios 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.

Notable residents

Tonbridge Schoolmarker has educated a number of famous pupils including the authors E. M. Forster, Frederick Forsyth and Vikram Seth, cricketers Colin Cowdrey and Chris Cowdrey, Yes drummer Bill Bruford, and more recently the members of the famous pop/rock band Keane.

Tonbridge made national and international headlines in the summer of 2004 when it staged an open-top bus parade for Dame Kelly Holmes to celebrate her double Olympic gold success. Over 40,000 people were estimated to have packed Tonbridge town centre and lined the route from her family home in nearby Hildenboroughmarker, roughly equivalent to the combined population of both, and more than twice the numbers who attended the subsequent parade in central London for all of the medallists. Another medallist at the 2004 Olympics was Tonbridge-born Ian Wynne (1973–) who won a bronze medal for canoeing.

The cricketer Frank Woolley (1887) and the film actor Harry Andrews CBE (1911) were both born in the town. Many famous people were educated in Tonbridge, including cricketers Bob Woolmer, at Yardley Court, and David Fulton, at The Judd Schoolmarker. Victoria Hislop grew up in Tonbridge.

Other famous people born in the town were: Anna Atkins (1799-1871) botanist and photographer, James Edward Cowell Welldon (1854-1937) Bishop of Calcutta, Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933) educationist, Harold Stephen Langhorne (1866-1932) career soldier, William Cobbold (1862-1922) England international football player, Reginald Punnett FRS (1875-1967) geneticist, Sir James Ralph Darling OBE (1899-1955) Chairman Australian Broadcasting Commission, Cecil Frank Powell (1903-1969) Nobel Prize Winner for Physics, Sir Dick White KCMG KBE (1906-1983) Director General of MI5, Neville Duke DSO OBE DFC (2 bars) ADC (1922–2007) World War II pilot and world air speed holder in 1953, Ron Challis (1932-2001) football referee, Malcolm Simmons (1946–) British Speedway Champion 1976/7 and former captain of England team, Timothy Allen (1971–) photojournalist. Arthur Philip Norton (1876–1955) founder of Norton's Star Atlas was a teacher at Judd Schoolmarker [43382].

Twin towns

Tonbridge is twinned with the towns of Le Puy-en-Velaymarker in Francemarker, and Heusenstammmarker in Germanymarker.


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