Copyright Kent Past 2010
The History of Kent
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History of Tonbridge
Tonbridge comes from the Old English ‘tūn’ meaning an ‘enclosure a farmstead, a village’ and
‘brycg’ as a ‘bridge, causeway’; therefore, a ‘bridge of the town’. The Domesday
Book chronicles Tonbridge as Tonebridge. The Royal Mail changed the spelling of the
town from Tunbridge to Tonbridge, in the late 19th Century, to avoid confusion with .
Tonbridge parish church is a Grade: II listed building, dedicated to Saint Peter
and Saint Paul. The Normans built it in the 12th Century on the site of a wooden
Saxon chapel. In the 13th Century, they demolished the west wall, extended the nave,
built a squat tower at the end, and added an arcade along the north wall. The 14th
Century saw the construction of the Chapel of St. Nicholas by building a north aisle.
Enlargement continued into the 15th century with the addition of a south aisle, and
building of the upper part of the tower. In 1663, the boys from Tonbridge School
made use of their own gallery during church services. In 1774, a ring of eight bells
replaced an earlier ring of six. The Victorians restored the Tonbridge church between
1877 and 1879…. more
Richard de Clare of Tonbridge Castle founded the Priory of St. Mary Magdalene in 1124. It became the home of the Canons Regular of , the Black Canons (so called because of their black robes) who had settled in Tonbridge by 1253. The original Priory burnt down in 1337. The new replacement building had a chapter house, dormitory, refectory, church, vestry and library.
The last prior Tomlyn closed the doors of St. Mary Magdalene on 8th February 1525. Eight cannons lived in the priory at the time of the suppression. The last fragment of the ruined Priory disappeared when the railway arrived in Tonbridge. Excavations for the railway goods yard in 1934 uncovered a monk's skeleton.
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 to avoid the seasonal flooding of the south side.
Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare, a cousin of William the Conqueror built a castle in the 11th century. Richard governed England in William's frequent absences.
Henry VIII considered Tonbridge to be a vital strategic settlement, and intended it to be a walled town. However, the town did not build the walls, probably because the castle could have easily accommodated the town's populace in its large outer bailey, in times of strife.
During Queen Mary's reign, in 1554, an uprising in Tonbridge against her marriage to the King of Spain ended unsuccessfully, and with the death of 500 townspeople in the Battle of Hartley.
During the Civil War, the Parliamentarians garrisoned the town and refortified the castle. Royalist sympathisers made several unsuccessful attempts to capture the town.
Parliament passed a bill in 1740, making 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 and the Thames. For a hundred years, the Medway Navigation Company prospered, although, following 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.
Tonbridge railway station opened on the Reigate to Ashford section of the South Eastern Railway’s London to Dover mainline, on 26 May 1842…. more