|OS grid reference:||TQ591468|
|District:||Tonbridge & Malling|
|Region:||South East England|
|Post office and telephone|
|Postal district:||TN9 (South), TN10 (North)|
|UK Parliament:||Tonbridge & Malling|
|European Parliament:||South East England|
Tonbridge is a market town in the English county of Kent, with a population of 31,600 in 2001. It is located on the River Medway, approximately four miles north of Tunbridge Wells, 12 miles south west of Maidstone and 25 miles south east of London.
It belongs to the administrative borough of Tonbridge and Malling (population 107,560 in 2001). The town stands at a point where the Saxons built a bridge across the River Medway. For much of its existence, the town remained to north of the river, since the land south was subject to extensive flooding. One part of the town is still called 'Dryhill'.
Tonbridge 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. In the late 1800s, the 'Tonbridge' name was actually known as Tunbridge: old maps prior to this date show it as such, as do an 1871 map and contemporary issues of the Bradshaw railway guide. In the late 1890s/early 1900s, this was changed to Tonbridge by the Royal Mail as it caused confusion with Tunbridge Wells, a much more recent town. The latter has always spelt its name that way.
An 11th Century castle was built here by Richard Fitz Gilbert, a nobleman in William the Conqueror's invading army. The town was besieged by William Rufus, soon after his accession to the throne, the lord of the manor having pledged allegiance to William's brother, Robert. It was afterwards taken by King John, during his conflict with barons and 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. At that time, Tonbridge was intended to be a medieval walled town. Walls were never built however, probably because the castle's large bailey could have easily accommodated the town's populace in times of strife. A surrounding bank and ditch known as The Fosse was erected, although 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. During the Civil War the town was on the Parliamentarian side and a Royalist attempt to take it was repulsed.
In 1740, the River Medway was made navigable to Tonbridge, allowing such materials as hops and timber to be carried down river to Maidstone and London. Some of the buildings and the wharves are still recognisable today, downstream of the bridge.
Later, the town and its surrounds became famous for the production of finely inlaid wooden cabinets, boxes and other objects called Tunbridgeware. Another speciality is the production of cricket balls.
The town is home to several remaining Grammar Schools, including The Judd School and Tonbridge Grammar School (formerly Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls). Tonbridge School, founded in 1553 by Sir Andrew Judde, is a well respected private boys' school in the centre of the town. The Town is also home to West Kent College and Hillview School for Girls which has recently been awarded a Performing Arts Status. The many primary and secondary schools in the Tonbridge area provide a high quality of education, and this has been an incentive for many when moving to the town. It also means that teaching is a major source of employment in the town.
Major industries include light engineering, distribution and services. A monthly farmers' market sells a wide variety of locally produced food and drinks, together with more exotic imports.
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 clustered around its 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, and the town inevitably suffers from its proximity to large shopping centres such as Maidstone and Bluewater. Recent proposals to improve edge-of-town shopping facilities, particularly from supermarket chains, have met with stiff opposition from town centre retailers.
There are future proposals to dual the A21 at Castle Hill and thereby improve the connection to Tunbridge Wells and Pembury where a new regional hospital is to be constructed.
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 nearby Hildenborough, roughly equivalent to the combined population of both.
Tonbridge was also 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. The robbery is currently under investigation, a large amount of the money has been recovered, and several people have been charged.
Tonbridge railway station is an important railway junction with lines to London, Ashford, Hastings and Redhill. The town is served by the A21 trunk road between London and Hastings and is close to the M25 motorway.
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