Tonbridge, Kent

Tonbridge Castle

People often get Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells confused. But if you say them out loud they sound very different.

Tunbridge Wells has a U and Tonbridge has an O.

No-one is sure how Tonbridge got its name. Place-name experts tend to favour ‘tun’ meaning a manor or farm in Old English, combined with ‘brycg’, an early form of ‘bridge’. From 1933 they favoured a combination of ‘tun’ meaning town and ‘burig’ meaning fort: the town with a fort.

We park the car, walk past the castle which has towered over the town for centuries and stroll along the river bank towards the town.

Squirrels leap and play everywhere. We counted 20 of them. I’ve never seen so many in one place! Families carry bags of monkey nuts which the squirrels boldly take from their hands. Then they jump through the fence, dig a hole and bury it. I didn’t see any squirrels actually eating any!

Further on, more families carry bags of birdseed and the pigeons peck it out of children’s outstretched hands.

The river flows under the road and we turn off and walk along the High Street.

A lot of our towns would look empty and abandoned without charity shops. We counted over 20 in Tonbridge. Three of them were in a row. As we all love charity shops, we looked in all of them.

Apart from the charity shops, there is a great selection of stores.

Down an alleyway is the Paws Cat Café; coffee, cake and cats! Everyone is seated, surrounded by purring strays. But you have to book so we decided to save that experience for another day.

It was lunchtime. We went in Wetherspoon’s, which is an old bank, and nicely renovated. Their prices and their food are always excellent and they cater for all tastes.

After lunch we strolled back and branched off left to the park. There’s a large choice of things for the children to go on, so there were no queues.

You know the old comment about the Germans putting their towels over all the holiday sunbeds, then disappearing for half a day? Well, the Brits cover all the park benches with bags and coats!

We finally found a free seat so we had a post-lunch rest in the sun.

Then we went to the castle. I went into the tourist office, where I was given an audio guide with a key.

Richard Fitzgilbert fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and was given land in Tonbridge, which dated back to the Iron Age, and maybe earlier. As it commanded the Medway Bridge it was an important place.

After being given land at Clare in Suffolk, Richard changed his name to Richard de Clare.

The Normans rapidly built motte-and-bailey castles, which were wooden castles on top of high mounds, called mottes. The Tonbridge motte is still there.

Around 1265 the massive, powerful gatehouse was erected and it still stands there today.

The castle was attacked at least three times in its 950+ year history and played host to several kings.

In the 19th century the last owner to live there was William Bailey and after him it was run by trustees, who rented it out as a private residence, a military academy and a boys’ prep school.

In April 1898 Tonbridge Urban District Council paid £10,000 to buy the 14 acres for the use of the town for ever. The green, once filled with knights and market stalls is now used for a load of events, so it’s often full of noise and crowds as it always was!

I used my key to let myself into the Gatehouse. It was lit up and full of explanatory signs, displays and realistic models of Medieval people who would have lived and worked in the castle.

Steep winding steps with a good handrail lead up to the main large room and easier stairs go down to a permanent exhibition.

Knight on the loo!

As I turned the corner I jumped, suddenly seeing a knight sitting on the toilet that emptied down into the moat. He looked so real.

…But I’m not telling you everything. I do suggest that you go there and see for yourself!

Tonbridge is a lovely place to spend a day and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We didn’t even get to see it all. We intend to return there again soon.


  • Lyn Funnell

    Lyn is the co-owner of Unknown Kent and Sussex. She lives in Sussex. Lyn has been writing for most of her life, both Fiction & Non-Fiction. She loves cookery & creating original recipes. She's won a lot of prizes, including Good Housekeeping Millenium Menu & on BBC The One Show as a runner-up, making her Britain's Spag Bol Queen! She has had nine books published so far. History, Travel & Restaurant Reviews are her main interests.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *