Tonbridge is a market town in Kent, England, on the River Medway, 4 miles (6 km) north of Royal Tunbridge Wells, 12 miles (19 km) south west of Maidstone and 29 miles (47 km) south east of London. In the administrative borough of Tonbridge and Malling, it had a population of 40,356 in 2015.
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 spelt Tunbridge, as shown on old maps including the 1871 Ordnance Survey 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 Wells, despite Tonbridge being a much older settlement. Tunbridge Wells has always maintained the same spelling.
Normans and Tonbridge Castle
Main article: Tonbridge Castle
The motte of Tonbridge Castle
Tonbridge Castle gatehouse
Tonbridge stands on spur of higher land where the marshy River Medway could be more easily forded. Ancient trackways converged at this point. There is no record of any bridge before 1191. 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’. Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare founded the Priory of St Mary Magdalene in 1124.
A castle was built here in the 11th century by Richard Fitz Gilbert, son of the murdered guardian of William the Conqueror in his infancy. 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. The arrow, which killed William Rufus a few years later, was shot by Walter Tirel who was born in Tonbridge as well as being Richard Fitz Gilbert’s son-in-law.