Tonbridge History

Publications by Tonbridge Historical Society

Tonbridge through ten centuries

book cover


This richly-illustrated book – the only general history of the town currently in print – explores how the compact castle-centred community that was Tonbridge soon after the Norman Conquest evolved into today's town of more than 30,000 people in the course of ten centuries.

Among the topics covered are

 • the events, local and national, which influenced and sometimes disrupted local lives: feuding nobles, religious upheaval, rebellions and Civil War, disease and poverty, the two World Wars, and the enduring problem of flooding

 • the innovations in transport which brought new links to the outside world and stimulated commerce: the canalizing of the Medway, the creation of turnpikes, the coming of the railway, and the construction of new roads


• the people and personalities who, individually and collectively, made a difference: the castle-building de Clares, the influential landowners, Georgian gentry, Victorian worthies and a number of notable writers, artists, scientists, sportsmen and war heroes


• the changing layout and appearance of the town, with its mediaeval castle, church and fosse, its surviving timber-framed buildings, and the many later churches, schools, public buildings and housing estates we see today.

The book's authors are members of Tonbridge Historical Society with varied experience in teaching, writing, lecturing and historical research.

In his Foreword to the book, Sir John Stanley, M.P. writes:

'Tonbridge is an extraordinary microcosm of our country’s history over the last 1,000 years.


The history of Tonbridge is a window into the reality of Anglo-Saxon England, the Norman Conquest, medieval society, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the coming of the railways, the tragedies and triumphs of two World Wars, and into contemporary Tonbridge to the dawn of 21st century Britain.


The Tonbridge Historical Society deserves our warm appreciation for the time, expertise and dedication its members have devoted to producing 'Tonbridge through ten centuries' with its admirably readable text and fascinating photographs.


Tonbridge through ten centuries will appeal, and be of value, to every age-group in our community from school-children to the elderly, and will be of both national as well as of local importance.'


'Tonbridge through ten centuries'
Edited by Anthony Wilson, with contributions from George Buswell, Deborah Cole,
Pat Hopcroft, Pat Mortlock, Anthony Wilson and Margaret Wilson
Published by Tonbridge Historical Society, 28th February 2015
240pp, 300 illustrations, rrp. £10.00
ISBN 978-0-9523563-3-2  

Available from
The Tourist Office at Tonbridge Castle and Mr Books Bookshop at 142 High Street, Tonbridge TN9 1BB.

Tonbridge through ten centuriesContents

Foreword by Sir John Stanley Acknowledgements – Preface

1  Before 1066: A place to cross the river

Early evidence, Iron age forts, Dens and drovers, A Saxon settlement?

2  1066-1521: A castle and its town

The de Clares, Spotlight: The Lowy of Tonbridge, The stone castle, The Fosse, The Priory, The Parish Church, After the de Clares, The mediaeval town, Spotlight: Tonbridge’s oldest buildings

3  1521-1741: Market town and staging-post

People, homes and jobs, Spotlight: Royal friends and courtiers, The town of bridges, The gift of a school, Rebels and martyrs, Wealden industries, Tonbridge and the Civil War, The founding of Tunbridge Wells, The town in the early 18th century, Spotlight: 16th -18th century buildings

4  1741-1842: A port for the western Weald

The Medway made navigable, Spotlight: James Christie and the Penshurst canal, The Parish Vestry, Looking after the poor, The Gentry, The fall of the Tonbridge Bank, Spotlight: Some local scientists, Manufacturing, Improvements in road travel, Tonbridge in 1838

5  1842-1870: Railway and New Town

The South Eastern Railway, Towards the modern age, Squalor and disease, Schooling for all, Spotlight: Tonbridge in numbers, the 1851 Census, Hops and hoppers, The town begins to grow

6  1870-1914: A new identity

The Local Board widens the High Street, Floods and more floods, Mayhem at the election  More people, more homes, more jobs, Spotlight: William Blair’s newspaper, More churches, Entertainment and sport, Spotlight: Cricket Week, Some local worthies, Looking after the sick, High Street shopping in the 1900s, Spotlight: In the news

7  1914-1945: Tonbridge in war and peace

The First World War: August 1914: the start of the war, Recruiting for Kitchener’s army, Spotlight: Tonbridge’s territorial force, Military activity, Everyday life, The human cost; Between the wars: Unemployment, The coming of the car, The changing town; The Second World War: Preparing for war, The outbreak of war, Spotlight: The Dunkirk trains, Air raids, Spotlight: Famous names with local connections, ‘Fortress town’, The Home Front, Spotlight: Somerhill Camp, The end of the war

8  1945-2000: The town transformed

Population explosion, New roads and bridges, Taming the Medway, Spotlight: Two local artists, Spotlight: Haysden country park, The end of Tonbridge Council, The changing face of Tonbridge, History around us


Principal Sources – Index


Other publications

Since its foundation, Tonbridge Historical Society has produced six other books, resulting from members’ research into the history of the town. All are now out of print, but copies are available for reference in Tonbridge Library and the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone. Borrowing copies are also available from Tonbridge and some other local libraries. Secondhand copies are sometimes available from  Mr Books Bookshop at 142 High Street, Tonbridge and other dealers on Amazon and Abebooks.

Early Victorian Tonbridge

Edited by Christopher Chalklin, published by Kent County Council, 1975 (ISBN 900947683 9) 25pp plus 4pp maps

Contents: Introduction, The building of Tonbridge 1840-70, The livelihood of the people of Tonbridge, Learning and leisure in Tonbridge

Mid-Victorian Tonbridge

Edited by Christopher Chalklin, published by Kent County Library, [1983] (ISBN 0 90515 541 6), 99pp

Contents: Introduction, Local government: the Tonbridge Local Board 1870-94, ‘A way of life’ (a study of the census of 1871), Some societies in Tonbridge 1870-80, A time of Church Building, Medicine in Tonbridge in the 1870s, Britain’s Hottest Day - an eye-witness record

Late Victorian and Edwardian Tonbridge
Late Victorian and Edwardian Tonbridge

Edited by Christopher Chalklin, published by Kent County Library, 1988 (ISBN 0 9051559 0 4), 82pp

Contents: Introduction, Review of occupations in 1881, the Telegraph and the Telephone come to Tonbridge, Education in Tonbridge 1880-1919, The churches continue to build, Tonbridge High Street improvements, 1890-1910, Some aspects of leisure and society in Edwardian Tonbridge

Georgian Tonbridge

Edited by Christopher Chalklin, published by Tonbridge Historical Society, 1994 (ISBN 0 9523563 0 9), 200pp

Contents: Introduction, the landed and propertied classes of Georgian Tonbridge, Mabledon and its owners 1803-30, the work of the Town Wardens, Education in Georgian Tonbridge, Tonbridge School 1714-1840, Five properties on the outskirts of Tonbridge 1740-1840

Tonbridge in the Early Twentieth Century

Edited by Christopher Chalklin, published by Tonbridge Historical Society, 1999 (ISBN 0 9523563 1 7), 208pp

Contents: Introduction, the changing appearance of the town, Transport and Travel - river, roads and private cars, Transport and Travel - public transport, Tonbridge Families remembered 1918-39 - home and school, and work and leisure, Private Schools, Sport, Councillor Donald Clark and Mixed Bathing, Hospitals and health

Tonbridge's Industrial Heritage cover
Tonbridge’s Industrial Heritage

Edited by Anthony Wilson, published by Tonbridge Historical Society, 2005 (ISBN 0 9523563 2 5), 101pp, price £9.95.

Contents: Introduction, Foundations: topography and geology, Historical survey, Agriculture and allied trades, Water and wind power, Extractive industry, Metalworking and engineering, Manufacturing, Utilities and services, Communications and entertainment, Transport

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