24 October, 2019
The town of Tonbridge has an enviable position as it is surrounded by pretty villages, great pubs and rolling countryside, but is still within easy reach of London (29 miles) in one direction and Brighton (38 miles) in the other! The town nestles between its two well-heeled cousins – Sevenoaks (7 miles) and Royal Tunbridge Wells (4 miles), but has the advantages of better property prices, the top schools in the area and fewer traffic jams!
Tonbridge High Street is a myriad of different architectural style and does look quite like 'Old England' in its character. Quite a few of the old buildings have been preserved like the Old Post Office (which is now Weatherspoons). The top end of the high street is the most attractive part with a particularly stunning Tudor building that is now a café but was Moss Bros for many years. If you look up when you are standing outside the Chequers Inn at that end of the town, you will see an old noose and gallows hanging above you ominously!
The town's claims to fame can be seen is the series of blue plaques showing the house where Jane Austen's father lived when he was teaching at Tonbridge School and others where cricketers Colin Cowdrey and Frank Woolley lived. There is another blue plaque remembering E M Forster's link with the town. The modern statue on the roundabout in Quarry Hill Road pays tribute to its modern day celebrity – Dame Kelly Holmes who won double gold medals for the UK in the 2004 Olympics and who still lives and works in the town. Interestingly, the town also holds some other records as it was the scene of the first speeding fine, issued by Tonbridge Petty Sessions in 1896 and of the largest robbery ever recorded in history - £53.1 million from the Securitas cash handling depot in Vale Road in 2006!
Tonbridge is mentioned in the Doomsday Book as 'Tonbridge' meaning 'town of bridges' as it had several streams as well as the Medway river. The settlement first developed on a spur of higher ground where the Medway could be successfully forded. For many years the community remained on the north side of the river as the south side was prone to seasonal flooding – one part of town is still called 'Dryhill reflecting this'.
The towns pretty 11th century motte and bailey castle is one of the best preserved in England and stands just behind the far end of the High Street. The town became a strategic settlement and at one stage in the 15th century, Henry III had planned to build defensive walls encircling the town, although this never happened. By the 18th century, the town had become well known for its wooden cabinets and other wooden items that were known as 'Tonbridgeware' and sold to tourists visiting the spa at nearby Royal Tunbridge Wells. Later, the town became well known for its cricket balls which were made in a factory in Preston Road and also in the village of Leith.
During the Second World War, a prisoner of war camp was established in Tonbridge, where German pilots and Italian soldiers were held and today, the Weald of Kent School stands on the site. After the war, one of the town's best known products were made at the Crystalate Gramophone Record Company. Today Tonbridge is linked administratively with Malling Borough Council and has a population of about 40,500 people.
Tonbridge first began to develop as a commuter town with the arrival of the railway in the 1840s. Large detached Victorian and Edwardian houses were built to the north of the High Street, in Dry Hill Park Road and Yardley Park Road as well as in the town centre in The Drive. The most expensive houses were built on Bidborough Ridge a few miles away that overlooks Tonbridge. Numerous small workmen's cottages, mainly with two bedrooms, were built to the south of the town during the same period. During the 1920s and 1930s numerous new houses were built along the main roads leading out of Tonbridge – one in the direction of Hadlow and the other towards Bidborough and Tunbridge Wells.
The town's largest housing project was the 250 one and two bedroomed luxury flats at Cannons Wharf which were built alongside the river in Medway Wharf Road in 2010. Within easy walking distance of the railway station this is still a much sought after development with many of the flats rented and a price tag for those on sale of £165,000 - £200,000 for a one bed and £250,000 - £275,000 for a two bed flat. Other developments have included 205 detached houses in The Haydens and Ketleys Close. The town's older two bedroomed cottages are still a popular buy today. On 19 October 2019, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council announced plans for the construction of 7,000 news homes in villages on the edge of its boundary with Tonbridge.
Tonbridge is well known for its selection of excellent and well-performing schools. The oldest is Tonbridge School, a leading Public School that was founded in 1552 by Edward VI in the High Street. The town also has several girl’s and boy’s grammar schools including Judd School and the Weald of Kent Grammar School. Hayesbrook School for Boys is a specialist sports college and Hillview School for Girls specialises in the performing arts. Tonbridge has seven junior schools which are all of a very high standard with Saint Stephen's Primary School being the top one. For further education, West Kent College is situated on Brook Street. Nicknamed 'K' College, it offers a wide variety of courses, including both A level and vocational courses.
As the town has developed, so has its facilities. Its comprehensive selection of restaurants offer cuisines from all over the world and it has great traditional pubs. Tonbridge has good supermarkets too including Waitrose, Sainsburys and Lidl plus a Marks & Spencer food hall on the industrial estate on the southern edge of the town. Amongst its other shops are florists, a great butchers and a new fishmonger's. There are also several lovely gift shops and an independent book shop as well as Bea Baby Kids Dance and a tempting cake shop called 'An Enchanted Cake or Two'! Having said that, Tunbridge Wells has a much larger and diverse selection of shops and still the place to go for Christmas shopping!
The award winning Haysden Country Park lies on the edge of Tonbridge, whilst the Racecourse Sports Ground with its great children's play area is just five minutes’ walk from the High Street. During the summer, the town's open air swimming pool is popular and for golfers the 18 hole course at Hildenborough beckons all year round! There are cycling opportunities and the chance to go boating on the river as with its link with two fine cricketers, the town has two cricket clubs. Tonbridge has two theatres, the E M Forster Theatre which is part of Tonbridge School and The Oast Theatre and both have a varied programme. There is the very active Hillsong Church which has a really dynamic youth group too.
Tonbridge has a number of popular annual events and these include the Drink & Food Festival in May, Tonbridge Carnival in June, the Castle Music Weekend (July) and the Dragon Boat Race on the river in September. All year through, the town has a popular Farmers' Market held once a month and there are regular pop up events in the old fire station.
Tonbridge has become increasingly popular with young professionals working in London as the town's excellent 40 minute rail link to Charing Cross via London Bridge and Warerloo East means that they are able to buy property or rent at cheaper prices than in the capital. Many families from London have also moved to the town as it has excellent schools and properties are at least 30% cheaper. Tonbridge is also well placed for easy access to the M25 and other major roads.
The pressure on commuter parking in Tonbridge has been increasing and a multi-storey car park was built on the site of the original station car park four years ago to ease the pressure. At the same time, the High Street was regenerated with a smart new look that is much more pedestrian friendly.
The pressure on housing in the town has continued to force house prices upwards. The starting price is about £300,000 and soars upwards. Rent prices are high too. There is a good selection of rental property but prices are high with three bedroom flats averaging £950 per month. The turnover of properties is incredibly fast as demand is so high – often a property is on the market only for a few days. Interestingly, 60% of the properties for sale in Tonbridge are bought by local people who find the town attractive as prices are about 20% than in Tunbridge Wells. Once people have moved to Tonbridge it seems that most of them are happy with their choice of location and remain there for many years.
The villages around Tonbridge are equally popular because they lie in the catchment area for some of the town's schools and because the house prices are lower. These villages include Leigh (prounced 'Lie'), Penshurst, Shipbourne and Speldhurst. Hilenborough is the most popular of all as it the closest to Tonbridge and also has its own railway station which doesn't offer quite such a good service as Tonbridge, but is adequate for many.
Certainly Tonbridge really does feel like a bustling town. Good local investment and a strong community spirit have both proved valuable in helping the town stay smart and attractive. Today, Tonbridge has cafés, pubs and restaurants, good cultural events, great schools and a convenient transport network. No wonder more and more people are planning to make the move there!
If you are considering a move to Tonbridge, contact us now for a selection of properties to purchase in and around the area.
With thanks to Chris Stevens for this article.
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