Old Tonbridge

TONBRIDGE is the latest spelling to be applied to the town.

The most popular derivation is probable from the Saxon TUN and BURIG (town with a fort) but this possible changed to THONEBRIGGE after the French invasion. Variations include :- TUNBRYEGE and TONEBRIGGA – most of them seem to relate to the fact that there were several bridges built over the five streams of the river Medway.

It is interesting to note that both Tonbridge and Tunbridge were used as spellings.  By the mid 19th Century Tunbridge was the favoured spelling but a local board formed in 1870 decided on TONBRIDGE although the railway and the post Office used the old spelling. It wasn’t until about 1890 that the present spelling was finally agreed on and this was after some 20 years of the Railway and the Post Office using the old spelling.

In it’s early days Tonbridge was bordered by agricultural lands and estates

North Frith House home of the Horne family of the tailoring chain

Dene Park

Somerhill -  home of Sir d’Avigdor Goldsmith

Mabledon Park home of the Deacon family of Deacons Bank

Information on these estates is available in various books Noteworthy items on Old Tonbridge include: An 1886 Town directory said that there were 10 churches and chapels and 7 schools including the Ragged school in Alexandra road. The Free Press (or Tonbridge Free Press), Tonbridge’s first newspaper owned by a William Blair (after whom Blair House is named) founded in 1869 The telephones came in about 1878 The Tonbridge Saloon made by the Storey motor car in what used to be the Town Mill between 1920-1921 Bank Street school was the Poor House and Bank Street was called Workhouse Lane.

The brickworks chimney, demolished by Fred Dibnah in 1993

No words about Tonbridge would be complete without a mention of it’s Pubs

  • Starting from the north
  •  the Greyhound
  • the Royal Oak
  • the George and Dragon
  • the Star and Garter
  • the Mitre (Hadlow Road)
  • the Ivy House
  • the White Hart
  • the Red Lion
  • the White Horse
  • the Rose and Crown (and it’s tap)
  • the Man of Kent (East Street)
  • the Stags Head (the Slade)
  • the Chequers
  • the Castle
  • the Bull Hotel
  • the Dorset Arms
  • the Angel Hotel
  • the Railway Arms (the Gallopers)
  • the Station Tavern the Public Hall was
  • the South Eastern (Barden Road)
  • the Nelson Arms (Nelson Street)
  • the Prince Albert (Vale Road)
  • the Bridge Hotel -late Loggerheads (Waterloo Road)
  • the Good Intent (Waterloo Road)
  • the Gardeners Arms (St Stephens Street)
  • the Railway Bell (Priory Road)
  • the Telegraph (Priory Road)
  • the Drum (Lavender Hill)
  • the Foresters (Quarry Hill)
  • the Somerhill Arms (Pembury Road)
  • the Primrose (Pembury Road)
  • the Druids (Pembury Road)
  • the Vauxhall Inn (VAuxhall Lane)
  • the Royal Oak (Hayesden Lane) and one I was reminded of only recently – the Old House at Home (Lambs Bank) which was I believe run by a Mr Ashby.
  • Later pubs included
  • the Pinnacles
  • the Red House
  • the Cardinals Error (so named because of Wolsey’s failure to provide a free grammar school in exchange for the priory of St Mary Magdalene)
  • the Bishops Oak

If one mentions Pubs then you must also mention religion – they go hand in hand.the Parish Church (correctly the church of St Peter and St Paul). Now believed to have be built on the site of a Saxon church.In 1124 Richard de Clare laid the foundation stone of the Priory of St Mary Magdalene who were the Black Canons. There was a fire in 1337 but the Priory was rebuilt. Situated between Vale road and Priory road the Priory was destroyed in 1842 when the railway was built.St Eanswythe’s Mission founded by Mary Gorham as weekly bible classes for women after the coming of the railway

Baptist church founded in Tonbridge 1751 from Anglican dissenters, they used to meet in a small room behind the White Hart pub (now Blair House). In 1791 they moved to the Independent Chapel in Bank Street (this was later the Corn Exchange and TA drill hall).

Methodist Church in East Street built in 1872


One area of Tonbridge which has sadly been lost are the Cinemas.

The CENTRAL PICTURE HALL full time cinema opened August 1910 ( on the west side just north of the little bridge)

The STAR CINEMA opened in Bradford Street (where the job centre was) 09 October 1910 and shut February 1939

The KINEMA de LUXE (renamed EMPIRE PICTURE PALACE in May 1915) (aka “the FLEA PIT”) opened in Avebury Avenue 02 January 1914. Closed 21 May 1932 last film was “Wait and See”

the NEW THEATRE opened 13 June 1921(closed for conversion to include sound cinema 31 August 1929) It re-opened 28 October 1929 as the PAVILION CINEMA with “The Singing Fool” as the first talkie in Tonbridge. It shut 29 March 1941 with the last film being “The man I married” with Joan Bennett

The PUBLIC HALL CINEMA opened 18 July 1921 with an early film being Mary Pickford in “Suds”. After a fire in 1926 it wasn’t re-opened until 13 October 1928? with sound and an organ and re-named the CAPITOL. It shut 28 March 1964 with the last film being “we joined the Navy” with Kenneth Moore.

The RITZ CINEMA was opened 30 July 1937 with “Splinters in the Air” and “Isle of Fury”. It was shut 14 March 1978 leaving.

The CARLTON a mini cinema in what used to be the cafe of the Ritz cinema. This shut 25 September 1981 the last film being Sean Connery in “Outland”

Today the only films being shown are in the Medway Hall in the Angel Centre.

It is interesting to note that whilst there appeared to be lots of pubs and cinemas, in a directory dated there were shown to be 10 churches and chapels. (This would have been 11 if the Priory of St Mary Magdalene had not been destroyed in 1842 to make room for the Railway.) There were also 7 schools in the Town.

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