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Let's go to Tonbridge

PUBLISHED: 14:49 19 February 2016 | UPDATED: 14:52 19 February 2016

Tonbridge Castle

Tonbridge Castle


With new independent businesses springing up and a major High Street regeneration project set for completion in April, Tonbridge really is enjoying a new lease of life

Tonbridge is on the up. The historic market town, which straddles a pretty stretch of the River Medway, has been the focus of much development over recent years, with hundreds of newly built homes and a refurbished train station. Now it is also being given a major facelift, in the form of a £2.65m regeneration project to enhance both its historic heart and the modern shopping area.

Although work is understandably causing some disruption to the townspeople and its traders, the planned completion date of April is in sight and the long-term benefits to the local economy are hoped to be considerable.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for Tonbridge, which boasts a huge riverside park, an historic castle, an indoor-outdoor swimming pool and a famous independent school – all within its compact centre.

Its forward momentum is being felt just about everywhere, with new businesses, cafés and restaurants springing up. And with several new housing developments, including Blossom Bank, Waterside Reach and Somerhill Green, as well as its obvious appeal to commuters (it is just 40 minutes from London by train) and a family-friendly feel, Tonbridge is becoming more and more appealing by the day.

And there’s lots of success stories to celebrate too. The 165-acre Haysden Country Park has achieved the Green Flag Award for the 10th consecutive year.

Handed out by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy, it recognises and rewards the best parks across the UK. Similarly, the refurbishment of the Tonbridge Memorial Gardens last year was so successful that the company behind the work has won an award for it.

Mix in the popular established events that Tonbridge puts on each year, including the Dragon Boat races along the river (organised by the very active Tonbridge Town Team) and Tonbridge Arts Festival, plus a number of new ones being planned (a Food and Drink Festival in May, see next page, and a new Christmas Market, both also Town Team initiatives), and you’ve got a recipe for a happy and flourishing community.

Eating and shopping

When it comes to eating, Tonbridge is gaining more independent options all the time. Some to try include artisan bakery The Bakehouse at 124 (01732 360 382), Graze kitchen and bar (01732 369857), Finch House (01732 771775), Basil wholefoods café (01732 354637), Mama Mia Italian restaurant (01732 353 660), Ivy House (01732 771249), Alishan Indian restaurant (01732 770616).

At the time of writing a large new fish and chip restaurant called Saltwater was preparing to launch on the site of KC’s Riverside Café, Bromley-based business Havet is about to open a new Turkish restaurant where Uskudar was operating until a few months ago and Tunbridge Wells Thai restaurant Sucheera is to open a new restaurant, which will be called Gaab Kao, in a former bank opposite relatively recent new face in town, The Bakehouse at 124.

For something a little bit different, The Old Fire Station has been running pop-up restaurant events for a few months now, with established chefs laying on their own menus in the unusual and intimate setting of the refurbished old firehouse and attracting many out-of-towners.

Interesting shops well worth a browse include the gift and lifestyle shops Gorgeous George (01732 369871), The Gift Box (01732 354131) and Little Blue Finch (01732363375).

High Street regeneration

After a break over the Christmas period, work began again in January on the transformation of the High Street. Activity started last August and will include widening of pavements, improving the road surface, establishing a 20mph speed limit and creating designated delivery areas. The expected completion date is late April and all shops and business are still open for business as usual.

Howard Porter, chairman of Tonbridge Town Team, says: “The long-term benefits to Tonbridge from the work in the High Street are immense. We’ve already seen the start of an upturn with several new restaurants and cafés springing up, so want to continue this trend.

“By making the High Street a much more inviting, pedestrian-friendly environment, we hope to see increased footfall which will be good for existing 
retailers and encourage new ones to come here too.”

Nicolas Heslop (above), leader of Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council and Cabinet Member for Economic Regeneration, adds: “Tonbridge has all the ingredients to make it more and more attractive as a place to live and work: a magnificent castle, beautiful river, a fantastic mix of independent shops, a high- quality monthly Farmers’ Market and a series of excellent events throughout the course of the year.

“It is no surprise that we are seeing both people and businesses looking to invest in the town. If you add all the many benefits the High Street improvement works will bring to the local economy, then there is no doubt in my mind that Tonbridge is fast becoming one of the most attractive market towns in Kent.”

Jennie Kenny of Beyond The Grounds

Tell us a little about you

I’ve lived in Tonbridge most of my life; I went to school, started my career as a midwife and married my husband Julian here. As well as managing Beyond The Grounds together, we also enjoy a busy family life and have three lovely daughters. I’m passionate about giving and receiving great hospitality, love great tasting coffee and food and began dreaming of running my own café 20 years ago when I was bored on night duty!

What is Beyond The Grounds?

We’re a café and meeting place located on River Walk, right opposite Tonbridge Castle. We opened at the beginning of December and offer speciality coffee, ethically sourced and roasted by Climpson & Sons. We serve an original all-day breakfast and lunch menu as well as exquisite cakes and bakes, including gluten-free options. Our food menu is freshly cooked in our cosy on-site kitchen, our cakes are baked by us and also a small independent bakery in London.

What makes it unique?

Our name hints that we’re more than just a cafe. Not only are we ‘Beyond The Grounds’ of Tonbridge Castle, with one of the best views in town, we are also a meeting place looking to inspire creativity.

We plan on bringing events such as live music, open mic nights and special interest evenings. We’ve worked hard to create the feeling and atmosphere of being in someone’s home with our designer interiors and friendly staff who make the café an open and welcoming space.

We aim to develop our business using social enterprise principles, reinvesting profit not only to improve our business, but also communities both locally and further afield.

How has business been going?

We have been overwhelmed by the support and positivity of the local community, from both our customers and neighbouring independent businesses. Our social media feeds have been buzzing with such kind comments, particularly about the atmosphere in the cafe, our friendly staff and the unique flavour of our coffee and food.

What do you love about Tonbridge?

Tonbridge is a fantastic place to live and work. We have such beautiful surroundings with the castle, river, sports ground and neighbouring countryside. What I love most about Tonbridge though is a shared belief and passion in its people to see the town grow and thrive. I love that renaissance is happening in Tonbridge in the form of small independent businesses like ours investing our passion and resources into creating a place people want to be, instead of feeling the need to travel elsewhere.

Beyond The Grounds, River Walk, TN9 1DT, 01732 667564.

How to get there

The town is four miles north of Tunbridge Wells and a short drive from Sevenoaks and Kings Hill. Mainly served by the A21, which leads up to the M25, the area is about to become even more accessible by car thanks to ongoing work to dual the A21 between Castle Hill and Pembury. The rail station, refurbished in 2011, is one of Kent’s busiest, with lines to London, Ashford, Redhill, Hastings.

Sat nav: TN9 1BG

Property prices

Prices in Tonbridge currently begin at around £170,000 for a one-bed flat, moving to between £230,000 and £300,000 for a two-bed terraced house and between £275,000 and £400,000 for a three-bed semi-detached. Detached homes are currently on the market for between £385,000 for a three-bed and £1.25million for a luxury six-bed.

Tonbridge Through Ten Centuries

A new book on the history of Tonbridge was launched last year. Tonbridge Through Ten Centuries is the result of a three-year project from the town’s Historical Society. It traces the development of the town from a tiny community based around the castle in the 11th century to a bustling commuter town with 30,000 inhabitants by the end of the 20th.

Among topics featured are the building of the castle, the Civil War, the coming of the railway and the impact of the two World Wars. The text is supported by 300 illustrations, many of them from the Historical Society’s own archives.

The book is available to buy from the Tourist Office (Gateway) at Tonbridge Castle, Mr Books Bookshop on the High Street, and from Amazon. Visit www.tonbridgehistory.org.uk

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