Spotlight on: Tonbridge
PUBLISHED: 12:55 21 February 2015 | UPDATED: 13:24 21 February 2015
With a river and ancient castle at its heart, Tonbridge of today's changing skyline bears witness to its property boom; find out why people are flocking to live here
The appeal of Tonbridge is easy to see. It has excellent commuter links, affordable housing, good schools and a family-friendly feel.
Top it off with an ancient castle, lots of accessible green space and an attractive riverside setting – where river boat tours are returning on Good Friday after a 10-year absence, much to local delight – and there’s really not much it’s lacking.
Forty minutes to central London by train but close to the Kent countryside, it’s exactly what many people are looking for.
And now Tonbridge is officially a ‘Happy Town’, with the release of its very own version of Pharrell Williams’ music video called ‘Happy Tonbridge’ – joining major cities such as New York, Cape Town, Tokyo, Sidney and London.
It was launched at an exceedingly happy screening at Tonbridge School’s EM Forster Theatre, where the town’s favourite celebrity, double-gold Olympian (and now proud local café owner) Dame Kelly Holmes was not only principal guest but performed a flawless, one-take dance routine in the video – holding her medals.
View the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEApL1fxZ-U.
Tonbridge School itself is one of the most popular independent schools in the country. Founded in 1553 and with most of the buildings dating back to the 19th century, it occupies 150 acres near the town centre. See also page 46.
The other side of town is flanked by Haysden Country Park and Barden Lakes, offering some 165 acres of parkland and riverside walks, as well as sailing and fishing opportunities.
The centre of Tonbridge is compact and has a bustling High Street filled with shops, cafés and restaurants. Its popular Angel Leisure Centre, part of a complex with Sainsburys and department store Beales, its train station and historic castle are all within a short walk of each other.
With an established arts festival held every summer and many exciting community events throughout the year (see following pages), Tonbridge is a vibrant and up-and-coming place to live.
New restaurants and shops are also springing up and cranes on the local skyline indicate the building work going on to improve the town’s infrastructure.
The small car par at the station, which people travel to from outlying towns and villages such is the frequency of its London services, has just been converted to a multi-storey, providing commuters with a very welcome extra 182 spaces.
Eating and shopping
In Tonbridge itself there are restaurants serving all kinds of cuisines. For example, the long-established Alishan (TN 9 1DH, 01732 770616) represents Indian food and El Mariachi (TN9 1TN, 01732 771106) offers Mexican. Turkish restaurant Uskudar (TN9 1BB, 01732 351261) is popular and for Italian try Amore Libero (TN9 1TN, 01732 352074).
Other great places to eat include Finch House café (TN9 1TE, 01732 367770), The Ivy House (TN9 1BW, 01732 771249) and Antonia’s (TN9 1BB, 01732 668039).
Nearby Shipbourne has the popular The Chaser Inn in (TN11 9PE, 01732 810360), while Tudeley offers the newly relaunched The Poacher & Partridge (TN11 0PH, 01732 358934) and also the acclaimed Indian restaurant Turmeric Gold (TN11 0NT, 01732 361772).
There are a number of chain stores (and pound shops), a Waitrose and a Sainsbury’s in the heart of Tonbridge, along with Angel Walk and The Pavilion Shopping Centre.
In the latter you’ll find boutique lifestyle fashion store Gorgeous George (01732 369871), offering an eclectic range of goods from jewellery to fine wines, as well as the Portelli Gallery, featuring local artists’ work and named after local sculptor Guy Portelli.
Mr Books Bookshop (TN9 1BB), the excellent Cycle-Ops bike shop (TN9 1BL) and Beales department store (TN9 1SF) are some of the mainstays of the town centre.
Ian Chatfield’s butcher’s shop (TN9 1EJ) continues to attract queues for its locally sourced meats. It looks as if a candy store is taking the unit next door (there’d been hopes of a fishmonger’s) and an artisan baker and café moving into the former Moss Bros that occupied the original Tudor building next to The Chequers Inn.
Things to do
Shop local: Visit Tonbridge Farmers’ Market, winner of Kent Life and Kent on Sunday’s ‘Best Farmers’ Market’ award in 2013. It’s held on the second Sunday of every month at Sovereign Way car park, Tonbridge TN9 1RG, 9.30am-1.30pm). See ‘March events’ below.
Take a walk: Haysden Country Park (TN11 BE) offers beautiful scenery not far from the centre of town. It’s teeming with local wildlife and it’s also flat and accessible for pushchairs and wheelchair users.
View the Chagall windows: Nearby Tudeley is home to All Saints’ Church (TN11 0NZ), the only church in the world to have all its stained-glass windows decorated by the great Russian artist Marc Chagall.
Take in a show: Tonbridge School incorporates its own theatre, open to the public, which hosts dance, comedy and theatre events throughout the year. The EM Forster Theatre (TN9 1JP) seats 370 people.
There is also The Oast Theatre (TN10 3AN), on the outskirts of town. This community theatre is home to the Tonbridge Theatre and Arts Club. Visit www.tonbridge-school.co.uk and www.oasttheatre.com
Walk a Tonbridge Trail
The brainchild of Tonbridge Town Team member Susan Adams, of Susan Adams Business Services (01732 357872), there are three short walking tours to choose from, each showing a different aspect of the town’s history. Pick up a leaflet with details of the routes at the Gateway office at the castle. See also below.
The Austen connection
Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council has just unveiled the latest blue plaque to go on display as part of a scheme to mark the places where important people from history once lived or worked. A special ceremony took place to unveil a Blue Plaque at the Cawthorn Lecture Theatre, Tonbridge School, to commemorate George Austen.
The Austens came originally from Horsmonden but a branch of the family settled in Tonbridge in the early 18th century, where they inter-married with other well-known Tonbridge families such as the Wellers and Hoopers.
George’s father, William Austen, was a surgeon. He and other members of the family are buried in the parish church.
George Austen was a pupil at Tonbridge School in 1741-7. He then went to St John’s College, Oxford and having been ordained a priest, returned to Tonbridge as Second Master at the School and as Curate at Shipbourne parish church from 1754-7. He later became Vicar of Steventon in Hampshire, where Jane was born in 1775. George Austen died in 1805.
The Borough Council runs the Blue Plaque scheme with the help of Tonbridge Civic Society, Tonbridge Historical Society, Men of Kent and Kentish Men and the Town Wardens.
Representatives from these groups unveiled this latest plaque which is one of eight new plaques now on display around Tonbridge to bring the town’s heritage to life. They include Elizabeth (‘Eliza’) Acton, the poet and cook who produced one of the country’s first cookbooks aimed at the domestic reader and lived at The Priory in Bordyke.
High Street regeneration
Plans to regenerate Tonbridge High Street and boost the local economy by enhancing the historic area, tackling traffic congestion and improving air quality went on show at Tonbridge Castle last month.
The £2.37m scheme, funded by the Government’s ‘Local Growth Fund’ for transport projects, will include:
• widening pavements
• high-quality street furniture
• high-quality local signage
• improving the road surface
• defined delivery areas
• a 20mph speed limit
• potential for new cycle routes
Further details at: www.tonbridgehighstreet.org.
Eating and shopping
In Tonbridge itself there are restaurants serving all kinds of cuisines. The long-established Alishan (TN 9 1DH, 01732 770616) represents Indian food and El Mariachi (TN9 1TN, 01732 771106) offers Mexican. Turkish restaurant Uskudar (TN9 1BB, 01732 351261) is popular and for Italian try Amore Libero (TN9 1TN, 01732 352074).
Other great places to eat include Finch House café (TN9 1TE, 01732 367770), The Ivy House (TN9 1BW, 01732 771249) and The Chaser Inn in Shipbourne (TN11 9PE, 01732 810360).
Nearby Tudeley also has The Poacher & Partridge (TN11 0PH, 01732 358934) and acclaimed Indian restaurant Turmeric Gold (TN11 0NT, 01732 361772).
There are plenty of chain stores, a Waitrose and a Sainsbury’s in the heart of Tonbridge, along with Angel Walk and the Pavilion Shopping Centre, where you’ll find boutique lifestyle fashion store Gorgeous George (01732 369871), offering an eclectic range of goods from jewellery to fine wines as well as the Portelli Gallery, featuring local artists’ work and named after local sculptor Guy Portelli.
Mr Books Bookshop (TN9 1BB), Cycle-Ops bike shop (TN9 1BL) and Beales department store (TN9 1SF) are some of the mainstays of Tonbridge town centre.
Ian Chatfield’s butcher’s shop (TN9 1EJ) continues to attract queues for its locally sourced meats. It is understood that a fishmonger’s might be taking the unit next door and an artisan baker and café moving into the former Moss Bros store that until recently occupied the original Tudor building next to The Chequers Inn.
Tonbridge Loyalty Card scheme
Howard Porter, Chair, Tonbridge Town Team
“We are now into the second year of the Tonbridge Loyalty Card scheme, where every time you spend £10 your card is stamped and every six stamps you can enter into a monthly draw to win £50 of vouchers to spend. You can pick up a card at any of the participating shops.
With 70 traders enrolled and winners of our monthly prize draw being announced every month, the scheme has ‘bedded in,’ but we still need to do more to publicise it and that will be our focus for this coming year.
We will be producing point of sale material and promotional bags over the next few months and our new website (tonbridgetownteam.org.uk) will, we hope, act as a ‘what’s on’ focus for Tonbridge. Each member of the TLC scheme will be able to have their own web page to publicise their business.
For every pound spent in a local independent store, 45 pence is reinvested in the local economy but for every pound spent in a multiple, only 15 pence recirculates locally. So, there is a serious economic side to the scheme too.
With trading conditions still tight, we need to do everything we can to help local businesses and our high street stores become more competitive.
Over the coming months we are planning to bring music and art to Tonbridge as well, to give people an additional reason to come into town. Retail is vital for the future of high streets but they are more than that, they are the beating heart of our communities.”
Nicky Silk, curtain maker
How long have you lived in Tonbridge?
I’ve lived here for the last 15 years. Tonbridge has a great community. I’m proud to say that I’m one of the members of the Tonbridge Town Team and we help create community awareness and support and arrange local events. We also brought the Tonbridge Loyalty Card to the town and we’re trying really hard to arrange a pop-up shop in the town.
Tell us about your business.
I have my own curtain-making business, Silk Interiors, which I run with the help of my partner, Paul. I’m incredibly busy so I deal with all the sewing, measuring and quotes and Paul deals with the social media and website side of things. I started it in 2005.
You were involved in an episode of 60 Minute Makeover with Peter Andre?
Yes, the ITV production team contacted me out of the blue and asked if I could help them out. The property was in Hildenborough and was one of the ones which had been affected by the flooding early last year. The couple who lived there had three small children and were in need of some help to get the house finished by the time they wanted to move back in.
Your favourite places to eat?
In Tonbridge there is the fantastic Finch House café (TN9 1TE) which is a great hit with my kids. I’m a big fan of the excellent Mexican in the town, El Mariachi (TN9 1TN). But further afield, I love the pubs in the surrounding areas, namely The Carpenters Arms (TN11 0AD) and The Chaser in Shipbourne (TN11 9PE).
And your favourite shops?
Favourite shops in the town have to be Gorgeous George (TN9 1EL) which sells amazing gifts. Also An Enchanted Cake Or Two (TN9 1TX) on Barden Road, which makes all my cakes.
Tonbridge Lions Club
President Neal Charlesworth
“In 1949, as a result of a friendship struck during the war years between a local barber and members of the Canadian forces stationed in the Tonbridge area, the first Lions Club in the United Kingdom was formed here in Tonbridge. We soon became, and continue to be, one of the largest Lions clubs in the British Isles.
Throughout our 65 years the club has organised events in the area which have not only raised funds to be distributed among worthwhile causes in the district but have also provided focal points for the local residents.
We are probably best known locally for organising the town’s annual carnival and fête, but we are also involved in the organisation of two events which are held in high esteem nationally: our own triathlon, based at Tonbridge School, and the half marathon, organised in partnership with the Tonbridge Rotary Club.
These two events alone raise thousands of pounds which are distributed to such organisations as Kent Air Ambulance and more locally the Bridge Trust.
We are proud to be ‘ordinary people doing amazing things’. If you would like to know more about us, visit www.tonbridgelions.co.uk”
Five-bedroom detached properties are priced at around £650,000, with three-bed semis between £270,000 and £375,000 and one-bed flats starting at £150,000. Howard Cundey (01732 677074) and Bracketts (01732 350503) are two of the estate agents to specialise in this area.
Barratt Homes is completing a large new development, Blossom Bank, offering two-bedroom apartments, three, four and five-bedroom houses in a riverside setting.
EM Forster Theatre: 15 March: Children’s show Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, 19 March: Whole school concert Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite, 21 March: Family friendly programme Ballet Central. Book tickets at www.boxoffice.tonbridge-school.co.uk or phone 01732 304241.
8 March: Seedy Sunday and Marmalade Month at Tonbridge Farmers’ Market (TN9 1RG).
Looking ahead …
17 May: Tonbridge Lions Club is holding its 34th annual walk to help raise funds for local charities. Last year almost £3,000 was raised.
Choose a short walk of either approx five or 10 miles. At the finish, walkers will have their sponsor forms officially “stamped” to show that they have completed the walk and Neal Charlesworth, President of Tonbridge Lions Club (see above) will present each walker with a certificate.
● To register your interest, contact John Ruck on 01732 351711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
21 June: Tonbridge Carnival, again organised by Tonbridge Lions Club with support from Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council. Money raised at the event is distributed to local charitable causes and to Lions Club charities. To take part in the carnival procession, contact Barrie Bromley on 01732 851415 or for a stall on the Castle Lawn, contact Dominic Keast on 01732 351117. Text “LION45 £5” to 70070 to Donate £5 to Tonbridge Lions
13 September: the third Tonbridge Dragon Boat Race, organised by the Tonbridge Town Team, will once again be held on the River Medway in conjunction with the Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s Medieval Fair taking place on Castle Lawn. This year there will be some 24 stalls run by local producers along River Walk.
How to get there
Tonbridge railway station has lines to London, Ashford, Hastings and Redhill and is only 33 minutes to London Bridge. Nine miles from Sevenoaks, the town is also served by the A21 between London and Hastings, which is currently being widened, and the A26 between Maidstone and Brighton.