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MARKET TOWNS OF KENT (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Tonbridge in 1836

Tunbridge, or Tonbridge, is in the liberty of the Lowey of Tunbridge and in the lathe of Aylesford, 30 miles from London on the road to Hastings. In the time of the Conqueror a castle built on this spot on the banks of the Medway by Richard Fitz-Gilbert (otherwise Richard de Tunbridge), afterwards earl of Clare; and the town rose under the protection of the castle. In the civil troubles of the reign of Henry III the castle was besieged and taken from its owner Gilbert Rufus, earl of Clare, Gloucester, and Hertford, by Prince Edward. During the siege the garrison burnt the town.

There was also a priory at Tunbridge founded by Richard de Clare, first earl of Hertford, in the time of Henry I, for canons of St. Augustin, the revenue of which at the suppression was £169 10 shillings and 3 pence. The parish comprehends 14,730 acres, and has a population of 10,380, about one-fourth agricultural. The town consists chiefly of one street, broad, partially paved, and, from its being on a declivity, clean. There are several bridges over the Medway, which is here divided into various arms. Near the principal bridge is a wharf, where the timber brought from the Weald is sent down the Medway. The church, which is near the centre of the town, is a large and handsome fabric, in various styles of architecture. There is a free-school, founded by Sir Andrew Judd, and richly endowed: it has 16 exhibitions of £100 per annum each, tenable at any college of Oxford or Cambridge, besides thirteen other exhibitions, and a fellowship at St John's College, Oxford.

There are a town-hall and market-house. The ruins of the castle, which are near one of the bridges, consist of an entrance gateway, flanked with round towers, and tolerably perfect, and of the artificial mound on which the keep stood; the outer walls enclosed an area of six acres. The ruins of the priory consist principally of the refectory, now converted into a barn.

There is a weekly market on Friday, and a monthly cattle-market, also one yearly fair. The trade of the town is in coal and timber brought from Maidstone for the supply of the neighbourhood: gunpowder and wooden wares (which last take their name from the town) are made to a small extent. The living is a vicarage in the diocese and archdeaconry of Rochester, of the clear yearly value of £763, with a glebe-house.

There were in 1833 seven infant or dame schools, with 272 children; Judd's endowed grammar-school, with 100 boys (60 of them on the foundation); the ‘Southborough Free-school,’ with 57 children; and fourteen other boarding and day schools, with 430 or 440 children; four day and Sunday schools of the established church (two of them national schools), with 382 children, and three Sunday schools with 420 children.