Tonbridge was an early motte and bailey castle probably built by Richard Clare (d.1090) soon after the Norman conquest to help secure Kent, although the Victorian tale that it was built to imitate the lost Clare stronghold of Brionne in Normandy should be taken with a stiff pinch of salt.  In 1088 the castle was held against William Rufus and surrendered after a brief siege before the king moved on to Pevensey.  In 1163 the archbishop of Canterbury claimed the castle, but Earl Roger Clare (d.1173) made his messenger eat the demand, seal and all.  In December 1215 the castle was taken by royal forces after the fall of Rochester.  Hubert Burgh and the archbishop of Canterbury fought over the overlordship of the castle, which ended in the archbishop's favour in 1231 when Earl Richard Clare (d.1262) did homage to him for the castle.  In 1253 Earl Richard was given licence to crenellate Tonbridge castle.  This possibly marks the completion of the gatehouse.  Despite this, the castle fell to the king in 1264 when Earl Gilbert Clare rebelled (d.1295).  In 1274 Earl Gilbert entertained Edward I in the castle before his coronation.  As late as 1521 the gatehouse was reported to be ‘as strong a fortress as few be in England'.  The fortress was demolished in 1647-48 and used as a quarry in the eighteenth century, the shell keep being pulled down in 1782.  Finally, the castle was refortified in the second world war with anti tank pill boxes being built at each end of the south curtain wall.

The castle was defended by a moat which is now dry, but once connected with the River Medway to the south.  There were originally 2 baileys, one to the NW and one to the east, with the motte set between the two.  The NW bailey had now gone, but the motte and east bailey survive, probably because both of these were refortified in stone.  Excavation has shown that the motte was original enclosed by its own moat, but this was filled in to the east in the twelfth century to allow more room and an easier access from the east bailey.

The motte is 65' high and is surmounted by an irregular shell keep some 70-75' in diameter.  Interestingly a coin of Emperor Constantine (d.337), minted at Treves was said to have been found on the motte in the Victorian era.  Although this doesn't mean that the motte is Roman it should be noted that the ‘Norman' motte at Aberdeen was found on excavation to be a second century Roman watch tower cum fort.  Tonbridge motte summit was partially excavated in 1912, which revealed the foundations of various buildings within the structure, some of which have been rebuilt for a few feet.  Shell keeps, self contained open air wards rather than sealed towers, are not that common in the UK, the best examples being Arundel, Berkeley, Carisbrooke, Clare, Farnham, Kilpeck, Launceston, Lewes, Lincoln, Pickering, Restormel, Tamworth, Totnes, Trematon, Warwick and Windsor
In Wales there are Brecon, Cardiff, Powis, Tretower, and Wiston.  While France has examples at Chateau Sur Epte , Chateau Renault and Gisors.  There is also Dungarvan in Ireland and the mottless gloriette at Leeds castle in Kent.  Towards the south side is a well within the keep, though this has mostly been filled with rubble.  From the keep a curtain wall ran down to a twin towered gatehouse at the foot of the motte.  This is tolerably well preserved and shows that the approach up the motte was within this wall in the thirteenth century and was approached via the gatehouse at first floor level.  This is somewhat similar to the twelfth century arrangement at Arundel castle.

The gatehouse at Tonbridge is twin towered, with powerful spur buttresses and stair turrets to the rear flanks.  This makes it similar to other thirteenth century gatehouses found in Wales, like
Aberystwyth, Caerphilly east gatehouse, Harlech, Llangynwyd and Llanstephan.  Llangibby and Beaumaris in Wales are elongated versions of this style.  Similar structures do not appear to exist elsewhere in England, Ireland, Scotland or France, where the rear stair turrets are all missing.  The Tonbridge gatehouse has a blind basement, a ground floor and 2 upper levels.  Entrance to the towers was gained centrally in the gate passageway, while the entrance to the keep via the curtain wall passageway was on the first floor, but the entrance to the wallwalk to the east was on the second floor, which also contained a hall stretching the entire length of the structure.  All four of these minor doors were protected by their own portcullises, showing the extreme defensive nature of this structure. 

Tonbridge gatehouse is similar to the east, but not the west gatehouse or the outer ones at Caerphilly, but dissimilar to Harlech which remains divided into four chambers, the upper ‘hall' undoubtedly being for the constable's use.  The Tonbridge crossbow loops are typical thirteenth century with ball oillets.  Unlike most gatehouses, Tonbridge had its own well in the basement, which although eighteenth century may mark the site of a predecessor.  It has also been recently refloored to give it something of its original feel.

The bailey was defended by a curtain wall, now with no traces of any flanking other than the gatehouse.  However the 1521 survey shows that the rectangular Stafford's tower stood under the current Georgian house built beside the great gatehouse, the octagonal water tower stood at the SE apex of the site against the Medway and moat.  There was also a SW tower that stood at the foot of the motte overlooking where the motte moat left the Medway.  Portions of this and the curtain up 25' high can still be seen along the Medway and ascending the motte, half way along which was a postern.  Internal to this river wall the duke of Stafford was building a suite of lodgings before his execution.  This was probably the site of the castle's great hall and associated buildings.  The town wall was built in 1295.


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