Edenbridge has a long and distinguished history, from the Roman road crossing the river at Edenbridge, to medieval buildings, coaching inns, courtyards, traditional English gardens, and old churches, that all have a story to tell. Here’s a brief overview of the most important events and places.
Edenbridge developed at a crossing point of the River Eden, which flows eastward in a wide valley between wooded hills. There are ancient earthworks of the Cantii people on the hills, north and south, and the Romans passed through on their London to Lewes road which first crossed the river here. The route is marked in the straight line of the main road.
In Saxon times the area was oak forest and used as swine pasture. Probably the first record of Eadelmesbrege is early 12th century, as a parish within a list of churches paying fees to Rochester.
Parts of the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul are early Norman, and there is evidence of a smaller building than the present church. It was rebuilt and enlarged at the beginning of 14th century with a south aisle, tower arch and nave arcade. Notable features include the tower clock which has only the hour hand. Local Arts and Crafts connections are reflected in the large Burne-Jones stained glass window in the Martyn Chapel, and the grave of architect Baillie-Scott in the old cemetery beyond the churchyard.
Under a Charter granted by Henry III to the Lord of the Manor Robert de Camvill in 1227, a market was held in Eadenegbrigge every Saturday. The market tradition has continued through the centuries, and a cattle market operated in town until the 1920s. Market Yard car park still hosts a weekly general market.
Being located on a through-route from London to the coast, finding old High Street inns like the White Horse (now Costa Coffee) with former stableyards behind is not surprising. The 14th century Crown Inn has an unusual street-spanning sign and had links to smuggling – at its height in the early 19th century the Ransley Gang were trading contraband. Upstairs there was a concealed passage, where several casks could be hidden, with secret pipes down to the tap room which were disconnected if Excise men appeared. Taylour House opposite was the Griffin Inn in the 16th century.
The present single-arch stone bridge (dated 1836) replaced the six-arch design in stone first built in the reign of Henry VII. Records of the ancient Great Stone Bridge Trust date from 1595, with originally 12 wardens who held office for life. An inscription on the present bridge names as Bridge Wardens George Langridge and Augustus Corke. Funds built up over centuries, used for the good of the parish, and the Trust is still active benefitting Edenbridge today.
Edenbridge has been home to some powerful historic figures: one William Taylour of the Grocers’ Company was elected Sheriff of London in 1455, becoming Lord Mayor in 1468, and his house Taylour House still stands in the narrowest part of the High Street opposite Ye Old Crown Inn. He was knighted Sir William of St Mary Aldermary in 1483.
Edenbridge expanded with the building of two railway lines in Victorian times. First the Redhill-Tonbridge line opened in 1842. Then the London Brighton and South Coast Railway finally reached town in 1888, delayed by earlier riots at Mark Beech in 1866 when English navvies, worried about wages, attacked around 500 lower-paid French labourers . The tunnel-under-a-cutting, at the lines’ cross-over point west of the town, is an interesting construction feature.
One of Edenbridge’s architectural jewels is home to the Eden Valley Museum, and is one of the three oldest buildings in the town. It was probably built after the ravages of the Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt in the latter years of the 14th century, and was once the farmhouse of Doggetts Farm, home of a farmer, his family and his labourers. Major alterations were made to the hall house during the mid 16th century, and the late Georgian brick façade almost hides the medieval timber framed house. Opened in 2000, the Museum has both permanent and changing displays, including touch-screen technology.
Across the courtyard behind the museum is a former timber-framed barn which originally was part of Doggetts Farmhouse. It was converted to Edenbridge Town Council office in the 1980s.
For five hundred years Edenbridge was a tannery town and a major chapter of its history ended when the tannery closed in the 1970s, unable to compete with imported leather. The owners held deeds showing continuous title on the site back to the 1670s. The former office building, Tanyard House, remains at the southern end of the High Street, and curves from the site gateway can be seen on the ground of the Leather Market car park entrance. Opposite is the white-boarded ancient corn mill building of medieval origin, which contained a water wheel turned by the stream in the Mill Leat.
Major growth came in the 1950s and 60s with private and public housing developments, including two London County Council estates at Stangrove Park and Spitals Cross – both hailed for the town-in-country design quality of the homes. Population increase continued with more developments in each following decade, including establishing a permanent site for travellers. The relief road opened in 2004 and the High Street was upgraded in 2008. Yet, surrounded by Green Belt fields, the town keeps its rural identity.