Building bridges across and along the Medway

The close links between Tonbridge and one of the country’s oldest charities were celebrated when an exhibition about the history of bridges over the River Medway was officially opened.

Bridge Works – Crossing the River Medway tells the 600-year story of the Rochester Bridge Trust, and the 1,400 years of bridge history before that, and it is now open at Tonbridge Castle.

The story includes Roman soldiers, medieval stonemasons, Victorian engineering and much more, including the Trust paying half the cost of rebuilding the town’s Great Bridge in 1887 and its ongoing support for local heritage and educational projects.

To celebrate the opening of Bridge Works, the Rochester Bridge Trust is offering half-price entry to Tonbridge Castle, simply visit www.rbt.org.uk/BridgeWorks to download a voucher (no registration required).

Housed on the ground floor of the castle’s gatehouse, the exhibition includes life-size models, tactile displays and information panels to appeal to all ages and levels of knowledge. There is also a dedicated children’s activity area.

As part of a wider educational initiative aimed at stimulating children to take an interest in engineering, free pre-booked school tours are also being offered.

The formal opening was carried out by Russell Cooper, the Senior Warden of the Rochester Bridge Trust.

Welcoming representatives from the town, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council and Kent County Council, he said: “As the town’s name suggests, bridges have been an integral part of the history of Tonbridge since at least the 11th century, when it was listed in the Domesbook as Tonebridge.

“The castle we are in today – once one of the most powerful in England – was built to defend a key crossing of the River Medway and demonstrates the important role bridges play in society.

“As a charity that is focused on providing crossings over the Medway, at no cost to the public, I am delighted to open this exhibition and celebrate the close ties that bind Tonbridge and the Rochester Bridge Trust.”

School visits – which last around two hours and are targeted at Key Stage 2 – include hands-on bridge building activities and a performance from ‘The Spirit of the Bridge’ by Play on Words Theatre.

Claire Saunders, Education Officer at the Trust, explained: “We are keen to inspire as many young people as possible to take an interest in civil engineering, and the best way to do so is to catch their attention at an early age – before stereotyping sets in.

“These free tours and workshops show children – and their teachers – the civil engineering on their doorstep, introducing the fascinating 2,000-year story of bridges over the Medway and helping youngsters to understand how bridges are created.”

All activities are free but must be booked, with groups of around 30 children (and additional accompanying staff) welcome. To register your interest and find out more email education@rbt.org.uk.

You can find out more about the exhibition at www.rbt.org.uk/bridgeworks.