1739 OUR RIVERS.
One of the main features of interest and pleasure that has always attracted visitors to the village are its rivers, along which many hours have been spent boating, fishing or just walking.
The largest river flowing through the parish is in fact the main river of Kent, the Medway, which rises at Turner’s Hill near East Grinstead and collects several tributaries on its journey through Tonbridge and Brandbridges at East Peckham, before reaching Yalding. The ancient Britains called this water source Meduana, the Romans shortened it to Madus, and the Saxons modified this to Medwaege, signifying Mead-Wave, which became the Medway we know now.
Flowing under Town Bridge is the river Beult which rises near Woodchurch, south of Ashford. It flows under the fifteenth century Hurstfield Bridge north of Staplehurst, via Stile Bridge near Marden and then Hunton Clappers just before entering Yalding where part of it flows under the old Cheveney flour mill. It has collected several tributaries on route, the main one being the Twist, on the parish boundary, midway between Hunton Clappers and Two Bridges, by the Cheveney mill.
The third river is the Tiese which rises in Waterdown Forest south of Tunbridge Wells, flowing east through Lamberhurst and then north between Horsemonden and Goudhurst, where it flows under Bradford Bridge. Below this bridge the stream divides, but flows together for one and half miles, 2.4 kilometres, before the two separate, sending the eastern branch northwards through orchards west of Marden, to join the river Beult as the Twist. The western leg enters the parish near Claygate passing under Gaffords Bridge, then onto Darmon Bridge, and Laddingford or Woodfalls Bridge, to reach the Medway at Twyford.
Together these three rivers amount to a watershed of over two hundred square miles flowing through our narrow valley outlet and through Maidstone to the Thames estuary. In times of persistent rain this amount of water drainage has frequently resulted in our familiar floods.
A 1908 Ordnance Survey map would show how the Medway meandered on its route from Twyford to Hampstead. Between the two World Wars the river was straightened out in an attempt to ease the flooding problems. The current map indicates what was accomplished and shows the remnants of the wooded islands that were initially produced by the new channel. This direct path downstream from Twyford cut off the loop to Hampstead, so part of that stretch was filled in, and has only in recent years been partially opened up to produce Hampstead Marina.
Suggestions had been made earlier, but it was not until an Act of 1739 that the Medway Navigation became a reality. Locks and wharves were soon built to take barges of up to 40 tons, and the Navigation Company built up a successful monopoly, transporting timber and iron downstream to Chatham dockyard and beyond, with mainly coal as the return cargo.
By 1802 the company was buying timber by the shipload from Norway, and soon general merchandise was being plied between Tonbridge and Maidstone on a regular basis. The state of river the began to deteriorate, and the company allowed no competition, charging the highest permissible tolls, but changes were soon to come. On the horizon appeared the South Eastern Railway company, and from then on a fight for survival began.
The Navigation Company initially tried to work with the railway, but this co-operation was short lived, and by 1898 the coal traffic by barge was finally ended. After an unsuccessful attempt in 1903 to raise money to improve the river failed, the company was wound up in 1911.