|The Wharf, Tonbridge|
This coming Bank Holiday weekend, a popular and well-known Tonbridge pub will be calling “last orders” for the final time. The Wharf, in Lyons Crescent has been sold to developers and will be converted into yet more riverside flats.
One of the few old original buildings left along this stretch of the River Medway, The Wharf served as a reminder of Tonbridge’s industrial past; a time when the Medway was bustling with river-borne trade, playing an important role in the growth and development of the town.
For those not familiar with the town, Tonbridge grew up at an important crossing over the River Medway; the importance of which can be gauged by the impressive 12th Century castle constructed to guard this strategic point. Back in the times when roads were poor and largely un-surfaced, movement of heavy goods was slow and tedious. Transporting these items by means of the river was the obvious alternative, but the Medway itself first needed improvement to make it suitable for river traffic. In 1740 an Act of Parliament set up the Medway Navigation Company with the aim of making the Medway navigable from Maidstone to Forest Row in Sussex (although the improvement works never progressed beyond Tonbridge), and from 1740 to 1911 the Company managed the movement of trade and goods down the river to Maidstone.
Once the river was navigable, the economy of Tonbridge improved dramatically stimulated by trade up and down the river. The main goods brought upstream were coal, lime and stone whilst downstream, the main freight was timber, hops and other farm produce from the Weald. The Medway Navigation Company’s operations had a big impact on the town, and were centred around the Medway wharf which ran for over a hundred yards downstream from Big Bridge on the south side of the river, but our interest lies in a warehouse on the opposite bank.
The arrival in 1842 of the South Eastern Railway in Tonbridge, led to a steady decline in waterborne trade, and in 1911 the Medway Navigation Company was wound up. The old warehouse buildings which fronted the river were either converted for alternative use, or were pulled down, but Lyons Warehouse, on the north bank of the Medway survived, and in 1981 the building was converted by Messrs Whitbread & Co into a Beefeater Restaurant.
|The Wharf's attractive riverside setting|
It was a fascinating old building; solidly built and extending over several floors, and was a nice place for a reasonably priced meal. A decade or so later, Whitbread converted the restaurant into one of their Hogshead Alehouses, and for the next ten years the pub offered by far and away the best range of beers in Tonbridge. Whilst some of the beers were kept downstairs in the cellar, and pulled up by hand-pump, many were dispensed from casks kept in a temperature-controlled rack behind the bar. Like other outlets in the Hogshead chain, Lyons Wharf held regular beer festivals, bringing even more variety to local drinkers.
With the approach of the new century, Whitbread slowly lost interest in the chain, and then in brewing altogether; selling off its brewing division to concentrate on running Premier Inns and Pizza Hut. The Lyons Wharf pub also lost its way, and the arrival of Wetherspoon’s in 1998, sealed the fate of the pub as a real ale venue in Tonbridge.
The Wharf, as the pub became known, struggled on in a variety of guises, hosting live bands, recorded music sessions, as well as providing meeting rooms for various local clubs and societies. In recent years it started offering a selection of reasonably-priced lunchtime meals, and also made several attempts at bringing back a limited range of cask beers. Its clientele though was mainly made up of younger people, with its late night weekend license proving a popular attraction.
|Luxury flats, spreading like a plague along the river|
Flats and luxury apartments are springing up all over Tonbridge; nowhere more so than along the river. However, without pubs, bars and cafés for people to spend their leisure time in, the town is in danger of becoming little more than a dormitory for commuters and other out of town workers.
I won’t be going along to the wake next Sunday, as not having used The Wharf in years; I would feel somewhat of a hypocrite. I am sure though that here will be many people present on the 3rd May, deeply disappointed they have lost their favourite watering hole just so one more property developer can line his pockets and our "couldn’t-care-less" local council can look forward to collecting yet more Council Tax!