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Tonbridge Priory

The Search for the

Priory Coffin

The Priory was built around 1135 – 1186 next to one of the many streams on the South side of the town, a man called Richard de Clare the owner of Tonbridge castle laid the first foundation stone. The monks themselves would go out preaching. The Priory was no longer used after 1530 and was left to ruin. The ruins of the St Mary Magdalene stood on the land between Vale road and Priory road which is now a car park. These ruins were demolished in 1842 to make way for the railway.  A plea to the Railway Company was made to preserve the ruins but this was rejected.


The left picture above is a very rare oil painting of the Priory before 1842 showing the ruins of the Priory, and a building next to its called GATT’s Iron and Brass foundry. Men digging for stones around the early 19th century found a number of stone coffins on the site, the large stone coffins called sarcophaguses  were said to contain the skeletons of the monks who once ran the Priory.

The tale is that the heart of Richard de Clare the owner of the castle in the reign of Henry lll 1216 -1272 was said to be buried in the priory.

When these coffins were dug up a man called James Alexandra the owner of Somerhill house liked them so much he acquired one of these Stone coffins and had it put in his garden. I went with my dad on a long walk to the house to see if we could find it. On the way my dad said if it was still there we would stop of at the Lions Mouth for a drink of fresh spring water.

This was a fresh water spring hidden in the woods on the way to Somerhill House. My dad said when he was a boy it was a beautiful crisp white marble with the water coming out of the lion’s mouth. Even on the hottest days the water was always ice cold. Unfortunately over the years it had been neglected and vandals had broken the bowl and part of the face on the lions head. I think this is such a shame as it must have looked great.

I had a drink of the cold water with my dad and he said that it bought back many memories of when he and his friends were little and they use to play around in these woods and always stop here for a drink. Finally we reached Somerhill House, a large beautiful Jacobean Mansion built around 1600’s now a school.

After walking around the house we came to the gardens and there it was the stone coffin was still there with a large cross carved on the lid.

This was fun following the story of the coffin from the priory especially because it was still there and finding the lions mouth spring on the way.   

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