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Tonbridge sets the trend


Tonbridge I’m keeping my eye on you. You’re rich (in history – that’s some castle) and well connected (direct train to London in 40mins) and you look after your younglings well (you’ve some of the best schools in the country). Where you once had a reputation, dare I say it, for being less prim and proper than some of your neighbouring towns (*gasp*) now I see you’ve swaggered to the top of the list for prime property outside London.

What’s more, rumour has it that, you’re going and getting all trendy on us – point in case is the super cool pop ups going on at The Old Fire Station. When I heard I just had to drop by and give it the once over. And let me tell you, Tonbridge, you did not disappoint.

Fire station

The iconic building, that sits right next to the castle, has not been operational since Spandau Ballet and Kajagoogoo were topping the charts in 1983. And even when local businessman Richard Collins bought it at auction his plan was to create a funky new space in which to run his insurance company rather than the venue for pop ups. It was only after a conversation with friend Sam Goodie in a pub – where many of life’s light bulb moments occur – that the two hatched a plan to turn the downstairs floors into a buzzing community space.

Bake off

And credit to them for actually turning a genius idea into reality (we’ve all had one after a few drinks, but how many of us have actually remembered it, let alone acted on it?). And praise be that they did – you can literally feel the excitement bubbling up around this building. To date trendy Tunbridge Wells Beer Café Fuggles, Bake Off’s Mat Riley and MasterChef: the Professionals finalist Adam Handling have all hosted evenings here. (Here’s Adam below – cool, calm and working his magic…)

Adam Handling

The space is constantly changing and hosting talented local artisans, chefs and tradesmen. The day I nipped in for a nosey round, local recruitment agency Ten2Two had booked the space to hold a training session – another brilliant idea – matching talented women who have kids (and therefore time/life restrictions) to flexible, part-time jobs.

Richard is full of creative buzz and showed me the outside area he’d like to turn into a courtyard in time for summer, complete with an old horse trough which he thinks would look great filled with drinks cooling on ice. Right next to the newly built brick-fired pizza oven. That’s my sunny Sunday lunch venue sorted!


As well as celeb TV chefs the venue has pulled in the big guns locally. Those seafood wizards at Sankey’s have already taken centre stage – but fear not! – they have promised to return in March and May.

Adam Handling 2_Fotor

Saville Row bespoke tailor, Hardman and Hemming, has also been scheduled for a stint in the old building. Or, put it another way, enough people have shown an interest in booking the space that by the end of January the owners already had enough pop ups to fill the rest of the year.

If you move fast (careful – don’t trip over yourself) you can snaffle the last seats for Daniel Hatton’s pop up on Valentine’s Day (Feb 14) – that’s Michelin starred chef Daniel Hatton, of Hattons in Tunbridge Wells. Did I mention he trained under Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay?  You listening, Mr MK?


And for any vegetarian or vegan foodie lovers out there The Fat Carrot is taking up residence on Fri 15 / Sat 16 April. There is literally so much going on that I can’t fit it all in here, but I’ll keep you updated on new events. There is only one disappointing thing about this building and that is – there’s no fireman’s pole! But I did suggest one could be added (on your behalf) and the idea went down rather well – so you never know…

One thing’s for sure, Tonbridge has gone and got all trendy on us. Watch out for my upcoming review, ahem, uncovering all the other best and beautiful bits of Tonbridge.

The Old Fire Station, Castle Street, Tonbridge, Kent.

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