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Discover the medieval chimney at Tonbridge Castle

KENT has many fascinating manor houses and castles to wet the appetite of residents and visitors alike to the garden of England.

Tunbridge Castle is such an impressive building, majestically dominating the friendly town of Tonbridge. And in the castle itself, with all its interesting history and artefacts, there is a structure which is surely the masterpiece for any visitor – the medieval chimney.

Surrounded by intricately decorated columns, uppermost on the wall, the chimney is a superb example of craftsmanship situated in the great hall, located on the second floor of the castle. The roof itself is also worth a climb, simply for the beautiful views of the castle area below such as the motte from the Norman era.

So, to ask an obvious question: what purpose did the splendid chimney serve in ye olden times at Tunbridge Castle?

Castles faced a challenge as to how to dispel smoke from fireplaces and it was an important point because the hearth was the centrepiece for any Lord, Lady and family. Smoke would escape visa gaps in the walls but this wasn’t ideal; and louvres were constructed in the roof, which could be controlled with a rope.

Smoke chambers were also created with partitions made by the hearth to trap the smoke. This took up space in the hall which, again, wasn’t ideal. Then – brilliant idea – the thought came to fashion a funnel from the wall to the exterior. In effect, a flue, a rudimentary chimney. Edward King in 1782 noted that the flue in Tunbridge Castle began in the upper state room before it went up and then sloped to the rear within the depths of the wall itself and then exited.

Tunbridge Castle has a long history stretching back to its origins just after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when Richard Fitzgilbert, supporter of William the Conqueror, was given land in Kent and constructed the forerunner of the present castle: a Motte and Bailey castle.

Yet if you do visit the castle today, please do take time to marvel at the chimney, which was created in Medieval times. It serves as a beautiful reminder of the importance Kentish folk have attached to indoor fires for hundreds of years. A passion that still exists today for householders from Tonbridge right through to Maidstone, then Sevenoaks and further beyond; whether they live in manor or humble dwelling. James the Sweep can verify to the fact this passion exists. People in Kent love their fireplaces and love their chimneys.