Medway at Gun Wharf, Chatham
|Regions||South East England, West Sussex, Kent|
|Districts||Mid Sussex, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Malling, Medway|
|- left||Eden, Bourne, Wateringbury Stream, East Malling Stream, other minor streams|
|- right||Teise, Beult, Loose Stream, Len, other minor streams|
|- location||Turners Hill, West Sussex|
|- elevation||489 ft (149 m)|
|- location||Garrison Point, Sheerness, Kent|
|Length||70 mi (113 km)|
|Basin||930 sq mi (2,409 km2)|
|Discharge||for Teston |
|- average||11.08 m3/s (391 cu ft/s)|
|- max||358.6 m3/s (12,664 cu ft/s) 16 September 1968|
|- min||0.43 m3/s (15 cu ft/s) 24 August 1978|
|Official name||Medway Estuary & Marshes|
|Designated||15 December 1993|
Rivers in Kent, showing the Medway
|Wikimedia Commons: River Medway|
The River Medway is a river in South East England. It rises in the High Weald, Sussex, and flows through Tonbridge, Maidstone and the Medway conurbation in Kent before emptying into the Thames Estuary near Sheerness, a total distance of 70 miles (113 km). About 13 miles (21 km) of the river lies in Sussex, with the remainder being in Kent.
It has a catchment area of 930 square miles (2,409 km2), the second largest in southern England after the Thames. The map opposite shows only the major tributaries: a more detailed map shows the extensive network of smaller streams feeding into the main river. Those tributaries rise from points along the North Downs, the Weald and Ashdown Forest.
The major tributaries are:
- River Eden
- River Bourne, known as the River Shode and River Busty
- River Teise, major sub tributary River Bewl.
- River Beult
- Loose Stream
- River Len
Minor tributaries include:
The river and its tributaries flow through largely rural areas, Tonbridge, Maidstone and Medway being the exceptions. The Medway itself initially flows in a west-east direction south of the North Downs; at the confluence of the River Beult, however, it turns north and breaks through the North Downs at the Medway Gap, a steep and narrow valley near Rochester, before its final section to the sea.
Until 1746 the river was not navigable above Maidstone. Up to that point each village on the river had its wharf or wharves: at Halling, Snodland, New Hythe and Aylesford. Cargoes included corn, fodder, fruit, stone and timber.
In 1746 improvements to the channel meant that barges of 40 long tons (41 t) could reach East Farleigh, Yalding and even Tonbridge. In 1828, the channel was further improved up to Leigh. There are eleven locks on the river. The lowest, opened in 1792, is at Allington, and is the tidal limit. The others are at East Farleigh, Teston, Hampstead Lane, Stoneham Old Lock (disused), Sluice Weir Lock, Oak Weir Lock, East Lock, Porter's, Eldridge's and Town Lock in Tonbridge. The locks will take craft up to 80 feet (24 m) by 18 feet (5.5 m), and vessels with a draft of 4 feet (1.2 m) can navigate the river. The shallowest point is just below Sluice Weir Lock, which is prone to silting after heavy rain.
Small craft such as canoes can sometimes travel as far as Penshurst. The stretch from Leigh to Allington is known as the Medway Navigation, and is 19 miles (31 km) in length. The Environment Agency is the navigation authority.
Until recently the lowest crossing of the Medway was at Rochester, where there has been a bridge since Roman times. In the 14th century the Wardens and Commonalty of Rochester Bridge were instituted by Sir John de Cobham to pay for the rebuilding and upkeep of the bridge. Until 1963 the nearest crossing to Rochester Bridge was the 14th-century bridge at Aylesford, 12 miles (19 km) upstream. Since then the following additional crossings have come into use:
- 1963: A viaduct over the river was built south of Rochester to carry the first section of the M2 motorway. In 2003 this was widened to two separate spans.
- Between 1963 and 1996 the M20 was built, with a bridge over the Medway south of Aylesford.
- 1996: The Medway Tunnel became the river's lowest crossing, connecting Gillingham to Strood. The four-lane tunnel was constructed using the immersed tube method, and was partially paid for by Rochester Bridge Trust, the successor to the Wardens and Commonalty.
- 2003: A railway bridge 0.8 miles (1.3 km) long, with a central span of 498 feet (152 m), was constructed for High Speed 1. The railway bridge lies parallel to the M2 motorway bridges.
- 2017: A new road bridge from the A228 between Holborough and Halling across to Hall Road, Wouldham, to facilitate the development of Peters Village.
Three other major crossings are at Tonbridge, where bridges carry the A227 road and a rail link over the river; there is also a two-span viaduct which takes the A21 over the Medway Valley near Haysden.
The middle section of the Medway above Tonbridge, partly because of the various tributaries entering the river in this stretch — in particular the River Eden — has always been subject to extensive flooding. Tonbridge has suffered frequent flooding over the centuries – so much so that the higher part of the town to the north is called "Dryhill". Flood protection measures have therefore been taken. In 1981, a flood barrier was constructed downstream from Leigh to protect Tonbridge, which had been severely affected by the flooding of 1968. During periods of high flow, the flow is controlled by impounding the water and allowing up to 1 square mile (2.6 km2) of farmland upstream of the barrier to flood. However this did not prevent significant flooding in Tonbridge in winter 2013-14. However, in recent years the town of Yalding, about 12 km downstream at the confluence with the River Beult, has been more famous for flooding than Tonbridge.
The Medway Valley Walk follows the river from Rochester to Tonbridge along the bank most of the way above Allington. It starts on the Saxon Shore Way at Rochester. The North Downs Way crosses the river using the Medway Viaduct or motorway bridge. The Greensand Way crosses the river at Yalding. At West Peckham, it is joined by the Wealdway which continues through Tonbridge, thus linking with the Eden Valley Walk. Maidstone Millennium River Park is a 10 kilometres (6 mi) walk from Teston Country Park to the Museum of Kent Life at Sandling. The park, built between 1998 and 2001, has transformed 18 acres (7.3 ha) of wasteland and three new footbridges have been built over the river.
Ancient sites abound throughout the length of the River Medway. The area around Aylesford is a particularly important Stone Age site: the Medway megaliths are a group of Neolithic chamber tombs including the Coldrum Stones and Kit's Coty House. Bronze Age ornaments and beakers have been found all along the river; and burial sites and other finds come from the pre-Roman Iron Age. The Romans have left evidence of many villas in the lower Medway Valley; and burial sites of the Jutes have also been found. This is detailed by the author, Frank Jessup.
In the 18th century Samuel Ireland published an illustrated book about a journey up the River Medway, although he travels no further than the River Bewl at Bayham Abbey. The book contains a map, which shows some of the tributaries (unnamed). The illustrations of the river include the castles at Queenborough, Upnor, Leybourne, Tonbridge and Hever; Penshurst Place; and the bridges at Teston, Maidstone, Aylesford, East Farleigh, Barming, Branbridges and Tonbridge. The hop fields in the vicinity of the latter are also described; and the course of the River Len, which then supplied Maidstone with its water supply. The book states that Within about two miles of Tunbridge the Medway branches out into several small streams, five of which unite at the town ... having each its stone bridge.
The Thames and Medway Canal, linking the Medway at Strood to Gravesend, was completed in 1824, but it was not a commercial success: by 1849 the South Eastern Railway had taken over the tunnel. The western part of the canal remained in use until 1934.
The Hartlake disaster of 1853 saw the deaths of 30 hop-pickers when a wagon carrying them crashed through the side of a rotten wooden bridge at Golden Green near Hadlow, throwing its passengers into the flood-swollen river.
In 1942 the world's first test of a submarine oil pipeline was conducted on a pipeline laid across the Medway in Operation Pluto.
Culture and the river
The Medway's 'marriage' to the Thames is given extensive treatment by Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene in the 16th century (Book IV, Canto xi). Joseph Conrad describes the view up the Medway from the Thames Estuary in The Mirror of the Sea (1906).
For the 1999 film The Mummy the river was filmed at Chatham Dockyard, in an imitation of a "port at Cairo". The scene is brief but involves the main protagonists departing on their mission to the city of the dead.
Every year a festival is held in Maidstone to celebrate the River Medway. Maidstone River Festival, which has been running since 1980, is held on the last Saturday of July. It features events on and around the river and attracts thousands to Kent's county town. The festival was cancelled in 2012 due to the London Olympics, but returned in 2013. However, the 2013 event did not include a funfair or a fireworks display as in previous years, and lasted just one day instead of two.
Medway Flows Softly is a song by local man George Gilbert; it was written in the mid 1960s and is often played in local folk clubs and at festivals in Kent.
The River Medway is featured at Maidstone in the studio backdrop of the ITV1 regional news programme Meridian Tonight.
Recreationally the river is used by many. For example, individuals and many clubs have paddling trips along many different parts of the Medway (e.g. Bewl Canoe Club). Individuals and club members paddling on the Medway and most other rivers should[clarification needed] be members of British Canoeing.
The Medway, "Kentish Men" and "Men of Kent"
The Medway is said to divide the county of Kent into two parts: this may allude to the two dioceses into which Kent has been divided since the year 604: Canterbury and Rochester. The tradition has grown up, and is kept alive by the "Association of Men of Kent and Kentish Men", that those born in West Kent – the area north of the river, but including Maidstone, Gillingham (other than Rainham), Rochester and Chatham – are labelled Kentish Men (or Maids); while those born in East Kent are Men (or Maids) of Kent. This labelling applies equally to those born in those parts of the traditional county absorbed into London since the 1880s.
Man has harnessed the power of the Medway for a millennium or more. Waterwheels and turbines powered by the waters of the Medway and its tributaries have been used to mill corn, make paper, make cloth, smelt iron, pump water and generate electricity. There are over 200 sites on the Medway where such usage is known. Today, only one mill is working for a commercial trade.
The Botany stream forms another channel in Tonbridge.
The River Medway passes Tonbridge Castle and passes under Big Bridge.
The Grain Tower at low tide.
- Tributaries of the River Thames
- List of rivers in England
- Rivers of Kent
- London Stones at Upnor
- Marsh, T; Hannaford, J, eds. (2008). UK Hydrometric Register (PDF). Hydrological data UK series. Wallingford, Oxfordshire: Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. ISBN 978-0-9557672-2-7.
- Arscott, David (2011). A Little Book of Sussex. Abingdon: The History Press Ltd.
- Map of the Medway catchment area:The River Medway (and tributaries)
- Martin, Karl (2004). "Medway Industrial Archaeological Group: History of the Brook Pumping Station". Archived from the original (– Scholar search) on 8 January 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2008.
- The Medway navigation, Leaflet,March 1991, NRA-National Rivers Authority
- BBC News
- Kent History Illustrated Frank W Jessup 1966 Kent County Council
- Picturesque View on the River Medway from the Nore to the Vicinity of its Source in Sussex
- Environment Agency
- Kettle Bridge Clogs
- Bewl Canoe Club
- BCU Website
- Hadfield, Charles (1969). The Canals of South and South East England. Newton Abbot, UK: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-4693-8.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to River Medway.|
- Map of the Medway catchment area
- Detailed navigation information
- Leigh Flood Barrier page from the EA
- Flood protection measures
- Medway Valley Countryside Partnership
- Early Norman Churches In and Near the Medway Valley, Rev. Grevile M. Livett, Archaeologica Cantiana, Vol. 20, Kent Archaeological Society, 1893
- Bewl Canoe Club
- BCU Website
|Next confluence upstream||River Thames||Next confluence downstream|
|Bill Meroy Creek (north)||River Medway||–|