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Maidstone is the county town of Kent, England, 32 miles (51 km) south-east of London. The River Medway runs through the centre of the town linking Maidstone to Rochester and the Thames Estuary. Historically, the river was a source and route for much of the town’s trade. Maidstone was the centre of the agricultural county of Kent, known as the Garden of England. There is evidence of a settlement in the area dating back to beyond the Stone Age.

The town is within the borough of Maidstone. In 2001, the town had a population of 75,070.

Maidstone’s economy has changed over the years from being involved in heavy industry, to more light and service industries.

Saxon charters (c975) show the first recorded instances of the town’s name; de maeides stana and maegdan stane with the possible meaning of either stone of the maidens, or possibly stone of the people. The latter meaning may refer to the nearby megalith around which gatherings would take place. The name evolved through medestan/meddestane as reported in the Domesday Book until, in 1610, the modern name appeared. It has also been suggested that the name derives from stones set into the river to allow clothes to be rinsed in the cleaner water away from the banks of the river.

Neolithic finds have revealed the earliest occupation of the area; and the Romans have left their mark also: the road through the town and evidence of villas. The Normans set up a shire moot, and religious organisations established an abbey at Boxley, as well as hospitals and a college for priests. Today’s suburb of Penenden Heath became a place of execution in medieval times.

Maidstone’s charter as a town was first confirmed in 1549; although briefly revoked, a new charter in 1551 created the town as a borough. The town’s charter was ratified in 1619 under James I, and the coat of arms, bearing a golden lion and a representation of the river, was designed (in heraldic terms: “or, a fes wavy azure between three roundels gules, on a chief gules a leopard passant gardant or”). Recently these arms were added to by the head of a white horse (representing Invicta, the motto of the county of Kent), a golden lion and an iguanodon. The iguanodon relates to the local discovery in the 19th century of the fossilised remains of such a dinosaur: The remains are now displayed in the Natural History Museum in London.

During the Civil War a battle took place here in 1648, resulting in victory for the Parliamentarian forces. Andrew Broughton, who was Mayor of Maidstone in 1649 (and also Clerk to the High Court of Justice) was responsible for declaring the death sentence on Charles I, and today a plaque in Maidstone Town Centre memorialises Andrew as ‘Mayor and Regicide’ (a killer of kings).

Maidstone has had the right to a town gaol since 1604; the present prison lies north of the town centre and was completed in 1819. Army barracks have been a feature of the town since 1797, when the first was built. The present Invicta Barracks is home to the Royal Engineers 36 Engineer Regiment, which includes two Gurkha field squadrons.

From an economic point of view, Maidstone’s history has developed around the river, and also the surrounding countryside. Paper mills, stone quarrying, brewing and the cloth industry have all flourished here. The paper maker James Whatman and his son invented wove paper (Whatman paper) at Turkey Mill from 1740, an important development in the history of printing.

The modern town of Maidstone incorporates a number of previously outlying villages and settlements.

The county council offices, to the north of the town centre were built of Portland stone between 1910 and 1913. Maidstone General Hospital opened on the outskirts of the town in 1983, replacing West Kent General Hospital, which opened 150 years earlier in Marsham Street. The new Maidstone General Hospital is located just to the north of the former Oakwood Hospital (originally the Kent County Asylum) which closed in the mid-1990s.

Many of today’s residents are employed within the retail, administrative or service sectors within the town; there are many industrial estates around the town providing employment. Some of the workforce commutes to other towns, including to London.

The town is divided between the constituencies of Maidstone and the Weald and Faversham and Mid Kent. Maidstone is part of Kent County Council. The town is within and is the main town of Maidstone borough that includes the surrounding rural areas except to the north-west.

The town is situated at a point where the River Medway, having previously flowed in a generally west-east direction, is joined by the Rivers Teise and Beult and changes its course to a northerly one. As it does so, it cuts through the ridge formed by the greensand, so that the town occupies a site on two opposite hills; the more easterly one containing the town centre. Beyond that, and still higher, is Penenden Heath.

The River Len joins the Medway at Maidstone. Though a short river, it provided the water to drive numerous watermills. The Loose Stream, which rises at Langley and joins at Tovil once powered over 30 mills. The resultant mill ponds on these rivers are a prominent feature of the landscape.

Because of that situation, Maidstone had an industrial base, and became a nodal point for communications, both along the ridge and beside the river, and on the river itself. Roads radiate from here, connecting with Sevenoaks and Ashford (the A20); the Medway Towns and Hastings (A229); Tonbridge (A26) and Tenterden (A274). All of these roads were served by the Turnpike trusts in the 18th/19th centuries.

The two railway routes that serve the town are not principal ones, in spite of the fact that Maidstone is the county town, due to an accident of history. There are two principal stations: Maidstone East, the more northerly of the two, connects with London and Ashford whilst Maidstone West is on the Medway Valley Line.

Although the River Medway was historically responsible for the growth of the town because of its capability to carry much of the area’s goods, it is no longer a commercial stream. There is however a great deal of tourist traffic upon it.

As with most towns, Maidstone has continued to grow. In doing so it has incorporated hitherto separate settlements, villages and hamlets within its boundaries. These include Allington, Barming, Bearsted, Penenden Heath, Sandling, Tovil and Weavering Street. Housing estates include Grove Green, Harbourland, Ringlestone, Roseacre, Shepway and Vinters Park.

Maidstone was at one time a centre of industry: brewing and paper making being among the most important. Nowadays smaller industrial units encircle the town. The site of one of the breweries is now Fremlin Walk shopping centre. The pedestrianised areas of the High Street and King Street run up from the river crossing at Lockmeadow; Week Street and Gabriel’s Hill bisect this route.

As of the 2001 UK census, Maidstone town wards had a total population of 75,070.

Today Aylesford (on the northwest side of Maidstone) has the largest paper recycling factory in Europe, manufacturing newsprint for the newspaper industry.

Until 1998, the Sharps toffee factory (later part of Cadbury Trebor Basset), was in central Maidstone and provided a significant source of employment.

Loudspeaker manufacturer KEF was founded in 1961 in Maidstone on the premises of a metal working operation called Kent Engineering & Foundry (hence KEF). Today, KEF still occupies the same river-bank site. In the late 1990s KEF manufactured a loudspeaker called “the Maidstone”.

The town centre has the largest office centre in the county and the area is a base for the paper and packaging industry. Many high-technology firms have set up in surrounding business parks.

The town is ranked in the top five shopping centres in the south east of England for shopping yields and with more than one million square feet of retail floor space, in the top 50 in the UK. Much of this space is provided the two main shopping centres in the town, the 535,000 square feet (49,700 m2) The Mall Maidstone and the 32,500 square metres (350,000 sq ft) Fremlin Walk which opened in 2006.

Other recent developments include the riverside Lockmeadow Centre, which includes a multiplex cinema, restaurants, nightclubs, and the town’s market square. The leisure industry is a key contributor to the town with the night-time economy worth £75m per annum.

Army barracks have been a feature of the town since 1797, when the first was built. The present Invicta Barracks is home to the Royal Engineers 36 Engineer Regiment, which includes two Gurkha field squadrons.

On 29 September 1975 a local pub serving the barracks – The Hare and Hounds – was damaged by a bomb during the IRA campaign against the English mainland. Another pub – The White Rabbit – now occupies the former Officers’ Mess of the original barracks, now a listed building.

One of the first roads in Kent to be turnpiked was that from Rochester to Maidstone, in 1728, giving some indication of the town’s importance. The A20 runs through the town and the M20 motorway runs to the north. Originally opened in 1960 as the Maidstone Bypass, A20(M) this was the first motorway standard road to be constructed south of London. Maidstone is a hub for major roads such as the M20 motorway, the A229, A249, A20 and A26. The M2 motorway is also a short distance to the north and the A21 is not too far away. The historic centre of the town is largely pedestrianised or of restricted access to private vehicles.

The River Medway had, until the coming of better roads and the railways, long been one of the principal means of transporting goods to and from Maidstone. Improvements had been made in about 1730 to the River Medway, so that barges of 40 tons could get upriver to East Farleigh, Yalding and even Tonbridge. This meant that a good deal of trade, including corn, hops, fodder, fruit, stone and timber passed through the town, where there were several wharfs.

The medieval stone bridge was replaced in 1879 to give better clearance: it was designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette. A second bridge, St. Peter’s Bridge, was built in 1977.

Today the river is of importance mainly to pleasure-boat owners and the considerable number of people living on houseboats. For many years there has been a river festival during the last weekend in July, and a millennium project inaugurated the Medway River Walk, the Medway Park and a new footbridge linking the former cattle market (which is now a multiplex cinema and nightclub) west of the river to the shopping area to the east.

In 2004 the centenary of Maidstone Corporation Transport was marked with several events, looking back at several historic operators of transport in Maidstone, and featuring a preserved trolleybus from the former Maidstone trolleybus system.

When the railways were built in the 1840s, Maidstone was not well served. It was reported at the time that inhabitants were bitterly opposed to the railway: the mayor suggesting that “Maidstone will be ruined as a commercial town”. It was said that wharfingers and corn and coal merchants would be hardest hit.

In the event, in 1842, the South Eastern Railway, in its haste to reach the Channel ports of Folkestone and Dover, put its main line through Tonbridge and Ashford, some 6 miles (9.7 km) to the south. A station named Maidstone Road was built in an isolated spot called Paddock Wood, from where coaches were run to the county town.

Two years later a branch line was built to Maidstone. In 1846 another branch line (the Medway Valley Line) connected Strood with the town. It was not until 1874 that the line from London arrived; and another ten years before Ashford was connected by rail. There are three stations: Maidstone West and Maidstone Barracks on the Medway Valley Line (whose platforms are visible one from the other); and Maidstone East on the Ashford line.

In 1905, a railway was authorised under the 1896 Light Railways Act to link Maidstone with Sutton Valence and Headcorn, linking with the Kent & East Sussex Railway. The only part of the Headcorn & Maidstone Junction Light Railway ever built was a short branch serving the paper mills at Tovil.

Two long-distance footpaths are easily accessible from Maidstone. The Medway Valley Walk between Tonbridge and Gillingham passes through the town, following the banks of the river. The North Downs Way, which incorporates the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury, runs for 153 miles (246 km) between Farnham, Surrey and Dover, passing about five miles (8 km) to the north and west.

There are a number of churches and other religious congregational buildings within the town of varying denominations.

All Saints’ Church in the centre of Maidstone was the collegiate church of the College of All Saints built in 1395 next to the Archbishop’s Palace. It is a landmark building within the town and is notable for being one of the largest and widest Parish Churches in England. It contains a monument to Sir Jacob Astley, the Royalist Civil War soldier and a memorial to Lawrence Washington, great-uncle of George Washington’s great-great-grandfather that includes the stars and stripes in the family coat of arms  The college, the church, the palace and the palace’s tithe barn are all Grade I listed buildings.

Maidstone is twinned with Beauvais in Picardy, France.

Theatres in Maidstone include: The Hazlitt Theatre; RiverStage; The Exchange Studio (previously known as ‘‘The Corn Exchange’’); and the Hermitage Millennium Amphitheatre.

Maidstone is mentioned several times in Ian Flemming’s 1955 James Bond novel, Moonraker. Specifically the villain Hugo Drax passes through King Street and Gabriels Hill and later stops at the Thomas Wyatt Hotel.

Local museums include:

  • Maidstone Museum & Art Gallery
  • Kent Life
  • Tyrwhitt-Drake Museum of Carriages
  • Stepping Stone Studios Art Gallery

Following the NASA tradition of naming craters on Mars after small towns, the Maidstone crater was added to the list of Martian geographical features in 1976.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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