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River Medway at Maidstone, Kent - - 187940.jpg
The River Medway in Maidstone
Grid reference: TQ765555
Location: 51°16’19"N, 0°31’44"E
Population: 138,959  (2001)
Post town: Maidstone
Postcode: ME18
Dialling code: 01622
Local Government
Council: Maidstone
Maidstone and The Weald

Maidstone is a large town in Kent, on the banks of the River Medway which 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.

Maidstone was once a town of heavy industry, now changed more to light industrial works and service industries.

Name of the town

The town appears in the tenth century as ðe mæðes stana and mægðan stane meaning maidens' stone, or possibly people's stone. If the latter meaning is preferred, it may refer to the nearby megalith, Kit's Coty, around which gatherings would take place. Another possibility is that the name derives from stones in the river on which laundry was done.

The name evolved, recorded as medestan and meddestane as reported in the Domesday Book, and in 1610 the modern name appears.[1]


A former millpond on the River Len
Lower Chrisbrook Mill mill pond and Upper Chrisbrook Mill, on the Loose Stream

The town is situated at a point where the course of the River Medway changes and is swollen by swallowing the Rivers Teise and Beult. Having has flowed in a generally west to east direction, from Maidstone it takes a northerly course and 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 joined the River Medway at Maidstone; though a short river it provided the water to drive numerous watermills. The Loose Stream, that rises at Langley and joined at Tovil powered over 30 mills. The resultant mill ponds on these rivers, are a prominent feature of the landscape.

Because of its situation and the availability of water power for the mills, Maidstone grew 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 (the A229), Tonbridge (the A26), and Tenterden (the A274). All of these roads were once toll roads owned by the Turnpike trusts in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The two railway routes are not principal ones, due to an accident of history. The two principal stations are Maidstone East which 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 villages and hamlets within its boundaries, such as Allington, Barming, Bearsted, Penenden Heath, Sandling, Tovil and Weavering Street. Apart from such natural suburbs, housing estates have sprung up about the town.

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.[2] 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.


All Saints

There are a number of churches and other religious congregational buildings within the town of varying denominations.[3]

All Saints Church in the centre of Maidstone was a collegiate church 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 Britain. It contains a monument to Sir Jacob Astley, the Royalist Civil War soldier and a memorial to George Washington's great-uncle Lawrence Washington that includes the stars and stripes]] in the family arms [4]


Archbishop's Palace

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.

Kent's shire moot sat here in the Middle Ages, and an abbey was established at Boxley, together with hospitals and a college for priests. Today's suburb of Penenden Heath became a place of execution in the Middle Ages.

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 borough received a grant of arms, bearing a golden lion and a representation of the river (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 augmented with the head of a white horse representing 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 of which are now displayed in the Natural History Museum in London.

Maidstone Museum

During the Civil War a battle took place here in 1648, which ended in victory for the Parliamentarian forces. Andrew Broughton, who was Mayor of Maidstone in 1649 was appointed Clerk to the High Court of Justice and was responsible for declaring the death sentence on King Charles I, and today a plaque in Maidstone Town Centre remembers Andrew Broughton as 'Mayor and Regicide'.

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.[5]

Modern history

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.

Army barracks

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.[6] Another pub - The White Rabbit - now occupies the former Officers' Mess of the original barracks, now a listed building.

Transport and communications

Residential developments on the river

Maidstone's wealth came from its being a transport hub, as it stil is. The historic centre of the town is largely pedestrianised or of restricted access to private vehicles.

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.

Until the coming of better roads and the railways, The River Medway had 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 mediæval 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.

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 to the south, but a station named Maidstone Road was built in an isolated spot called Paddock Wood, from where coaches were run to the 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. 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 between Farnham, Surrey and Dover, passing about five miles to the north and west.



The Exchange

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


  • Maidstone Museum & Art Gallery
  • Kent Life
  • Tyrwhitt-Drake Carriage Museum at the Archbishop's Palace, Maidstone

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Maidstone)


  1. Origin of place name
  3. List of churches in Maidstone
  4. Harris, Brian (2006) Harris's Guide to Churches and Cathedrals ISBN 9780091912512
  5. Roberts, Matt T.; Etherington, Don. "Whatman, James (1741-1798)". Bookbinding and the conservation of books; A dictionary of descriptive terminology.. U.S. Government Printing Office. ISBN O-84440-0366-O. 
  6. BBC Kent History retrieved 11 July 2007