Maidstone Tourist Guide
The county town of Kent - explore this fascinating historic town and discover a myriad of places to visit during your stay in Kent!
Maidstone is the county town of Kent situated halfway (30 miles) between the City of London and the English Channel. The River Medway runs through its town centre. The population in 2001 was approximately 140,000. Maidstone is in the heart of the so-called Garden of England yet 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 on surrounding business parks.
The town is ranked in the top five shopping centres in the south east of England for shopping yields and has more than one million square feet of retail floor space, including the new Fremlin Walk. The riverside Lockmeadow Centre includes an Odeon multiplex, restaurants, nightclub and market square.
Maidstone was originally a Saxon village which was recorded as large in the Domesday Book. It was the property of the Archbishop of Canterbury from the 10th century. Maidstone became a market town in the 13th century, receiving its charter in 1261. Because of its geography it was a key place for transporting fruit and vegetables by water to London. Growing rapidly to a population reaching almost 2000 into the 14th century, Maidstone was then ravaged by the Black Death of 1348-49. During the 16th and 17th centuries the town grew increasingly important when its markets and industries flourished led by the manufacture of wool. The local wool trade eventually was replaced by new industries - brewing and paper making, which boomed throughout the 19th century. This growth ensured the development of other local commerce including the manufacture of farm implements and machinery, food processing, jam-making and bottling mineral water. The first electricity was generated in Maidstone in 1901, running trams 3 years later.
It was the Romans who first made Maidstone an important site. Their road from Watling Street at Rochester to Hastings across the Weald passed through the area and two Roman villas have been discovered. The Romans were also among the first to extract stone (the sandstone known as Kentish ragstone) from the area. The quarrying of building stone around Maidstone has always been important and continues even today. Some of the sandstone is used in the glass industry.
Maidstone’s town status was confirmed in 1549 when it was incorporated. 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. 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 discovery in the 19th century of the fossilised remains of such a dinosaur locally. These remains are now displayed in the Natural History Museum in London.
In the 17th century the Wealden cloth industry reached as far north as the town. Deposits of Fuller's earth, used for degreasing the wool, were discovered in the Maidstone area and, perhaps more importantly, the river became the means of transporting the finished products.
In Maidstone there were many small breweries at the end of the 19th century, the river being useful for transport and water for the beer production. One of the biggest, the Style & Winch Brewery, was on the river bank in the centre of the town. It shut in 1965 and the building was demolished in 1976. There were five other breweries but today only a small one — Goachers — remains.
Paper mills, known locally as ‘the treacle mines’, also set up near the river. Paper was produced at places such as Turkey Mill and Hayle Mill, and what was to become the Reed group had several paper and cardboard milling plants in Maidstone. Today Aylesford (on the northwest side of Maidstone) has the largest paper recycling factory in Europe, manufacturing paper for the newspaper industry.
Until 1998 the Sharps toffee factory of (later part of Cadbury Trebor Basset), makers of liquorice allsorts, was in central Maidstone and provided a significant source of employment.
There have been two Army barracks in Maidstone. The first was built in 1797 as a reaction to the threat of Napoleon and the barracks became the home of the West Kent Regiment. The present Invicta Barracks is home to the Royal Engineers 36 Engineer Regiment, which includes two Gurkha field squadrons.
Today the river is of importance mainly to pleasure-boat owners and the significant 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.
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. Today the town is served by the M20 motorway, although it is the hub of the pre-motorway network in this part of Kent. Major roads link it to the Medway Towns, the Isle of Sheppey, Ashford and Folkestone, Hastings, Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and London.
It was not until 1874 that the railway line from London arrived; and another 10 years before Ashford was connected by rail. There are three stations: Maidstone West and Maidstone Barracks on the Medway Valley Line (whose platforms ca n be seen one from the other); and Maidstone East on the Ashford line.
The site of All Saints Church was originally that of Saxon St. Mary's but it was rebuilt in the 14th Century by Archbishop Courtenay to become what has been called 'the grandest Perpendicular church in England'. Particularly worth seeing are the medieval choir stalls and the Washington family memorial. The church stands in Mill Street.
The Hazlitt Theatre and The Exchange offer a varied and thought-provoking programme ranging from contemporary drama, ballet and opera to mainstream and alternative comedy, children's drama and the traditional Christmas pantomime.
Lockmeadow Entertainment Centre (Odeon Cinema) is situated in the centre of Maidstone by the riverside. This entertainment centre offers an 8-screen multiplex, a nightclub, bars, restaurants and gym and is home to the Maidstone Lockmeadow Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. You can find the Centre in Barker Road. Tel: 01622 764410
Maidstone Millennium River Park is positioned along the banks of the River Medway between Teston and Allington. Visitors can walk the length of the park from Teston to Allington, or take a shorter amble along a stretch of their choice. The park is unique in its rural character at both ends and its urban atmosphere as it passes through the town centre. A brand new recreational area – Whatman Park – boasts a variety of special features including treetop walks, nature trail, adventure playground, Skateboard Park and Riverstage arena for outside entertainment.
Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery is housed in the Elizabethan Chillington Manor. This remarkably fine regional museum has many fascinating collections including natural history, a costume collection, archaeology, Japanese, medieval, ceramics and much more. The new Earth Heritage Gallery, with its dinosaurs, fossils and an Egyptian Mummy, is a favourite with the children. Bentlif Art Gallery stages a varied programme of temporary exhibitions as well as 18th and 19th century European and English paintings. The Museum is in St Faith's Street .
Consisting of 450 acres of mature parkland with a 30 acre lake, Mote Park provides a wide range of recreational activities including Pitch and Putt (18 holes), children's play area and horse riding (by permit only). The area around the lake is used as a cycling path. Mote Park also hosts Kent County Cricket matches and is home to Maidstone Leisure Centre. Tel: 01622 602188.
A 15th century half-timbered Yeoman's house, Stoneacre, was built as a hall-house with a central hall that rose the full height of the building. This National Trust property, in Otham, was restored in the 1920s and is surrounded by beautiful cottage gardens and wildflower meadows.
Maidstone Carriage Museum (The Tyrwhitt Drake Collection) is situated in the 14th century stables of the Archbishops' Palace. Maidstone Carriage Museum houses a unique collection of horse-drawn vehicles including Royal and state carriages. This collection was the first of its kind in Britain and is widely regarded as the finest in Europe. As well as the most superb state carriages originally owned by Royalty and titled families, the collection also holds several more mundane vehicles such as governess carts and gigs. The Museum is in Mill Street. Tel: 01622 602838.
You can enjoy the picturesque view of Maidstone Millennium River Park on board the Allington Belle, Maidstone's newest Mississippi style river boat which offers regular return trips along the River Medway between Allington and Maidstone town centre. The Allington Belle is at Fords Marine, Allington.
Vinters Valley Nature Reserve is a 90 acre park on the eastern edge of Maidstone which is managed as a nature reserve for disappearing flora and fauna. It offers a tranquil spot for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle. The park can be accessed from Bearsted Road, near M20 junction 7.
The Maidstone River Festival is held in late July and is one of the highlights of the events calendar. The festival welcomes hundreds of boat owners and thousands of visitors to Kent's county town. The River Medway itself provides the perfect setting to unwind, relax and enjoy the Kent countryside.
The bowling alley at AMF Bowling also has pool tables, arcade games and a snack bar. How about glow in the dark bowling with party music six nights a week?! Find them at 59-71 King Street Tel: 01622 693322.
Cobtree Manor Park Golf Course is a pay and play 18 hole public golf course set in 50 acres of parkland displaying a diverse and maturing collection of trees and shrubs with access to the North Downs Way. Cobtree Manor Park Golf Course is in Chatham Road.
Set in the attractive Mote Park surrounding a large lake for sailing and fishing is Maidstone Leisure Centre. It is one of the best equipped leisure centres in the South East. Swimming facilities include a leisure pool with twin flumes and splash pool, lazy river run and a variable length swimming pool. Two halls are suitable for a range of sporting activities including badminton, volleyball, netball, basketball and aerobics.
Museum of Kent Life, Kent's award-winning open air museum, is home to an outstanding collection of historic buildings with exhibitions on life in Kent over the past 150 years.
Another shopping area to try is The Mall.
Maidstone is clearly signposted from junctions 5,6,7, and 8 off the M20 motorway. Direct town centre access is provided by the A229 from the Medway Towns, A249 from Sittingbourne and Sheerness, A20 from London, Ashford, Canterbury and Dover, A229 from Staplehurst and Hastings, and the A26 from Tonbridge and Sevenoaks
Arriva Bus Company and other local operators run regular services into the heart of town. Timetable information is available on Freephone 0800 696996. Maidstone Borough Council's Park and Ride services offer free out of town parking with frequent buses along most routes into town.
Maidstone has three railway stations which offer fast connections to London and the main rail network and the Continent. Maidstone East links the town centre with London, Tonbridge, Ashford and the Continent. Maidstone West links to Gatwick, the Medway Towns and Sittingbourne via Strood.
A.C.M Cars Tel: 01622 751516
Cavalier Taxis Lt Tel: 01622 754000
Comfort Cars Tel: 01622 679653
Express Cab Tel: 01622 661234
Intacab Tel: 01622 686868
M & A Taxis Tel: 01622 766095
National Taxi Association Tel: 01622 661551
Streamline Taxis Tel: 01622 750000
Z Cars Tel: 01622 757475
The Somerfield Hospital 63-79 London Rd Tel: Tel: 01622 208000
Maidstone Hospital Hermitage Lane Tel: 01622 729000
Maidstone Dental Surgery, 524 Loose Rd Tel: 01622 743371
St Michaels Dental Surgery, 107C Tonbridge Rd Tel: 01622 758537
Sunbury Dental Centre, 141 Tonbridge Rd Tel: 01622 753128
To check the latest details and confirm dates of opening please contact the Maidstone Town Hall Visitor Information Centre on 01622 602169 or email from link above.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015