Maidstone: A town guide
- Credit: Archant
It’s our county town and with a lovely riverside location, historic buildings and great shopping, it’s certainly one to be proud of
Maidstone has long been one of our busiest, most popular towns. Set on the banks of the River Medway, it is Kent’s administrative centre and home to our combined crown and county courts, as well as the county council’s headquarters. With great transport links, an ever-improving infrastructure and the Garden of Kent on its doorstep, it’s got an awful lot going for it.
Like many of our bigger towns, Maidstone has been transformed over recent years and continues to grow and change. The open-air shopping centre Fremlin Walk is a superb addition to the town, drawing shoppers from across Kent, and the High Street has been given a fresh new look. But Fremlin Walk isn’t the only shopping centre in Maidstone. The Mall (formerly the Chequers Centre) is due to complete its £5m refurbishment this summer.
The work has included remodelling the entrances on King Street and Gabriel’s Hill, as well as new flooring throughout, a new lighting system and updated facilities. Forty years old this year, it’s hoped the work will bring The Mall right up to date and provide the town with a fresh, modern indoor shopping centre.
One of the stores set to open inside the centre is TJ Hughes. The discount store returns after closing its original shop there in 2011 and has signed a 10-year lease. Gareth Holland, retail asset manager for The Mall’s owners, Capital & Regional, says the arrival of TJ Hughes is a huge boost for the town centre and “underlines that by creating a modern shopping environment we can attract high-calibre retailers.”
Further out of town, Maidstone is surrounded by some lovely villages. Take the time to explore gems like Aylesford, East Farleigh, Staplehurst, Bearsted, Headcorn, Wateringbury and East Malling. And if it’s peaceful green spaces you’re looking for, try Maidstone’s glorious Mote Park or nearby Teston Bridge Country Park.
Shopping and eating
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Popular places to eat include Frederic Café Bistro (01622 297414), Fish on the Green in Bearsted (01622 738300), The Hengist, Aylesford (01622 885800), vegan Fortify Café (01622 670533). A new arrival is Creams Café (01622 672444), King Street, an American-style dessert diner.
When it comes to shopping there is everything in Maidstone. Fremlin Walk is home to dozens of stores, including the main ‘anchor’ House of Fraser department store, while great little independent shops and cafés can be found at the Market Buildings and the Royal Star Arcade.
5 buildings to look out for
There’s much more to this place than good shopping. Have a proper look around and you’ll see important and historical buildings at every turn. Here are five to keep an eye out for.
1 The Archbishop’s Palace, Mill Street
Set on the east river bank, parts of this building date from the14th century. It was created as a home from home for travelling archbishops from Canterbury and had to match the fine surrounding they were used to. Having been used as a Territorial Army medical school in the early part of the 20th century, it is now run by Kent County Council as a register office. The palace is Grade I listed, with its dungeon Grade II* listed and its gatehouse listed Grade II.
2 Maidstone Museum, St Faiths Street
The main part of the museum is an Elizabethan building, once called Chillington Manor. Built in 1557, it had a huge extra wing added in the early 18th century. The manor was last home to Thomas Charles, a doctor and antiquarian who left his collections to the local council in 1855.
The council opened the manor as a public museum and an art gallery was added in 1889. The museum is Grade II* listed and a contemporary new wing, which houses a visitor’s centre, new galleries and the main entrance, opened in 2010.
3 All Saints Church, Mill Street
This Grade I listed church was founded in 1395 as part of the College of All Saints, a larger listed site alongside it. For many years the ecclesiastical college and its church were linked but when the college was closed 1546 following the Reformation, the two were separated and it became the parish church for the whole of Maidstone.
It sits within a small churchyard and the ragstone building has been described as the grandest ‘perpendicular style’ church in Kent, if not in all of England.
4 Corpus Christi Hall, Earl Street
This little-known building is an L-shaped Grade II* listed refectory, and is all that remains of a site which once also housed the hall, chapel and cloisters of the Guild of Corpus Christi. It was founded in around 1422 but the building is thought to be even older. It was given to the town as a grammar school in 1549 and remained as such until 1871. Scheduled as an Ancient Monument, it has been sympathetically restored and is now a venue for private parties and events. It will be open to visitors during the 2016 Heritage Open Days.
5 Drakes pub, Fairmeadow
Drakes pub, formerly The Lamb, is dated 1636 and was built close to an infamous site linked to the town’s dark past. Having different religious opinions was dangerous in the 16th and 17th centuries and the town saw more than its fair share of executions.
If you look at Drakes, which has recently been refurbished after it was flooded in 2013, you’ll see a plaque which reads: ‘In 1557 near this spot seven persons were burnt for their faith’. Among them were Protestants William Allin and his wife Katherine, executed under heresy laws.
Ramblin’ Man Fair 2016
Last year saw the inaugural Ramblin’ Man Fair in Maidstone’s Mote Park. The rock music festival, which attracted almost 20,000 fans, was largely considered a success but its future became uncertain when its organisers went into liquidation in October.
However, new company Spirit of Rock, led by the former MD of Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazines Chris Ingham, has stepped in to save the unique event.
Chris says: “Ramblin’ Man 2016 is my first venture with the Spirit of Rock. I actually attended the 2015 concert in Mote Park and I was hugely impressed, not only by the diversity of the artists but also the great atmosphere and the sheer potential of the brand.
“It’s time to create a music festival that appeals as much to the foodie as it does the rock music fan in us all. Let’s have Classic Rock, Southern Rock, Prog, Blues and Country music stages alongside great outdoor barbecue food, fine bourbon whiskies and barrels of real ale in the heart of Maidstone’s beautiful Mote Park.”
This year’s festival, which Kentish brewer Shepherd Neame has recently announced its partnership in, is due to take place on 23 and 24 July. The main stage will star bands including Whitesnake, Thunder, Europe and Thin Lizzy. The Prog in the Park stage will feature Hawkwind, Procol Harum and Uriah Heep, among many others, with other stages focusing on Blues and Country music.
Meet the Trader
Philippa Hoad, Little Mouse Books
Tell us about you and what you do
My name is Philippa Hoad and I am the owner of the independent bookshop Little Mouse Books. I am a single parent to two young adults who both have autism and other disabilities. I was born in Maidstone, and have family links to the area dating back to the early 1800s. I am also interested in local history and genealogy, and am passionate about improving the lives of children and adults with disabilities.
What does your shop sell?
Little Mouse Books sells a large selection of children’s books and a small range of books for grown-ups, including local history books. We have a great selection of adult colouring books and other gifts such as soft toys, gifts in a tin and bookmarks. We also sell original watercolours by local artist Lauren Miller, of Lauren Marie Studio.
Why did you want to open a bookshop?
I have always wanted to run a shop since childhood but the idea of a bookshop came from spending many hours in bookshops with my daughter, Alice. Alice has autism, and she loves books. For her, they have provided comfort and have given her a form of communication, as she cannot express verbally.
After visiting a delightful children’s bookshop in Sittingbourne (now sadly closed) I decided to open Little Mouse Books. The shop opened in November 2013 and we have welcomed lots of families through the door, many now returning customers.
Is it hard as an independent bookseller?
Life is difficult as an independent bookseller as it is difficult to compete with the large internet retailers and supermarkets, who are often able to sell at a price lower than the actual cost to small book shops. As a small shop, we have a limited stock but can always order books for customers, and we are also a pick-up point for Hive.co.uk. We are also fortunate to have some very loyal customers, who prefer to shop local.
Tell us about your location
The original Corn Exchange was built in 1835 and is now a shopping arcade and the Exchange Studio (an events space which is part of the Hazlitt Theatre). My shop, Baillando (a children’s dancewear shop) and D’lishious (an ice cream café) are tucked behind the main row of shops, under the Exchange Studio.
Most of the shops and cafés in the Market Buildings area are independent businesses and it is a pleasant pedestrian area, away from the mainstream shops. As independent traders, we like to support each other and I think we are a friendly bunch.
Little Mouse Books is at Unit 11B, The Corn Exchange, Market Buildings, www.littlemousebooks.co.uk
Maidstone’s property market is buoyant and affordable, with sold prices over the last year up nine per cent. Making up much of the town’s property stock, two-bedroom terraced houses are currently on the market for between £170,000 and £250,000. Three-bed semis are on for between £240,000 and £450,000, with larger five-bed detached houses between £490,000 and £1.5million. You can pick up a one-bedroom flat here for as little as £100,000.
Centrally placed in Kent, there’s easy access to Maidstone from the M20 at junctions 5, 6, 7 and 8, or if you’re travelling from West Kent, it’s the A26 through Hadlow, which can get busy at peak times. There are two train stations with connections to London, Ashford, Strood and Gatwick.
Sat nav for the town centre: ME14 1PS