| 25.45 km²|
| Leeds Castle, Kent Life, Maidstone Museum & Art Gallery, Mote Park, Stoneacre - Kent|
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 it with Rochester and the Thames Estuary. Historically, the river was a source and route for much of the towns trade as 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 in the borough of Maidstone. In 2011, the town had a population of 113,137, about 73 per cent of the population of the borough.
Maidstones economy has changed over the years from being involved in heavy industry, to more light industry and service industries.
Neolithic finds have revealed the earliest occupation of the area, and the Romans have left their mark in the road through the town and evidence of villas. The Normans set up a shire moot, and religious organisations established an abbey at Boxley, hospitals and a college for priests. Today’s suburb of Penenden Heath was a place of execution in medieval times.
Maidstones charter as a town was granted in 1549; although briefly revoked, a new charter in 1551 created the town as a borough. The charter was ratified in 1619 under James I, and the coat of arms was designed, bearing a golden lion and a representation of the river (in heraldic terms: "or, a fess wavy azure between three roundels gules, on a chief gules a leopard passant gardant or"). Recently to these arms were added 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 that dinosaur, now in the Natural History Museum in London.
During the English Civil War, the Battle of Maidstone took place in 1648, resulting in a victory for the Parliamentarians. 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 Broughton as Mayor and Regicide.
Maidstone has had the right to a town gaol since 1604; Maidstone Prison is north of the town centre and was completed in 1819. Army barracks have been in the town since 1797. The White Rabbit pub occupies the former Officers’ Mess of the old barracks, now a listed building. Invicta Park Barracks is now home to the 36 Engineer Regiment, which includes two Gurkha field squadrons.
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 town is six miles downstream from where the River Medway, having flowed in a generally west-east direction, is joined by the Rivers Teise and Beult at Yalding and changes its course to a northerly one. It cuts through the ridge formed by the greensand, so that the town occupies a site on two opposite hills, the easterly one containing the town centre. Beyond that, and 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. 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 connecting to Sevenoaks and Ashford (the A20); the Medway Towns and Hastings (A229); Tonbridge (A26) and Tenterden (A274). All these roads were served by the Turnpike trusts in the 18th/19th centuries.
The two railway routes are not principal ones, in spite of Maidstone being the county town, due to an accident of history. There are two principal stations: Maidstone East, the more northerly of the two, on the secondary line from London to Ashford, and Maidstone West 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 areas goods, it is no longer a commercial stream. There is however a great deal of tourist traffic upon it.
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.
Until 1998, the Sharps toffee factory (later part of Cadbury Trebor Basset), was in central Maidstone and provided a significant source of employment.
Maidstone is twinned with Beauvais in Picardy, France.
A Twinning Association Committee meets every month. It organises annual trips to the Jeanne Hachette Festival in Beauvais. An annual sporting weekend is also held, with Maidstone and Beauvais taking it in turns to host the event.
Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery
Maidstone Museum & Art Gallery is located in the town centre, near to the Fremlin Walk shopping centre. Operated by Maidstone Borough Council, the museum is open seven days a week, with free admission. The museum and art gallery has a large collection of over 600,000 objects, including collections about ancient Egyptians; archaeology; costume; ethnography; biology; fine and decorative art; geology; Japanese decorative arts and prints; and local history. It also hosts temporary exhibitions.
The core of the museum is located within the former Chillington Manor, an Elizabethan manor house completed in 1577. New wings were added to the building in the 19th century. A striking gold-coloured extension was added in 2012 which has extended the display space by 40% but the modern design has divided opinion.
Kent Life, formerly the Museum of Kent Life, is an open air rural life museum at Sandling, near Allington Locks, on the east bank of the River Medway. The museum includes a collection of historic buildings including a chapel, village hall and old houses. It also includes displays on agriculture, including a farm yard and farm animals.
Tyrwhitt-Drake Museum of Carriages