OS Grid Reference:Template:Gbmappingsmall
Region:South East England
Ceremonial County:Kent
Traditional County:Kent
Post Office and Telephone
Dialling Code:01622

Maidstone is the county town of Kent, in southeast England, about 30 miles from London. It is also the administrative centre for the Borough of Maidstone. It stands on the River Medway at a point where the tributaries of the combined Rivers Beult and Teise enter the main stream.

Maidstone is literally a "stone of the maidens", most likely indicating a place where they were known to gather. Its Anglo-Saxon form was Mægthan stan.


History of the town

Early history

Missing image
Arms of Maidstone Borough Council

Although Stone Age finds have been made locally, it is the Romans who first gave Maidstone some importance. Their road from Watling Street at Rochester to Hastings across the Weald passed through the site, and two villas have been discovered. They were also among the first to extract stone (the sandstone known as Kentish Rag) from the area.

This part of the Medway Valley was important too, by the time of the Domesday Book. In the Middle Ages there were two hospitals here built for the care of wayfarers, especially those on pilgrimage; and a “college” of secular priests.

Town Status

Maidstone’s town status was confirmed when, in 1549, it was incorporated. It had originally been administered by governed by a portreeve, 12 brethren and 24 commoners under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, when the people of Maidstone rebelled against the crown in support of Thomas Wyatt in 1554, this charter was revoked, although a new charter was established five years later, when Maidstone was created a borough.

The town's charter was finally 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.


The quarrying of good building stone around Maidstone has always been important and continues even today. Some of the sandstone is also used in the glass industry.

In the 17th century the Wealden cloth industry reached as far north as the town; for here were deposits of Fuller’s earth used for degreasing the wool and, perhaps more importantly, the means of transporting the finished products—the river.

In Maidstone there were many little breweries at the end of the 19th century. the river being useful for transport and water for the beer production. As a result one of the biggest, the Style & Winch brewery, was situated on the river bank in the centre of the town. The brewery shut in 1965 and the building demolished in 1976. There were five other breweries; today only a very small one (Goachers) remains.

Another by-product of the riverside location were paper mills. Paper was produced at places such as Hayle Mill, and what was to become the Reed group had several paper and cardboard milling plants in Maidstone.

There was also a sweet factory (Trebor Bassett) here, another large provider of employment. The factory has shut.


The river

Improvements had been made about 1740 to the river, 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, 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. There are now two bridges, a modern one having been built in the 1980s.

Today the river is of importance only to pleasure-boat owners and the considerable number of people living on houseboats. For many years there has been an annual river festival during the last week in August, 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) south of the river to the shopping area to the north.


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.


Maidstone was not well served when railways were first being built in the 1840s. 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 hard 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 six miles 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 10 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.


When Maidstone was incorporated in 1549 it was authorised to build a grammar school, and William Lambe, a wealthy clothmaker, endowed one in 1574. Early in the 19th century a government inquiry discovered there were no fewer than 13 schools (some of very poor quality) teaching the poor of the town.

Maidstone Prison

The prison lies to the north of the town centre. It was built in 1818 to replace the bridewell and old jail in the centre of the town. The first prisoners moved in at the end of 1818. Building work had been carried out by French prisoners-of-war.

The final execution took place on Penenden Heath to the NE of the town in December 1830. A new gallows was built in front of the county prison. On 28 April 1868 the last person in Britain to be publicly hanged was Frances Kidder, a 25-year-old woman who had murdered her step-daughter; the execution took place outside Maidstone Prison.


There have been two Army barracks in Maidstone. One is now closed. The present invicta barracks is home to the Royal_Engineers 36 Engineer Regiment, which includes 2 Gurkha field squadrons.


The local football team Maidstone United FC, formed in 1897, have had a turbulent recent history. Their greatest achievement came in gaining promotion to the English Football League in 1989 after many years of success in non-league football, though in 1992 they collapsed under the weight of debt and went into liquidation. They now play in the Kent League and in November 2004 were granted planning permission to build a stadium on Whatman Way in Maidstone, after having been forced to play their home games in the grounds of a local LDS ( church since selling their London Road ground in the 1980s.

Kent County Cricket Club play a week of first class cricket at the Mote Cricket Ground in Mote Park every summer.

Maidstone today

The original site of the town, where the main streets are, is on the rising ground to the east of the River Medway. High Street and King Street run up from the river crossing at Lockmeadow; Week Street and Gabriel's Hill bisect this route. Much of the modern centre is traffic-free or has restrictions imposed.

The county council offices, to the north of the town centre, beside the prison, were built 1910-1913 of Portland stone.

Maidstone General Hospital opened on the outskirts of the town in 1983, replacing West Kent General Hospital, which had been opened 150 years earlier in Marsham Street.

Many of today’s residents use Maidstone as a base to commute to London, or are employed within the retail, administrative or service sectors within the town.


Maidstone has grown considerably since the start of the 19th century:

  • 1801 8,000
  • 1861 23,100
  • 1921 37,300
  • 1961 59,800
  • 2001 138,948 - for the whole of Maidstone District of which 68,350 are male and 70,598 are female

External links

de:Maidstone no:Maidstone sv:Maidstone


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