A town guide to Maidstone
PUBLISHED: 13:22 17 July 2017
It's not just about the great shopping. A vibrant and modern county town with a pretty riverside setting, fun family attractions and an important history, we take a look around ever-evolving Maidstone
Maidstone doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Thanks to several decades of expansion, it’s sometimes hard to spot the charm of the place, with much of its character hidden away in historic nooks. But as one of our county’s oldest and most important towns, it’s well worth taking the time to explore.
Its reputation as a hub for leisure and entertainment is well-earned. As well as great shopping and dozens of bars and restaurants, the town has an Odeon cinema, the much-loved Hazlitt Theatre, Mote Park leisure centre, the fabulous Maidstone Museum and a setting on the River Medway, along which are some lovely walks.
The town centre, much of which looked dated compared to the pristine Fremlin Walk area, has been the focus of an expensive landscaping upgrade recently.
The first two phases of the scheme saw improvements to Jubilee Square, Remembrance Square and the High Street, while the upcoming third stage will focus on Gabriel’s Hill and Week Street.
As well as new paving, benches and trees, there are plans to have the way to Maidstone Museum indicated by giant iguanodon footprints on the pavement (a cast of Maidstone’s famous dinosaur bones is one of the star pieces at the museum) and a timeline in the road recording significant dates in the town’s history.
With relatively affordable property, good schools and just under an hour from London by train, it’s also a sensible choice for young families.
The town’s suburbs and surrounding villages are particularly popular places to live, with East Farleigh, Aylesford, Bearsted, Loose, Sutton Valence and Boughton Monchelsea among the prettiest.
With nearby attractions including Cobtree Manor Park in Aylesford (once the site of Maidstone Zoo), Kent Life farm heritage centre in Sandling, boat rides on The Kentish Lady, water sports at Mote Park and magnificent Leeds Castle, Maidstone has a lot going for it.
Five historical facts
1. With a useful setting on the banks of the River Medway, there is evidence of a settlement here going back to the Stone Age. Maidstone was first recognised as a town when it received its royal charter in 1549 – a title it was to briefly lose five years later for its part in the Wyatt Rebellion – and it had become the county’s official and legal centre by the 18th century.
2. The Battle of Maidstone took place during the Civil War. In June 1648 Kentish Royalist forces raised by the Earl of Norwich met attacking parliamentarian troops in the town and fought their way along Gabriel’s Hill and Week Street, before retreating to St Faith’s Churchyard and finally surrendering. Around 380 people were killed in just one day.
3. Penenden Heath was recorded in the Domesday Book as a place for the landowners of Kent to meet for administrative purposes and would go on to be used as a gathering place for Wat Tyler’s mob during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. It was also used for public executions from the Anglo-Saxon period right through to the 19th century.
4. Paper mills, stone quarrying, brewing and the cloth industry have all flourished here. The paper maker James Whatman revolutionised the industry by inventing ‘wove paper’ at Turkey Mill in 1740, and what is now Fremlin Walk shopping centre was once the site of Fremlin’s brewery, opened in 1861 and one of the largest in Kent.
5. ‘Iggy’ the iguanodon can be seen on the town’s coat of arms. The fossilised bones of this famous dinosaur were discovered during a quarry excavation on Queen’s Road in 1834. An internationally significant find, the fossils are housed at the Natural History Museum in London but a full cast of the bones can be seen at Maidstone Museum.
Eating and shopping
When it comes to big brand shopping, Maidstone is one of the best. The superb Fremlin Walk open-air shopping centre has a flagship House of Fraser, as well as branches of Fatface, H&M, River Island, The Body Shop and HMV, to name just a few.
Across town the former Chequers shopping centre has been refurbished and is now The Mall, where you can find stores including New Look, Next and The Entertainer. Smaller independent retailers can be found mainly in the Royal Star Arcade and Market Buildings, with more shopping along Week Street, Bank Street and Gabriel’s Hill.
There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in Maidstone town centre, with the largest concentration of restaurants in the Earl Street area. Some to look out for include the highly rated independent Frederic Café Bistro, MEXIco, Bill’s, La Villetta, Mu Mu’s, The Gem of Kent and Embankments Floating Restaurant on the river.
A new addition to the town is The Bierkeller, a popular Bavarian themed bar and venue that has opened on the ground floor of the former Beluga Bar - with the new Fever & Boutique nightclub upstairs - and a branch of Gourmet Burger Kitchen was due to open within the Lockmeadow Leisure Complex at the time of writing.
In the surrounding villages some of our favourites include the superb Fish on the Green in Bearsted, The Hengist in Aylesford, and newcomers The Potting Shed in Langley and The Curious Eatery in Boughton Monchelsea.
Mote Park festivals
Maidstone’s Mote Park is home to a 30-acre lake with water sports, a café, children’s play area and a pitch and putt course, but as the town’s main green space it’s also a venue for several huge events each year. We take a look at three very different festivals that will be packing in the crowds at Mote Park this year.
Big Day Out: 1 July
A one-day pop festival aimed at families, this year’s Big Day Out will be headlined by X Factor winner Louisa Johnson. Other acts on the day will include Diversity, Atomic Kitten, Reggie N Bollie, Supreme Queen and, for smaller festival-goers, an appearance by Cbeebies star Mr Bloom. There will also be an entertainment area for children, with fairytale princesses, superhero characters, a hip hop dance school, a circus school, and much more. Changes to the festival this year mean that picnics will be allowed on site - although alcohol is not permitted - and the children’s area will be under cover. Visit www.bigdayoutfestival.com
Ramblin’ Man Fair: 28, 29 and 30 July
Later in the month, Mote Park takes on its annual role as host to one of the country’s biggest rock music festivals. Ramblin’ Man Fair is now in its third year and continues to attract rock fans from near and far. Celebrating classic and contemporary rock, progressive rock, blues and country, this year’s festival will be headlined by Saxon, Extreme and ZZ Top. Add to that some of the very best in food and drink, including its own beer festival, and overnight accommodation including luxury glamping and camping nearby, and it’s no wonder it’s got a great reputation for its hospitality as well as its music. Visit www.ramblinmanfair.com
Oktoberfest Kent: 13 and 14 October
This October something really unusual is coming to Mote Park. Based on the popular Oktoberfest, which takes place in Munich each year, this beer and folk music festival will be popping up Europe’s biggest beer tent and serving around 30,000 litres of Bavarian beer in Maidstone for the first time. Entertainment will include traditional folk music and Oompah bands so expect foot stomping, table bashing and hearty singing. Traditional German food will be on sale at the outdoor food court and for those who don’t fancy beer, the bars will be fully stocked with a selection of other drinks. Visit www.kentoktoberfest.co.uk
For all the amenities on offer and the excellent commuter links both by road and rail, property in Maidstone and its surrounding villages can be comparatively affordable. Asking prices start at £130,000 for a one-bed flat, with plenty of two-bed terraced houses on the market for between £180,000 and £300,000. A three-bed semi will be priced at between £250,000 and £470,000 and there are many larger houses, particularly in the surrounding villages, for up to £2.4m.
It’s easy to get around the county from Maidstone although traffic can be a problem at peak times. Come off the M20 at junctions 5, 6, 7 or 8, or use the A26 if you’re coming from west Kent. There are two stations with trains running to London, Ashford, Strood and Gatwick.
Sat nav: ME14 1PS.
Postcard from Maidstone
I’m Collette Lee. I run Lottie’s Loft, a small, independent boutique and home store in Maidstone. We opened in November 2014. We are based at the top of Bank Street, next door to the town hall. We’ve managed to build up a loyal customer base of lovely ladies and we stock lots of stylish clothes in sizes up to 24, as well as jewellery, handbags, scarves, candles and home accessories. We offer a personal service in a friendly atmosphere.
Maidstone has changed a lot of recent years. Overall, I think it’s a positive change but there is still a distinct lack of independent stores like ours. As an independent, we face a lot of challenges that chain stores don’t. We have to micro-manage our business and constantly stay up to date with supply and demand as well as being competitively priced against the larger stores. But we offer personal service and advice, which is lacking in the major chains.
There’s a diverse culture of people in Maidstone and a sense of freedom to shopping in the open air. The musicians and street buskers add charm to high street too. As for recommendations, there’s a fantastic Italian restaurant in Pudding Lane and a wonderful independent children’s clothing boutique called Little Stars in the Royal Star Arcade - definitely worth a visit if you children under the age of 12.