A weekend in Maidstone
PUBLISHED: 16:47 27 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:22 20 February 2013
With oodles of history, a scenic river park, great shopping, a cool theatre and a plethora of places to eat out, Maidstone has plenty to offer the weekend visitor in search of a winter break
Recently voted the second-most attractive place in the country, this thriving county town of Kent has a larger shopping centre than Bluewater, beautiful riverside scenery, plenty of open spaces and its close to beautiful Leeds Castle.
Youll find plenty of history here: Bank Street has a medieval street layout and Elizabethan shops, All Saints Church was built in 1348, there are timber-framed buildings in Lower Stone Street, and in Gabriels Hill youll find the oldest shoe shop in England.
New Maidstone is chic and thrilling, encompassing shopping centres at Fremlin Walk (on the riverside site of the Victorian brewery), the Chequers Shopping Centre, and the upmarket outfitters in Royal Star Arcade, plus plenty of individual independents in the High Street and surrounds.
Scenic Maidstone includes Maidstone Millennium River Park, a six-mile stretch alongside the Medway, where you can take a trip on a riverboat in the summertime. Other open spaces are Mote Park and Brenchley Gardens, in the grounds of former Chillington Manor (now a museum).
Past and present
Maidstone has played host to a number of doomed armed uprisings: Wat Tyler led the ill-fated Peasants Revolt from the town in 1381; and in 1554, Sir Thomas Wyatt raised an ultimately unsuccessful rebellion in the Lower High Street. Gabriels Hill was the site of the climax of the Civil War Battle of Maidstone, when Parliamentary forces defeated the towns Royalists.
Maidstone was home to Lawrence Washington, an ancestor of George Washington; the stars and stripes on the American flag are borrowed from the Washington familys crest of arms.
Maddestane grew up at the junction of the rivers Len and Medway, and Jutes conquered the Britons in a battle at nearby Aylesford. By the 13th century, Maidstone was a thriving market town, local industries being wool dying, Kentish ragstone quarrying, stonemasonry and tanning.
The Black Death of 1348-9 decimated the population, yet at around this time All Saints Church was erected, as was the Archbishops Palace. During the 1500s wool manufacture prospered, but a century later had fallen into decline; thread-making and brewing filled the vacuum, and later on paper-making became a growth industry.
The oldest, central, part of town is bordered at the top by Fremlin Walk, Chequers to the east, while to the west, the River Medway forms a natural boundary. The Visitor Information Centre (01622 602169) is in the Town Hall, a beautiful Georgian building in Bank Street, where youll also find ancient buildings, an elaborate monument to Queen Victoria and four white statues set into niches above the post office.
Archbishops Palace (now used as the Kent Register Office for civil marriages and public records) is in a lovely spot, bordering the river, next to ancient All Saints Church. Beside here is the Maidstone Millennium River Park, from where you can cross the Lockmeadow Millennium Bridge to reach Lockmeadow Leisure Complex and Market.