Spotlight on Maidstone
PUBLISHED: 13:57 21 January 2014 | UPDATED: 14:13 21 January 2014
With fabulous riverside scenery, top-notch shopping and a backdrop of living, breathing history, Maidstone is a great base for a weekend break
Originally a Saxon village, by the 1200s it was a thriving market town, and the 16th and 17th centuries saw an expanding Maidstone with a variety of industries, including the manufacture of wool, thread making, brewing and paper making.
Today tourism is the major money maker, hence the massive rebuilding and regeneration drive that’s seen a fabulous museum makeover, creation of the new Kent Library and History Centre and massive regeneration of the High Street.
Maidstone is a fairly compact town, with the river Medway, bordered by the Millennium River park, running along the western edge and a wide central High Street that turns into King Street, with famous Bank Street running parallel to this. Other principle town centre roads are Week Street, Gabriel’s Hill, and Earl Street, while to the north of town is the excellent pedestrianised Fremlin Walk shopping centre. Behind this is the Maidstone Museum and Bentliff Art Gallery and Brenchley Gardens.
Other parks are: Maidstone Millennium River Park, Mote Park, Whatman Park and White Horse Wood Country Park. Notable buildings include All Saints Church, and the ancient structures in Bank Street, plus the Archbishop’s Palace on the riverside.
Historic Mote Park was awarded funding for its regeneration by The Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund under the ‘Parks for People’ scheme, local ragstone company Gallagher carried out the work and the splendid 450-acre park now boasts an upgraded and improved natural environment and public amenities, plus new facilities such as a pedestrian and cycling bridge across the lake.
Valentine’s day venues
Leeds Castle (01622 765400, ME17 1PL), just outside town at junction 8 of the M20, has been described as ‘the loveliest castle in the world’ and is set in 500 acres. On 14 February there’s a Valentine’s dinner in the castle, where you can enjoy a magnificent candle-lit dinner and stay the night in a splendid castle bedroom, for just £199 per couple.
If romance for you is wandering around relaxing a peaceful idyll, go to The Friars (01622 717272, ME20 7BX), an ancient religious estate that now attracts visitors who value tranquil surroundings. Here you can see ducks and swans, plus there’s a bookshop, tearooms and a working pottery.
If entertainment of a livelier nature is more your style (cinemas, bowling alley, night clubs, restaurants), then head for the Lockmweadow Centre (ME16 8SF).
For cultural stimulation try the newly refurbished Maidstone Museuam and Bentliff Art Gallery (01622 602838, ME14 1LH), housed in a former Elizabethan manor house and nearby Hazlitt Arts Centre, incorporating the Hazlitt Theatre and the Graham Clark Art Gallery (01622 758611, ME14 1PL).
And a must-visit is the new Kent History and Library Centre, a short walk from the town centre. It’s been purpose built to protect and give people access to more of the county’s archive material, and to provide a 21st-century library in the heart of Kent.
Housing 14km of historic material relating to Kent, dating back to 699 AD, it’s the place to come for anyone interested in local history and also offers wonderful provision for the youngest of visitors.
Kent County Show
This runs from 11-13 July at Detling Showground (01622 630975, ME14 3JF). Other events held at the showground include an Antique and Collectors Fair (22 February), and the South East Woodworking Show (7 March).
Shop then dine
Shopping facilities are fist-class, with everything in walking distance of the centre and many areas pedestrianised. The key malls are Fremlin Walk, headed up by House of Fraser, and The Mall (formerly Chequers), while there are plenty of fine shops on the High Street, Gabriel’s Hill and Bank Street. For a plethora of fashion outlets try Royal Star Arcade, just off the High Street.
Good restaurants include: The Bull at Linton (01622 743612, ME17 4AW), The North Pole (01622 812721, ME18 5BJ), The White Horse (01622 738365, ME14 4DL) and The Mulberry Tree (01622 749082, ME17 4DA).
Pubs to choose from are: Style and Winch (01622 752351, ME14 1ED), The Dirty Habit (01622 880880, ME17 1UW) and the Flower Pot (01622 757705, ME14 2RJ).
Controversy surrounds the The Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital Trust NHS desire to pull down the grand 1926 ex-nurses home building in Hermitage Lane.
Cllr Stephen Paine, told Kent Life: “It would be a terrible shame to lose the building,” while Cllr Fay Gouch added: “It would be an absolute tragedy for this building to be lost.”
And a proposed housing scheme in Coxheath has been condemned by local people who have formed Residents Against Coxheath Expansion (RACE) to fight this and other proposed housing schemes in the village.
On a positive front, Maidstone’s Local Plan (adopted in 2000) is steadily unfolding, and so far the Museum has had a huge refurbishment and a stunning new East Wing, while the £2m High Street regeneration is now complete.
And in 2012, after 23 years, Maidstone United Football Club returned to the town in its new ground, the excellent state-of-the-art Gallagher Stadium. It stands just behind the wonderful new Library and History Centre (see above).
[+ pics: Jonathan Crowhurst, Lyn Cole, Maidstone Choral Union, choice of 2 MWS pics]
Maidstone Wind Symphony (01732 366500) is widely regarded as one of the UK’s leading amateur adult wind orchestras and since its formation in 1998 has attracted accomplished musicians from throughout the south east.
Under the baton of musical director Jonathan Crowhurst, the band has worked with many world-renowned soloists and premiered new works by contemporary composers.
It performs six concerts a year and during summer also has an open-air performance at bandstands around Kent. Charities supported include the Heart of Kent Hospice, Help for Heroes, Kent Air Ambulance and the Royal British Legion; on 15 February there’s a performance at All Saints church.
Jonathan Crowhurst grew up in Maidstone, where he now lives with his girlfriend Holly and their puppy, and he plays for Mote Cricket Club.
“As a child I learned the recorder and piano and later the oboe,” he says. “While at college I changed my principal study to voice and I have been singing ever since, as well as conducting.
“We perform a broad programme of both new and classic pieces for wind orchestra. If you’re looking for an opportunity to play challenging, stimulating music within a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, do please come and join us.
“Maidstone will always be important to me, it’s got everything any family could want or need: lots of great schools, great communities, a burgeoning arts culture and lots of new exciting developments.
“I love walking along the riverside, and I do enjoy visiting All Saints church. I love the Lockmeadow complex and the cinema there. Maidstone is a thriving community with a blossoming arts culture.”
Maidstone Choral Union (01622 726193) is a large group of about 80 people of all ages and backgrounds. They have sung at the opening of the Dartford Bridge by the Queen, BBC broadcasts of Songs of Praise, and take part in Maidstone International Music Festival each summer, as well as singing in many European venues.
The choir, which gives four concerts a year at Mote Hall and All Saints church, meets weekly and supports the Royal British Legion, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Kent Air Ambulance and the local hospice.
Next concerts are: 29 March at All Saints church (the Faure Requiem and Easter music from Handel’s Messiah), and 21 June at Mote Hall (concert version of Bizet’s Carmen).
Secretary, social secretary and active member Lyn Coyle has lived near the centre of town for 25 years and for much of that time worked as a teacher and head teacher, while her husband and daughter have also been choir members.
“We perform traditional choral music, such as Verdi’s requiem and the Messiah and also have a lighter prom concert in June when we sing opera choruses and favourites such as Rule Britannia, plus a very popular Christmas concert,” says Lyn.
“We have quite a social side too, with quizzes and summer picnics, and are always keen on getting new members. If you join a choir you’ll make friends, improve your health, plus you’ll have a real feeling of achievement and exhilaration.
“Maidstone is a very friendly town – I like the range of activities and events, the shops and the friends I have made through choir, work and my church.
“The walk along the river from the town centre to the Malta Inn is lovely, as are neighbouring villages of East Farleigh and West Malling. Bearsted Woodland Trust and Vinter’s Valley are beautiful places to walk.
“It’s a great place to live – excellent transport links, and a fine place to visit because of the shopping, the summer events, Mote Park and its proximity to the Kent countryside. It’s a town chock-full of opportunity.”
In north west Kent, Maidstone is around 38 miles from London and easy to reach via the M20 (junctions 6 or 7), which joins the M25 at junctions 3 or 5. The town’s two London-linked stations are Maidstone East and Maidstone West, and there are good bus and coach services.
Satnav postcode: ME14 1TF town centre