Spotlight on: Maidstone
PUBLISHED: 11:48 20 June 2014
With excellent shopping, lovely riverside scenery and parks, plus fine historic architecture, Maidstone makes a thoroughly fitting county town
Maidstone was where Wat Tyler led the ill-fated Peasant’s Revolt in 1381, Sir Thomas Wyatt started a doomed rebellion in the Lower High Street, while Gabriel’s Hill was the setting for the Battle of Maidstone in the Civil War.
You may not also know that the stars and stripes on the US flag were actually borrowed from the Washington coat of arms, courtesy of President George Washington’s Maidstone ancestor Laurence.
And right now Maidstone’s Local Plan for regeneration is well underway, with the museum’s massive extension and refurbishment (see opposite) and the anbitious £2m changes to the High Street already complete.
Bordered by the River Medway on one side, the town-centre roads are flanked by the Mall and Fremlin Walk shopping centres. To the north of the latter is the spectacular museum below Brenchley Gardens, and in bustling nearby Earl Street is the renowned Hazlitt Theatre (01622 758611, ME14 1PL).
The High Street is split into two parts, linked by historic Bank Street. The grand Archbishop’s Palace and All Saints church are close to the river at the bottom of town, near the Tyrrhwitt-Drake Museum of Carriages (ME15 6YE), a unique collection of horse-drawn vehicles.
Across the Millennium Bridge you’ll find the Lockmeadow Entertainment Centre (ME16 8SF), with a gym, cinemas, swimming pool and restaurants.
There are some excellent parks, including the Maidstone Millennium River Park, Whatman and Brenchley Parks. Mote Park is home to Maidstone Leisure Centre (0845 155 2277, ME15 7RN), which offers fantastic facilities.
Shop then dine
Week Street, High Street and Bank Streets are the main shopping areas, with plenty of independent stores to be found in each.
Nearby are the two main shopping centres, Fremlin Walk and The Mall, while the Royal Star Arcade is largely made up of fashion outlets on a smaller scale.
Across the river there’s St Peters Wharf retail park and the Broadway Shopping Centre, plus the twice-weekly Maidstone Market, held at Lockmeadow.
The Tudor Marriott Hotel and Country Club (01622 2734334, ME14 4NQ) – venue for the Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Food & Drink Awards 2014 – has a gym and golf course and is set in beautiful grounds; don’t miss the excellent Conical Grill Restaurant (offering seasonal, stylish dining) and two bars.
Other fine restaurants close by Maidstone are The Mulberry Tree (01622 749082, ME17 4DA) at Boughton Monchelsea and Soufflé (01622 737065, ME14 4DN) at Bearsted.
Good pubs include The Windmill at Hollingbourne (01622 889000, ME17 1TR), the Style and Winch (01622 752351, ME14 1ED), The Flower Pot (01622 757705, ME14 2RJ) and The Dirty Habit (01622 880880, ME17 1UW).
An artist’s viewpoint
Graham Clarke, who has lived just outside Maidstone in Boughton Monchelsea for 44 years, is an artist, author, illustrator and also one of Britain’s most popular printmakers, with examples of his work held in royal and public collections.
He is the CPRE (Council to Protect Rural England) Protect Kent President and in 1999 became a Kent Ambassador.
He has made a Millennium Window for St Peter’s church, nine feet high and with 200 squares of glass, each one representing a decade since Christ’s birth.
“Humour plays a big part in my life,” says Graham. “Most of my books have a comedy element and I also play the button accordion with comedy band Boughton Monchelsea Youth Orchestra, average age about 70! But of course I take my art work and my efforts as an Ambassador for Kent very seriously.”
Graham’s favourite Maidstone: “I love Maidstone’s fine old buildings. I was commissioned to draw a town map, now displayed outside the town hall, and it shows all the ones I love: Corpus Christi College, the church, Archbishop’s Palace. Allington is very nice, and Yalding, as are Allington Castle and Leeds Castle.
“And I love the famous Cock Inn (01622 743166, ME17 4JD). Maidstone is a county town that’s worthy of the name.”
Arts in the community
Ken Scott, who has lived in the Maidstone area for more than 40 years, is Chairman of the Maidstone Area Arts Partnership (MAAP), which represents the interest of Arts and Culture in the Maidstone area.
Ken also chairs the Town Team’s events group and is a trustee and board member of a national charity called Making Music.
Ken says: “Our message is that art is not something for the privileged few but rather it’s an enlivening activity that everyone can get involved in, and as a consequence they’ll be better and healthier people.
“Our members include several amateur dramatic groups and dance organisations, two orchestras, eight singing groups and three networks of visual artists, plus a number of individual members.
“We’ve ensured that MAAP has taken a lead role in creating the Maidstone Town Team, comprised of a wide range of voluntary organisations committed to improving the town centre. Our MAAP efforts are largely through ‘performance events’ that have taken place there.
“This year we’re putting on seven one-day events, including singing, dancing and street theatre. We’re also organising an Art Parade on 5 July: every Saturday until 29 July there’ll be a performance activity in Jubilee Square.”
Ken’s favourite Maidstone: “My family and I feel very much part of Maidstone – this is where our friends are, this is our community. We like eating out at Souffle’s Restaurant. Maidstone has some very good schools, and if you like villages there are lots around here. It’s a truly excellent place to live and to bring up a family.” n