Sunday, 20 September 2009

Place in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Series: Maidstone / Maeides Stana ****

Maidstone is the county town of Kent, England, 32 miles (51 km) south-east of London. The River Medway runs through the centre of the town linking Maidstone to Rochester and the Thames Estuary.

Archbishop Palace on the River Medway

Historically, the river was a source and route for much of the town's trade.

Maidstone Map showing it as the County Town

Maidstone is also a Borough of Kent shown in RED

Maidstone was the centre of the agricultural county of Kent, known as the Garden of England. There is evidence of a settlement in the area dating back to beyond the Stone Age.
The town is within the borough of Maidstone. In 2001, the town had a population of 138,959.
Maidstone's economy has changed over the years from being involved in much heavy industry: now light industry predominates; and to more service industries.
Saxon charters (c975) show the first recorded instances of the town's name: de maeides stana and maegdan stane with the possible meaning of either stone of the maidens, or possibly stone of the people. The latter meaning may refer to the nearby megalith around which gatherings would take place. The name evolved through medestan/meddestane as reported in the Domesday Book until, in 1610, the modern name appeared It has also been suggested that the name derives from stones set into the river to allow clothes to be rinsed in the cleaner water away from the banks of the river.
The motto for Ashford is "With stronger faith", taken from, To Lucasta, Going to the Wars, a poem by the 17th century poet Richard Lovelace from the borough, the relevant verse being

“ True, a new mistress now I chase,

The first foe in the field;

And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Neolithic finds have revealed the earliest occupation of the area; and the Romans have left their mark also: the road through the town and evidence of villas. The Normans set up a shire moot, and religious organisations established an abbey at Boxley, as well as hospitals and a college for priests.

Penenden Heath

Today’s suburb of Penenden Heath became a place of execution in medieval times.
Maidstone's charter as a town was first confirmed in 1549; although briefly revoked, a new charter in 1551 created the town as a borough. The town’s charter was ratified in 1619 under James I, and the coat of arms, bearing a golden lion and a representation of the river, was designed (in heraldic terms: "or, a fes wavy azure between three roundels gules, on a chief gules a leopard passant gardant or"). 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 local discovery in the 19th century of the fossilised remains of such a dinosaur : The remains are now displayed in the Natural History Museum in London.

Andrew Broughton Placque

During the Civil War a battle took place here in 1648, resulting in victory for the Parliamentarian forces. Andrew Broughton, who was Mayor of Maidstone in 1649 (and also Clerk to the High Court of Justice) was responsible for declaring the death sentence on Charles I, and today a plaque in Maidstone Town Centre memorialises Andrew as 'Mayor and Regicide' (a killer of kings).

Charles 1

Maidstone has had the right to a town gaol since 1604; the present prison lies north of the town centre and was completed in 1819. Army barracks have been a feature of the town since 1797, when the first was built. The present Invicta Barracks is home to the Royal Engineers 36 Engineer Regiment, which includes two Gurkha field squadrons.

The Royal Paper Mill on Tovil Hill

From an economic point of view, Maidstone’s history has developed around the river, and also the surrounding countryside. Paper mills, stone quarrying, brewing and the cloth industry have all flourished here.

Market Cross

Modern history
The modern town of Maidstone incorporates a number of previously outlying villages and settlements.
The county council offices, to the north of the town centre were built of Portland stone between 1910 and 1913.

Maidstone General Hospital

Maidstone General Hospital opened on the outskirts of the town in 1983, replacing West Kent General Hospital, which opened 150 years earlier in Marsham Street. The new Maidstone General Hospital is located just to the north of the former Oakwood Hospital (originally the Kent County Asylum) which closed in the mid-1990s.

Oakwood Hospital

Many of today's residents are employed within the retail, administrative or service sectors within the town; there are many industrial estates around the town providing employment. Some of the workforce commutes to other towns, including to London.


former millpond on the River Len, Mill Street/Palace Street Maidstone.

Lower Chrisbrook Mill, mill pond and Upper Chrisbrook Mill, on the Loose Stream.

The town is situated at a point where the River Medway has previously flowed in a generally west-east direction; now, having been joined by the Rivers Teise and Beult, its course changes to a northerly one. As it does so, it cuts through the ridge formed by the Greensand, so that the town occupies a site on two opposite hills; the more easterly one containing the town centre. Beyond that, and still higher, is Penenden Heath.
The River Len joined the River Medway at Maidstone; though a short river it provided the water to drive numerous watermills. The Loose Stream, that rose at Langley and joined at Tovil powered over 30 mills. The resultant mill ponds on these rivers, are a prominent feature of the landscape.

Looking from the river at Sun Pier along the Great Barrier Ditch, to the Gun Platforms at Fort Amherst

Because of that situation, Maidstone had an industrial base, and became a nodal point for communications, both along the ridge and beside the river, and on the river itself.

Sevenoakes Conservative Club

Roads radiate from here, connecting with Sevenoaks and Ashford (the A20); the Medway towns and Hastings

View of Hastings Old Town from the East Hill

Tonbridge Big Bridge and Castle

(A229); Tonbridge (A26) and Tenterden (A274). All of these roads were served by the Turnpike trusts in the 18th/19th centuries.

Maidstone East Railway Station

The two railway routes, in spite of the fact that Maidstone is the county town, are not principal ones, due to an accident of history. There are two principal stations: Maidstone East, the more northerly of the two, connects with London and Ashford; whilst Maidstone West is on the Medway Valley Line.
Although the River Medway was historically responsible for the growth of the town, because of its capability to carry much of the area's goods, it is no longer a commercial stream. There is however a great deal of tourist traffic upon it.
As with most towns, Maidstone has continued to grow. In doing so it has incorporated hitherto separate settlements, villages and hamlets within its boundaries.

Allington Castle

These include Allington, Barming, Bearsted, Penenden Heath, Sandling, Tovil and Weavering Street. Housing estates include Grove Green, Harbourland, Ringlestone, Roseacre, Shepway and Vinters Park.
Maidstone was at one time a centre of industry: brewing and paper making being among the most important. Nowadays smaller industrial units encircle the town. The site of one of the breweries is now Fremlin Walk shopping centre. The pedestrianised areas of the High Street and King Street run up from the river crossing at Lockmeadow; Week Street and Gabriel’s Hill bisect this route.


Fremlin Walk

The Mall Maidstone, formerly Chequers, Shopping Centre

The Stag, by Edward Bainbridge Copnall, outside the Lockmeadow Centre

Aylesford (on the northwest side of Maidstone) has the largest paper recycling factory in Europe, manufacturing newsprint for the newspaper industry.
Until 1998, the Sharps toffee factory of (later part of Cadbury Trebor Basset), makers of liquorice allsorts, was in central Maidstone and provided a significant source of employment.
Loudspeaker manufacturer KEF was founded in 1961 in Maidstone on the premises of a metal working operation called Kent Engineering & Foundry (hence KEF). Today, KEF still occupies the same river-bank site. In the late 1990s KEF manufactured a loudspeaker called “the Maidstone”.
The town centre has the largest office centre in the county and the area is a base for the paper and packaging industry. Many high-technology firms have set up on surrounding business parks. Southern Water and Mid Kent Water operate the Maidstone water system.

The town is ranked in the top five shopping centres in the south east of England for shopping yields and has more than one million square feet of retail floor space, including the new Fremlin Walk. That shopping arcade opened, on the site of a former brewery, in the centre of the town. It has an area of 32,500 square metres (350,000 sq ft). Other recent developments include the riverside Lockmeadow Centre, which includes a multiplex cinema, restaurants, nightclub, bowling alley, and market square
As of the 2001 UK census, 45.2% of the town's residents aged 16–74 were employed full-time, 12.7% employed part-time, 7.6% self-employed and 2.5% unemployed, while 2.3% were students with jobs, 3.0% students without jobs, 12.9% retired, 6.6% looking after home or family, 3.8% permanently sick or disabled and 3.2% economically inactive for other reasons. These figures were roughly inline with the national average.
Employment, by industry, was 19% retail; 13% real estate; 11% manufacturing; 9% construction; 7% transport and communications; 10% health and social work; 8% public administration; 7% education; 5% finance; 4% hotels and restaurants; 1% agriculture; 1% energy and water supply; and 5% other. Compared to national figures, Maidstone had a relatively high percentage of workers in construction and public administration, and a relatively low percentage in agriculture.
According to the Office for National Statistics estimates, the average gross income of households in Maidstone between April 2001 and March 2002 was £595 per week (£31,000 per year).

Maidstone East Railway Line and Army Barracks

Army barracks
Army barracks have been a feature of the town since 1797, when the first was built. The present Invicta Barracks is home to the Royal Engineers 36 Engineer Regiment, which includes two Gurkha field squadrons.

Gurkha Soldier Statue

On 29 September 1975 a local pub serving the barracks - The Hare and Hounds - was damaged by a bomb during the IRA campaign against the English mainland. Another pub - The White Rabbit - now occupies the former Officers’ Mess of the original barracks, now a listed building.

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