Spotlight on: Maidstone
Maidstone is the county town of Kent (it’s the county’s judicial and administrative capital), and as such it is a draw for visitors and locals alike. We love our county town with its rich, vibrant history and heritage, its fantastic transport links (it’s only 32 miles from London, and there are three railway stations, not to mention motorway systems running on all sides), and its wealth of outstanding pubs, restaurants, and nightlife. Visit Maidstone for the museums, stay for the food and soak up the culture.
History in Brief
Whilst there have been a plethora of settlers in the Maidstone area, it is probably the Romans and the Normans who did the most to make the town what it is today. The Romans built the roads and a number of villas, whilst the Normans established an abbey, hospitals, and even a college for priests.
The town was made into a borough in 1551 when a charter was granted, but it wasn’t until 1619 when James I ratified it. At that point, Maidstone was given its own coat of arms showing a lion and the River Medway (the river that flows through the town). A white horse (for Invicta), another lion, and an iguanodon (this is not a random dinosaur; bones were discovered in Maidstone in the 19th century and are now in the Natural History Museum) were added at a later date.
Maidstone has always been a hub of industrial genius; stone quarries, breweries, and cloth-makers all thrived in the town. In fact, it was here that James Whatman and his son invented wove paper (paper with a smooth and unlined appearance) in 1740 – and the publishing and printing industry has never looked back.
Things to Do
“The loveliest castle in the world” is just outside Maidstone. Leeds Castle has been owned by no fewer than six medieval English queens, and was first built as a Normal stronghold in 1119. Since then, Eleanor of Castile, Margaret (sister of the French Philip IV), Queen Isabella, Anne of Bohemia, Joan of Navarre, and Catherine de Valois have made their homes here, and even Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon stayed on occasion. Each one made their own mark. Now one of the most visited historic castles in Britain, with 500 acres of beautiful parkland and formal gardens, daily activities, free-flying falconry displays, special events and year-round attractions, you will want to come back time and again!
Kent Life is a great day out for all the family. Explore 28 acres of fun from hands-on activities for kids to age-old farming traditions that bring back memories from way back when. There are animals to cuddle, tractors to ride, play areas to go wild in, fascinating historic buildings to explore, and cafés to relax in. All in all, Kent Life is a fun family day out that should definitely be experienced.
Maidstone Museum is home to a vast collection of fine art and historical artefacts of international importance, and is free to all visitors. With over 600,000 artefacts, Maidstone Museum enjoys the prestige of possessing one of the largest collections in Kent, and is renowned as being one of the best museums in the South East. Among the most auspicious collections at the museum are those relating to archaeology, costume, Ancient Egypt, ethnography, biology, fine art, geology, local history, and Japanese decorative arts and prints.
Bentlif Art Gallery
Within Maidstone Museum is the Bentlif Art Gallery, an extensive collection of watercolour and oil paintings donated by the Bentlif brothers. In addition, the renowned Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment Museum is located on the premises, proudly documenting the history of the QORWK and its predecessors since the mid-18th century.
One of the many National Trust buildings in Kent, Stone Acre is a 15th-century half-timbered yeoman’s house, featuring a great hall and surrounded by a glorious garden, orchard and meadows. It is a perfect example of a Wealden Hall House, and it is full of beautiful collections of furniture, wood and metal work. Wonderful woodland walks over the Otham Valley can begin from here.
The Hazlitt Theatre presents an eclectic mix of entertainment for all the family. Its traditional proscenium arch and intimate auditorium make it the perfect venue for drama, family shows, comedy, music, and variety. The theatre is serviced by a licensed bar and refreshment facilities, with seating for up to 382 people.
Showcasing a dining concept totally unique to Mu Mu, employing ‘molecular’ and theatrical techniques as well as imaginative service unlike any other restaurant in the South East, this is entertainment and eating all in one spectacular place. The food includes delights such as oven-roasted parsnip and chestnut soup; The Mu Mu falafel burger with grilled halloumi, caramelised onions and sautéed mushrooms; and tandoori chicken salad served with toasted coconut chips, fresh mango, and coconut and ginger dressing.
La Taberna is a fusion of a typical Spanish tapas bar and delicatessen, serving only the best quality food and wine. It is friendly and comfortable, and exudes the warmth of the Mediterranean way of life. Based around a family dream, La Taberna has migrated from Marbella, Spain. With more than 25 years of experience in homemade delicious food, this fun and friendly restaurant has all the knowledge and know-how you need for a great night out.
The Gem of Kent
With a large dining area that allows customers to enjoy their own space as they eat, this traditional Turkish restaurant caters to all tastes and all ages. Food is sumptuous and authentic, and includes dishes such as sebze musakka (layers of aubergine, courgette, peppers, potato, and chickpeas topped with a thick béchamel sauce), and iskender (a blend of minced lamb with onion, parsley, and paprika served on a bed of bread with tomato sauce, yoghurt and melted butter).
Christmas Lights Switch on // Nov
Fremlin Walk’s stunning Christmas lights switch on takes place in November. There is lots of fun and activities as Father Christmas arrives and is joined by reindeer and festive entertainment.
Leeds Castle Triathlon // Jun
Swim… Bike… Run… the most exhilarating way to experience “The Loveliest Castle in the World.” The great sport of Triathlon returns to Kent’s 900 year-old castle for its third consecutive year. Complete an open water swim in the moat, road cycle and cross country run around the estate.
Mote Park has been a fixture in Maidstone since medieval times, and it is just as popular today as it has ever been. It is a 180-hectare multi-use public park that includes a boating lake, café, plenty of parking, a miniature railway, pitch and putt, and lots more. It gets its name from the Old English ‘mote’ which means ‘meeting place’.
Did You Know?
In 1649, Andrew Broughton was mayor of Maidstone, and it was he who declared the death sentence on Charles I. You can see a plaque memorialising him in the town centre (it says he was both mayor and regicide).