FFS – Five Fantastic Stories about … Maidstone
Maidstone is Kent’s county town, so you’d think it would get some attention, but somehow it seems to slip under the radar. Google Maidstone and you’re more likely to get directed towards generic Kent websites and information about things round Maidstone than anything about the town itself. Attractions nearby include Leeds Castle (yes, Leeds), the picturesque countryside or its position in the heart of the ‘Garden of England’.
But is there anything to be said for the town itself? Ultimately, is it worth a visit? Well, here’s Five Fantastic Stories that may lure you in.
Maidstone, Maidstone or Maidstone Sir?
Maidstone has got three railway stations. Greedy? Well, when the railways came to this part of the world, the locals weren’t too keen on noisy, smoky trains. It was felt that they would destroy the nice little business they had using the River Medway for the transport of goods. The first main line linking London to Dover went via Ashford, with a branch line to Maidstone. That was in the 1840s. Then, in 1905, the Headcorn and Maidstone Junction Light Railway linked the town to the Kent and Sussex Railway. These days, the town has Maidstone East (which is in fact the more northerly), on the secondary line from London to Ashford, and Maidstone West, on the Medway Valley Line. It also has Maidstone Barracks, also on the Medway Valley Line.
No, not Harry Potter, but Charles Dickens. Dickens was famously based in Kent and used to enjoy his strolls around the county. He also used his observations in his books, and Maidstone is referred to in Pickwick Papers as ‘Muggleton’, and its inhabitants as ‘Muggletons’. These days, there’s a pub in the centre of the town called ‘The Muggleton Inn’ – a JD Wetherspoons actually.
This building was in fact built in 1827 as the new offices of the Kent Fire Insurance Company. They used to store their horse-drawn fire engine around the back of the building. The Royal Insurance Company took the building over in 1901 and stayed there for 90 years. Without burning down.
No, not the stuff I always had in my sandwiches at school , a sort of meatloaf, but the writer and philosopher, William Hazlitt. A son of a Unitarian minister, Hazlitt was born in Maidstone, and there’s a plaque to commemorate the fact.
This states Hazlitt was an ‘Essayist and Critic’, which is doing him down somewhat. He was in fact something of a polymath. A writer, a drama and literary critic, a painter, social commentator and philosopher no less. In fact, some felt he was the finest art critic of his age. Not bad for a lad from Maidstone. One of his many quotes was ‘The more we do, the more we can do’, although given the times we live in, that could be taken either way.
A Fine CV
While we’re on famous sons of Maidstone, I give you Andrew Broughton. He also has a plaque in the town (it’s on the front of the Ask restaurant in Earl Street), and it carries one of the finest CVs I’ve ever seen. Brief, and to the point, it states Broughton was ‘Mayor and Regicide’.
He was indeed Mayor of Maidstone, in 1648. Two months after being appointed, he became Clerk of the Court at the High Court of Justice. It wasn’t great timing, as Clerk of the Court, it was his duty to read out the charge against King Charles I of England at his trial. He also had to ask the King how he pleaded and, at the end of the trial, declare the court’s sentence of death. That must have been a brown trouser moment.
At the Restoration, he was exempted from the general pardon under the Indemnity and Oblivion Act, so understandably he legged it. To Switzerland, where he spent the final 25 years of his life in exile.
From Brewing to Shopping
Maidstone boasts a lovely new shopping centre called the Fremlin Walk. Its development is the perfect example of the way the town’s local economy has transitioned from making things to selling them. The centre is named after the town’s brewery, Fremlins, which brewed beer in the town until 1972. Fremlins was famous for focusing on bottled beer rather than supplying the licensed trade and was known for its elephant logo. Once the largest brewer in Kent, Fremlins was taken over in 1967 by Whitbread.
Fremlin Walk is one of the most successful shopping centres in the south east apparently, with particularly high yields. It was very busy when I went there, and that was on a Sunday. That said, Sunday seems to be when most people do their shopping these days as far as I can see.
There will be more on how I experienced Maidstone in my book. Register your interest here.
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