23rd June 2019
Maidstone and its Legacy from Medieval Archbishops
When I visited Maidstone I was very impressed by the way its many graceful historic buildings have been adapted to complement the needs of today by housing museums, cafés, shops and pubs.
The people of Maidstone, the county town of Kent are proud of their heritage. For centuries it was an important centre for trade thanks to the River Medway that flows through the town. It was also popular with the Archbishops of Canterbury who built a palace there. And, surrounded by gentle hills clothed in rich agricultural land dotted with fruit filled orchards it reflects the county’s reputation as the Garden of England by promoting long-held traditions such as the cultivation of hops at the popular attraction Kent Life
Oast House at Kent Life near Maidstone in Kent
When visiting Maidstone, the county town of Kent I decided to use the Willington Street Park and Ride as it was close to Mote Park which I hoped would be a good starting point. I was not disappointed. Instead of taking the bus into the town centre I chose to walk through the park – it was a good decision.
The Old Boathouse in Mote Park, Maidstone in Kent
Mote Park in Maidstone
Running through Mote Park is the River Len that was originally the main source of water for a Roman villa. It has existed as a country estate since the thirteenth century. The original mansion, Mote Park House, was demolished in 1793 and by 1800 it had been replaced by a new mansion at the top of the hill. Today this splendid building is an Audley Village retirement home. When the new mansion was built the River Len was dammed to create a lake – popular today for boating and fishing. At the same time roads, paths and a boathouse were also added. The site of the first mansion can still be seen and includes an ornamental temple that once stood proudly in its gardens.
Site of the Original Mote House in Mote Park, Maidstone in Kent
Mote House in Mote Park, Maidstone in Kent
A variety of walks weave their way around the 180 hectares of Mote Park that was purchased by Maidstone Borough Council in 1929. The Council still maintains the park with the help of a team of volunteers. Facilities in the park include a large, well-equipped leisure centre with indoor and outdoor facilities for a large ranges of sports. A recent addition is an adventure playground for children. Visitors who would like to learn more about the history of this wonderful park can join the Mote Park History Guided Walk
The Lake in Mote Park, Maidstone in Kent
The Archbishops’ Legacy to Maidstone
Walking along the medieval Knightrider Street towards the centre of town I came across Ye Olde Thirsty Pig public house a stunning Tudor building. Built around 1430 and possibly the third oldest building in Maidstone it was originally a farmhouse and may have been part of the Archbishops Palace estate nearby. Where it stands now marks the junction of two ancient roads and the site of the first settlement here during the Middle Ages. Customers are captivated by the massive timber beams, sloping floors and curious nooks and crannies. The ceilings on the ground floor are low but those on the first floor are high and vaulted. Despite reports of hauntings it exudes a welcoming charm.
Ye Olde Thirsty Pig Public House
A short distance further down the road I came across the Maidstone Carriage Museum that occupies the fourteenth century stables that were once part of the Archbishops’ Palace courtyard. This museum features a unique collection of horse-drawn vehicles and transport curiosities. It includes grand carriages, ornate sleighs, antic sedan chairs, Victorian cabs and an original ice cream cart. It is the collection of Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake a local benefactor and past mayor of Maidstone. He started his collection when he realised the motor car was replacing horse-drawn vehicles. The Museum of Carriages opened in 1946 and is considered to be the best collection of its kind in Europe.
Maidstone Carriage Museum in Maidstone, Kent
An Archbishop’s Palace and All Saints Church in Maidstone
The fourteenth century Archbishop’s Palace was built as a grand residence by various Archbishops of Canterbury on the bank of the River Medway. It was a very comfortable stopover on their journeys to and from London. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries 1536 – 1541 it passed into private ownership. Today the palace is managed by Kent County Council and it is a popular venue for weddings. It is rarely open to Members of the public. The building still retains many of its original historic features. It is surrounded by gardens that are open to the public during the summer and include the peaceful walled Apothecary’s Garden. The palace gatehouse is currently used by the Maidstone Chambers Of Commerce.
The Archbishop’s Palace in Maidstone, Kent
Next door to the palace is All Saints Church the collegiate church for All Saints College on the other side of it. Both were built by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop William Courtenay. Every day twenty-four clergy would sing morning and evening prayer in the church. They looked after the pastoral, educational and practical needs of the inhabitants of Maidstone. The college was disbanded in 1549 and the church became the parish church of Maidstone. This large church is a magnificent example of the Perpendicular Gothic style of architecture which was the final stage of Gothic architecture. The college consisted of a Master’s house and various other buildings housing several canons, a number of chaplains, singing men and choristers. The college buildings were seized by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries 1536 – 1541 passed into private ownership in 1549. They fell into disrepair but in 1946 they were bought by Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake and subsequently presented to the Borough Council. Since 1956 the Master’s House has been used by the Kent Music School.
All Saints Chruch from the Garden of the Archbishops’ Palace in Maidstone, Kent
Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery
Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery is housed in a large Elizabethan Manor House that has had various extensions added since it was built including a modern extension that opened in 2012. The museum houses several different galleries with displays that include artefacts relating to local history, an ancient Egyptian mummy and Maidstone’s dinosaur. The Japanese Gallery has one of the best collections of Japanese art in the country. The Bentlif Art Gallery was added as an extension in 1890 as the result of a bequest from a local man, Samuel Bentlif, in memory of his brother and it houses the best of the museum’s works of art. Temporary exhibitions are also part of the varied programme at the museum.
Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Gallery in Maidstone, Kent
Brenchley Gardens in Maidstone
Visitors going behind the Maidstone Museum into the “Brenchley Gardens”:“https://www.visitmaidstone.com/things-to-do/brenchley-gardens-p93761 will get a good view of the back of the museum building and its hotchpotch of different architectural styles. These gardens are Maidstone’s first public park. They were designed and laid out in 1871 by” Alexander McKenzie”:https://aim25.com/cgi-bin/vcdf/detail?coll_id=18521&inst_id=118 a very influential landscape designer. His other commissions include Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park but these gardens are thought to be his only surviving commission outside London. Sunday afternoon concerts take place in its the bandstand.
Brenchley Gardens in Maidstone
River Medway and Maidstone River Park Walk
Once busy with commercial boats the River Medway now drifts peacefully past the old and new buildings lining its banks. Regular boat trips are available on the Kentish Lady which also offers a trip a trip to the delightful Allington Castle every Tuesday afternoon. Visitors wishing to learn more of the history of this river can follow the Maidstone River Park Walk
River Medway in Maidstone, Kent
Allington Castle is a Medieval twelfth-century castle on the banks of the River Medway. The Great hall of this privately owned castle is fully furnished in keeping with its Medieval origins. But all that remains of the original castle is a section of wall and the kitchen fireplace built in 1174. Converted into a mansion house in 1491 the castle has always been in private ownership apart from the period between 1951 and 1999 when it housed a convent of the Order of Carmelites. Its Great Hall and gardens are popular as a wedding venue.
Allington Castle near Maidstone in Kent
Eating Out in Maidstone
The Old Boat Café is a genuine historic narrowboat that was once drawn by horses but in now moored on the River Medway. The food is prepared inside the boat and served to customers on board or at tables on the river bank. The Café serves the traditional “huffkin”:“https://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/recipes/10680487/Rose-Princes-baking-club-huffkins.html a large, soft bun with a variety of fillings. Delicious locally made” Owlet fruit juices”:https://owletfruitjuice.co.uk are available to accompany this substantial snack.
The Old Boat Café in Maidstone, Kent
Café Frederic is situated in the delightfully old fashioned Royal Star Arcade. This quaint French bistro and cocktail bar with outdoor tables under the arches of the arcade also features a patisserie and a wine bar. The walls of the wine bar are lined with bottles of wine and features a wonderful display of every variety of gin imaginable. The food is really good and the icing on the cake is a cake chosen from the patisserie.
Café Frederic in Maidstone, Kent
The Potting Shed in Langley, a short distance from Maidstone is a lively, attractive village venue. I particularly enjoyed the ambiance and the good selection of gin and tonics featuring gins and tonics of varying flavours. Excellent pizzas are available here but I opted for a delish fish dish to accompany my rhubarb gin with tonic.
The Potting Shed near Maidstone, Kent
Attractions Close to Maidstone in Kent
Since a twelfth century castle was built on the site where Leeds Castle stands today its uses have been numerous – a Norman stronghold, a private residence for six of England’s medieval queens, the palace Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon used, a Jacobean country house, a Georgian mansion and, during the early twentieth century, a retreat for the rich and famous. Since it has been open to the public it has become one of the most visited historic buildings in Britain. It was easy to understand why as I walked through beautiful formal gardens and across extensive parkland for my first view of the castle reflected in the lake that surrounds it. There is so much to do here including exploring the interior, tackling the maze, visiting an underground grotto and watching a falconry display. With three cafés providing sustenance a whole day can pass very quickly.
Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent
Kent Life has been set up to celebrate the history and customs of the county of Kent. Attractions here include an outdoor exhibition tracking the history of hop growing and picking in the county. It was fascinating peeping inside the very basic accommodation used by the pickers a century earlier. A village has been re-created using typical buildings transported to the site and re-constructed. A variety of farm animals, including some friendly donkeys, are clearly at home here.
A donkey at Kent Life
Hush Heath Winery
“Hush Heath Winery”: https://hushheath.com is so much more than simply a vineyard and a place to taste wine. It occupies an estate with a history going back to the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Tudor-framed Hush Heath Manor, family home of the owners looks down on the regimental rows of grapes in the valley below. Visitors can follow market trails through the vineyards and orchards and into an ancient oak woodland. A very pleasant prelude to the tasting of some wines in its very attractive visitor centre. A speciality here is the rosé sparkling wine that is unique amongst English vineyards.
Hush Heath Winery near Maidstone in Kent
Where to Stay
Set back from the road at the end of a long tree-lined drive Chilston Park Hotel is every bit the British country house it was built to be during the seventeenth century. This Grade 1 listed building has been the home of eminent politicians, writers, lords and viscounts. Tables and chairs set out on the lawns in front of the building by its own natural lake are reminiscent of afternoon tea in bygone days. The extensive grounds stretch as far as the eye can see – ideal for early morning wanderings.
Chilston Park Hotel near Maidstone, Kent
Inside the large entrance hall with its open fire place is dominated by a flight of stairs, lined on each side by carved wooden bannisters leading up to the bedrooms. This original interior has been adapted to the needs of its guests today with small comfy sitting rooms and a bar tucked under the stairs. The light, airy restaurant provides elegant dining and lovely views of the country estate beyond its windows.
Restaurant at Chilston Park Hotel near Maidstone, Kent
A variety of rooms are available including some in the original house. My room, in the extension, was spacious, well-equipped and fun. All the rooms have names. Mine was named for the Montgolfier Brothers , Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier. They were the inventors of the first hot air balloon that safely carried people into the sky and back to earth. Tiles in my bathroom had hot air balloons floating down them and so did the bedroom door. A nice touch was my fluffy lamb who stood guard outside my door when I did not want to be disturbed.
Do Not Disturb at Chilston Park Hotel near Maidstone, Kent
Regular train services operate from London St Pancras and London Victoria to Maidstone. It is also easy to get there by road thanks to the M20 that links into other motorways.