Posted by: madkentdragon | March 8, 2011

Maidstone Part 4 – We were a rebellious lot!


I know I’m only doing this in small chunks so that you don’t get bored too quickly, but even I’m surprised that it’s now “Part 4”

One thing that may interest you is that Maidstone stage “The Battle of Maidstone” in Gabriel’s Hill each year in June, and now let’s get to the top of the Hill where it meets the High Street.

The first sight that greets you is the statue of Queen Victoria which was erected by public subscription on the silver anniversary of her coronation. It incorporated drinking fountains, but all these were shut off during the polio epidemic in the 1950s.

But at the top of Gabriel’s Hill on the right hand-side was a Friary, the Grey Friars and it was here before 1384 and it moved to the College with the Friars in 1395, but as the college was disbanded during the reformation, it was in danger of being lost in 1547. There’s also a rumour of a tunnel going from the friary under the High Street, but I believe it’s now blocked off.

The Archbishopric had lost possession of the town 10 years previously and unfortunately it had been neglected under Henry VIII, but with strong petitions, Maidstone became a borough in 1549 but when they applied to use the Corpus Christie Hall as a school the Borough had to pay £200 – the Crown was nearly broke! To raise this sum the Crown suggested that statues and other articles from All Saints Church could be sold.

However, under Mary, the town lost its charter in 1554 thanks to Sir Thomas Wyatt and the school had to close, however 5 years later under Elizabeth I it was re-opened. Hours were from seven to eleven in the morning, when the scholars went home to dinner, and from one to five in the afternoon. Scholars had to attend service at the parish church on Sundays and festival days.

It charged its first fees in 1566 of a shilling per quarter, which meant that bright pupils who could not afford this were barred. The school remained fee paying until scholarships were introduced. The school is now in Barton Road, Maidstone.

The High Street is on the left at the top of Gabriel’s Hill and there was a market cross, showing where the market was held which unfortunately can no longer be seen. This town has lost permission (had from the Crown) several times to hold a market, because the early Maidstonians were a rebellious lot!

I have already written about the Mad Priest of Kent, who preached at the Market Cross, then there was Wat Tyler’s peasant revolt in 1381; this was a revolt against the Poll Tax which ended in London with the Lord Chancellor, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leading figures, together with Tyler himself, killed and Straw, who was Tyler’s lieutenant hung, drawn and quartered at St Albans.

Next to revolt was Jack Cade, who again called men to revolt at the market cross, but because Henry VI’s taxes were also affecting the upper classes, some also allied with Cade, who some thought was a minor royal called John Mortimer. They headed to Heathfield in 1490, but again it didn’t work and Cade was killed and the rest, with the promise of a pardon, disbanded.  The town of Maidstone was collectively pardoned and that pardon was extended to Maidstone rebels, of whom fifty five are known by name.

Then In 1483 the Duke of Buckingham, a cousin of the Earl of Richmond (later Henry VII) wanted to oust Richard III and put Henry on the throne.  The rallying point for Eastern England focussed on Earl Rivers, then resident at the Mote (Park).  Some 5,000 men from Kent, Surrey and Sussex assembled on Penenden Heath.  The rebellion was unsuccessful but Richard was killed in battle eighteen months later and Henry VII became King of England.

In 1549, the peasants again revolted, but for a change this was a local revolt against the enclosures of common land, some peasants were killed and of course the land remained enclosed.

Next on the list was the Wyatt rebellion in January 1554, when Sir Thomas Wyatt who lived on the outskirts of Maidstone at Allington Castle, rallied the men of Kent at the market cross. His purpose was to prevent the marriage of Mary to Philip, King of Naples – who was later the King of Spain and with 1500 men they marched through Rochester to London. They were defeated and arrests were made including William Green and William Smythe who ironically became mayors of Maidstone in 1560 and 1564 respectively!  Approximately 78 Maidstonians were arrested and Wyatt was executed.  The town charter was revoked and didn’t get it back until Elizabeth I granted a new charter five years later.

Oh yes, last fact for this time is that Samuel Pepys visited the town in March 1669 and his diary states: …“Thence to Maydstone, which I had a mighty mind to see, having never been there; and walked all up and down the town, and up to the top of the steeple, and had a noble view, and then down again: And so, having walked all round the town, and found it very pretty, as most towns I ever saw, though not very big, and people of good fashion in it… ”

There’s a plaque at the top of Gabriel’s Hill to commemorate this! 

Next time, burgh houses, prisons, a corn exchange with more bits and bobs

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