Posted by: madkentdragon | March 9, 2011

Maidstone Part 5, Burgh Houses, Victoria and a Cannon


Even I didn’t realise how much there was to see historically in Maidstone and so I’m now going to prolong the tedium and take you along the High Street.

Looking down the High Street, you will see the Town Hall, built in the Georgian style in 1763, it was at first a Court House and in the upstairs part there were cells and the graffiti of the time is preserved for you to see. It is now used solely by the Borough Council and houses the Mayor’s Parlour.

Next to the Town Hall was a much older prison, The Brambles, which had originally belonged to the Archbishopric, although the exact date when it was built is not known. However, we do know it was still owned by the Archbishops until Cranmer passed the ownership to Henry VIII and was still under the Crown in Charles I’s reign when the Crown gave its ownership under letters patent to John Collins in 1631 for his life time and he subsequently willed it to his son.

The fact that the prison was in the centre of the town and very close to the market place annoyed the “good folk of Maidstone” and to their further annoyance there was no debtors’ prison. To put that right, part of the prison was annexed and that part was used as a debtors’ prison! Finally it was moved to its current location, and although it has been modernised this remains one of the oldest prisons in England. When it was built in 1763 it consisted of a debtors’ prison and a bridewell (house of correction).

Go to the left of the Town Hall, and you will be walking down an original medieval street called Bank Street, there are loads of 15th century burgh houses here and, although the shop fronts have been altered, look up and you can see by the roofs that these were long narrow properties that were set out for the merchants to sell their wares. Some still have the pargetting on them and I think it’s a shame that others have covered this over the years to “modernise” them. One quirky fact is that niches have been set into the first floor walls of two of them and statues of Lord Avebury, Laurence Washington, William Caxton and Archbishop Courtenay.

I’ve already written about Washington and Courtenay, but Avebury lived in Kent and was MP for Maidstone when he introduced Bank Holidays, so was included at a later date and Caxton, the father of printing was also born in Kent and has definitely earned his place here.

The shops here are either individual shops, offices or charity ones. But now walk round the end of the big building on your right to cross over the High Street. That building was built on the site of a Tudor house with the top floor jutting out and was replaced by Barclays, but it has modern “pargetting” on it in the shapes of a farthing and other coinage from 1962 when it was built (pre-decimal coins).

At this end of the High Street, you will see a canon – yes it’s a real one that was presented to the town by Lord Panmure, Secretary of War in 1858. It is a Russian one which was captured during the Crimean War. The plaque denoting this is in Mill Street, which branches off the High Street back down to All Saints Church – don’t know why it was put there!

Incidentally, Lord Panmure created a scandal a few years later when, after he was widowed, he ran off with another woman to Italy “without the rites of wedlock”!

On this side of the High Street you will notice the Royal Star Arcade, which is an upmarket shopping centre – I told you we had loads!, but it was originally the Star Hotel and it was here that Pepys stayed. It got the “Royal” after a young Queen Victoria visited. Also assembly rooms were added in the 19th century and a balcony built from which the MP for the Town – a certain Benjamin Disraeli – used to address crowds!

I’ll leave it there for now and the next time I’ll tell you where Andrew Broughton lived, the Corn Exchange and a will that made me laugh! – That’s if you’re not too bored!

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Responses

  1. Its amazing how knowing about the history can bring a town to life . Perhaps we should all research our hometowns and share with others!


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