Posted by: madkentdragon | March 11, 2011

Maidstone Part 7 an elephant, martyrs and a guild

Now this is getting silly! I’m amazed at how much has happened in this “one horse town”! But I’ll plod on – that’s if you want to keep walking with me?

We were left half way along Earl Street, where to your right you will see an entrance into another shopping centre – but this one is more of a new shopping “walk” as it is open to the elements and is built on the old Fremlins Brewery site and still retains the golden elephant over the main entrance – for the younger amongst you, the elephant was Fremlins’ trade mark and used to appear on the India Pale Ale bottles. The brewery had been here since 1790.

 There have been breweries in Maidstone since time immemorial and it was the one legal way that a married woman could earn a living in medieval times, widows and single women could work – but not married ones! A woman brewer was allowed to brew and sell beer, but had to pay a fine once a year which we can now translate as a licence.

One further interesting fact before we avoid the lure of these shops is that the word gremlin may have been adapted by WWII pilots who, having over indulged on the local Fremlins beer and suffered a hangover which caused them problems – or gremlins!

Further down Earl Street, near the bottom there is the Corpus Christi Hall, this is all that is left of this quasi religious guild building. The fellowship regulated the businesses in the town and founded early in the 1400s. Each member paid a fee and only women who were widowed and oversaw their husband’s business were allowed to sit alongside the male members. The guild doled out the remains of their feasts to the poor and needy and financially assisted any of their members who fell on hard times. They also employed a priest to pray for their souls!

It was suppressed by the crown and the building seized in 1547 – well they were quite wealthy – and later sold to the town for use as a boys’ grammar school, which at the time was free of fees to any son of the town’s freemen. It ceased being a school in 1871. The building is now used as offices.

I’m now heading towards the Medway and just before you fall in, there’s a car park which looks like most in the area, except for the name – it’s called Fairmeadow and as you can imagine was a large open space where an annual fair was held, it was like a market plus, with tradesmen and farmers coming from all over the county and beyond to sell their wares and stock. The town usually had the day off for this and it was usually held on a saint’s day. However, there is a darker side to this place, in 1557 under the reign of Queen Mary 7 Protestants were burnt at the stake here and they are commemorated on a flower trough in the car park. Later it became a fashionable place to “take the air”, with trees being planted in an avenue in 1699. It was one of the first places to copy this idea from London.

Opposite the car park are some 16th & 17th century buildings, amongst which is a coaching inn dating from the 1660s, now called “Drakes” – its original name was the Lamb and the arch which the coaches used to draw through into the yard is still there.

The original public baths and swimming pools were built here in 1851 and, in a time when bathrooms were the luxury of the very rich, this made an alternative to the tin bath in front of the fire. There were two swimming pools, one for training and a larger deeper one for swimming; these were shut in the 1990s when the new leisure complex was built in Mote Park. There are now flats on the site

Moving to the left of the pub you will find Faith Street, and walking up past Tudor buildings which are now mainly offices you come to Maidstone Library and Museum. Entrance to the Museum is, I believe, still free. The complex is a mix of old and new build, but the main part is Chillington Manor, a Tudor mansion that had several owners and one owner’s will left half the house, with the second-best bed to his wife until her death where on it would go to his son to whom he willed the other part of the house. However, the widow was to be allowed free passage to the amenities, which were in his part of the house!

The last known owner was Thomas Charles who was a doctor and antiquarian who left his collections to the Borough Council who then bought the house from the executors and renamed it the Charles Museum, later renamed the Maidstone Museum, it was one of the first to be opened under the Museums Act of 1845 and was a founder member of the Museums Association. It is hoped that the library can stay open as it, with the Museum also host activities and displays for all ages. There is now an Art Gallery on the site as well, named after the donor of the first 200 painting to be displayed. Also part of the complex is an adult education college.

Next time, St Faiths Church, a possible plague pit and memorials.



  1. I really am enjoying your stories about Maidstone ~ isn’t it funny how you can live somewhere for years and still not know all about it?
    Keep going Pat – these posts are really interesting 🙂

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