Posted by: madkentdragon | March 12, 2011

Maidstone Part 8 Gardens, Railways, Knickers & Dr Beeching


Nearly there now, is that a sigh of relief I hear? Just past Chillington Manor aka the museum is St Faiths Church, originally there was a small chapel attached to the manor and in Tudor times, the Dutch and Flemish Protestants fled to England as a refuge from persecution. These were mainly cloth weavers and Elizabeth I encouraged them over to teach the local weavers how to full the cloth which made it softer – obviously not just in Maidstone but throughout the country. The little chapel of St Faith was given to them to worship in and they were buried in the grounds.

When Mary took the throne and they were chased out, the chapel reverted back to Chillington Manor and slowly fell into disrepair. The present church was built in 1872, but the surrounding cemetery is owned by the borough council and closed to any more burials. It is also rumoured that a plague pit is to be found behind the church, the plague struck the town in the late 14th century.

Beside the church, there is a beautiful open space – Brenchley Gardens. It’s named after John Julius Brenchley who donated the garden to the Borough. Brenchley (the gardens are named after him) was born in Maidstone and educated at Maidstone Grammar School, then at Cambridge and was ordained as a priest – however his father took him on a European tour in the style of the times and Brenchley was hooked! For the next 21 years he roamed the world, collecting and recording material – much of which is in the museum. He apparently visited every continent except for Antarctica but his main love was the South Sea Islands. He died aged 56 in 1873 and is buried at All Saints Church. In his time he was known as an eminent explorer and adventurer.

Brenchley Gardens are described as “an oasis of calm” in most tourist literature and I must agree as although there is the hustle and bustle of a busy town close by, you can forget it here. There is a bandstand, built in Victorian times and still used today, it was used a lot by the Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment (the buffs) before their amalgamation and I can remember band concerts with the regimental band in all their finery!

A war memorial in the grounds is no longer used by the Borough as there is a larger one to the west of the town, but the Old Comrades Association still parade here – the memorial is a smaller version of the national cenotaph. The other point of interest is unusually a decorative pinnacle from the roof of the Houses of Parliament donated after WWII as the gatehouse to Brenchley Gardens had been destroyed by a bomb.

Coming out of the gardens you are faced by the entrance to Maidstone East Station, which was built on what was then the outskirts of the town, as was Maidstone West at the other end. The reason being that the town fathers did not want the railway going through Maidstone because it would jeopardise the barge trade on the Medway, this was a good trade! The nearest station for some time was at Paddock Wood and then by coach to Maidstone, the town was completely by-passed by the railway!

Given that Dr Beeching was educated at Maidstone Grammar School, my late father remembered him as a couple of years under him, I’m given to wondering if he was related to one of these town fathers!

Finally after 32 years, a railway bridge with a footpath was put across the Medway and the town was connected to a branch line, this was in 1874 – the bridge is known as High Level Bridge and is well known as the place that Maidstone Girls Grammar School tossed their berets on the last day of their education (used to be the brown gym knickers as well!)

The Medway Valley line came next to Maidstone West Station and off of this line there is a halt stop known as Maidstone Barracks from where soldiers stationed in the town embarked to the many wars.

Opposite Maidstone East is the County Hall, originally the sessions house for the county assizes was in Boxley Road, but the new building, now extended to form County Hall was built in 1818 and the cells were underneath it. This part is no longer used as a court since the new court buildings were erected in Lockmeadow. It is here that the Kent County Council has most of their offices and council chamber.

Next time – should be the final part with a miscellany of odd facts from this odd author!

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Responses

  1. Nice to read your article on Maidstone, as I was born in Tonbridge road 16 th July 1943 , but now live in Derbyshire. My grandfather was a Sgt in the Queens own Royal West Kent Regt, prior and during World war 1 . May you allow me to correct just one thing, The Buffs were the 3rd of foot The Royal East Kent Regt, the Royal West Kents, were the 50 th of foot. Nicknamed the blind Half Hundred, they suffered with an eye disease in India, Also called the Dirty Half Hundred, on account of wearing black facings on their coat cuffs, and the dye was not permanent, so when they wiped the sweat from their brow their faces went black. On being given the title Royal later on the facings were changed to Blue, the colour off all Royal Regiments. Very interesting to read your blog I learnt much that I was unaware of. Please write more.

    • Thank you for your comments and thank you for the correction – we all learn something new every day! I hope you enjoy the other posts on Maidstone x


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