Posted by: madkentdragon | March 13, 2011

Maidstone Part 9 – Finally, Bridges, First Civil Court Case and an Iguanadon


As you have realised even though the trains don’t run through the centre of Maidstone, the Medway does and to cross it there are six bridges in the town, the new Millennium Footbridge that crosses from Lockmeadow to the Old Palace Gardens echoes the original ferry or ford crossing of the river and was finished in 1999. The Kent Messenger Millennium Bridge which crosses to Whatman Field where a new amphitheatre is built and the “Downstream Footbridge” crosses to Monkton Lane. The other footbridge is part of the railway high level bridge, and the final two are the road bridges.

The older of the two was built to replace the medieval stone bridge that was starting to collapse and when it was built from a design by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1879, a time capsule was hidden in it and it included “one of those new fangled typewriters”, then to relieve the pressure of traffic another bridge was built St Peter’s Bridge in 1977 which enabled a one way system through the town.

St Peter’s Bridge was named after St Peter’s Church and hospital, in medieval “downtown Maidstone” – being on the wrong side of the river so as not to disturb the Archbishop and was a place for pilgrims to worship and to rest on their way to Rochester or Canterbury, left to go to ruin, it was rebuilt by the Victorians in 1839 but is now a nursery.

Lockmeadow is now the site of the Crown Courts, a cinema and entertainment complex and a small market, it is directly opposite the Old Palace. Near here, on the junction between Tonbridge Road and London Road is the Maidstone Borough War Memorial – we’re greedy we have to have two! It was designed by Sir George James Frampton and features a bronze of St George on the top and was unveiled in June 1922.

Before I wind this up – no doubt I will forget something or other, I must mention four more things – one is Penenden Heath, which was a gathering place for infantry, the place of public execution and the site of the first known civil law case.

In 1070/75, Bishop Lanfranc of Canterbury accused Odo of Bayeux (William the Conqueror’s Half brother) of pilfering his land and William determined that the matter should be settled by the nobles of Kent and ordered that an assembly be formed on the heath at Penenden for the purpose. William I ordered that the findings of the inquiry or “trial” of Odo de Bayeux were to be final. Various nobles including Hugh de Montfort were appointed and found in favour of Lanfranc, interestingly the used English law combined with Norman Law to hear the case which lasted 3 days.

Public Executions and hangings continued here until 1830 and then were held outside the new prison

The next thing is the coat of arms and “Iggy”; let me introduce you to Iggy, the Maidstone iguanodon, found in a blast quarry in the town in 1834. It is not a standing skeleton but is embedded in a slab, however a spike from either a toe or thumb had been blasted off and when it was found, it was presumed to be a tusk and was shown like that until a few years later another complete – intact skeleton was found and the “tusk” was then removed. Iggy resides in the Natural History Museum. But if you want to see him, look at the town coat of arms as he is one of the supporters to the shield with the other one being a lion. The rest of the coat of arms is a blue wavy line (Medway) three roundels from Courtenay a crown on top with a horse’s head (the white horse or Invicta of Kent) on top of that – not heraldic terms but I think you understand what I mean. The motto is “Agriculture and Commerce”

Next is the Maidstone Medal, minted in silver in 1897 and awarded to those who helped quell a massive typhoid epidemic that infected hundreds of people of all ages. It was caused by a poor sewerage system and polluted water sources; it resulted in a much improved disposal of waste and better water systems.

Emergency hospitals were set up, and one of these was what is now known as the TA centre at Ditton, where volunteers of the Regiment nursed the sick and dying, formerly called 220(V) Home Counties Unit it is now part of the RLC and the unit was awarded on of these medals.

Medals were awarded to the Mayor and Borough Council and others of note who had assisted, among the recipients was a nurse called Edith Cavell, who was later shot for helping wounded soldiers and other refugees help from the German onslaught in 1915.

Finally there is one character without which no history of Maidstone would be complete: Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake a colourful character was born in 1881 and was High Sherriff of Kent and also elected Mayor twelve times! He brought the Cobtree Estate and turned it into a private zoo, which closed to the public in 1959 the animals being dispersed slowly to other zoos. There was a train running from the entrance down into the zoo, which was quite a long way in. Whenever he was Mayor, he would lead the town carnival mounted on a white horse, which to my young eyes was marvellous. He died in 1964 and bequeathed the estate to the people of Maidstone and it is now parkland and a golf course and the elephant house has been preserved.

Well, that’s it – I haven’t mentioned the Roman or Saxon archaeology because it’s all been reburied and some built over, but pop into our FREE Museum and you can see the artefacts and plans of where it was found, rather than looking down at a paving slab or piece of grass – what’s the point of that? If you want Roman remains, look to Lullingstone which isn’t that far away.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my meandering round Maidstone; perhaps you’d like to do the same for your town?

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Responses

  1. […] David Badash posted about this interesting story. Here is a small section of the post… this up – no doubt I will forget something or other, I must mention four more things – one is Penenden Heath, which was a gathering place for infantry, the place of public execution and the site of the first known civil law case. … […]

  2. Such a great story Pat – have really enjoyed reading about Maidstone.
    Love the quirky history of towns ~ you can only find out these things from people who live there.
    Do carry on with more soon please.


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