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Bradshaw’s Guide

Maidstone

Church, palace and college, Maidstone, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress

Maidstone is a parliamentary borough, and the capital of Kent, on the Medway, in a tract of land of great fertility, among orchards, hop grounds, and woodlands. The distance from London has been recently reduced 13 miles by the opening of the North Kent line from Strood. It is not only a shorter route, but commands a splendid view of the valley of the Medway and the adjacent hills.

The town is on the slopes of the hills, so that, rising from the banks of the river, at the north entrances are the cavalry barracks (of wood!), and the county jail, the latter being a most complete and extensive pile, nearly two-thirds of a mile round its quadrangular wall, and covering 14 acres. It includes the assize courts, and was built in 1829, of the ragstone which is so abundant in the neighbourhood, the county asylum occupies a site of 37 acres. In High street stands the old brick Town Hall, over the corn market, the butter market being in an adjoining street

Round the church are grouped some interesting remains. The church itself is an embattled straggling building of great length, nearly 230ft.; and was made collegiate by Archbishop Courtenay, who is buried here in the middle of the chancel. His arms are over the old stalls and stone seats on the south side. It was here that the royalists were surrounded by Fairfax, when he took the town, after a hard fight, in 1648.

The Primates had a palace here from King John’s time, of which a part, still inhabited, hangs over the river on one side of the churchyard. Another old looking house is styled the castle; behind, are the ruins of Courtenay’s College, of which Grocyn, the Greek scholar, and friend of Erasmus, was for a while master; after teaching at Oxford he was buried here. Here also are fragments of a priory, and the Grammar School. There is a great air of quiet antiquity about this part of Maidstone. In West-Borough (over the bridge) is the ancient chapel of a hospital founded in the 13th century by Archbishop Boniface, while another chapel (now a school) was occupied by the Walloons, or Dutch Protestants, expelled by the Spanish butcher Alva, in Elizabeth’s time. The flax spun here for thread is still called Dutch work, in remembrance of these persecuted emigrants. William Hazlitt was a native of Maidstone, born 1778.

In the ragstone quarried here Dr. Mantell found his fossil iguanodon, which he thinks must have been nearly 70 ft. long. A restoration of this river-monster is at the Crystal Palace.

Besides hops, cherries, filberts, &c., paper is a staple production, especially at the Turkey and Pole mills, on the Len; and the Torn mills, near the old pest house, up the Medway. Coppices for hop-poles, props, &c. are dispersed about. The hop was first cultivated in Kent in the time of Henry VI., about the middle of the 15th century,

The walk along the Rochester road to Blue Bell Down (four miles) affords a charming panorama of orchards, copses and hills; and the views from the Down itself amply repay the long ascent to it.

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