Maidstone (All Saints)

MAIDSTONE (All Saints), a borough, market-town, and parish, having separate jurisdiction, and the head of a union, locally in the hundred of Maidstone, lathe of Aylesford, W. division of Kent, of which it is the county town, 8 miles (S.) from Rochester, and 34½ (S. E. by E.) from London; containing, with the hamlet of Loddington, 18,086 inhabitants, of whom 9206 are in East, and 8880 in West, Maidstone. Some writers have thought this to be the Caer Meguiad or Megwad enumerated by Nennius among the principal cities in Britain. Camden considers it to be the Vagniacæ mentioned in the second Itinerary of Antoninus; but more modern authors are doubtful as to the accuracy of this opinion, on a supposition that that celebrated antiquary confounded the Watling-street with another Roman road passing by the town to London, from the Portus Lemanis, the landing-place for the Romans after the Portus Rutupensis and Dubris had fallen into disuse. All, however, allow Maidstone to have been occupied by the Romans, and that it was at an early period of considerable note; and several Roman coins and urns have been found in the neighbourhood. The Saxons named it Medwegestun, a town on the Medwege or middle river, now Medway; in Domesday book it is written Meddestane, and in records of the time of Edward I., Maydenestane, from which the transition to its present appellation is easy. Among the historical events that contribute to distinguish the place, may be mentioned the celebrated meeting on Penenden Heath, about a mile north-eastward from the town, for the purpose of adjusting the differences that had arisen between Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Odo, Earl of Kent, brother of the Conqueror, in consequence of the appropriation by the earl of various lands and privileges previously enjoyed by the primate, and which this assembly decided should be restored. During the reign of Mary, Maidstone was deprived of its charter, in consequence of the firmness the inhabitants evinced in support of the Protestant cause by opposing the queen's marriage with Philip of Spain; many of the townspeople were put to death, and Sir Thomas Wyat, who had excited them to make a stand in favour of their religious principles, was executed on Hay Hill, London, and his estates confiscated. In 1648 the town was stormed by Fairfax, at the head of 10,000 of the parliamentary forces, and taken after a most obstinate resistance.

The town, which is well paved, and lighted with gas, consists chiefly of four large streets, and stands principally on the eastern bank of the river Medway, over which is a bridge of five arches. The inhabitants are plentifully supplied with water, conveyed from a reservoir at Rocky Hill, about half a mile distant, by means of pipes laid across the bed of the Medway. Among the improvements of late years, is the formation of a new line of road from Trinity church, past the infirmary, into the Queen Anne road, where are several good houses; also the erection of some handsome houses, near the London road, called Rocky-Hill Terrace; and of some respectable residences on the Bower-road. Pleasantly situated on the bank of the river are the barracks, used as a depôt for the king's regiments of cavalry serving in the East Indies and at the Cape of Good Hope, and for drilling recruits previous to embarkation. Opposite, on the other side of the road, are the county ball-rooms, built in 1819; and a theatre, a small neat building in the High-street, is opened every third year for a limited number of nights. The Medway being navigable up to the town for large hoys, Maidstone enjoys the advantages of a cheap communication by water with the metropolis. In 1843 an act was obtained to enable the South-Eastern Railway Company to make a branch railway to the town, which was completed and opened in September following; the branch is ten miles in length, and passes along a remarkably picturesque valley, joining the main line at the Paddock-Wood station, 46 miles from the London terminus. Here are mills for the finer sorts of paper: many of the inhabitants are employed in the manufacture of blankets, thread, hopbagging, ropes, linseed-oil, and oil-cakes; and a considerable trade is carried on in corn, timber, grocery, orchard-fruit, and hops, for the production of which two last the soil in the neighbourhood is particularly favourable. The market for corn and hops is held on Thursday, in a magnificent room lately erected; and at the back of the premises, that for provisions takes place on Thursday and Saturday. The market for cattle is on the second Tuesday in each month; and the fairs are on February 13th, May 12th, June 20th, and October 17th, for cattle and pedlery, and the last also for hops.

The town was incorporated in 1549, by Edward VI., but it appears that the charter was not in force in the 2nd year of the reign of Elizabeth, who bestowed a new one, which was confirmed and extended by James I. and George II. The charter of the last named monarch, bearing date 17th of June, 1747, was that whereby the town was governed until the passing of the Municipal act. The government is now vested in a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors; and the borough is divided into four wards, called High-street, King-street, Stone-street, and Westborough: the number of magistrates is eleven. The freedom is obtained by birth or apprenticeship. Maidstone returns two members to parliament; the parliamentary borough is co-extensive with the parish, comprising an area of 4232 acres (of which 170 are woodland), and the mayor is returning officer. The corporation hold quarter-sessions for the trial of persons charged with offences not capital; pettysessions take place twice a week; and the assizes for the county, and the quarter-sessions for the western division, are held here. The powers of the county debtcourt of Maidstone, established in 1847, extend over the registration-districts of Hollingbourne and Maidstone, and part of the district of Malling. The shire-hall, on that part of Penenden Heath which is in the parish of Boxley, is a neat edifice of stone, built in the year 1830: the Heath is the place of election for the western division of the county. The county gaol, situated at the north end of the town, contains seventeen wards for males; the house of correction for males has twelve wards: the common gaol for females consists of four classes, and the house of correction for females comprises three. New courts, in which the assizes are held, have been built adjoining the gaol. The entire structure occupies fourteen acres of ground inclosed within walls, and is built of Kentish ragstone.

The living is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the appropriator; net income, £720. The church, situated at the south-western end of the town, is the largest in the county: the time when it was built, is not with certainty known. Archbishop Courtenay obtained leave of Richard II. to convert the parochial edifice into a collegiate one, for the warden, chaplain, &c., of a college which he had established here; and the church had formerly two chantries, one founded in 1366, by Robert Vintner, of the parish of Boxley, and the other about 1405, by Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury. On the dissolution of the college, the church was again used for its original purpose. The altar-piece, painted by Mr. William Jefferys, a native of the town, justly excites admiration. In the vestry-room is a parochial library, considerably augmented in 1735 by a collection left by Dr. Bray. The district church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, containing 1200 free seats, and 800 other seats, was built at an expense of about £13,000: the living is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the Archbishop. Another district church, with a neat parsonage-house, in the hamlet of Tovil, was erected on a site given by the Earl of Romney, and consecrated by the archbishop in August, 1839; it is of Kentish ragstone: the living was endowed by the Archbishop, and John Charlton, Esq., lord of the manor of Pimps-Court, who exercise the patronage alternately. There are places of worship for Wesleyans, Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, and Unitarians. The Free Grammar school was founded in 1548, by the corporation, who purchased the lands belonging to the fraternity of Corpus Christi for the sum of £205, given by the crown for a school; it has two scholarships in University College, Oxford, of £15 per annum each, founded agreeably to the will, dated December 15th, 1618, of the Rev. Robert Gunsley. The Blue-coat school was founded in 1711, by the Rev. Dr. Woodward, for girls; and Sir Charles Booth's school, endowed by Sir Charles, in 1795, with the interest of £2000 (now augmented to more than £3000), affords instruction to boys. An excellent infirmary and dispensary was built in 1832, and there are several societies for the relief of the indigent. The almshouses are, six founded and endowed by Sir John Banks, Bart., a native of the town, and one of its representatives in several parliaments, who in 1697 bequeathed the yearly income of £60; six by Edward Hunter, Esq., in 1748; four by John Brenchley, Esq., in 1789; and three by Mrs. Duke, for decayed gentlewomen of the Presbyterian denomination: in 1826 another house was added. The poor-law union of Maidstone comprises 15 parishes or places, containing a population of 32,310.

The palace here, which was the residence of the archbishops of Canterbury, was commenced in 1348, by Archbishop Ufford, and finished by Simon Islip; it now forms two dwelling-houses. An hospital for pilgrims, or travellers, was founded in 1244, or, according to some, in 1260, by Boniface of Savoy, Archbishop of Canterbury, and dedicated to St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Thomas the Martyr: the chapel of the house, called St. Peter's, was consecrated in 1839, and is now used for the district of Westborough, the patronage belonging to Mrs. T. T. Baker. The foundation was called the Hospital of the New Work of Prestes Helle, and a dwellinghouse erected on part of the site is still known by the name of Newark. The college founded by Archbishop Courtenay, which possessed various lands, was dissolved about 1546, and is now a farmhouse. The house of the fraternity of Corpus Christi, at present used as the grammar school, was founded by a few of the inhabitants; the religious professed the rules of St. Benedict, and their number was from 120 to 130. A small part of St. Faith's Church, considered by some parochial, though more probably a free chapel, is still remaining; it was at successive periods used as a place of worship by the Walloons who settled in the town in the reign of Elizabeth, and by English Presbyterians. In digging the foundation for a soap-manufactory, near the ground on which the chapel stood, several human skeletons were found. The Rev. William Newton, who published the History and Antiquities of Maidstone; and William Woollett, engraver to the king, to whose memory a monument was erected in Westminster Abbey, were natives of the town; and in the churchyard are deposited the remains of William Shipley, Esq., founder of the Society of Arts. Maidstone gives the inferior title of Viscount to the Earl of Winchilsea.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.