Maidstone is one of Kent’s growing towns, one with the highest number of new houses built over the last few years. For a town with a rich history, such growth and change will inevitably be visible through its architecture. In this article we explore the architecture in Maidstone and consider how it has changed over the centuries and new housing.
Industry and architecture in Maidstone
Maidstone has deep roots to the past. It was an important location for a variety of industries. Early on, the weaving industry saw numerous mills spring up to support it. Over time, these would morph to serve the paper industry. Some of those old mill ponds survive today and are still visible around the town.
The brewing industry began to grow and take over. Unfortunately, the demolition of the majority of its buildings in the 20th century means that none survive. However, brewing required the drying of hops for use in the process and this led to the unique shape of oast houses for this purpose. They are found across Kent, a striking throwback to another time.
More recently, vehicle manufacturing was key to the town. A commercial vehicles factory appeared in 1917, largely to support the agricultural sector. Later, in the late 1930s, new show rooms emerged to promote the motor car production in the town. These showed off the more modern architectural design styles of the time and still exist today. Many of them benefit from listed status.
Medieval architecture in Maidstone
Some of the earliest architectural examples found in Maidstone date to the 13th and 14th centuries. One such example is the medieval stone bridge, close to the river steps, which survives to this day under the road junction. It is a short walk from one of the most complete historical streets in Maidstone – Bank Street. Here, buildings date from between the 15th and 17th centuries and house today’s modern shops, most of which are listed.
A short walk away, the All Saints’ Church is a fine example of 14th-century architecture. It is in fact built on the site of a 7th-century Saxon church. Nearby, today’s Corn Exchange building dates back to 1835. It is a surviving example of the market that stood on this site from the mid-1200s until the early 19th century.
Late Tudor architectural examples can also be seen around Maidstone. Perhaps the finest one is the Maidstone Museum. Originally built as a home in the mid-1500s, it became a museum in 1858. Its expansion in 2012 with the addition of the New East Wing is an clear illustration of how the architecture in Maidstone has changed over the centuries.
Hidden history behind Georgian designs
During the Georgian period, Maidstone experienced its architectural heyday. From the Town Hall to the Royal Star (once a hotel, today a shopping arcade) and the town’s almshouses, Georgian design is recognisable at every turn. But there is a hidden history behind many of these façades.
Many of the 18th- and 19th-century buildings were modernised using more fashionable building materials. External renovations took a more Classical form to resemble Georgian styles using brick, which was in vogue at the time. Examples include Romney House and Grove House, both of which are listed for their Georgian features.
Did you know?
Benjamin Disraeli, Maidstone’s first MP, addressed the town following his election to parliament from the Royal Star hotel – as it was then – to crowds of supporters.
Hot on the heels of Georgian building and renovations came the Victorian style, which is clearly recognisable around the town. It is visible in buildings such as the Hazlitt Theatre, originally a concert hall before its conversion to a theatre, and in many of the houses in the streets surrounding the town centre. Maidstone Bridge, in its current form, dates to the late 1800s – designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who also built London’s sewerage system.
Modern architecture in Maidstone
Perhaps the greatest change to Maidstone’s architecture came in the 20th century. The need for new homes and the town’s proximity to London led to significant post-war expansion. Much of this expansion was on the outskirts of the town as it grew outwardly. New homes sprang up quickly and in a more suburban character. Often this ignored the original order of the surrounding villages. Whilst this has been somewhat detrimental to the architectural character of the town, it offers a more comprehensive glimpse of the full architectural history of Maidstone.
Not all new homes are out of character with the town’s history. Some traditions remain with one such example being the oast house design. In fact, Oast House, a modern new building, won the 2017 Riba award for House of the Year.
Retain your home’s character
If you are considering expanding you home, it is worth talking to an expert first. At Wilson Architectural Building Designs, we have the experience and expertise to work within your home’s architectural and space constraints. We can transform your home with an extension or conversion, retaining its character and in keeping with its aesthetic design. Get in touch with us to get the conversation started and to find out how we can help you grow your space without compromise.
Maidstone Borough Council: https://maidstone.gov.uk/
National Trust: www.nationaltrust.org.uk