The beautiful Kent countryside around the county town of Maidstone has one of the richest legacies of medieval, Tudor and Jacobean houses anywhere in Britain. These surviving houses are testimony to Kent’s prosperous agricultural heritage.
Take, for example, Thurnham Court in the village of Thurnham, an early 17th-century house that estate agent Strutt & Parker (01227 200661) is selling for £2.5 million; or Parsonage Farm at East Sutton, a small country estate with a romantic 15th-century farmhouse in need of renovation on the market for £2.35 million through Lambert & Foster (01892 574399).
But there is a dark side to this architectural heritage of rich men’s houses. After the Napoleonic wars, the combination of an agricultural recession and the introduction of new technology sparked the so-called Swing riots which swept through southern England in 1830. Named after a mythical leader, Captain Swing, the rioters trashed newly introduced threshing machines and set fire to hayricks.
This bitter history is recalled in the churchyard of Holy Cross Church in the village of Bearsted, on the eastern edge of Maidstone, where a plaque marks the place where one John Dyke was hanged for burning a hayrick, a crime that it was subsequently discovered he didn’t commit.
With a population of about 150,000, Maidstone is situated some 35 miles south-east of London on the River Medway, where a spectacular coloured light show — which locals can alter by text — is cast on the water from the two main town bridges.
Properties in Maidstone
There are period homes in the villages around Maidstone, and in the town itself there are Victorian, Edwardian, Twenties and Thirties houses and bungalows, and more modern houses from the Fifties to today. According to estate agent Chris Hayward from Geering & Colyer prices are cheaper than Tunbridge Wells, but more expensive than Chatham.
The area attracts
Families come to Maidstone because the town has a good supply of family homes at reasonable prices, there are grammar schools and a choice of commuter stations. Once here, families tend to stay.
There is strong demand for smaller two- and three-bedroom houses, both from would-be landlords and renters.
Bower Mount Road has Edwardian semi-detached houses which sell for around £450,000. The small town of West Malling and the outlying villages such as Bearsted, Yalding, Detling, Thurnham, Leeds, Boughton Monchelsea, and East and West Farleigh are also sought after.
Invicta Close (0843 471 3535) in East Malling is a development by Clarendon Homes of an old dairy. It is set around an oast house which is converted into four flats; there are also two refurbished properties and nine new houses. Prices range from £300,000 for a two-bedroom barn conversion to £495,000 for a four-bedroom house.
Mote Retirement Village (01622 297192) in Mote Park is a development by Audley Retirement Villages. There are a total of 100 houses and flats and the latest phase, the conversion of the Georgian Mote House, is now launched. Prices range from £310,000 for a one-bedroom flat to £399,000 for a three-bedroom cottage.
The Boatyard (Cluttons 01622 756000) is a development of strikingly modern three-bedroom houses with prices ranging from £320,000 to £340,000.
Encore (08458 945 518) in Hastings Road is a development of 25 two-, three- and four-bedroom houses by Crest Nicholson. Prices range from £179,000 for a two-bedroom house to £270,000 for a four-bedroom house.
Up and coming
There are two- and three-bedroom Victorian houses off upper Frant Road within walking distance of Maidstone West station that sell for under £150,000.
Maidstone has four grammar schools, all of which get excellent results: Maidstone Grammar School for Girls and Invicta take girls with boys in the sixth form; Maidstone Grammar and Oakwood Park take boys with girls in the sixth form.
The following primary schools in Maidstone and the surrounding villages get both good results at age 11 and are rated “good” or “outstanding” by government education watchdog Ofsted: Brunswick House in Leafy Lane; Sandling in Ashburnham Road, Penenden Heath; Allington in Hildenborough Crescent; St John’s CofE, in Provender Way; Thurnham Infants and Roseacre Junior in The Landway in Bearsted; Loose Infants and Loose Juniors; East Farleigh in Vicarage Lane, East Farleigh; Boughton Monchelsea in Church Hill, Boughton Monchelsea; The Discovery in Discovery Drive, West Malling, and St Peter and St Paul in Rectory Lane, West Malling.
The Shernhold School (co-ed ages three to 11) in Hill Place is a private school which sends many of its pupils to the local grammar schools. St Helen’s (co-ed ages two to 11) is a small private Montessori school in East Farleigh. The University for the Creative Arts has a campus in Oakwood Park.
Shops and restuarants
Maidstone has two shopping centres: The Chequers Shopping Centre with branches of Bhs, Boots and Next and the newer Fremlin Walk on the site of the old Fremlins brewery, with a House of Fraser department store and branches of H&M, Superdrug and Zara.
The High Street and the adjoining Bank Street have recently undergone an attractive makeover. The famous golden boot swings over the shoe shop of the same name in Gabriel’s Hill. There is a concentration of chain restaurants in Earl Street where Café Rouge, Zizzi, Tasco, and Prezzo all have branches. There are warehouse branches of Lidl and Matalan on the west bank of the Medway.
For a quieter shopping experience, West Malling’s high street is a popular alternative. The Mulberry Tree at Boughton Monchelsea and the Hengist in Aylesford are good restaurants.
As well as being close to the Kent Downs and the High Weald, Maidstone has many parks. Mote Park is one of the largest in south-east England and is undergoing a major restoration.
The Millennium Riverside Park is a six and a half-mile linear walk along the River Medway. The Vinters Valley is a local nature reserve.
Leisure and the arts
The Maidstone Museum is housed in a fine Tudor house and has recently opened a gold-coloured extension by architects Hugh Broughton which is picking up awards. The Hazlitt is the local arts centre. There is an Odeon multiplex at the Lockmeadow Leisure Centre.
The Maidstone Leisure Centre has five pools and diving boards. LA Fitness and David Lloyd both have gyms with swimming pools. Nearby Leeds Castle runs many activities and events, including medieval games, concerts and open-air films. Cobtree Manor Park is the local 18-hole pay-and-play golf course.
The M20 passes to the north of Maidstone and the M2 is not far away. Many outlying vilages have stations. Maidstone East has trains to Victoria, which take about an hour; Maidstone West to St Pancras takes from 47 minutes (on a high-speed train) to 80 minutes.
Photographs: Graham Hussey