Maidstone is a large, historically important town in Kent, England, of which it is the county town. The River Medway runs through the centre of the town, linking it with Rochester and the Thames Estuary. Historically, the river carried much of the town’s trade as the centre of the agricultural county of Kent, known as the Garden of England. There is evidence of settlement in the area dating back before the Stone Age. The town, part of the borough of Maidstone had a population of 164,500 people in 2015. There has been a shift in the economy since the Second World War away from heavy industry towards light industry and services.
The town is six miles downstream from where the River Medway, having flowed in a generally west-east direction, is joined by the Rivers Teise and Beult at Yalding and changes its course to a northerly one. It cuts through the ridge formed by the greensand, so that the town occupies a site on two opposite hills, the easterly one containing the town centre. Beyond that, and higher, is Penenden Heath.
The River Len joins the Medway at Maidstone. Though a short river, it provided the water to drive numerous watermills. The Loose Stream, which rises at Langley and joins at Tovil, once powered over 30 mills. Mill ponds on these rivers are a prominent feature of the landscape.
Roads connecting to Sevenoaks and Ashford (the A20); the Medway Towns and Hastings (A229); Tonbridge (A26) and Tenterden (A274). All these roads were served by the Turnpike trusts in the 18th/19th centuries.
The two railway routes are not principal ones, in spite of Maidstone being the county town, due to an accident of history. There are two principal stations: Maidstone East, the more northerly of the two, on the secondary line from London to Ashford, and Maidstone West on the Medway Valley Line.
Maidstone has continued to grow. In doing so it has incorporated hitherto separate settlements, villages and hamlets within its boundaries. These include Allington, Barming, Bearsted, East Farleigh, Penenden Heath, Sandling, Tovil and Weavering Street. Housing estates include Grove Green, Harbourland, Ringlestone, Roseacre, Shepway and Vinters Park.
Maidstone was at one time a centre of industry, brewing and paper making being among the most important. Nowadays smaller industrial units encircle the town. The site of Fremlin’s Brewery, once the largest in Kent, is now Fremlin Walk shopping centre. The pedestrianised areas of the High Street and King Street run up from the river crossing at Lockmeadow; Week Street and Gabriel’s Hill bisect this route.
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