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MARKET TOWNS OF KENT (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Maidstone in 1836

Maidstone, a corporate town and Parliamentary borough, in the parish and hundred of Maidstone and county of Kent, of which it is the county town and assize town. Maidstone is situated on a pleasant declivity chiefly on the right bank of the Medway, about two miles above Allington Lock, eight miles above Rochester and 32 miles south-east by east from London. Till the lock was constructed on the river the tide came up to Maidstone. It consists of four principal streets, which are well paved and lighted, and it contains many well-built houses. There are two reservoirs for supplying the residents with water, conveyed from a spring on the opposite banks of the Medway, which river is here crossed by a very ancient bridge of several arches.

The derivation of the name 'Maidstone' is not precisely known; at least, various etymologies are given by Camden, Hasted and others. According to Nennius (Catalogue of the Cities of Britain), this place was called by the British Caer Meguaid, or Medwag, signifying the town or city of the Medway.

At a very early period Maidstone formed part of the possessions of the see of Canterbury, and is entered in the general survey of Domesday under the title of the lands of the archbishop. The charters of incorporation are those of 3 Edward VI, 2 Elizabeth, 2 and 17 James I, 34 Charles II, and 21 George II. The first of these was forfeited in the time of Queen Mary, in consequence of the supposed participation of the leading members of the corporation in the rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt.

The revenue of the corporation in 1835, arising from landed property, tolls, etc., was estimated at £1,114. The total debt at that time was £15,875, and the annual expenditure, the chief item in which was the interest on this debt, is supposed to be about equal to the income. Since the establishment of the police under the Municipal Corporation Act the expenditure has been considerably increased. The landed property has lately been sold, and a great part of the debt paid off. The Town is divided into six wards, the town council consists of 6 aldermen and 18 councillors.

The town is said to be in a thriving state. There are manufactories of felt and blanket, but these are of limited extent compared with the paper-mills, which employ upwards of 800 hands. The traffic up and down the river is considerable, and has been materially increased by the construction of the lock for improving navigation. The imports consist chiefly of coal, timber, groceries, iron, and rags ; the exports are mostly fruit, hops, stone from the quarries of Kentish Ragstone in this parish and neighbourhood, and paper. The aggregate tonnage of the vessels passing through Allington lock is estimated at 120,000 tons, upon which tolls to the amount of £2,600 are annually collected.

There is no borough gaol : the justices of the borough commit all prisoners to the county gaol, and the expense of their maintenance, amounting to one shilling per day for each prisoner, is defrayed out of the borough-rate. On the east side of the river there are cavalry barracks. Nearly opposite to the town-hall is a spacious commercial room used as a Corn Exchange. The archbishop’s palace is a Gothic structure, rebuilt about the middle of the fourteenth century. Since that time it has undergone considerable alteration, and in its present state is a pleasant and convenient residence. The chapel of Newark Hospital, which was built in the thirteenth century, is a small but beautiful specimen of the early pointed style. Maidstone formerly contained a college, consisting of a master, sub-master, and four priests, founded by Archbishop Courteney in the reign of Richard II. It was suppressed by Edward VI, at which time its nett annual revenue was £159, 7 shillings and 10 pence.

Among the persons of literary eminence who were connected with this college was the learned William Groeyn, the friend of Erasmus. He died in 1522, and was interred at Maidstone. There was also a fraternity of Corpus Christi, and upon the suppression of this fraternity the buildings belonging to it, then called 'The Brotherhood Hall,' were purchased by the corporation, who established the free grammar-school, which still exists, but is not at present in a very flourishing condition. Freemen have the privilege of sending their sons to this school, where they receive a classical education gratuitously, but for other branches a charge is made by the master, who receives a salary of £23, 12 shillings per annum from the funds of the corporation, and has the management of certain lands in Romney Marsh confided to him, these lands constituting the principal endowments of the school. There are exhibitions, founded by Robert Gunsley in 1618, for four scholars to University College, Oxford ; two to be elected from this school, and two from the free grammar-school of Rochester. Besides the grammar-school there are a proprietory school, four charity schools, nineteen almshouses, a medical dispensary, and other benevolent institutions.

Maidstone is in the diocese of Canterbury. The living is a perpetual curacy in the patronage of the archbishop, producing a net income of £720. The parish church of All Saints, which is one of the largest in the kingdom, was built in the fourteenth century; the new church was built a few years ago. There are also nine places of worship for Dissenters.

The population of the borough, which is coextensive with the parish, was 15,387 in the year 1831, exclusive of the prisoners confined in the county gaol, and is still increasing. The assessed taxes collected during the preceding year amounted to £4,784. Maidstone has returned two members to parliament continuously from the reign of Edward VI. The county gaol at Maidstone is a modern building, constructed in 1818 on the improved radiating plan, at an expense of £200,000. According to the Gaol Returns transmitted to the secretary of state it appears that in the year 1833 the general state of the prisoners as to morals, discipline, employment, etc. was eminently satisfactory. The total number then confined was 403; the gaol is capable of containing 453 in separate sleeping cells. The hours of labour are from six in the morning to half-past five in the evening, when the daylight admits ; and at other times of the year from daylight in the morning till half an hour before sunset in the evening. By means of Sunday and day schools, conducted under the direction of the chaplain, provision is made for the instruction of prisoners of all classes.

There are four fairs held annually on the 13th of February, 12th of May, 20th of June, and 17th of October; the last is a large hop-fair.