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Maidstone is the county town and administrative centre of Kent, a large county in the south-east of the British Isles. Situated in the centre of the county, Maidstone is the major industrial, economic and population centre of Kent.

Archeological evidence suggests that the Maidstone area was first settled in the Mesolithic era (which ended at around 4000 BC), and was first cultivated for agriculture during the Neolithic era. Prominant evidence for inhabitation during this period comes from the Medway Megaliths and the Kit's Coty standing stones to the north.

By the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD, Maidstone was a small community, bolstered by the addition of a number of villas and roads, including those which became the foundation for the modern Week Street and Stone Street in the centre of the town.

The Romans also used stone from local quarries (from the local villages of Farleigh and Snodland) to build the capital of Roman Britain: Londinium (now called London).

The town's name is thought to derive from "Stone of Maidens" in Old English.

The Domesday Book of 1086, records Maidstone as a centre for crafts and part of the manorial estate of the Archbishop of Canterbury (whose official residence at the time was not in Canterbury or the current residence of Lambeth Palace in London, but the Archibishop's Palace in Maidstone). This small manorial town was destined to grow into a market town and borough by the 16th century; the first grammar school was founded in 1549, and by the early 17th century, with expansion in the number of schools, literacy was markedly improving.

Penenden Heath was the traditional site for the sheriff's courts from all over Kent, and by 1620 most Assize hearings were held in Maidstone. This has resulted in Maidstone's status as a regional centre for administration and a major Court - the County Court is an important national court and has held a number of major public trials in recent times. HMP Maidstone is a well-known high-security prison that has held a number of notorious criminals.

During the English Civil War, Maidstone was an important base of operations for the Royalist army, and one of the bloodiest battles of the war was fought for the strategically important East Farleigh Bridge, to the southeast (Incidentally, the "Grand old Duke of York" nursery rhyme depicts and actual event, that of a parade of troops by the Duke of York at Loose Hill to the south of Maidstone during the war).

It was the Georgian age which sparked off real prosperity; living standards rose, specialist industries, shops, inns and professions proliferated. It was still an important market town, and maintained by the weekly Thursday market, four annual fairs, Sunday fairs, and a monthly cattle market. By the time the town hall was built in 1765, Maidstone had replaced Canterbury as Kent's most important town, and with the opening of the first General Dispensary in 1824, a new gaol in 1819, the County Sessions House in the 1820s, and expansion of the barracks, Maidstone was firmly established as the County Town of Kent.

Geographically, Maidstone stands on the banks of the River Medway, in the Medway Valley, almost at the centre of the county of Kent. Maidstone is at the heart of the agricultural region of the "Garden of England" (as depicted in The Darling Buds of May and other works). Maidstone is connected to the British road network by the M20 and the A20, two major roads providing communications links between London and the south-east coast (and hence Europe as well). Incidentally, in Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Moonraker, 007 takes a journey along the A20 and Fleming describes the centre of Maidstone at the time.

Famous dead people who came from Maidstone

  • William Wilberforce - the man who campaigned for the Emancipation of Slaves throughout Europe and America, made his last speech in Maidstone in 1833. His family is buried in East Farleigh church, to the southeast of the town
  • Benjamin Disraeli - novelist and politician, MP for Maidstone and Prime Minister of Britain 1868 - 1870 and 1874-1880, championed social and economic reform and supported the arts.
  • William Hazlitt - essayist, poet and writer.
  • Wat Tyler - leader of a Peasant Rebellion in 1381. He led more than 100,000 people into London to protest against high taxes.

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Famous people who live, have lived or regularly visit Maidstone

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