Hot Spot: Maidstone

The glorious Medway River and a rich history make this a leading light of the Kent commuter belt, says Robert Liebman

Maidstone's current MP is Ann Widdecombe, one of her predecessors was Benjamin Disraeli, and the town supported the Royalists during the Civil War. But it hasn't always been a Tory stronghold. The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 gathered steam in Maidstone, and the dramatic march to the capital to confront Richard II was led by a Kent local, Wat Tyler. Both the revolt and Tyler came to a nasty end when negotiations suddenly turned from civil to sour and, pulled from his horse by the Mayor of London William Walworth, he was fatally stabbed.

The town still has many reminders of its rich history, including the medieval St Peters Church and the Archbishops' Palace. Now a museum, Chillington Manor House dates to the 16th century. Maidstone's architectural attractiveness is enhanced by the Medway River, the 550-acre Mote Park in the town centre, and splendid North Downs countryside.

Given a green light to build in the Maidstone area, developers didn't let the opportunity pass. "The major builders are all active here," says Paul Hughes of Halifax. "Wimpey homes has just finished a large site close to the town centre, Wards have built apartments and town houses close to town, Westbury are developing a site in Tovil Mill and Mclean will build just outside Langley. We are selling agents for Berkeley at Leybourne Lakes, which is a modern community less than five miles outside the town." Bryant is building houses at the former Oakwood Hospital, and Wilson Connolly is building 195 town-centre flats.

James Best-Shaw of Cluttons notes: "The particularly popular villages are just outside Maidstone, including Sutton Valence, Leeds and Otham, where four-bedroom detached houses sell for between £400,000 and £500,000, and larger properties with a paddock and outbuildings can achieve between £500,000 and £800,000. The hospital is a major employer in the area, which means a steady flow of doctors moving here. We also have several small business parks that have attracted people tired of commuting to London."

Local agents agree that realistically priced houses sell quickly in an area exceptionally strong in commutability - strong on rail as well as roads, with Maidstone now convenient for Paris, Lille and Brussels as well as London.

Michael Smith of Connells adds: "The lettings market is strong, and first-time-buyer properties are being bought by investors. And we have plenty of buyers from London because there is still a noticeable price difference."

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

Maidstone East and Maidstone West are less than an hour from London Bridge and Victoria via a direct service. In the opposite direction is Ashford International.

Shopping

Chequers has loads of high street chains, and Royal Star Arcade has craft and gift shops. The new Fremlins Walk centre will have a House of Fraser. Lockmeadow's market stalls open for business Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Sports

Maidstone Leisure Centre in Mote Park has swimming pools, a wave machine, sauna and fitness suite. Cobham Manor Riding Centre is in Thurnham, four miles from Maidstone.

Attractions

Within Maidstone are a museum and Bentlif Art Gallery, the Archbishops' Palace and Apothecary's Garden, and the Tyrwhitt-Drake Museum of Carriages (with a penny-farthing bicycle and 17th-century carriages). Nearby are Leeds Castle, the Museum of Kent Life (with Britain's last working oast house) and Lashenden Air Warfare Museum in Headcorn.

Entertainment

The Odeon at Lockmeadow has eight screens and the Corn Exchange shows foreign and art films for the Maidstone Film Society. The Hazlitt Theatre hosts plays, pantos and standup comics, and outdoor concerts and plays are performed at The Riverstage in Whatman Park.

Prices

Prices start from £70,000 for one-bed flats, £120,000 for two-bed terraces and £150,000 for three-bed semis. A one-bed flat in a small purpose-built block, £107,000. A two-bed penthouse near Maidstone East station has a balcony and communal gardens, £144,995; a two-bed house near the town centre, £149,995; and three-bed semis between £160,000 and £190,000, at Connells.

Country

The Grade II six-bed Swiss Cottage near Maidstone is about £600,000 at Halifax. Jackson-Stops has large homes with land for up to £2m. In Sittingbourne, 10 miles from Maidstone, a bright modern house - one of four designed by Artlab - has three bedrooms, an office and high ceilings, including a vestibule; £450,000, at Cluttons.

Former oast houses

Loch View Oast has two roundels, five bedrooms and double garage near Sutton Valence. The plot extends to 1.4 acres, and the kitchen, master bedroom and other main rooms are 19 feet in diameter, £595,000. Another brewing industry remnant is The Maltings, a Grade II-listed five-bed former malthouse with games room and sauna, double car port and garage in Boughton Monchelsea; £420,000, Page & Wells.

West Malling

In the new village of Kings Hill, Environ Sunley's Kings Hill Park consists of 33 homes overlooking the golf course; two-bed flats from £385,000, and houses from £450,000 to £950,000 (01732 871872). Sunley Walker's Guys Court on a former airfield has 14 flats and two penthouses, from £280,000 to £495,000 (0800 587 3953). Maidstone-based Hillreed Homes' Broadleaf Wood has 21 homes, 14 with private drives, from £519,950 to £659,950 (01732 873536).

Estate agents

Bradford & Bingley, 01622 759891; Cluttons, 01622 756000; Connells, 01622 751034; Halifax, 01622 678660; Jackson-Stops & Staff, 01580 720000; Page & Wells, 01622 756703.

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