Carriage Museum History
Maidstone Carriage Museum offers an insight into the fascinating history of transport and is home to a unique collection of horse-drawn vehicles and transport curiosities. Brought together by Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake, 12-time Mayor of Maidstone and the man behind Maidstone’s Cobtree Zoo, Maidstone Carriage Museum today accounts for over 60 vehicles.
As a keen rider and driver himself, declaring in 1951 that, “A Tyrwhitt-Drake never walked if he could ride or drive,” he began collecting carriages when he realised that the horse-drawn vehicles of his childhood were being forced off the road by the motor car. Placing adverts in national newspapers to collect and preserve carriages which were being destroyed or re-purposed, his energy and enthusiasm led to the opening of the Maidstone Carriage Museum on November 6, 1946 by Sir Leigh Ashton, then director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It was the first of its kind in Britain and is still viewed as one of the finest in Europe.
History of the building
The collection is housed in the 14th-century stables, part of the medieval Archbishop’s Palace complex historically used by the Archbishop of Canterbury when travelling through the county.
The palace and stables remained in the possession of the church until the 16th century when they were sold into private hands. Their use up to the 19th century, however, remains obscure, but it is quite likely that the stables would have been used in the textile industry and possibly in tanning and leather work as well.
By 1912, the stables were on the market and Maidstone’s heritage-conscious citizens started a subscription fund to buy the stables for the town. Even though the building now belonged to the borough, it was still put to a variety of uses – including as a munitions factory in the First World War. During the Second World War, it was used for Air Raid Precautions and it was not until 1946 that the borough made the stables available to Sir Garrard to use as a home for his collection of carriages.