The local history and social history collections at Maidstone Museum document the history and people of the area at the centre of the Garden of England, and include local industries, photography, printed ephemera and numismatics.
Stone tools and other evidence tell us that our ancestors were living in the Maidstone area over 400,000 years ago. Significant finds from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and later Roman and Saxon periods (within our archaeological collections) provide tantalising glimpses of what life must have been like for local people.
Written records do not exist much before the Medieval period when the Archbishop’s Palace overlooking the Medway became the focus of a small settlement. But in 1549, Maidstone was recognised as a town when it was granted a royal charter. Famous incidents in its history include the Wyatt Rebellion and Battle of Maidstone in the English Civil War (1648). By the 18th century, Maidstone was the official and legal centre of Kent. It was also a successful industrial town with major brewing and papermaking industries. In the 21st century, Maidstone is still expanding as a retail and entertainment centre.
Maidstone Museum holds in excess of 15,000 specimens or artefacts which come within the field of social history, and particularly strong domestic themes include housing, heating and lighting, cleaning and maintenance, food and drink, toys and games, textile crafts, music, broadcast and pre-recorded entertainment, writing equipment, and smoking. The museum also holds a fairly large collection of material of major local importance, documenting the everyday life of the borough, local events, and celebrities. Collections relating to local industries include brewing and hop picking (Fremlin, Style & Winch, Mason & Co); papermaking (Whatman); confectionary and food production (Sharps & Foster Clark); engineering (Tilling-Stevens); and agricultural equipment (Weeks).
The museum houses a major collection of printed ephemera, maps, and books (circa 12,000 specimens) relating to Maidstone. The collection ranges from the 18th century to the present day, but the most comprehensive coverage is for the second half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th.
The photographic collections of over 6,000 items covering historic Kent consist of glass plate negatives, photographic prints, magic lanterns and slides, cameras, and accessories and equipment, together with a small quantity of amateur cine equipment. The following photographers are represented in the collection:
- Cole Collection was taken on the Isle of Sheppey between 1870 and 1900
- Ruck Collection taken at roughly the same time, but mostly in Maidstone and its environs
- Marley Collection. A Maidstone Camera Club member (and in whose name they still hold the Marley Prize), was photographing similar Maidstone scenes in the early decades of the 20th century
- Broom Collection – primarily coaches, carriages, and horse images taken between 1904 and 1939 and linked with the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace – form part of Tyrwhitt Drake Museum of Carriages collection. They were taken by renowned female press photographer Christina Broom who reputedly taught herself photography at the age of 40, and the collection of 415 glass plate negatives was donated by her daughter Winifred
The museum contains collections of Greek, Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Medieval, and modern English coins, love tokens, Kent tokens, hop tokens, jettons, miscellaneous foreign coins, local commemorative medallions, and medals, totalling over 20,000 specimens.