The Archbishops’ Palace
The Old Palace as we see it today is a medley of restorations and alterations showing evidence of its ecclesiastical and civil owners throughout many centuries. Its history is central to the development of the town as we know it today.
In the Domesday Book, Maidstone is described as being ‘part of the lands of the Archbishop’. It is later recorded that the Manor of Maidstone was owned by William de Cornhill, who was rector of St Mary’s Church in the town. In 1207, William de Cornhill gave the manor to Stephen Langdon, Archbishop of Canterbury, starting a 330 year ownership of the site by the archbishops.
William de Cornhill’s Manor House is believed to be on the site of the present Palace. The original building was probably a ragstone and timber-framed hall house with an undercroft (or vaulted basement). Over time this was developed into the grand building we see today.
The Palace at Maidstone is one of four similar Archbishops Palaces set between London and Canterbury. Many famous Archbishops of Canterbury, including Morton, Wareham, Courtenay and Cranmer, spent much time at Maidstone Palace and made substantial improvements to it.
The presence of the Palace and its manorial estate led to the development of a small settlement, then to the establishment of a market in 1261.
There is then a shortage of records until the 14th century when Archbishop John Ufford began to rebuild the manor house. One of his successors, Simon Islip, continued this work and the new building would have housed the Archbishop’s court for formal occasions, as well as being the administrative centre of the manor.
The original palace created by Archbishop Islip has mostly been lost under later alterations. It is believed that the present Hall and Solar were probably (in their original form) part of this building. There is archaeological evidence for other buildings extending to the north and south-east possibly linking with St Mary’s Church.
The Palace consisted of a large courtyard approached via a bridge over the River Len to the north. At the west end were the Archbishop’s residence and formal rooms with the stables and servants accommodation at the east end. The long sides of the courtyard would have been lined with lodgings for retainers. The Archbishop travelled with his whole court of about 300 people.