Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: Visiting the Maidstone Museum

It’s always great when you’re out and about, and you stumble across an amazing local museum. That’s what happened recently when visiting Maidstone recently. I hadn’t really been before, and wanted to have it crossed off of my list, while I still had the chance. You can say what you want about Maidstone (either good or bad), but the Maidstone Museum is an absolute treasure trove! I wasn’t even aware that Maidstone had a museum, but in hindsight t makes sense as it is the county town of Kent. It houses a vast collection of both cultural, historical and natural history specimens – arranged over a number of themed rooms. It’s fun for all of the family, although when I visited it was a tad quiet (I’d imagine it being a lot busier during a school holiday). Most importantly, it’s free to get into, which makes it even better!

One of the halls, housing everything from ancient tools to a medieval copy of The Bible. This room truly represents the diversity of the museum

The Maidstone Museum houses a large collection of local and social historical collections which document the history and people of the area. These include such artefacts as stone tools and other evidence that demonstrates that humankind were living in the Maidstone area over 400,000 years ago! There are also significant finds from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and later Roman and Saxon periods, which are display (and in the collections) which provide insight to daily lives of people living in the area, from times gone by. Something that I was happy to learn was that Maidstone was a former successful industrial town, with a major brewing industry (as well as papermaking). It’s extremely interesting that such an unassuming location has such a rich history, despite the fact that it doesn’t quite have the prestige of Hastings or Colchester.

The natural history hall which highlights a number of the animals and plants that can be found in the local area (or further afield in the UK)

The museum houses a botany collection of around 55,000 specimens, which comprises a selection of Kentish flowering plants. It is no surprise that this is the best in the county, and of national importance. On the other hand, the zoology collection is almost twice the size with approximately 98,000 specimens. These include mounted bird collections, bird skins, eggs, and nests, mounted mammals and fish, as well as mammal skins. The entomology collection includes around 250,000 specimens from around the world. Fortunately, only a handful of these specimens are on display, allowing visitors to come face-to-face with some of the animals and plants they may encounter in the local area. There are however a number of natural history specimens from around the world, such as a collection of shells from the South Sea Islands, and other such specimens amassed by various Victorian collectors.

Some of the Wealden fossils that were on display, no doubt their collection behind the scenes, has far more!

The Maidstone Museum is also home to a number of fossils from the Wealden Clay, including from Iguanodon which also features on the town’s coat of arms. At the museum, I was luck enough to learn more about the surprising link, which I’m happy to share with you now. Back in 1834, a quarry was excavated in the Queen’s Road area of Maidstone. It was during this time that a large fossil bone was uncovered, which was evidently from an animal that was much larger than anything living in the area at that time. The quarry owner, a Mr W H Bensted investigated this further and found that the bone was in face part of a partial skeleton. Famous palaeontologist Gideon Mantell visited Maidstone after he’s heard about the discovery, it was here that Mantell was able to confirm that the bones belonged to an Iguanodon. It isn’t just dinosaur that is on display though, there are countless other fossils and minerals from the area for the public to enjoy!

The museum has a large collection of militaria from the now defunct Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment

Something that I was not expecting to find in the Museum, was a large collection of militaria (photographed above). Those items housed within Maidstone Museum originated in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regimental Museum, but were moved to Maidstone in 1960. The collection documents the now defunct Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, up until 1961 following its amalgamation into the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment). Aside from some spectacular hardware such as the cannon you can see above, there are also a number of medals and other objects from various military campaigns spanning the from the 18th century, all the way up to the Second World War. The Museum’s four Victoria Crosses are on display too (among a sea of other medals), but those keen eyed among you should be able to find them relatively quickly given their unique shape!

More than 550 oil paintings are on display throughout the museum, constituting Kent’s biggest publicly owned collection

As is probably evident from this photo, the Maidstone Museum also houses a large collection of art. Over 550 oil paintings are on display throughout the building, which come in a variety of styles, ages, and techniques. Aside from this, thousands of other pieces of art such as watercolours and pencil drawings make up the collection, with a number of these on display to the public. If you’ve got plenty of wall space, why not fill it up with art that was produced in the local area? Not all of the art stems from Maidstone, but like the rest of the collection, much of it does. These include works by the Maidstone-born William Hazlitt, Albert Goodwin, William Alexander, and David Cox.

I’ve only provided a short overview of the collection above, without mentioning the Ancient Egyptian artefacts including a mummy, ethnographical collections, and much more. I don’t wish to spoil too much for you, as where would the fun be in that? The museum truly has a little bit for everyone, and seeing as entry is free, I highly recommend that you visit!

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