I recently took a stroll around Maidstone, looking for some of the old bits that had not been bulldozed in the name of progress. I found myself looking at the old Rootes showroom, now earmarked for redevelopment into yet more housing. I first knew Maidstone when my family moved to a nearby village at the beginning of the 1960s, and I well remember Rootes Group and their showroom here by the River Len.
The Rootes motor business dates back to 1897 in Maidstone, and in 1913 the founder’s son, William, formed his own independent motor sales company in Hawkhurst, also repairing and making parts for aircraft engines. William bought his father’s Maidstone business in 1917, later expanding nationally to encompass the motor manufacturers Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam, Talbot, Commer and Karrier, as well as the Maidstone motor manufacturer Tillings-Stevens. It was here in Maidstone that the showroom, photographed above, was built for Rootes by the architectural firm Howard and Souster in 1937/8.
The building overlooks the mill pond on the river Len, once serving the Corn Mill at its downstream end where the modern road bridge is built over the top of a mediaeval mulit-span bridge on Mill Street. Here you see the bridge pictured from the west where the mediaeval stone arches can still be seen under the modern cantilevered road bridge. When I took this photograph there was a pied wagtail flying in and out of the dark tunnels under the arches.
Turning my back on the Mill Street bridge I get this view of the river Len flowing towards the Medway.
Crossing into the gardens of the Archbishop’s Palace, I see the river Len again, further downstream, now only metres away from where it joins the Medway.
Content and images © copyright Tony Benson