Home   Canterbury   News   Article

Photos show construction and the openings of Kent's shopping centres - including Bluewater, Ashford Designer Outlet and Canterbury's Whitefriars

With casual shopping currently a distant memory, KentOnline takes a look back at the construction of the retail hubs built in the county during the late 90s and early 2000s.

While some have taken a hit with the loss of recent big chains, Kent's shopping centres continue to attract hundreds of people everyday and pump millions into the local economy... albeit when the country isn't on lockdown.

Whitefriars, Canterbury

Opened: 2004

Now owned entirely by Canterbury City Council, the outside shopping complex at the top end of the city boasts more than 60 units.

The old Ricemans department store was demolished in 2003 to make way for Fenwick.

A huge archaelogical dig was carried out for three years before construction began, with thousands of objects being unearthed.

Ricemans is demolished, with the Cathedral in the background. Pic: Derek Stingemore
Ricemans is demolished, with the Cathedral in the background. Pic: Derek Stingemore
A time capsule was buried under the Whitefriars development in 2002
A time capsule was buried under the Whitefriars development in 2002

Channel 4 show Time Team filmed at the site which formerly housed a multi-storey car park.

A Roman road, tower, timber buildings and town houses were discovered, as well as a suspected Second World War bomb which turned out to be a Victorian cooking pot.

Whitefriars also includes the Marlowe Arcade - the only roofed section of the complex.

Workmen erect the latest open walkway at Whitefriars
Workmen erect the latest open walkway at Whitefriars
The huge scale of the archaeological dig before the construction of Whitefriars
The huge scale of the archaeological dig before the construction of Whitefriars
Archaeologist Trevor Anderson with one of the five Roman skeletons found at Canterbury’s Big Dig
Archaeologist Trevor Anderson with one of the five Roman skeletons found at Canterbury’s Big Dig
Ricemans store director Adam Bateman locks the door for the last time along with Hugo Fenwick
Ricemans store director Adam Bateman locks the door for the last time along with Hugo Fenwick
Peter Scutt, Matthew Dye, and Chris Edwards and Ted Hunt of HBG Construction at the Whitefriars site in 2003
Peter Scutt, Matthew Dye, and Chris Edwards and Ted Hunt of HBG Construction at the Whitefriars site in 2003

Ashford Designer Outlet, Ashford

Opened: 2000

Believed to be the 'world's largest tented retail structure', the outlet was designed by architect Sir Richard Rogers who is famed for his work on the Lloyd's building in London and the O2 Arena in Greenwich.

The large oval attracts hundreds of thousands of shoppers each year.

The outlet site as it will never be seen again. Pic: Steve Salter
The outlet site as it will never be seen again. Pic: Steve Salter

Work started on the site in 1997 on floodplain land next to the former Kimberley Works of Ashford Railway Works.

The McArthur Glen-run shopping centre opened in March 2000 - drawing in visitors from across the county and from further afield.

Last autumn, a long-awaited extension opened adding scores of new shops and food units to the site.

The McArthur Glen outlet under construction. Pic: Steve Salter
The McArthur Glen outlet under construction. Pic: Steve Salter

Fremlin Walk, Maidstone

Opened: 2005

Fremlin's Brewery - established in 1861 - was the largest of its kind in Kent before being purchased by Whitbread in 1967.

Fremlin Walk beginning to take shape, viewed from Riverside. Pic: Matthew Walker
Fremlin Walk beginning to take shape, viewed from Riverside. Pic: Matthew Walker
TV personality Amanda Holden greeted by House of Fraser chief executive John Coleman at the opening
TV personality Amanda Holden greeted by House of Fraser chief executive John Coleman at the opening

It ceased being a brewery just a few years later and became a bottling depot - it was later demolished, with the arched entrance and clock remaining.

Plans were hatched at the turn of the century for a shopping complex at the site, along with a 700-space car park.

Fremlin Walk opened in 2005
Fremlin Walk opened in 2005
Cranes are lowered at the Fremlin Walk site to observe a two-minute silence. Pic: Mike Mahoney
Cranes are lowered at the Fremlin Walk site to observe a two-minute silence. Pic: Mike Mahoney
A fashion show at House of Fraser on the opening day at Fremlin Walk. Pic: Ana Mosquera
A fashion show at House of Fraser on the opening day at Fremlin Walk. Pic: Ana Mosquera

Since opening, the centre has changed hands four times, with current owners M&G Real Estate taking over for more than £100 million.

Lord Lieutenant of Kent Allan Willett officially opens Fremlin Walk. Pic: John Wardley
Lord Lieutenant of Kent Allan Willett officially opens Fremlin Walk. Pic: John Wardley

County Square extension, Ashford

Opened: 2008

The original County Square - previously called the Tufton Centre - was expanded 12 years ago.

Costing £60 million, the extension saw the shopping centre grow by a third.

Eager shoppers waiting to enter the County Square expansion
Eager shoppers waiting to enter the County Square expansion
The Ashford construction site, pictured in 2006
The Ashford construction site, pictured in 2006
A big rush to be the first to the shops in 2008
A big rush to be the first to the shops in 2008

The flagship Debenhams, which faces onto Elwick Road, store closed its doors for the final time earlier this year.

Work underway building the County Square extension in 2007
Work underway building the County Square extension in 2007
Debenhams on the first day of opening
Debenhams on the first day of opening
The former Debenhams unit under construction. Pic: Gary Browne
The former Debenhams unit under construction. Pic: Gary Browne

Bluewater, Dartford

Opened: 1999

A quarry for many years, the 240 acre site provided chalk for the builders of London until the vision for a huge shopping centre was launched.

Tim Hook, project manager of Blue Water Park, with plans for the superc entre in the quarry site. Pictured here in April 1988.
Tim Hook, project manager of Blue Water Park, with plans for the superc entre in the quarry site. Pictured here in April 1988.
The quarry rapidly became a mini city for construction vehicles
The quarry rapidly became a mini city for construction vehicles

Built as Europe's retail complex, the £375 million construction project started in 1996.

Bluewater triggered a retail renaissance across Kent as towns worried about losing shoppers to their new neighbour sharpened up their act.

Now boasting almost all forms of retail, food and entertainment units you could think of, the site is the place of work for about 50,000 people.

The Bluewater site pictured in April 1998. Pic: Chorley Handford
The Bluewater site pictured in April 1998. Pic: Chorley Handford
Bluewater's opening day drew in thousands of intrigued shoppers
Bluewater's opening day drew in thousands of intrigued shoppers
One of Bluewater's domes under construction, and the outside site, pictured in 1997
One of Bluewater's domes under construction, and the outside site, pictured in 1997

Bouverie Place, Folkestone

Opened: 2007

Shops including Asda, Next, BHS, HMV and Peacocks signed up to be the first tenants in Folkestone's £30 million shopping centre 13 years ago.

Planning permission was granted in July 2004 after developers developers Bride Hall Estates gained support Shepway District Council's planning committee.

Builders at Bouverie Place recreating the famous 'Lunch atop a Skyscraper'. Pic: Sonia McDuff
Builders at Bouverie Place recreating the famous 'Lunch atop a Skyscraper'. Pic: Sonia McDuff
Aerial shot as construction begins on changing Folkestone town centre. Pic: John Barber
Aerial shot as construction begins on changing Folkestone town centre. Pic: John Barber
Progress on the Bouverie Place shopping centre in Folkestone
Progress on the Bouverie Place shopping centre in Folkestone

A 600-space car park was also opened.

Former Folkestone MP Micheal Howard cuts the ribbon with the help of centre manager Paul Stone in November 2007
Former Folkestone MP Micheal Howard cuts the ribbon with the help of centre manager Paul Stone in November 2007
The finishing touches are added
The finishing touches are added

Dockside Shopping Outlet, Chatham

Opened: 2003

The £67 million centre in Grade II-listed Victorian boiler welcomed 15,000 shoppers on its opening day 17 years ago.

The original clocktower at the maritime building was kept standing.

Colin Wilding, manager of Dockside Outlet Centre pictured in January 2003. Pic: Marilyn Roffey, The Enterprise Company
Colin Wilding, manager of Dockside Outlet Centre pictured in January 2003. Pic: Marilyn Roffey, The Enterprise Company
Dockside Outlet Centre under construction in 2002 at the old dockyard Old Boiler Shop
Dockside Outlet Centre under construction in 2002 at the old dockyard Old Boiler Shop
Claire's Accessories staff cut the tape to open their unit. Pic: Matthew Walker
Claire's Accessories staff cut the tape to open their unit. Pic: Matthew Walker

In 2015, the shopping mall - next to the historic dockyard - was sold to a retail management firm WD Ltd for £9.1 million.

Shoppers crowd in as the doors open. Pic Matthew Walker
Shoppers crowd in as the doors open. Pic Matthew Walker
Trevor Goff of Dockside Developments, left, and Guy Shepherd, TryAccord project manager, holding a giant spanner found on site
Trevor Goff of Dockside Developments, left, and Guy Shepherd, TryAccord project manager, holding a giant spanner found on site
Scores of vehicles made their way into the car park on opening day. Pic: Matthew Walker
Scores of vehicles made their way into the car park on opening day. Pic: Matthew Walker

Westwood Cross, Broadstairs

Opened: 2005

The sprawling open-air complex was built on the site of the former Haine Hospital following its closure in 1997 and later demolition in 2003.

The main shopping centre opened in 2005, followed by the Vue cinema in 2007 and the large Mecca bingo hall.

A later extension to rehouse Wickes was added in 2010 before a new Primark and a nearby Sainsbury's opened.

The Vue cinema pictured shortly after opening(32388099)
The Vue cinema pictured shortly after opening(32388099)
M&S at Westwood Cross (32388101)
M&S at Westwood Cross (32388101)

Bligh's Meadow, Sevenoaks

Opened: 2001

Originally opening almost 20 years ago, Bligh's Meadow - in the heart of Sevenoaks -was introduced in phases.

Now home to more than 35 shops, the complex used to be a meadow, before becoming a bus station and car park.

Bligh's Meadow pictured in 2004
Bligh's Meadow pictured in 2004

Head to our business page for all of the latest news about businesses in Kent

Read more: All the latest news from Kent


More by this author


Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More