Published: 10:47, 11 April 2019
| Updated: 10:56, 11 April 2019
If you were asked to name some famous sons of Maidstone, would William Alexander by on your list?
How about Lord Avebury? Or John Ruxton?
And what was John Bell famous for (or should that read infamous?)
The answers to all these questions and more are contained in a new book by Dean Hollands called Secret Maidstone.
With a foreward by the Mayor of Maidstone Dave Naghi, shortly to become a historical footnote himself, the book aims to tell us all a few things about Maidstone we had either never known or at best forgotten.
Ranging across time from prehistoric megaliths to the Second World War, there are interesting little nuggets of history to be discovered, whether it be the water tower that once stood in Maidstone High Street, or the reason why the Saxon Warrior Pharmacy in Lenham is so called (in 1946 during renovation work, the skeletons of three Saxon warriors, with their weapons, were found beneath the floor - even more interesting, one was a woman).
Lord Avebury, by the way, (1834 to 1913) was the MP for Maidstone between 1874 and 1880. Among 48 bills that he introduced to Parliament were the Ancient Monuments Act to protect historic sites and the Bank Holidays Act that gave us all the extra days off that we now enjoy.
William Alexander was a true son of Maidstone (1767 to 1816), born in the town and attending Maidstone Grammar School. In 1792, an artist and a member of the Royal Academy, he travelled on an embassy to China when that country was still largely unvisited by Westerners, and came back with scores of drawings and paintings illustrating what he saw there. He is buried at Boxley.
John Ruxton was the first Chief Constable of Kent Police, after the force was created by an 1856 act of Parliament. The force was then head-quartered at Wren's Cross, currently undergoing re-developments as blocks of flats. The policeman's lot was not a happy one in those early days. Ruxton had his officers work 13 out of every 14 days and to save the dignity of the force they were not allowed to eat their lunch in public view, instead having to munch their sandwiches inside a public convenience. There must have been knife crime in those days too, but the biggest problem that Ruxton had to deal with was the organised prize fights that would take place in the countryside beside a rail-line, sometimes with as many as 2,000 spectators travelling down from London by train.
Ruxton was Chief Constable for 37 years, retiring at the age of 77.
John Bell was one who didn't escape the long arm of the law. The 14-year-old has the distinction of being the youngest person to be hanged at Maidstone Prison - for the murder of 13-year-old Richard Taylor. He slit Taylor's throat in order to steal the nine shillings poor relief the boy had been given for his disabled father. The chief witness against John Bell was his 11-year-old brother James. Thousands watched his execution on August 1, 1831. His body was given to surgeons at Rochester for medical dissection.
Secret Maidstone is written by Dean Hollands and published by Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4456-8864-0. It costs £14.99 and is available in most bookshops.