Although the Association of Men of Kent & Kentish Men was formed towards the end of the 19th century, it was not until 1914 that a group of local notables formed the Maidstone Branch. The choice of date was unfortunate for it meant that, no sooner had it been formed, than the Branch was put into abeyance for the duration of hostilities.
Once the beastliness that typified the Great War had ceased and life began to return to a state of peacetime calm, the Branch was reformed, ready to play its part in the promotion and protection of the Garden of England in general and the ancient borough of Maidstone in particular.
Who were these far-sighted pillars of society? Well, the Chairman’s and President’s ‘chains of office’ bear the names of many distinguished holders of these posts, including Lord Cornwallis, Brigadier T Pitt, W H Whitehead, Lord Bossom, Lord Monkton of Brenchley, Gordon Bonner . . . .
The outbreak of another World War in 1939 meant that, once more, the Branch was moribund but this did not prevent it helping to raise the money to pay for the construction of a number of Spitfires. This initiative was prompted by a member of the Maidstone Branch, Stanley Johnson, who sent a donation of £5,000 (around £300,000 today) to Lord Cornwallis, the then President of the Association, to ‘buy a Spitfire’ to replace one which had recently been shot down. Lord Cornwallis wasted no time in in using this to start up a fund with the intention of collecting enough to pay for a flight of three Spitfires. Not only was the target reached but this initiative grew and grew until the Association had garnered enough to pay for a whole squadron, which was given the epithet of No. 131 (County of Kent) Squadron.
The Branch resumed normal business in 1948 with a largely new membership and in the 1960s the Association opened its doors to ‘The Fair Maids of Kent’ * on the same terms as the men.
2014 saw the Maidstone Branch achieve its centenary. This was celebrated in true Kentish fashion with a gala dinner at Chilston Manor and the planting of a holm oak in Mote Park. The dinner merely remains in our memories but the tree will hopefully prosper and will still be there for the bicentenary in 2114, even if we are not!
The Branch meets in Maidstone Town Hall on the last Friday of each month. Coffee and tea are available from 10.00 am, followed by a speaker or other entertainment. Visits to places of interest are also arranged from time to time. Visitors and prospective members are cordially invited and the meetings are open to all, regardless of gender, colour, creed or other persuasion - just an interest and pride in Kent in general and the County Town in particular. Visitors are advised to contact the secretary beforehand to ensure that there in no deviation from the usual programme.
Click HERE to contact the Branch Secretary for further information.
* The original Fair Maid of Kent was Joan of Kent (1328-1385), the daughter of the Earl of Kent, who married the Edward the Black Prince, and was renowned for her beauty.