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A History of Hempstead Valley

Hempstead Valley under construction in the late 1970s

It was in Kent that Julius Caesar landed in 55 BC and uttered the immortal line: "I came, I saw, I conquered".

Other notorious figures who have passed through Kent include William The Conqueror and Napoleon as well as St Augustine who landed on Kent's shores in 597 AD to reclaim England for Christianity. The Cathedral town of Canterbury, the seat of Christianity, draws up to 1.5 million visitors annually.

Royalty has also made it's mark on Kent with King Henry VIII who met Anne of Cleves for the first time and it was here that the King's fruiterer planted the first apple and cherry trees in Teynham, establishing Kent's reputation as the 'Garden of England'.

At the turn of the century, Hempstead Valley was still completely rural as was much of the now developed area on the outskirts of the Medway Towns. Hempstead remained little more than a farmstead and in 1909 plots of land measuring 20ft x 200ft were advertised for sale on Hempstead estate at £10 or by installments at less than 9d a week (approx. 2.5p).

Hempstead first appears in Kelly's Directory in it's own right in 1914-15 and lists 34 households there. Many of the early settlers became market gardeners, nurserymen and pig farmers. By that time, the community boasted it's own school, a post office and a general store.

So, the Hempstead Valley community was taking shape...

Taken from short extracts from Gillingham Library archives:
the earliest known church was at Lidsing, about half a mile south of Hempstead village near what is now Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre! The chapel was built at some time during the Middle Ages, being first mentioned in 1448, though it may have existed before that. The chapel fell into ruins in the 18th century. Repairs were made in the late 18th century, but it was demolished in 1883 as it was thought to constitute a danger to the gipsies and tramps who used it for shelter.

Village ‘characters' abounded in Hempstead. There was John Hoare, a toothless, one eyed old manned, dressed summer or winter in a dark felt hat and raincoat. He lived in a little wooden hut in a cherry orchard. Then there was Dirty Gert, who lived in a dolls house-sized one bedroom bungalow and produced a new baby every year.

The site for All Saints Church was purchased in 1911 for £52 10s. Lady Lonsdale laid the foundation stone on 1 November of the same year. Money to pay for the building was collected from the villagers. A survey of Hempstead in 1911 showed the population stood at 245 and 74 went to church regularly.

Hempstead school was built in 1907 and opened with 22 pupils. Many children had a long walk to school, whatever the weather. The youngsters also came from Wigmore, as there was no school there. The footpath they used ran from Spekes Road to the school through the valley. Children also walked from Sharstead, Capstone and the Wagon-at-Hale. By about 1911 the number of pupils had swollen to about 80. School records for 2 April 1917 read "Heavy snowstorm - only 30 children present out of 130 on roll".

Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre development

The development of Hempstead Valley started in 1974 and was planned as a major district centre, of originally approx 250,000 square foot in size. In the early 1990's the Phase I extension was built which is home to 80,000 sq ft M&S, which was completely refurbished in 2007.

Hempstead Valley was Kent's first out of town shopping centre and is home to Kent's largest Sainsbury's (originally called Savacentre) and Medway's only M&S with a Food Hall and a range of over 50 retailers.  The original Picnic Parlour at Hempstead Valley was the UK's first Food Court and the centre was modelled on successful complexes in North America. It was originally planned to be an open air shopping centre but the concept was changed to a covered shopping complex.  The innovative Savacentre hypermarket at Hempstead Valley opened on 17th October 1978 and the centre celebrated its 30th birthday in 2008.