With many people missing a day out at the shops due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided to raid the archive for a trip down memory lane looking at the county’s vast selection of malls.
From huge complexes to smaller precincts, Kent is home to many a varied shopping centre.
Many have changed over the years – whether by layout or the selection of stores on offer.
We start with the county’s biggest shopping centre, Bluewater, in Greenhithe.
It opened in March 1999 and rises out of a former chalk quarry among 50 metre-high cliffs – the same height as 10 double decker buses.
It boasts 300 stores, over 50 bars, restaurants and cafes, a cinema and 13,000 free car parking spaces, and attracts millions of visitors each year.
It hosts various events, including book signings and fireworks, and is home to a trampoline park and mini golf.
Folkestone’s Bouverie Place was built in 2007 and includes 26,500 sq ft of retail space, plus a 570 space multi storey car park.
It was attracting 100,000 shoppers a week – pre-Covid – and its stores include Primark, Deichmann, Asda, Specsavers and New Look.
Food outlets include Subway, Burger King and Starbucks.
In 2019, the centre was put on the market for £25million.
County Square in Ashford was originally called Tufton Centre.
It opened in 1975 and included both covered malls and two open-aired squares.
Plans for a redevelopment were put in place in the 1980s, and the works included adding an enclosed pitch roof, new floor finishes, lifts and remodelled entrances.
The project, which saw the shopping centre renamed as County Square, was completed by early 1991.
It was further extended again in 2008.
To see more ‘then and now pictures’ of Ashford town centre, click here.
Ashford is also home to the Designer Outlet.
It opened in March 2000 with its unique tented roof and horseshoe shape layout, and attracts millions of visitors annually.
In 2013 it announced plans to double in size.
The new and improved Outlet opened in November 2019, adding 50 stores to its offering, plus more restaurants and an improved children’s play area.
The Forum Shopping Centre sits on Sittingbourne’s High Street and dates back to the 80s.
It is home to New Look, Costa, Warren James and Savers.
Our pictures show the mall in 1989 when stores included Barratts shoes and Hepworth.
For more ‘then and now pictures’ from Sittingbourne town centre, click here.
Hempstead Valley, in Gillingham, opened in October 1978 and was the first out of town shopping centre in the south east, having been modelled on successful complexes in North America and Europe.
It was hailed as a family experience and, perhaps for the first time, promoters proclaimed even dads will enjoy it.
It started off with the SavaCentre, a large hypermarket combining British Home Stores and Sainsbury’s.
Others including Marks & Spencer, Argos, Boots and, more recently, TK Maxx and M&Co followed.
It celebrated its 40th birthday in 2018.
The Mall in Pads Hill, Maidstone, has gone through many changes over the years.
It opened in 1976 as the Stoneborough Centre and at the time was the 60th largest shopping centre in the country.
It initially offered 75 units with a total of 400,000 sq ft of retail space and 1,200 car parking spaces. It cost £10 million to build.
It has been refurbished and expanded several times, and was worth £130m when it last exchanged hands.
It has since been The Chequers Centre, The Mall Chequers and is now The Mall.
You can also find the Royal Star Arcade in Maidstone.
It was converted into an indoor shopping centre in 1989 and retained some of the original features of the former hotel.
Originally the Star Hotel was built in the 16th century and was an important coaching inn and a popular overnight stop for those travelling between London and Folkestone.
The arcade now houses independent shops and cafes.
The Pentagon Shopping Centre in Chatham town centre includes more than 70 stores, such as New Look, Boots, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Sainsbury’s and a 16 lane bowling alley.
Its name derives from the fact that its main courtyard is five-sided.
It was built in the early 1970s and opened in 1975.
The Rainham Shopping Centre precinct was built in the 1970s after the old church school building was demolished.
Our photos show a kebab shop and dry cleaners from yesteryear. Today it is home to Costa, Boots and Iceland.
Royal Victoria Place in Tunbridge Wells was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in October 1992 after 36 months of construction.
It is in the town centre and is mostly covered.
Shops include Fenwicks, Marks & Spencer and WHSmith.
Plans for an £11million upgrade for the centre were announced in 2019.
Canterbury’s popular Whitefriars shopping area was completed in 2005, after six years of construction.
It replaced a mix of offices, shops and a multi storey car park which had been built in the 50s and 70s.
Ricemans department store – which had the biggest toy selection in the city – was replaced by Fenwicks as part of the project.
Whitefriars reaches down to the former Marlowe Arcade and shops and restaurants include Primark, Next, Bills and Boots.
During its construction, the Canterbury Archaeological Trust undertook the largest excavation programme ever seen in the city.
Known as The Big Dig, this project saw an almost continuous series of minor investigations, evaluations and watching briefs, as well as three major open-area excavations.
Westwood Cross shopping centre in Broadstairs opened in 2005. It includes an open air arcade and stores such as Marks and Spencer, Next, Boots and The Body Shop.
The centre is surrounded by more retail parks, plus restaurants and entertainment, such as a cinema, casino and bingo club.
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