Kent’s shopping centres through the years

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.

Bluewater opened March 16, 1999
Bluewater opened March 16, 1999

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.

People dine outside by the water at Bluewater on its opening day in 1999
People dine outside by the water at Bluewater on its opening day in 1999
Inside Bluewater on its opening day
Inside Bluewater on its opening day
Bluewater full of shoppers on its opening day
Bluewater full of shoppers on its opening day
Picture of the cliffs surrounding Bluewater in 2006. Picture: Jim Rantell
Picture of the cliffs surrounding Bluewater in 2006. Picture: Jim Rantell
Sir Cliff Richard attends a DVD and video signing of his tour in 2003 at Bluewater. Picture: Andy Payton
Sir Cliff Richard attends a DVD and video signing of his tour in 2003 at Bluewater. Picture: Andy Payton
Post Christmas sales at Bluewater in 2007. Picture: Matthew Reading
Post Christmas sales at Bluewater in 2007. Picture: Matthew Reading
Gok Wan filming the Channel 4 series how to look good Naked at Bluewater shopping centre in 2008. Picture: Matthew Reading
Gok Wan filming the Channel 4 series how to look good Naked at Bluewater shopping centre in 2008. Picture: Matthew Reading
Primark opened at Bluewater in 2019. Picture: Chris Davey
Primark opened at Bluewater in 2019. Picture: Chris Davey

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.

Finishing touches are added to Bouverie Place Shopping Centre in Folkestone in 2007. Picture: Gary Browne
Finishing touches are added to Bouverie Place Shopping Centre in Folkestone in 2007. Picture: Gary Browne
Crowds gather for the opening of Bouverie Place
Crowds gather for the opening of Bouverie Place
Bouverie Place in 2007, the year it opened
Bouverie Place in 2007, the year it opened
Bouverie Place Shopping Centre in 2009. Picture: Gary Browne
Bouverie Place Shopping Centre in 2009. Picture: Gary Browne
Bouverie Place Shopping Centre's Christmas entertainment and show 2009. There was dancers on stage, kmfm Adam Dowling, plus De-Tour from X Factor appeared
Bouverie Place Shopping Centre’s Christmas entertainment and show 2009. There was dancers on stage, kmfm Adam Dowling, plus De-Tour from X Factor appeared
Bouverie Place, as it looks now
Bouverie Place, as it looks now

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.

1975: The original High Street entrance to the open-aired Tufton Centre (now County Square) illustrating a bustling mall in the mid-seventies
1975: The original High Street entrance to the open-aired Tufton Centre (now County Square) illustrating a bustling mall in the mid-seventies
Flares, bell bottoms and kipper ties were all the rage in this 1975 shot in the early days of the Tufton shopping centre. Picture: Steve Salter
Flares, bell bottoms and kipper ties were all the rage in this 1975 shot in the early days of the Tufton shopping centre. Picture: Steve Salter
Shoppers in Ashford's Tufton Centre in November 1977.
Shoppers in Ashford’s Tufton Centre in November 1977.
Tufton Shopping Centre in Ashford in February 1977 - now County Square
Tufton Shopping Centre in Ashford in February 1977 – now County Square
Tufton Shopping Centre in 1977
Tufton Shopping Centre in 1977
County Square has been extended over the years
County Square has been extended over the years
County Square Shopping Centre in Ashford
County Square Shopping Centre in Ashford
Fashion show at County Square 2019. Picture: Paul Amos
Fashion show at County Square 2019. Picture: Paul Amos

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.

Construction of the Ashford Designer Outlet. Copyright: City Press Services Ltd
Construction of the Ashford Designer Outlet. Copyright: City Press Services Ltd
The Ashford Designer Outlet in March 2000 - just before it opened. Copyright: City Press Services Ltd
The Ashford Designer Outlet in March 2000 – just before it opened. Copyright: City Press Services Ltd
The Ashford Designer Outlet in 2010. Picture: Martin Apps
The Ashford Designer Outlet in 2010. Picture: Martin Apps
The Ashford Designer Outlet as it looks now
The Ashford Designer Outlet as it looks now

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.

Barratts shoe shop can be seen on the left in the Forum shopping centre in Sittingbourne, October 1974
Barratts shoe shop can be seen on the left in the Forum shopping centre in Sittingbourne, October 1974
The Forum in 1989
The Forum in 1989
Inside the Forum shopping centre in September 1989
Inside the Forum shopping centre in September 1989

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.

Inside the Sava Centre Hempstead Valley October 1979
Inside the Sava Centre Hempstead Valley October 1979
View of the former Sava Centre Shopping complex, now Hempstead Valley in Gillingham in July 1982
View of the former Sava Centre Shopping complex, now Hempstead Valley in Gillingham in July 1982
Inside the Sava Centre, now Hempstead Valley, in 1989
Inside the Sava Centre, now Hempstead Valley, in 1989
The Sava Centre in 1994
The Sava Centre in 1994
The releasing of balloons for the 10th anniversary of Hempstead Valley Shopping centre in 1988. Picture: Images of Medway book
The releasing of balloons for the 10th anniversary of Hempstead Valley Shopping centre in 1988. Picture: Images of Medway book
Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre, pictured in 2019
Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre, pictured in 2019

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.

The Stoneborough Centre, in 1978, not long after it opened. Copyright: Unknown
The Stoneborough Centre, in 1978, not long after it opened. Copyright: Unknown
The Stoneborough Centre in January 1982, now known as The Mall
The Stoneborough Centre in January 1982, now known as The Mall
The Stoneborough Centre in 1988
The Stoneborough Centre in 1988
The Stoneborough Centre in Maidstone, date unknown
The Stoneborough Centre in Maidstone, date unknown
A bus leaves The Stoneborough Centre in 1988
A bus leaves The Stoneborough Centre in 1988
T.J.Hughes in the Chequers Centre - now The Mall. Picture John Wardley
T.J.Hughes in the Chequers Centre – now The Mall. Picture John Wardley
The Mall, as of 2019. Picture: John Westhrop
The Mall, as of 2019. Picture: John Westhrop

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.

Royal Star Arcade Maidstone October 1987
Royal Star Arcade Maidstone October 1987
Royal Star Arcade Maidstone 1987
Royal Star Arcade Maidstone 1987
Royal Star Arcade Maidstone 1992
Royal Star Arcade Maidstone 1992
Royal Star Arcade in Maidstone 1995
Royal Star Arcade in Maidstone 1995
Royal Star Arcade in Maidstone 1996
Royal Star Arcade in Maidstone 1996

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.

Kwik Save at the Pentagon Shopping Centre, August 1991
Kwik Save at the Pentagon Shopping Centre, August 1991
Sainsbury's at the Pentagon Shopping Centre in Chatham August 1991
Sainsbury’s at the Pentagon Shopping Centre in Chatham August 1991

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.

Rainham Shopping Centre January 1983
Rainham Shopping Centre January 1983
Rainham Shopping Centre in 1997
Rainham Shopping Centre in 1997

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.

Inside Royal Victoria Place's main shopping mall in April, 1992
Inside Royal Victoria Place’s main shopping mall in April, 1992
The Royal Victoria Place in 1992
The Royal Victoria Place in 1992
A man plays the piano in the Royal Victoria Place
A man plays the piano in the Royal Victoria Place
Royal Victoria Place, Tunbridge Wells. Picture: Matthew Walker
Royal Victoria Place, Tunbridge Wells. Picture: Matthew Walker

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.

Ricemans in Canterbury, before it was torn down to make way for Whitefriars
Ricemans in Canterbury, before it was torn down to make way for Whitefriars
Taken in 1997, the photo shows the back of the Riceman’s store in Canterbury. Copyright: Unknown
Taken in 1997, the photo shows the back of the Riceman’s store in Canterbury. Copyright: Unknown
The former Ricemans building being demolished. Picture: Derek Stingemore
The former Ricemans building being demolished. Picture: Derek Stingemore
Marlowe Arcade Canterbury 1990 - the arcade still exists and is home to Copperfield and HMV
Marlowe Arcade Canterbury 1990 – the arcade still exists and is home to Copperfield and HMV
The Royal Marines band at the Marlowe Arcade opening in 1985. BHS is now occupied by Primark
The Royal Marines band at the Marlowe Arcade opening in 1985. BHS is now occupied by Primark
Construction of Whitefriars in Canterbury, 2002. Picture: BAM
Construction of Whitefriars in Canterbury, 2002. Picture: BAM
Archaeologists working on the Whitefriars dig on the site of the old Ricemans store
Archaeologists working on the Whitefriars dig on the site of the old Ricemans store
The Marlowe Arcade - now Whitefriars Arcade. Photo from last year. Picture: Andy Jones
The Marlowe Arcade – now Whitefriars Arcade. Photo from last year. Picture: Andy Jones
The new Primark store opens in Whitefriars in 2014
The new Primark store opens in Whitefriars in 2014
Whitefriars as it looks now. Picture: Jo Court
Whitefriars as it looks now. Picture: Jo Court

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.

Westwood Cross Shopping Centre opened in 2005. Picture: Terry Scott
Westwood Cross Shopping Centre opened in 2005. Picture: Terry Scott
Opening day at Westwood Cross. Picture: Terry Scott
Opening day at Westwood Cross. Picture: Terry Scott
Debenhams on opening day 2005 at Westwood Cross. Picture: Terry Scott
Debenhams on opening day 2005 at Westwood Cross. Picture: Terry Scott
Shoppers hit the arcade at Westwood Cross. Picture: Phil Houghton
Shoppers hit the arcade at Westwood Cross. Picture: Phil Houghton

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

To read more of our in-depth features click here

Margaret R. Servin

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