Kent aerial photos: The county from above in the 1990s

2022-07-14 22:48:09 By : Mr. Jason Xie

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From the opening of the Channel Tunnel, to hosting a stage of the Tour de France and the launch of Bluewater, the 1990s was a busy decade for Kent.

But just how much have our towns changed since Gazza's World Cup tears at Italia '90?

We've dug into the photo archives to see how Britain's best county looked from the skies before the turn of the millennium.

Whether it's new names added to the map, or the sprawling expansion of our biggest towns, developments in Kent have seen the population rise by at least 300,000 in the past three decades.

The 90s saw Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham and Rainham form the unitary authority of Medway, while the QEII bridge welcomed its first drivers in 1992.

After a mammoth six-year construction project costing £4.65 billion, the Channel Tunnel opened in 1994 and Samphire Hoe Country Park - created with leftover spoil from the scheme - opened to the public three years later.

For the first time in its history, the Tour de France weaved its way through Kent in 1994 for the race's fourth stage from Dover to Brighton.

Tragedy struck on the M2 near Faversham when 10 people were killed in a coach crash in 1993. In the same year, the county mourned the loss of 16-year-old schoolgirl Claire Tiltman, whose murder went unsolved for more than 20 years.

In the following year, the Cowden rail crash near Edenbridge - a head-on collision between two trains - resulted in the deaths of five people.

Bluewater opened its doors to customers in 1999, while Gillingham FC survived the threat of expulsion from the Football League in the 1994–95 season when Paul Scally stepped in to save the club.

Scroll down to see bird's eye pictures showcasing how the county has changed.

1991 saw the last of the Great Warbirds Air Displays before the airfield was transformed into Kings Hill.

Before then, RAF West Malling was both the frontline and the last line of Britain’s defences during the Second World War.

It remained in use until the early 1960s as Britain’s premier night fighter station and then became home to several squadrons of the US navy. In 1964, the US navy transferred and West Malling was returned to the RAF.

The annual Great Warbirds Air Displays drew in immense crowds each year, with many believing the sheer size and spectacle of the great displays haven't been repeated in Kent since.

The Kings Hill development started to take shape in 1989, and 1991 was the last of the great air shows.

The site became operational in 1922 and formerly produced newsprint for The Times, Mirror and The Observer.

Aylesford Newsprint fell into administration in 2015, with the rise of digital media and a flooded marketplace being blamed for the closure.

Bulldozers moved in the following year and reduced the site - which produced on average 400,000 tonnes of recycled paper every year, and was one of three mills of its kind in the country - to rubble.

In a six-month operation, a total of 450 containers of machinery and equipment were shipped 12,000 miles by sea to Beiliang, a port near the North Korean border where they were reassembled as a mill.

In November last year, speculation mounted a buyer had been found for the site. There were reports that Panattoni, the largest developer of logistics facilities in Europe, had reached a deal with receivers to purchase the site for £75 million.

But the the 100-acre plot between the M20 and the River Medway remains derelict and is dedicated for employment use in Tonbridge and Malling council’s Local Plan.

A new aircraft hangar was erected in 2011 and in 2014, flight experiences such as Spitfire rides were introduced. The business has grown rapidly and a wartime scramble hut was acquired from an RAF Bridgnorth base to complete the wartime experience.

The Tiger Club moved to Headcorn in 1990 from Redhill, before leaving 25 years later.

The sheep shed was built in 1990 and the 'toy shed' was built in 1993 following a barn fire in 1992.

Now incorporating the services of a host of former hospitals and clinics, Maidstone has expanded since the 90s.

Extra wings have been added since the hospital opened in 1983, including a self-contained orthopaedic unit and a new eye, ear and mouth unit which opened in 2003.

The Peggy Wood Breast Care Centre was established a year later.

A £2 million emergency care centre - one of the first of its kind in the country to offer full A&E services, a GP out-of-hours service and a walk-in centre all under one roof - opened in 2005.

Ashford, Folkestone and the Romney Marsh

The £80 million redevelopment of the town's train station was finished in 1996 - bringing with it a new name, Ashford International.

Work on the project, of which the architecture was inspired by the Maison de Verre building in France, began in June 1994 and continued for the next 18 months.

A multi-storey car park, footbridge two new platforms, and European departure lounge catering for 800 people, other new car parks and whole new entrance were all constructed at the station.

When the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was completed in 2007, a dedicated fast line was built allowing trains to thunder past and bypass the station. This coincided with the opening of the neighbouring Hitachi maintenance depot.

The high-speed service was then introduced two years later - significantly cutting journey times to London St Pancras - paving the way for Ashford to become a commuter town for the capital.

The immediate surrounding area of the station has changed significantly since the 90s, as can be seen in the picture above.

Ashford College opened on the corner of Elwick Road in 2014, and the 20mph 'shared space' road scheme was introduced in 2008.

The Curious Brewery has since launched, along with a neighbouring Aldi, an under-construction Hampton by Hilton hotel and 200 apartments.

Pictured below is the M20 looking London-bound up to Junction 9 in 1990.

The old Houchins sports and social club can be seen at the bottom of the frame. It later burned down and the site is currently wasteland, but part of it is set to become an Aldi after the German supermarket chain snapped up the site last year.

Bybrook Barn garden centre, now run by nationwide firm Longacres, is in the middle of the frame, with Bybrook Cemetery behind.

The Lower Queens Road site was founded in 1881 by brothers Herbert and Burgess Headley to print paper bags, bill heads and circulars for Ashford businesses.

The venture was such a success the brothers decided to launch a newspaper, releasing the Kent Examiner & Ashford Chronicle.

In March 2017, the troubled firm was sold to Oxfordshire print business Henry Stones hours after tumbling into administration in a deal which rescued 113 jobs.

But in a unexpected move in November that year, the printing business closed for good just months after being taken over.

The site has now been levelled, and its future remains unknown.

Lydd Airport, operated by London Ashford Airport Ltd, continues to be a hub for private planes and cargo loads. It did run a passenger service to Le Touquet but it has now ceased.

The 90s saw the airport host huge dance raves.

Plans for an extended runaway have rumbled on for years, but are yet to come to fruition.

The Tour de France raced through Canterbury's high street in 1994 as part of the Dover to Brighton stage.

It was the first time the race had come through Kent. Riders again returned to the county in 2007, with the famous stage ending on the city's Rheims Way.

The Barretts car dealership, of Canterbury’s best-known businesses, left the city centre in December last year after 117 years.

The Jaguar and Land Rover dealers have moved to new £4.5 million flagship showrooms in Broad Oak Road. Student accommodation is now set to be built at the old site near Westgate Towers.

Behind the Barretts showroom is the former Marlowe Theatre which was rebuilt in 2009.

Created with the leftover spoil from the construction of the Channel Tunnel, the Samphire Hoe nature reserve opened to the public in 1997.

Selected from 60 sites being considered, large lagoons were constructed and work platforms created.

It now welcomes thousands of visitors each year and is home to an array of wildlife and rare plants.

One of the most ambitious construction projects in the world, the £4.65 billion Channel Tunnel opened in 1994.

At the peak of construction 15,000 people were employed.

Kent's most famous race track had hosted its last Grand Prix in 1986 when Brit Nigel Mansell took a popular victory in front of an elated home crowd.

But the circuit continued to host big events through the 1990s - a decade which saw international sportscars return to the venue and the current pits open.

Europe's largest indoor shopping centre boasting hundreds of stores opened in 1999.

In all, 20,000 people worked 11.5 million hours during construction and John Lewis was the first major tenant to sign up in February 1995.

Designed by architect Eric Kuhne, The main building is a triangle of three malls, with one anchor store at each corner.

It was designed to have a great reliance on natural light and the roof vents were inspired by Kent oast houses.

Bluewater has continued to expand in the subsequent years and boasts more than 13,000 parking spaces spread across six car parks.

Known as Medway Hospital until the end of the decade, 1999 saw the introduction of the Medway Maritime title.

A £60 million development saw services get transferred from neighbouring hospitals St Bartholomew's in Rochester and All Saints' in Chatham.

An extensive period of reconstruction at Priestfield Stadium took place from 1997 with a new Gordon Road stand built first and the main Medway Stand and new Rainham Ends being built shortly after.

Brighton and Hove Albion played at the Gills' home ground between 1997 and 1999.

As mentioned earlier, the 90s proved a tough decade financially for Gillingham as they faced the threat of being thrown out from the Football League in the 1994–95 season but Paul Scally took over the reins to save the club.

The council wanted to designate Rochester Airport as land for industrial development, but a campaign group saved the site from closure in 1999 and thoughts turned to its longer-term preservation.

Financial difficulties and planning disputes have since followed, but the airport is now subject to multi-million plans to create new a business development, Innovation Park.

Temple School, a secondary school for boys, closed in 2009 along with Chapter Girls when Strood Academy was opened.

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