West Malling contains many historic buildings. St. Leonard’s Tower, a Norman keep, was built by Bishop Gundulf c.1080. He also built the White Tower of the Tower of London, the castles of Rochester and Colchester, the Priory and Cathedral of Rochester.
In c.1090 Gundulf founded St. Mary’s Abbey in West Malling for Benedictine nuns. This historic site contains significant buildings from the Norman, Medieval, Tudor and Georgian eras. There is also a Grade II listed Abbey Church which is used by the Anglican Benedictine nuns who have made Malling Abbey their home since 1916. After its closure in 1538 by King Henry VIII, the property was owned by various families. In 1892, the abbey was purchased for a trust, that it might be restored as a home for Benedictine nuns. Visitors can see the Norman (11th-century) west front of Gundulf’s abbey church, the medieval gatehouse and guest house and the Grade II abbey church, built in 1966. Tours last approx 45 mins.
Other buildings of interest in West Malling include the Prior’s House, once a residence for those with leprosy; Ford House, over 600 years old; a mainly Georgian High Street and Went House, built c.1720 and noted for its elegant brickwork.
West Malling is reputed to be the site of the first recorded cricket match in Kent. The ground, off Norman Road, was once the home of inter-county cricket in Kent, and it is known that in 1705, “West of Kent” played Chatham.
In the 1930s, Maidstone Airport was established two miles from the town, at Kings Hill. During the Second World War, RAF fighters were posted to the then-named RAF West Malling, and several US Navy squadrons were located there during the 1960s. After closure as an operational airfield in 1967, several commercial air-based activities moved onto the site, and a number of popular airshows took place – the last was in 1987. By then, work had started to convert the area to non-flying use, developing into the new parish of Kings Hill.
In 1967, the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour was filmed around West Malling, including in the High Street and at the airfield.
It was written in Domesday, MALLENGETIS, and in the Textus Roffensis, MELLINGES. In many deeds after the conquest, it is stiled MILLINGES PARVA, to distinguish it from East Malling, then the larger and more noted village of the two.
In the survey of Domesday, taken about 1080, this manor is thus described, under the general title of the bishop of Rochester’s lands:
‘The same bishop (of Rochester) holds Mellingetes, it was taxed, in the time of king Edward the Confessor, at three sulings, and now at one and an half. The arable land is three carucates. In demesne there is one, and five villeins, with fix borderers, having two carucates. There is a church, and one mill of two shillings, wood for the pannage of twenty hogs. In the time of king Edward the Confessor, and afterwards, it was worth forty shillings, and now four pounds.