Kent from the skies in the 1990s

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?

New housing at St Mary's Island, Chatham Maritime, pictured in October 1999

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.

Kemsley Paper Mill photographed at the turn of the decade in January 1990

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.

Maidstone and surrounding area

West Malling airfield

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

Huge crowds at the 1990 Great Warbirds Air Display at West Malling. When will we see an event of this scale again…?

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.

West Malling Airfield in 1990The sprawling Kings Hill development taking shape in 1991

Aylesford Newsprint

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.

The massive Aylesford Newsprint site pictured in 1995.

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.

Demolition work at the site in 2018. Pic: Mick Brotherwood

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.

The newsprint site has now been flattened, pictured here in 2018

Headcorn Aerodrome

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.

Headcorn airfield, September 1992


The village of Hadlow and its distinctive tower in 1993

Leeds Castle

Not much has changed at Leeds Castle since 1990


Maidstone town centre, 1995Maidstone prison and County Hall in the heart of the townMote Park, 1995Another aerial of the heart of the Maidstone

Maidstone Hospital

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.

Maidstone Hospital, pictured in 1996. The site has since been extensively added to

Sutton Valence

Aerial view of Sutton Valence in 1997

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.

Aerial view of Ashford International train station under construction in 1995. The picture shows the changing face of Ashford, with the surrounding area now boasting a new college, brewery, Aldi supermarket and under-construction hotel.

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.

A very similar view, but taken last year in 2019. The new developments – including the brewery and college building – can be seenFlooding to the south of Ashford in the 90s. Pic: Steve Salter

Kennington and Bybrook

Eurogate Business Park, in the bottom right, under construction in 1991. The open expanse on the left later becomes Eureka Leisure park. Sainsbury's is also yet to be built, as can be seen in the right of the right of the picture. Pic: Steve SalterLooking coastbound down the M20 at Junction 9 for Ashford in 1991. The golf course is to the bottom left, while Eureka Leisure Park – boasting a Cineworld, hotels, and a range of restaurants – is yet to be built. The suburbs of Bybrook and Kennington can be seen to the left. Pic: Steve SalterThe same view, but in 2020. Eureka Leisure Park and Dobbies garden centre can be seen on the left of the M20. The £8 million Eureka Skyway footway bridge across the motorway was installed in 2011. It leads across to the Warren Retail Park and the huge Sainsbury's Bybrook supermarket. Pic: Google EarthEureka Leisure Park as it is in the modern day

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.

Ashford pictured in 1990, Bybrook Barn garden centre is in the centre of the frame, with the M20 and Canterbury Road. In the bottom left is the former Houchins sports and social club. Pic: Steve SalterThe Houchins site behind the Holiday Inn car park has remained untouched for years following its closure

Headley Brothers

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.

Ashford's Headley Brothers site pictured in the 90s. Founded in 1881 by brothers Herbert and Burgess Headley to print paper bags, bill heads and circulars for Ashford businesses, the Lower Queens Road site was demolished in February 2019. Pic: Steve Salter

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.

The flattened Headley Brothers site, pictured in 2019


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.

Lydd airport, 1991

Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone


Canterbury city centre in 1995. Shopping complex Whitefriars is yet to be builtFor the first time in its history, the Tour De France came to Kent in 1994. Stage four of the world's biggest sporting event saw riders set off in Dover and end in Brighton. Here, the riders are pictured cycling through Canterbury's city centre… picture taken from Westgate Towers

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.

Looking across to St George's Roundabout and Rhodaus Town, Canterbury, in 1992.St Lawrence Ground, Canterbury, pictured in September 1995. The famous lime tree can be seen near to the boundary.Taken from the top of Westgate Towers, Canterbury in 1992. Barretts showroom down below and the old Marlowe Theatre can be seen

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.


Ten people were killed and 34 injured in a tragic coach crash on the M2 in 1993. Tragedy struck on November 10 at 9.40am when the coach hit a van and careered off the slick road surface and down an embankment at Ospringe, near Faversham, landing on its side. It was carrying a group of tourists on their way to Canterbury Cathedral. Nine American tourists and the driver were killed.


Whitstable Harbour and the town, with the beginning of Tankerton Slopes on the left, pictured in 1995


Dover's port, harbour and world famous cliffs pictured in 1995

Samphire Hoe

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.

Construction work at Samphire Hoe in the 90sThe lagoons yet to be filled with excavated spoil from the Channel TunnelPicturesque Samphire Hoe as it is today

Channel Tunnel

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.

The Folkestone terminal of the Channel Tunnel under construction in 1991 – three years before it became operational


The Leas, and Folkestone seafront down below, packed with spectators for the 1997 Shepway Festival Airshow. Pic: Fotoflite

Lydden Hill Race Circuit

Lydden Hill race circuit – most famous for being the 'home of rallycross' – pictured in 1995. The general look of the circuit has hardly changed since, but two spectator stands, a circuit office and new commentary box have been installed in the years since. Earlier this year, plans were approved by Dover District Council for new state-of-the-art facilities and a new access road off the A2.

North Kent and Medway

Brands Hatch

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.

Brands Hatch in 1992. Looking across the Indy circuit from near to the site entrance.


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.

One year into the construction of Bluewater, pictured in 1997… the 240-acre site became Europe's largest shopping complex when it opened in 1999. Pic: Chorley Handford

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.

Bluewater taking shape in April 1998. Construction work lasted for three years, with a total of 20,000 people working on the £375 million project.

Dartford Crossing

The Dartford Crossing pictured in 1991. The QEII bridge opened in that year, following a £120 million construction project

Hempstead Valley

Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre in 1997


Medway City Estate, on the left, pictured in 1997Chatham, 1997. Pic: Images of Medway bookAsda in Chatham being constructed in 1996


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.

The Medway Maritime Hospital pictured from above in 1999

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.

Priestfield Stadium undergoing work in 199. An extensive period of reconstruction took place with a new Gordon Road stand built first, with the main Medway Stand and new Rainham Ends being built shortly after.Gillingham town centre in April 1998, with the hospital at the top of the picture

Rochester and Strood

Borstal Marina, Rochester, pictured in May 1990Rochester and the River Medway, 1997Rochester 23 years ago in 1997.

Rochester Airport

Aerial views of Rochester Airport – file pic dated 1999

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

The former Temple School in Strood, 1990

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

Strood from above in 1997

Sheppey and Sittingbourne

Aerial view of Kingsferry Bridge in 1990. The volume of traffic on the bridge has decreased since the opening of the Sheppey Crossing in 2006.Warden Bay, Leysdown, in 1996Queenborough Harbour pictured in 1995Sheerness seafront in 1992Kingsferry Bridge and Ridham Docks photographed in September 1995Lappel Bank, Sheerness, pictured in 1996Warden Point, SheppeyTrinity Trading Estate, Sittingbourne, in 1996Kemsley Paper Mill, 1996

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