Historical description of Kent, England

Map of Kent

Kent, a maritime county, bounded, on the N by the Thames and the German Ocean, on the E by the Straits of Dover, on the SE by the English Channel, on the S by the English Channel and by Sussex, and on the W by Surrey. It is separated by the Thames from the metropolitan part of Middlesex and from all the S border of Essex, and by the river Rother and head streams of the Medway from parts of Sussex. It projects eastward from the main body of the SE of England in the form of a horn, corner, or cant, and it thence took its ancient or Iberian or British name, Romanized into Cantium and modernised into Kent. It is supposed to have anciently extended some miles further up the Thames than at present, and to have included there the site of the original London, which Ptolemy and Ravennas indicate as on the S side of the river, and it may not improbably in remote times have been united on the E to France, from which it is now about 24 miles distant. Its form is irregularly parallelogramic, extending from E to W. Its length is 64 miles, its greatest breadth 38 miles, its circuit about 190 miles, its area 995,344 acres, and its comparative largeness the ninth county of England, The population of the ancient county is 1,142,324; of the present administrative county, only 785,674, as many parishes south of the Thames are included in the county of London.

Shoals adjoin the N and E coasts, and are specially prominent in the Margate Sands off Margate, and in the Goodwin Sands off Ramsgate. Marshes form a belt, averaging about 1 1/2 mile in breadth, along great part of the Thames to the Swale; occur again in greater breadth between the Isle of Thanet and the mainland, and form the large tract of Romney Marsh, Dunge Marsh, and Walling Marsh in the extreme S, from the neighbourhood of Hythe to the boundary with Sussex. A tract of lower eocene formation, averagely three or four times broader than the Thames belt or marsh, extends parallel to it from Surrey to the Thanet Marsh; includes also the northern part of Sheppey island, is geognostically a continuation of what is called the London clay basin, and consists of London clay and plastic clay, or Woolwich beds and Thanet sand. A tract of upper cretaceous formation continuous with the North Downs extends parallel with the preceding, and of similar aggregate breadth, from Surrey to the neighbourhood of Waltham and Canterbury; goes thence, with rapidly increasing breadth, to the E coast; includes the parts of Thanet around Margate and Ramsgate, and forms the fine promontory of North Foreland and the grand cliffs, "the white walls of Albion," around Dover. Two belts of the gault and lower greensand group, the one very narrow, the other somewhat wider, extend immediately S of the upper cretaceous tract. A region of the lower cretaceous formation, chiefly Weald clay, but including some portions of Hastings sand, forms all the rest of the county, and is continuous with the Sussex Weald. The geognostic characters of most of the surface will be noticed in our article WEALD. No part of the county, except the marshes, is level, and most parts are hilly and abundantly wooded. The greatest height in the lower eocene tract is Shooter's Hill, 446 feet high. A range of chalk hills, sometimes called the Backbone of Kent, traverses the entire county from NW to SE, and culminates in Hollingbourne Hill between the Medway and the Stour, 616 feet high, and in Paddlesworth Hill near Folkestone, 642 feet high. Another range, called the Quarry Hills, runs parallel with the former, and has elevations rising to 800 feet, and commanding most beautiful views. An economical estimate of the county divides it into three regions—that of "health without wealth," embracing the higher parts of the Backbone; that of "wealth without health," embracing the marshes and the wooded parts of the Weald; and that of "health with wealth," embracing eminently the parts about Canterbury and the parts of the Medway's valley from Tunbridge to Maidstone, and more generally the greater part of the county. Fineness of scenery, mildness of climate, and richness as well as diversity of production, combine to render Kent eminently attractive. Hence does Drayton in the "Polyolbion," say—

"0 famous Kent!
What county hath this isle that can compare with thee?
That hath within thyself as much as thou can'st wish:
Thy rabbits, venison, fruits, thy sorts of fowl and fish;
As what with strength comports, thy hay, thy corn, thy wood,—
Nor anything doth want that anywhere is good."

The chief rivers, besides the Thames, are the Medway, the Stour, the Darent, the Cray, the Ravensbourne, the Rother, and the Ebbsfleet. Mineral springs are at Tunbridge Wells and other places. Land springs resembling the "lavants" of Sussex and Hants are in various parts of the chalk region; have an intermitting character, seemingly due to the cavernous nature of the substrata; break out chiefly after prolonged rains, and bear here the name of nailbournes—a word which is said to be a corruption of eelbournes, and to mean streams abounding with eels; yet the nailbournes are not remarkable for either the number or the size of these fish. Many fine trout and other fish are found in the rivers; oysters are largely cultivated at Whitstable, Queenborough, Rochester, and Faversham; shrimps are taken in large quantities at Gravesend and Ramsgate; soles, flounders, and other fish are caught at these places, and at Milton, Whitstable, Margate, Deal, Dover, and Folkestone; and fisheries of cod, herring, and mackerel are carried on in the adjacent seas. The Weald was once a great forest, chiefly of grand oaks, and tenanted mainly by deer and wild hogs. The oak still predominates in it, and this tree, as indigenous there, seems to explain why Gregory the Great requested that British timber might be sent to Rome for building the churches of St Peter and St Paul. The beech flourishes strikingly on the chalk, and occasionally attains here a very remarkable size, but whether it can be pronounced indigenous is doubtful. Stone for building is quarried in the ragstone range of hills. Limestone for road-making, for lime manure, and for stucco is found in beds of the greensand. Inferior lime for building, for manure, and for whiting, chalk for mending walls and for manure, and flints and sand for building and for stone fences are found in the chalk formation. Clay for bricks and coarse pottery, river sand for mortar, Roman cement, and copperas stone are found in the London clay and plastic clay-beds. Iron sand, in the wealden formation, was used till the 17th century for iron manufacture, but went into desuetude in consequence of the substitution of pit coal for billet-wood as fuel—a substitution which caused the manufacture in Kent to be superseded by the richer ores and the fuel of the northern counties.

The soils are various, and, in a general view, very fertile. That of the arable land in the Isle of Thanet is a light loam, on a chalky bottom, highly fertilized by artificial treatment; that of the Thames marshes is a clay, mixed with sea sand and small shells; while that of Romney Marsh is a fine, soft, rich loam and clay. That of the flat lands in the vicinity of Faversham, Sandwich, and Deal is a rich sandy loam, with diversified proportions of sand, and a stiff wet clay. That of the hop grounds, which extend from Maidstone to Canterbury and thence to Sandwich, is for the most part a rich deep loam, on a subsoil of deep brick earth. That of most of the Isle of Sheppey is a deep, stiff, strong clay; while that of the rest of the Isle is a rich, black, vegetable mould, on a substratum of the same clay. That of the upland farms, both in the E and in the W, is exceedingly various, ranging from clay, loam, and chalk, to intermixtures of these with flint, gravel, and sand. That of the Weald consists principally of clay in different degrees of tenacity and fertility. Rich marsh meadows, grazed by cattle and sheep, comprise about 11,500 acres on the Thames, the Medway. and the Swale, about 27,000 on the Stour, and about 44,000 on Romney Marsh, and extensive sheep downs are in the chalk region. Copyhold estates are very rare, and freehold estates are said to number about 9000, exclusive of the estates of ecclesiastical and corporate bodies. Gavelkind, a custom of Saxon origin, giving inheritance of land to all sons in equal proportions, or to all children with a certain share to the widow, seems always to have largely prevailed; and, though abolished over much of the county in the times of Henry VII. and James I., is still prevalent over a great aggregate of land. Farms average from 10 to 200 acres, leases run from 7 to 14 years, and farm buildings show much diversity of character.

Apples, pears, figs, plums, cherries, damsons, bullaces, walnuts, filberts, gooseberries, currants, strawberries, blackberries, spinach, water-cresses, and asparagus are cultivated. Market-gardening is largely carried on. Poultry are fine, and rabbits, venison, and game abound. The woods are extensive, and, besides furnishing timber for ship and house building, they yield large quantities of hop-poles, billet-wood, hoops, and bark.

The manufacturing industries of Kent include the making of bricks, tiles, pottery, cement, and lime (in which several thousand people are engaged), paper, gunpowder (Dartford, Erith, Tunbridge, and Faversham), sugar moulds, tobacco pipes, hop bags, sacks, copperas, tar, whiting, and Tunbridge ware. There are also considerable shipbuilding and marine-engine yards, iron foundries, breweries, makings, and tanneries. The chief seats of manufacture are Greenwich, Deptford, Dartford, Maidstone, Northfleet, and Faversham.

According to the census returns issued in 1893, the chief occupations of the people of the county were:—Professional, 32,825 males and 10,973 females; domestic, 4776 males and 59,742 females; commercial, 31,449 males and 705 females;
agricultural, 54,831 males and 1487 females; fishing, 1189 males and 12 females; industrial, 115,572 males and 23,340 females; and "unoccupied," including retired business men, pensioners, those living on their own means, and others not specified, 57,354 males and 219,093 females; or a total in the county of 297,996 males and 315,352 females. The number of men employed in the leading industries was as follows:—Agricultural labourers, 35,049 ; general labourers, 22,461, nurserymen, 9984; carpenters, 6214; bricklayers, 5421; and farmers, 3859. The chief occupations of women were—domestic service, with a total of 48,128; millinery. and dressmaking, 9343. There were also in the county 557 blind persons, 779 deaf, 536 deaf and dumb, and 5504 mentally deranged.

There are naval arsenals at Woolwich, Chatham, and Sheerness, and large military establishments at Woolwich, Chatham, Dover, and Hythe. Great traffic exists on the Thames, in connection at once with local trade, with sea-side resort of visitors, and with the trade of London. Inland navigation comprises a considerable aggregate of river, improved and extended by art, but includes a very limited aggregate of canal. The county is well supplied with railway accommodation, by the S.E. and L.C. & D. lines.

The county, exclusive of the Metropolitan parishes, is divided for parliamentary purposes into eight divisions, viz., Western or Sevenoaks, North-Western or Dartford, Southwestern or Tunbridge, Mid or Medway, North-Eastern or Faversham, Southern or Ashford, Eastern or St Augustine's, and Isle of Thanet. It also includes the parliamentary boroughs of Canterbury, Chatham, Dover, Gravesend, Hythe, Maidstone, and Rochester. The administrative county includes seventeen municipal boroughs, exclusive of the county borough, and has one court of quarter sessions and fifteen petty sessional divisions; the non-corporate members of the Cinque Ports of Dover and Sandwich, and the municipal boroughs of Canterbury, Deal, Dover, Faversham, Folkestone, Gravesend, Hythe, Maidstone, Margate, Rochester, Sandwich, and Tenderden have each separate commissions of the peace and separate courts of quarter sessions, and the boroughs of Lydd and New Romney have separate commissions of the peace only. The central criminal court has jurisdiction over certain parishes adjacent to London. All those civil parishes within the county of Kent of which any part is within 12 miles of, or of which no part is more than 15 miles from, Charing Cross, are within the Metropolitan police district. The county contains 389 entire civil parishes and parts of fourteen others, and the county borough of Canterbury twenty-four entire civil parishes and parts of ten others. The county contains, in addition to those parishes now in the county of London, 465 entire ecclesiastical parishes with parts of five others, situated in the dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester, and Chichester.

The county is governed by a lord-lieutenant, a high sheriff, and a county council consisting of 72 councillors aud 24 aldermen. It is chiefly in the south-eastern military district, but partly in the Thames and Woolwich districts. It is in the Home judicial circuit. The assizes are held at Maidstone, and the quarter sessions at Maidstone and Canterbury.

The territory now forming Kent was inhabited by the ancient British Cantii. The Romans landed in it, under Cæsar, in the years 55 and 54 B.C.; and again, under Claudius, in the year 42 A.D.; and they included it in their Britannia Prima. The "remote Britain" was then united with the great Roman world, and put under preparation for great subsequent changes. No events of historical note occurred in Kent during the Roman rule; yet the coasts and strongholds here, especially under Carausius in the years 287-293, were more frequented and valued by the Romans than any others in Britain. The Saxons, under Hengist and Horsa, landed at Ebbsfleet in 449, and they swept away from Kent a tendency to return to the ancient British state of things after the retiring of the Romans, and established a regime of their own. They called the territory Cantguar Lantd, signifying "the country of the people inhabiting Cantium ;" and they made it the first of the kingdoms of the Saxon heptarchy. This kingdom, usually called the kingdom of Kent, originally included London and part of Surrey; and it was the scene, in 597, of the landing of Augustine, and thence of those labours and measures of his which, together with their results, gave rise to the entire English constitution of church and state. Hengist ruled it till 488; Eske or Aesc, till 512 ; Octa, till 534; Ymbrick or Ermeric, till 568; Ethelbert, the first Christian king, till 616; Edbald, till 640; Ercombert, till 664; Egbert or Ecgbryht, till 673; Lothaire or Hlothere, till 684; Edrick or Eadric, till 690; Withdred or Wihtred, and another, till about 725; Eadbert, Edelbert, and Alric, irregularly till 794; Ethelbert Pren, of Wessex, till 799 ; Cudred or Cuthred, of Mercia, till 805; and Baldred, till 823. But these kings had varying fortunes and a varying inland boundary, and though the earlier ones were among the most powerful sovereigns of the heptarchy, the later ones became comparatively feeble, and had a struggle to retain either power or place. Egbert, king of Wessex, eventually drove Baldred from the throne, absorbed his kingdom into a monarchy of all Britain, and made Kent a mere earldom. Ealhere became Earl in 852, Coelmere in 897, others at subsequent periods, and the great Godwin in the early part of the 11th century. The earldom, like the previous kingdom, was of varying character, and underwent great changes with changing events. The Danes invaded it in 832 ; they variously invaded, overran, and mastered it at subsequent periods in the same century and the following one; the Saxons re-acquired power over it on the death of Hardicanute; and the house of Godwin flourished greatly in it till the Norman conquest. A series of great Norman lords thence became Earls of Kent. The first was Odo de Bayeux. Then followed William de Ypres and Hubert de Burgh—the latter Shakespeare's "gentle Hubert," who made such a defence of Dover Castle against Louis of France as probably saved England from a French conquest. Afterwards came Edmund of Woodstock, second son of Edward I.; then his three children, the last of whom was the wife of the Black Prince and mother of Richard II., and commonly known as "the fair maid of Kent." Then came her descendants, by marriage with Sir Thomas Holland; and these were Earls of Kent till the extinction of the male line in the time of Henry IV. William Neville, second son of the first Neville, Earl of Westmorland, was created Earl of Kent by Edward IV., but died without a representative. Edmund Grey, Lord Hastings, was then made Earl of Kent, and his descendants enjoyed the earldom till the time of Queen Anne; and then the 13th Earl was created Duke of Kent, but was the last of this line to enjoy the titles. Edward, fourth son of George III., and father of Queen Victoria, was created Duke of Kent. Wat Tyler's rebellion began at Dartford in 1381; Jack Cade's insurrection began at Blackheath in 1450; the Wars of the Roses made some figure in Kent; the rebellion headed by Sir Thomas Wyatt in the time of Mary took place here; and a victory by Fairfax, in 1648, was obtained at Maidstone.

Kent is very rich in antiquities. The chief ancient British ones are camps or earthworks in various parts; deep excavations, popularly but erroneously called Danes' Pits, in the chalk region, principally near the Medway and the Thames; and the remarkable monument called Kits Coity House, on a hill near Aylesford. The Roman Watling Street crosses the county from London to Dover; had branches to Reculver and Richborough ; and had another branch, called Stone Street, to Lympne. Roman stations were at Vagniacæ or South-fleet, Durobrivis or Rochester, Dorolevum or Sittingbourne, Durovernum or Canterbury, Dubris or Dover, Regulbium or Reculver, Ritupæ or Richborough, and Portus Lemanis or Lympne; and remains of the last three are still important and striking. Remains of a curious pharos also are at Dover. Vestiges or relics of walls and furnishings are so very numerous as to indicate that Roman villas abounded along the sides of Watling Street, and throughout great part of the Medway's valley. Rich Roman pavements, such as those found in Sussex and Gloucestershire, have not yet been discovered here; but great quantities of Roman pottery have been found at Upchurch and Dymchurch, and a large aggregate of Roman coins, swords, spears, and other relics, have been found in numerous places. Roman camps also are at Ospringe, Barham, Trenworth, Bonning, Folkestone, Stutfall, and Keston. Saxon remains have been identified with a camp at Coldred, with ancient cemeteries in Ash parish and near Ramsgate, and with numerous barrows; but they consist chiefly of pottery, glass, weapons, and personal ornaments, preserved in museums. Danish camps or earthworks are at Blackheath, Canterbury, Kemsley Downs, Swanscombe, Walmer, and near Milton. Specimens or remains of mediaeval military architecture exist in Canterbury Castle, Rochester Castle, Dover Castle, Allington Castle, Leeds Castle, Hever, Tunbridge, Westonhanger, and Saltwood. Specimens or remains of mediaeval domestic architecture are very numerous, yet aggregately not so fine as those of some other counties; and they are best exemplified in Eltham Palace, Cobham, the Moat, Penshurst, Chilham, Knole, Sore Place, Battle Hall, Boughton Place, and East Sutton Place. Remains exist of seven abbeys, twenty priories, six nunneries, two commanderies, five ancient colleges, and fifteen ancient hospitals, and the most notable of them are Malling Abbey, Horton Priory, St Martin's Priory in Dover, the remains of an abbey, a priory, and a convent in Canterbury, and the remains of a commandery at Swingfield. Part of a Saxon church is in Dover Castle; parts or specimens of Norman churches are at Balfreston, Darent, Patrixbourne, St Margaret-at-Cliffe, Rochester, Davington, Bapchild, Harbledown, Paddlesworth, Dover, Minster, Walmer, Betshanger, and Sutton; a very fine specimen of Transition Norman is the choir of Canterbury Cathedral; interesting specimens of Early English are in Rochester Cathedral, and in the churches of Bridge, Northbourne, Ash, Great Mongeham, Sandwich St Clement, Wade St Nicholas, Canterbury St Martin, Minster, Herne, Westwell, Folkestone, Hythe, Lenham, Graveney, Faversham, Chalk, and Horton Kirkby; good specimens of Decorated English churches are at Chartham, Barham, Chilham, Stone, Hever, and Sandhurst; and good specimens of Later English ones are the nave of Canterbury Cathedral, and the churches of Maidstone All Saints, Chislehurst, Sevenoaks, Nettlested, Cranbrook, Tenterden, Ashford, Aldington, Wingham, and Bishopsbourne.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5