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Kent Online Parish Clerks

white cliffs of Dover

A Short History of Kent

The County

Kent, an important maritime county in South East of England, bounded North by the Thames and the North Sea, East and South East by the Strait of Dover, South by the English Channel, South West by Sussex, and West by Surrey.

Greatest length, West to East, 65 miles;  greatest breadth, North to South, 35 miles;  995,392 acres, population 977,706.

The surface of the county is hilly, being traversed East and West by the North Downs, a chalk range from 3 to 6 miles in breadth.  On the North, along the shores of the Thames and Medway, there is a belt of marsh land, which extends over a mile inland.

The greater portion of the seaboard is washed by tidal water. Besides the Thames and Medway, the chief rivers are the Stour and the Darent.  The soil is varied and highly cultivated, more especially in the valley of the Medway.

All classes of cereals and root produce are abundant, as is also fruit of choice quality, and more hops are grown in Kent than in all the rest of England. The woods are extensive. The chief manufacture of the county is paper, most of the mills being on the banks of the Medway, Cray, and Darent.

The Government works and dockyards at Woolwich, Chatham, and Sheerness employ an immense number of the inhabitants. Fishing is extensively prosecuted along the coast and in the estuaries of the rivers Thames and Medway, of which the oyster beds are especially famous.

Historically Kent has greater associations than any other county in England. The county contains 5 lathes, 73 hundreds, 435 parishes, and parts of 6 others, the Cinque Port Liberties of Dover, Hythe, and New Romney, the parliamentary and municipal boroughs of Canterbury, Dover, Gravesend, Hythe, Maidstone, and Rochester (1 member each), the parliamentary boroughs of Chatham, Deptford (part of), Greenwich, Lewisham, and Woolwich (1 member each), and the municipal borough of Deal, Faversham, Folkestone, Margate, Sandwich, and Tenterden.

It is almost entirely in the dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester. For parliamentary purposes the county is divided into 8 divisions -viz., Western or Sevenoaks, North-Western or Dartford, South-Western or Tunbridge, Mid or Medway, North-Eastern or Faversham, Eastern or St. Augustine's, Southern or Ashford, and Isle of Thanet, 1 member for each division; the representation of the county was increased from 6 to 8 members in 1885. 1

The Pilgrim's Way footpath to Canterbury follows the long ridge of the North Downs, which cross the county in the north above the M2 Motorway. To the south, in the shelter of the Downs lies the countryside of the Weald with its neat little towns and villages, its hop-gardens and oasthouses, its time-honoured amicable pubs. In the far south-east the wet, flat, cattle-grazed country of Romney Marsh is agog with romantic tales of smugglers.

Early History

Hengist and Horsa, leaders of the Saxons, landed in Kent in the 5th century in Pegwell Bay, according to tradition, and so did St Augustine and his party of missionaries from Rome in 597. They made for Canterbury, which is still a magnet for visitors with its magnificent cathedral, the mother church of Anglican Christianity.

From early times Kent weathered invasions and take-overs by other nations.  Its' proximity to Europe made southern England a prime target and the fertile planes and valleys of Kent were no exception. The Romans built elaborate villas and public baths with central heating, and the wonderfully straight roads such as Watling Street, still in use today, some hardly changed. Vineyards flourished on the Kent hillsides long before Kent's famous hop gardens and orchards established the county as the Garden of England - the first cherry tree was planted at Teynham in 1533 by Henry VIII's fruiterer, Richard Harris.

The Saxons built over Roman remains, Norman upon Saxon - Rochester's Norman castle looks down on the diminutive cathedral, founded by the Saxons. Rebuilt centuries later by Bishop Gundulf, this small gem epitomises the sense of peace and harmony radiated by the wealth of medieval buildings in the Medway and Swale areas - Faversham alone has nearly 500 listed buildings.

The same county that nourished the builders of the ancient timbered dwellings of such towns, and of the hall houses and clapboard cottages still gracing the peaceful villages, also saw the births and deaths of those who raised small armies to seek justice for their fellows. Calm and tranquility chime ill with remembrance of these Kentish men and Men of Kent - of Wat Tyler who roused the peasants and marched down Union Street into Maidstone in 1381 (Otterden Manor lost many of its manorial records when the peasants broke in), and of Jack Cade in 1450 - both died when government and royal promises were broken. Jack Cade's Hole on the North Downs is said to have sheltered him before he was run down and killed at Heathfield. Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger of Allington rebelled against Queen Mary's proposed marriage to Philip of Spain, and was beheaded for his pains.

The Civil War did not spare Kent: Snoad Farmhouse at Otterden is believed to have been a Royalist safe house, but in the last Royalist uprising at Maidstone in 1648, the King's men were defeated by General Lord Fairfax who brought his army across the Medway, and up the High Street to Gabriel's Hill where this final battle was fought. The last armed rising to take place on English soil is said to have been the 1838 Courtenay Riots at Dunkirk.

Many suffered for their faith in Kent, including a priest who was burned in front of his own church door, and although Penenden Heath later became the place of execution, earlier burnings and hangings took place at Fairmeadow - a strange name for a place that saw such deeds. A plaque on Drake's Cork & Cask House nearby commemorates five such martyrs.

Royalty favoured this part of Kent - indeed Faversham uses the Royal Arms as its own, for both Elizabeth I and Charles II stayed here, James II was imprisoned here in 1688 - there is a memorial plaque on a house in Court Street - and King Stephen and Queen Matilda are buried in the Abbey. At nearby Ospringe, Henry III founded the Maison Dieu, now a museum, and Henry VIII honeymooned with Anne Boleyn at Shurland Hall on the Isle of Sheppey, only a few years later to be found in Rochester, awaiting his new bride Anne of Cleves.

Kent's rivers and estuaries, and the sea itself, have played a prominent part in its history, with Sir Francis Drake and Admiral Sir John Hawkins living and working in Chatham, where the young Nelson also began his naval career - the Victory was launched here in 1865. The 17th century Royal Dockyard at Blue Town, Sheerness, where warships were taken for careening, had an exciting and famous career before it closed in 1960. Charles II's visit in 1665 was followed two years later by less welcome visitors, the Dutch raiders, ending in the peace treaty of July 1667. Blue Town is now a conservation area with many listed buildings - one, much visited by architectural students, is of cast-iron framing, for its time rather avant-garde, and a forerunner of the American skyscrapers. Blue Town is so-called because workers built their cottages from the 6ft pieces of wood they were allowed to take home; these were then painted blue with paint "liberated" from the dockyard. A cottage in Rose Street has been preserved in 19th century style, and doubles as the Sheerness Heritage Centre.

A white horse on a red background was a symbol of the ancient Saxon kingdom of Kent.  It became a central feature as a shield in the county's Coat of Arms granted to the council in 1933.  In 1999, the redesigned County Council logo is a simplified form of the white horse.  This, for followers of Kent's rich heritage, is the significance of White Horse Woods as a marker for the Millennium in Kent.  Invicta - the long-serving Kent motto carried by the Coat of Arms - means unconquered or untamed.   Kent white horse Invicta symbol

It refers to the belief that Kent has kept its boundaries intact since pre-Roman times and that its people had retained their prosperity, their ancient customs and freedoms.  The motto is on Kentish grey ribbon - grey being a significant colour in the days of Kent's weaving industry.

Below is a small collection of photographs showing some places of historical interest in Kent.  Photographs that depict specific places within parishes, towns and villages throughout Kent have been added to the photograph page for that parish, which can be viewed by first going to the applicable parish and then clicking on the photographs link near the top of the page.  Click on the "Parishes" link in the navigation menu at left to reach an index to the parishes.

We are also looking for photographs of Parish Churches, so if you have any you care to donate please email the site Administrator.  Please ensure you have written copyright permission.

St. Augustines Cross front view St. Augustines Cross rear view St. Augustines Cross English translation

St. Augustine's Cross

There are 2 plaques in the ground in front of the cross as can be seen in the photograph on the left, above.  One is in Latin, the other is an English translation.  Below, is the English translation.

St. Augustine of Canterbury was born in Rome and became the first archbishop of Canterbury.  Pope Gregory I., sent him to England from the monastery of St. Andrew in Rome to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.  When Augustine and his company of monks reached Aix-en-Provence, they were so terrified by reports of the savage islanders that Augustine returned to Rome for permission to give up the attempt, but Gregory refused.  A favourable circumstance, which they were unaware of, was that Bertha, the wife of Ethelbert, the Saxon king of Kent, was a Christian.  Augustine landed at Thanet in Kent in 597.  The Cross is reputed to mark the landing point).  There, Ethelbert received the embassy, listened patiently to Augustine's sermon, and promised the monks shelter and protection at Canterbury, where a residence was assigned to them.  On June 2, 597, Ethelbert was baptized, and thereafter the new faith spread rapidly among the Anglo-Saxons.  Augustine was made a bishop and given authority over all future English bishops.  In about 603 he tried, unsuccessfully, to achieve uniformity in liturgy and practices between the Celtic and Roman Churches.

1  Transcribed from Bartholemew's Gazetteer of the British Isles, 1887.