The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







This article is about the English county of Kent. See also Kent (disambiguation).
Status: Ceremonial & (smaller) Administrative County
Region: South East England
- Total
- Admin. council
- Admin. area
Ranked 10th
3,736 km²
Ranked 10th
3,544 km²
Admin HQ: Maidstone
ISO 3166-2: GB-KEN
ONS code: 29
- Total (2002 est.)
- Density
- Admin. council
- Admin. pop.
Ranked 7th
425 / km²
Ranked 1st
Ethnicity: 96.5% White
1.7% S.Asian
Arms of Kent County Council
Kent County Council
Executive: Conservative
Members of Parliament
Julian Brazier, Paul Clark, Michael Fallon, Roger Gale, Damian Green, Michael Howard, Stephen Ladyman, Robert Marshall-Andrews, Archie Norman, Chris Pond, Gwyn Prosser, Hugh Robertson, Jonathan Rowland Shaw, John Stanley, Howard Stoate, Ann Widdecombe, Derek Wyatt
  1. Dartford
  2. Gravesham
  3. Sevenoaks
  4. Tonbridge and Malling
  5. Tunbridge Wells
  6. Maidstone
  7. Swale
  8. Ashford
  9. Shepway
  10. Canterbury
  11. Dover
  12. Thanet
  13. Medway (Unitary)

Kent is a county in England, south-east of London. The county town is Maidstone. Kent has land borders with East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London, and a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames estuary.

The two cities in Kent are Canterbury, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Rochester, the seat of the Bishop of Rochester. For other towns, see the list below.

Kent, because of its soubriquet The Garden of England, might be regarded as a picturesque rural county, but farming is in itself an industry. Over the centuries many other industries have been of importance; some still are. Woollen cloth-making, iron-making; paper; cement; engineering: all have been part of the industrial scene. Fishing and tourism occupy many people, especially the coastal resorts. The East Kent coalfield was mined in the 20th century: and there is a nuclear power station located at Dungeness. Nevertheless, the district of Thanet has been regarded as one of the most disadvantaged areas in the south-east of England.

Ferry ports and the Channel Tunnel; and two of Britain's motorways; provide links with the European continent. There are airports at Manston and Rochester; and smaller airfields at Headcorn and Lydd.

Famous residents of Kent have included Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. Sir Winston Churchill's home Chartwell is also located in Kent.

Although the Victoria County History for Kent is limited, an extensive survey of the county was undertaken over a 50 year period by Edward Hasted, himself of Kent, between 1755-1805. William Lambarde was an even earlier writer, in the 16th century.



Main article: History of Kent

The area has been occupied since the Lower Palaeolithic as finds from the quarries at Swanscombe attest. During the Neolithic the Medway megaliths were built and there is a rich sequence of Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman occupation indicated by finds and features such as the Ringlemere gold cup and the Roman villas of the Darent valley.

The modern name Kent is derived from the Brythonic word 'Cantus' meaning a rim or border, being applied as a name to the eastern part of the modern county, and meaning 'border land' or 'coastal district.' Julius Caesar described it as Cantium, home of the Cantiaci in 51 BC.

The extreme west of the modern county was occupied by other Iron Age tribes; the Regnenses and possibly another ethnic group occupying The Weald. East Kent became one of the kingdoms of the Jutes during the fifth century AD (see Kingdom of Kent) and the area was later known as Cantia in around AD 730 and Cent in AD 835. The early Mediaeval inhabitants of the county were known as the Cantwara or Kent people, whose capital was at Canterbury.

Canterbury is the religious centre of the Anglican faith, and see of Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Augustine is traditionally credited with bring Christianity to the county and thus to England in 597.

Following the invasion of William the Conqueror the people of Kent adopted the motto Invicta meaning undefeated and claiming (quite wrongly) that they had frightened the Normans away, presumably in an attempt to defame the people of Hastings in neighbouring Sussex.

During the medieval period, Kent produced several rebellions including the Peasants' Revolt led by Wat Tyler and later, Jack Cade's rebellion of 1450. Thomas Wyatt led an army into London from Kent in 1553, against Mary I. Canterbury became a great pilgrimage site following the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Canterbury's religious role also gave rise to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a key development in the rise of the written English language and ostensibly set in the countryside of Kent.

By the seventeenth century, tensions between Britain and the continental powers of Holland and France led to increasing military build-up in the county. Forts were built all along the coast following a daring raid by the Dutch navy on the shipyards of the Medway Towns in 1667.

During the Second World War, airfields in Kent became well known playing a major part in the Battle of Britain whilst civilian settlements were often the recipients of bombardment and bombing from the continent.


Physical geography

Kent is the southeasternmost county in England. It is bounded on the north by the River Thames and the North Sea, and on the south by the Straits of Dover and the English Channel. The continent of Europe is a mere 21 miles across the Strait. The major geographical features of the county are determined by a series of ridges running from west to east across the county. These ridges are the remains of the Wealden Dome, which was the result of uplifting caused by the Alpine movements between 10-20 million years ago.

Erosion has resulted in these ridges and the valleys between. From the north they are: the marshlands along the Thames/Medway estuaries and along the North Kent coast; the chalk North Downs reaching heights of around 600ft; the sandstone and clay valley containing the River Medway and its tributaries; the Greensand ridge; the Wealden clay valley and finally the sandstone High Weald.

Probably the most significant geographical feature of Kent is the White Cliffs. It is here that the North Downs reaches the sea. From there to Westerham is now the Kent Downs Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty AONB.

The Weald derives its ancient name from the Germanic word 'wald' meaning simply woodland. Much of the area remains today densely wooded; where there are also heavy clays the tracks through are nearly impassable for much of the year.

The River Medway is one of Kent's waterways. It rises near Edenbridge and flows some 25 mls (40km) eastwards to a point near Maidstone when it turns north. Here it breaks through the North Downs at Rochester before joining the River Thames as its final tributary near Sheerness. The river is tidal as far as Allington lock, but in earlier times cargo-carrying vessels reached as far upstream as Tonbridge. There are other rivers in Kent.


In medieval times the Weald was of national importance for two industries: the iron industry and cloth-making.

Kent is sometimes known as the 'Garden of England' because of its agricultural influence, extensive orchards and hop-gardens. Distinctive hop drying buildings called oast houses are common in the countryside, although large numbers of them are now redundant and have been converted into dwellings. Nearer London, market gardens also flourish.

In more recent times, three industries have been of some importance: paper-making, cement-making and coal mining.

Paper needs a supply of the right kind of water: in Kent the original mills stood on streams like the River Darent, tributaries of the River Medway, and on the Great Stour. Two 18th century mills were on the River Len and at Tovil on the River Loose. In the late 19th century huge modern mills were built at Dartford and Northfleet on the River Thames; and at Kemsley on The Swale.

Cement came to the fore in the 19th century when massive building projects were being undertaken. The ready supply of chalk available, and huge pits between Stone and Gravesend bear testament to that industry. There were also other workings around Burham on the tidal Medway.

Coal was mined in East Kent: from about 1900 several pits were operating, and Snowdown Colliery was opened in 1908. The entire coalfield is now closed.

Political divisions


Kent was traditionally divided into West Kent and East Kent by the River Medway. This division into East and West is also reflected in the term 'Men of Kent' for residents of Kent east of the Medway, whilst residents from west of the Medway are known as 'Kentish Men'. It apparently derives from the ethnic differences between the Jutish settlement of the east of the county and the Saxon presence in the west.

In religious matters, Kent was divided between the two episcopal areas of Canterbury and Rochester.


A lathe was an ancient administration division of Kent, and may well have originated during a Jutish colonization of the county. These ancient divisions still exist, but have no administrative significance. There are seven Lathes in Kent; Aylesford, Milton, Sutton, Borough, Eastry, Lympne and Wye. these units are recorded as intermediate between the county and hundred. . The Domesday Book reveals that in 1086 Kent was divided into the seven lathes or 'lest(um)' for administrative, judicial and taxation purposes and these units remained important for another six hundred years. Each of the seven lathes were divided into smaller areas called hundreds, although the difference between the functions of lathes and hundreds remains unclear.

  • Taken from Frank W Jessup's History of Kent 1958


A Manorial court was an early form of dispensing justice which came into being after the Domesday Book. Among other things it dealt with land tenure. After the 17th century most of the court's functions were taken over by a Justice of the Peace, who had first been appointed from the 14th Century. From 1361 until 1971 the Justices met four times a year in Quarter Sessions. In Kent there were separate courts of Quarter Sessions (at Maidstone and Canterbury) until 1814.

The Poor Law

Under the Poor Law every parish had had the responsibility of looking after its own poor, and seeing that they had the bare minimum of shelter, food, clothing and medical attention. In most parishes the burden of poor relief mounted rapidly in the early part of the 19th century. Huge population increase, and the lack of work on the land, made it imperative that the Poor Law was amended. It was, in 1834, when the institutions known as workhouses came into being. These were often run by a group of parishes - hence the title Union Workhouse. Boards of Guardians were set up to oversee them.

Boards of Health

Boards of Health, in much the same way as the Boards of Guardians for the poor, were set up in 1875, because of the huge rise in epidemics, notably of cholera. The area of the sanitary districts, as they were known, coincided with the union boundaries. Larger parishes (<5000 people) became urban sanitary districts - or, as they became known urban districts - whilst the smaller ones evolved into rural districts.

Highway Boards

Highway boards also came into being, and the old turnpike trusts gradually expired.

Municipal Boroughs

The final sub-division of Kent was into towns which had been granted a charter by the Crown giving them special privileges, including that of having a mayor. The boroughs at the beginning of the 19th century are those marked (MB) on the list of Cities & Towns below. In addition the little village of Fordwich also counted as a borough: it was deprived of that status in 1882.

Kent County Council

In 1888 an Act of Parliament set up, inter alia, Kent County Council which, with its members coming from all parts of the county (except Canterbury, which became a County Borough with similar powers), first met in 1889. Its duties at first were few, but gradually it absorbed School Boards, the rural Highway Boards and the Boards of Guardians.

Parish Councils

In 1894, parish councils were set up. These were civil parishes, and unconnected with an ecclesiastical parish. Although since 1979 there have been many changes in local government, parish councils now are in a strong position, particularly in unitary authorities, where they act as the next tier.

  • All the preceding notes in this section taken from Kent History Illustrated Frank W Jessup (Kent County Council 1966)

Local Government Act 1974

In 1974 the old division between county and borough came to an end, with England being divided below county level into districts. Canterbury, hitherto separately administered as a County Borough, became one of the boroughs into which Kent was divided.

Medway Unitary Authority

In 1998 the then districts of Gillingham and Rochester were removed from county council government to become the unitary authority entitled the Borough of Medway .

Kent and London

When the County of London and London County Council were created in 1889, the new county annexed a considerable part of north west Kent including Greenwich, Woolwich and Lewisham.

A far greater change came about in 1965, when the London County Council was abolished and the Greater London Council took its place. New London boroughs were set up: the two to affect Kent were to annexe more of the county:

Much of the north-west of the county is part of the London commuter belt. The Thames Gateway includes riverside areas of north Kent as far east as Sittingbourne.

Ceremonial County

The ceremonial county of Kent corresponds to the administrative county plus the Medway (or Medway Towns)

Cities, towns and villages

Places of interest

External links


  • Glover, J., Place names of Kent.

The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy