Skip to navigation Skip to content
Image ofheadnav-plusImage ofheadnav-minusImage ofheadnav-textsize

Contacts

Kent County Council
County Hall
Maidstone
Kent ME14 1XQ

Image oficon-tel24 hour helpline
08458 247 247

Image oficon-email county.hall @kent.gov.uk

The history of Kent

Kent was settled well before most other parts of England and has the oldest recorded place name in the British Isles. The County's history is closely bound up in its proximity to mainland Europe. Archeological remains from prehistoric times show clear links between Kent and Northern Europe, as well as a land link.

Ancient Britain

When Julius Caesar briefly invaded Kent in 55 and 54 BC he found it the most civilised part of Britain, colonised by the Belgae from Northern France. When the Romans again invaded in 43AD, this time to settle permanently, they colonised Kent along the Portus Lamanus from Richborough, rapidly establishing important centres throughout the County, and the remains of one at Lullingstone include an early Christian chapel.

Under Saxon Rule

The Roman legions abandoned Britain in the early fifth century to defend their empire nearer home. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Vortigern, the British ruler in Kent invited the mercenaries Hengist and Horsa to defend his principality from outside attack. They are said to have landed at Ebbsfleet near Ramsgate in 448 or 449 AD. By the end of the fifth century theSaxon kingdom of Kent had been firmly established. Under its king, Ethelbert, (560-616), Kent became one of the most advanced Saxon kingdoms in England

It was to Kent that Pope Gregory sent his missionaries under Augustine to begin their preaching of the gospel of Christianity to the English people. Augustine and his 40 companions landed at Ebbsfleet in 597. They were well received and instead of moving on to London as they had planned, they established their first cathedral at Canterbury. Seven years later another was built at Rochester. Augustine was the first archbishop, and since then the Archbishop of Canterbury has been the senior bishop of all England.

A County of Castles

After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the new king,William I made his half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, Earl of Kent. But Odo proved corrupt and the Normans and the men of Kent turned against him. After the release of Odo from prison in 1087 the Kentish levies helped the Normans to defeat him at the battle of Rochester. They were the seed of the first English army.

Within a century the capital of the English kings had moved from Winchester to London, and Kent's proximity to the new capital, together with its prime trading position, increased its political importance. Castles were built to defend the County.The most important were at Dover, Rochester and Canterbury. Henry VIII later built the castles in the Downs at Sandgate, Walmer and Deal to protect the Kent coast. But the closeness of London also made Kent a hot bed of political radicalism. The County played an important part in the peasants' revolt of 1381, and in various subsequent rebellions right up to the English Civil Wars of the1640s when there was fighting in the streets of Maidstone, and the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688/9 when James II fled into exile from Faversham.

Many people left Kent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to begin new lives in America; and were joined by hundreds of Kent poor who emigrated to the United States of America in the nineteenth century.

Divided Kent

Unlike many parts of England, Kent had no single, powerfull and owning family. Before the reformation much of the land was owned by the two cathedrals and nearly 80 other monasteries and religious houses established in Kent. Cities and towns also held land. Non-ecclesiastical holdings were made smaller by the Kentish custom of gavel kind, or partible inheritance, whereby estates did not evolve to the eldest surviving son but were divided equally between all the male children after their father's death.

However, by the sixteenth century a number of significant landed families began to emerge such as the Knatchbulls of Mersham-le-Hatch, the Sackvilles of Knole and the Sidneys of Penshurst. With them came enclosure, most of which was completed in Kent by the end of the seventeenth century.

As with families, so with towns. Kent had no single natural urban centre but several towns of medium size. As local administration developed Kent was divided into two units, East (Men of Kent), administered from Canterbury, and West (Kentish Men), from Maidstone. In 1814 these two separate administrations were merged and Maidstone became the county town.

Kent at War

Kent's position as the nearest point of England to the continent of Europe has always made it vulnerable to invasion. The Hythe military canal was built for use to deter Napoleon in 1792 and garrisons were increased in many Kent towns. Bicycle units were set up in the 1st and 2nd World Wars to carry messages from special Control centres built underground. Many soldiers returning from Dunkerque landed on the Kent coast. The so-called Baedecker reprisal raids and other German bombing raids changed Canterbury and Dover forever; and Kent was the chief victim of the V1 and V2 rocket attacks launched from Germany and Calais in1943 and 1944 against Biggin Hill airport and parts of London.

Looking Forward

The building works and extensive road system connected with the Channel Tunnel has changed the face of East Kent. We share many links with our neighbours across the Channel and the tunnel has brought us closer and has begun to affect the lives of the people of Kent as never before. Kent is the main Gateway between the UK and mainland Europe, with the International Station, Ashford is close in time to Lille as to London. The opening of the Channel Tunnel has had the greatest impact on the County's communication links and economic structure since the first trading forays of the Belgae from Northern France around 400BC.

Seafaring and Industry

Ease of access by water to London developed Chatham and Sheerness as dockyard towns, and Margate and Ramsgate as seaside resorts. All the towns along the eastern coast were significant either as commercial ports or in the defence of the realm.

Dover, Hythe, New Romney and Sandwich were four of the original five 'Cinque Ports'. Inland on the borders with Sussex important cloth and iron industries developed from the fifteenth century. Many paper mills were setup in the seventeenth century where sufficient water was available. Tunbridge Wells became a fashionable spa town in the1670s. Elsewhere in the County the dominant occupation was horticulture and the growing of hops for brewing. The hop, iron and cloth industries have provided the Kent landscape with two of its most prominent landmarks, the oast houses used for drying hops and the wealden hall houses of the Kent iron masters andcloth manufacturers.

Recent Developments

From the 1750s those parts of Kent nearest to London began to develop as suburbs of the capital. The County boundary was adjusted in 1889 when the present boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham became part of London. To these were added, in 1965, the present boroughs of Bromley and Bexley.Further parts of Kent lying between the A21 and the M25 became,in 1974, London Boroughs but remain part of historic Kent.

Much of West Kent is now London commuter territory and townslike Maidstone, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge have expanded rapidly in size and population.

With its close proximity to mainland Europe and the construction of the Channel Tunnel and the International RailLink, it is not surprising that Kent has a positive and progressive approach to its European activities.

In April 1998, local government re-organisation led to the establishment of a new unitary authority -Medway Council,covering the area previously covered by the district councils of Gillingham and Rochester upon Medway. The new County is however still the biggest shire County in the UK.

Area: Kent 352,296ha Medway 19,203

Population: Kent 1,318,000 Medway 239,442

Our Coat of Arms

Kent County Council's Coat of Arms contains many symbols of Kent's history - its seafaring importance, its industry and is religious significance. Below is a description of the Coat of Arms and an explanation of its different elements. Kent CountyCouncil was granted a coat of arms on 17 October 1933. It was re-confirmed on the reorganisation of local government in1975.

The shield contains a white horse on a red field which is reputed to be the symbol of the ancient Saxon kingdom of Kent.

The crest is a mural coronet with three masts and sails rising above it. The coronet commemorates the fact that, for four hundred years, Kent was an independent Saxon kingdom. Its mural form is symbolic of the many fortified castles and towns in the county and the masts and sails are emblems of its intimate links with the Navy, the Mercantile Marine and Sea Fisheries.

The sea lions which support the shield are symbolic of the support that Kentish seaman have given to the sea-power of England through the centuries and the fact that the long coastline of Kent is part of England's frontier with continental Europe.

From the collar of one sea lion is suspended a shield bearing the Arms of the Cinque Ports, which had an obligation to provides ubstantial support for the naval forces of England until modern times. Four of the Cinque Ports are in Kent.

From the collar of the other sea lion is suspended a shieldbearing the Arms of the Archbishopric of Canterbury, founded by St Augustine who landed in Kent in AD 597. Canterbury is theprimary See of the English Church.

The long serving Kent motto 'Invicta' means 'unconquered' o r'untamed'. It is an allusion to the belief that Kent has kept its boundaries intact since pre-Roman times and that its people had "reserved to themselves and their posterity, their ancientCustoms and Liberties" (Richard Kilburn 1659). The motto is on a ribbon the colour of which is as near as possible to the time-honoured Kentish Grey, a colour of significance in the days of the weaving industry in Kent.

Heraldic Description

Arms: Gules a Horse forcene Argent.

Crest: Issuant from a Mural Crown proper three masts rigged with courses set and topsails furled proper flying from each masthead a pennon Argent charged with a Cross Gules.

Supporters: On either side a Sea Lion or gorged with a Collar Gules pendent there from an escutcheon the Dexter of the Arms of the See of Canterbury and the sinister of the arms of the Cinque Ports.

Motto: Invicta

Using the Coat of Arms

The Coat of Arms belongs to, and identifies, Kent County Council. The County Council does not allow the use of its Coat of Arms for any commercial purpose whatsoever.

However, there is no restriction on the use of the Kent White Horse on its own, provided it is a different style from the one in the County Council's logo. The White Horse is the traditional symbol of Kent and, and such, does not "belong" to anybody. Indeed, it is already widely used by a large number of organisations within the County to emphasise their Kent connection.

Print only content. Copyright 2005.