Historic Counties Day: Kent, May 26

May 26 marks Kent Day – the feast day of Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury.

Kent – a county of two halves. A brief history – written by the Kent Family History Society for more information on the society, please visit https://www.kfhs.org.uk/kent-history

The name Kent derives from the ancient Celtic tribe who inhabited South East England from the Thames to the south coast.

Their lands included modern Kent plus parts of Surrey, Sussex and Greater London. The Romans called the people the Cantii or Cantiaci and the county Cantium.

Julius Caesar wrote in his account of his military campaigns in northern Europe, Gallic Wars, that the people of Cantium were the most civilized of the Celtic tribes.

Julius Caesar visited Britain twice. The first occasion in 55 BC he landed at Deal and his fleet was defeated by the high tidal range which swamped their ships.

In 54 BC Caesar returned with cavalry and won a significant skirmish at Canterbury; reputedly near to Bigbury Iron Age hill fort.

After a short campaign in England Julius Caesar left our shores. In 43AD under Emperor Claudius the Roman’s returned and stayed for almost four centuries.

The Ancient Britons did not have a written history so we have little knowledge of what they may have called Canterbury.

Although it may have been a version of Durovernum, the name the Roman’s used. This has linguistic roots to the Iron-Age tribes who lived on the British Isles before the Roman invasion.

Duro roughly translates to fortified enclosure; vernum to marshy crossing with Alders. The first documentation of a name for Canterbury was in a 2nd century geography the Antoine Itinerary.

In that the Roman named it Durovernum Cantiacorum. Cantiacorum meaning that the city was a Civitas Capital, that is a town where tribal leaders were trusted to rule their own people with the addition of Roman advisors.

Canterbury was the principle tribal capital of Cantium (Kent) with a second area of administration at Rochester which the Roman’s named: Durobrivae Cantiacorum. Durobrivae meaning fortified crossing with a bridge.

Take a look at Kent’s parish map.

Kent parish map version 1.3

Man or Maid of Kent v Kentish Man or Maid

Kent’s largest river is the Medway which divides the county vaguely east and west. Its source is in the High Weald Sussex.

Its mouth flows in to the Thames estuary. Hasted wrote in his encyclopaedic work The Historical & Topographical Survey of Kent that the ancient Britons called the Medway Vaga (travel) to which the Saxons prefixed Med (middle).

If you are born on the east side of the Medway you may call yourself a Man of Kent. If you were born to the west a Kentish Man.

The female equivalent being Maids of Kent or Kentish Maids. When the Men and Maids terms first came in to use is uncertain. Some say its from the invasion of Angles, Saxons and Jutes who called Canterbury Cantawarburgh.

The Anglo Saxons occupied West Kent whilst the Jutes, settled East of the Medway.

Others, as in this ode Men of Kent & Kentish Men*, suggest that it dates from the Norman invasion when the Men of Kent refused to let the Conqueror pass through East Kent unless they were allowed to keep certain rights and privileges.

This tale may have some truth behind it in that Kent was the only English county to keep the inheritance laws of Gavelkind after the conquest.

Man of Kent or Kentish Man?

The Point so often mooted
Men of Kent and Kentish Men?
Should you chance to hear disputed
As, no doubt, you will again.

Where the Medway’s stream divideth
and by it’s North Eastern shore.
Where the Kentish man abideth
William, unopposed, passed o’er.

But the lands South East the River
knew not what submission meant.
May Invicta stand for ever
word and boast of Men of Kent.

Norman and later

After the Battle of Hastings the Normans started a program of building works with castles and cathedrals appearing throughout their newly conquered lands.

Canterbury had the first Norman Cathedral and Castle, with Rochester a close second. Although, many castles were built in Britain in this period each county had just one cathedral… except Kent, which is the only county in Britain to have had two cathedrals splitting the county into two dioceses.

During the medieval period Canterbury became by charter a county corporate. i.e. a town with rights to act like a county.

The City and Borough of Canterbury which covered some surrounding villages was administered independently of the county of Kent between 1471 and 1972. Hence there were two county assizes at Canterbury and Maidstone and each has a County Court in use today.

Invicta Unconquered

There are several versions of this legend. The following was written in a thirteenth century chronicle by Thomas Sprot a monk of St. Augustine’s Abbey Canterbury. Sprot describes the gathering at Swanscombe of the Men of East Kent with their Saxon Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury.

They were awaiting King William I, the Conqueror, who was taking his first journey through Kent; after the Battle of Hastings and his coronation in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.

On his way to Dover to take ship to his lands in Normandy he was prevented from passing into the lands of East Kent by a deputation of the Men of Kent. They held a branch [treaty] or a sword [war] and told William to choose.

The legend suggests that he chose the branch and in doing so agreed that the people of both East and West Kent could keep certain rights and customs if in return they would accept him as their King. Reputedly this is why the custom of Gavelkind continued in Kent centuries after vanishing from other parts of England.


Gavelkind (in a nutshell) was a system whereby a deceased person’s land and assets were shared amongst their heirs.

It did not entirely preclude women unlike primogeniture; where assets usually went to the eldest son or nearest male relative. In many cases primogeniture effectively debarred even a closely related female from inheriting whilst a male relative could be found; notwithstanding the remoteness of his claim and the closeness of hers!

Even so, there are a few cases of women inheriting titles, lands and wealth. Joan the Fair Maid of Kent (wife of the Black Prince) was Countess of Kent suo jure (in her own right). As her brother had no male relatives when he died Joan inherited everything.

Gavelkind was not abolished until The Law of Property Act 1925.

Invicta – Kent’s white horse

The emblem of Kent and also of Kent Family History Society, traditionally it is shown on a red background.

In 2017, as part of a rebranding exercise, Kent FHS reverted to this traditional style. The horse is affectionately named after his Latin motto Invicta meaning unconquered. A reminder that Kent was not conquered at Hastings on 14 October 1066.

Kent today

After the 1972 reorganisation of English counties Canterbury came under County administration. Kent County Council then administered almost the entire county.

However, the united county was to last less than thirty years as in 1998 the Unitary Authority of Medway was formed from Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham and Strood and the county was once again split in two.

Kent archives

Family historians should be aware that not all Kent archives are held in the county archives and its best to check which archive when booking a visit.

Depending on the subject and era they could be held at; Canterbury, Maidstone, Bexley, Bromley, Strood, or the London Metropolitan Archives at Clerkenwell.

Parish registers

Parish registers are records of baptisms, marriage and burials made by the Church. They are a great resource for researching your family tree because official records of birth, marriage and death do not go back further than 1837. Many parish registers go back to the 1600s.

Finding parish registers

Parish registers dated before 1920 held by the Kent Archive service are now available to view and search on FindMyPast.

Over 2.6 million fully indexed baptism, banns, marriage and burial records spanning more than 400 years of Kent history are now online.

The records have been created from over 3,000 handwritten registers currently held at the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone. These registers have been digitised by the Kent Archive Service in full colour to ensure the highest possible image quality. Access to FindMyPast is free from any Kent library.

Get out and about!


11 Iconic Attractions in Kent

Kent is known as the Garden of England – famous for its food and drink production, and most recently wine.

As much as we love gardens here in Kent however, there’s more to this county.

From one of the world’s oldest religious structures to royal homes and iconic views – we’ve rounded up the 10 most iconic places to visit in Kent.

Canterbury Cathedral

Built almost one thousand years ago, Canterbury Cathedral is the most visited attraction in Kent and there’s good reason.

With a rich history, a visit to Canterbury and the local area is not complete without a visit to marvel over the lofty views, beautiful stained glass windows and substantial crypt.

ou might even bump into the head of the Anglican church – The Archbishop Justin Welby! Make your pilgrimage to Canterbury

Rochester Cathedral

Sitting on its current site since 604AD, the cathedral in Rochester is the second oldest in the UK with it’s current architecture, including the nave and facade added in 1080.

Once you step inside, marvel at the recently refurbished Crypt, Vestry and Chapter Library or step outside to the gardens and discover the ruins of the monastery which was closed in 1540. 1400 years of spiritual history in Medway

Hever Castle

Challenging the Cathedrals for age, Hever Castle has an history almost as full as it is just shy of 800 years old.

Most famous for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, today the castle has plenty to explore, whether it be the maze, Italian Garden or simply taking in the beauty of the castle and its moat – and if you get sleepy on your way around, there’s even Tudor bedrooms to spend the night.
Royal exploring and living in Hever

Leeds Castle

‘The loveliest castle in the world’ is a phrase used to describe Leeds Castle quite often – pay it a visit and you’ll soon see why!

Sitting on an island in the middle of a lake, a castle has existed on the site since 1119 and has Royal connections including Edward I and Henry VIII.

Most recently, the castle was owned by Lady Bailie who had a number of high-profile parties and decorated the interior to today’s spectacular standard. Be sure to get a punt around the water to see the best views!
800 years of history in Leeds Castle

Dover Castle

Although the two castles above have an aristocratic past, Dover Castle has more of a military history.

Standing as Kent and England’s first line of defence since the 11th century, you can easily spend a full day here exploring and living life like King Henry II, with costumed characters and regular re-enactments.

Although if you fancy your history a little more recent, there’s the Secret Wartime Tunnels which were military headquarters and underground hospital during WWII.
Discover the Key to England

The White Cliffs of Dover

You might not be able to see Dover Castle from across the Channel, but on a clear day the White Cliffs are visible from the French coastline and for as long as people have been crossing the strait, they have been the icon of England.

Standing tall and powerful, visitors can be treated to undulating walks with seasonal plantation and spectacular views across the sea and the busy shipping lane.
The chalky edge of England

Historic Dockyard Chatham

Moving away from castles and royalty, Chatham Dockyard was the most complete dockyard from the ‘age of sail’ in the world.

Once sitting at over 400 acres, the dockyard is today a little smaller, however it still houses three historic warships, a WWII destroyer and a submarine last used in 1990.

It is however not just about visiting naval ships, as there is a calendar of events throughout the year to keep everyone entertained including television set tours and art exhibitions.
Create a historic day out at the Dockyard

Shepherd Neame Brewery & Visitor Centre

One of the most well-known businesses across the South East is Shepherd Neame. Synonymous with your favourite local pub or pint, the drinks producer has been local to Faversham in Kent for over 300 years.

Proudly independent and family run, Shepherd Neame hosts tours around their brewing facilities from smelling the hops to tasting the final product, it’s a day to really get into the Kentish spirit!
Taste testing at Britain’s oldest brewer

Howletts Wild Animal Park

Set up in 1957 by John Aspinall, Howletts has been a staple of Kent’s animal heritage since its opening to the public in 1975.

Known for housing some of the rarest and most endangered species in the world, the park is an advocate for the breeding of the animals who are in most need of help.

Visitors can expect to explore 100 acres of wooded parkland, to really feel close to nature and its magnificent species.
Walk amongst animals at Howletts


Kent is not just all about history and beautiful landscapes – it has also got a reputation for being a good shopping destination too!

If you need to get a bunch of Christmas shopping done in one hit there’s everything from high street brands to more upper end stores.

If you have a member of the family who just doesn’t find the appeal to shop then Bluewater is the spot for them too – featuring a cinema, waterside restaurants and even a trampoline park, it’s a day out for any kind of activity. Shop, watch and jump at Bluewater

Turner Contemporary

It may well be the youngest attraction on this list, but the Turner Contemporary art gallery in Margate is certainly not to be discounted. Internationally renowned and a modern symbol of the town, the gallery has featured works by JMW Turner himself, through to modern day heavyweights such as Tracy Emin and Antony Gormley.

In 2019, the Turner Contemporary will host the Turner Prize – one of the most well known awards in the world of visual arts, and with new exhibitions opening regularly, there is no such thing as a bad time to visit. Art on the coast in Margate

Of course there are more than these ten attractions in Kent, be sure to check out the Visit Kent attractions page right here!

10 family days out

We know what it’s like, there are those days when the kids are bored, you’re tired of doing the same thing and you’re wracking your brains for something new to keep them entertained. Well, that’s where we come in. We’ve rounded up some of the best ideas and tips for fun family days out in Kent, from steam railways, to high rope adventures and go karting excitement. So what are you waiting for? Take a look at our selection and start earning some Brownie points!

Buckmore Park Kart Circuit

If you really want to race straight into your kids’ good books, it doesn’t get much more thrilling than a day on the track at Buckmore Park. Visit on Family Days and you can let your budding racers squeal around the circuit where World Champion Lewis Hamilton once honed his skills – how’s that for a seal of approval?
For the speed demons

Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

So iconic is the Romney, Hythe and Dymchuch Railway that we happen to think any visitor to Kent ought to take a spin on it, and if you have youngsters in tow, it’s a must. Starting at the seaside town of Hythe (for real Brownie points, don’t forget to pick up an ice cream), it’s all aboard the miniature railway, which steams along the coast to Dungeness. For the ultimate family day out, be sure to check out seasonal favourites, including Santa specials and visits from Peppa Pig.
A little wonder

Betteshanger Park

With miles of traffic-free tracks and trails, wildlife and regular family events, a day out at Betteshanger Park should be on every family’s list. Hire bikes, test out your archery skills, take on a geocaching treasure hunt and take your little ones out on an adventure this weekend. With the brand new visitor centre and Mining Museum opening in just a few short months, this adventure is about to get even bigger.
Get energized

Go Ape Bedgebury

What’s one of the best ways to view Bedgebury’s world-renowned conifer collection? Well, if you’ve got a head for heights, it doesn’t get much more dramatic than high up on the Go Ape Tree Top Adventure. Swing through the trees on high ropes and whoosh along zip wires on an adventure the whole family can enjoy. Bonus points if you can do a better Tarzan call than your little monkeys!
High above the canopy

Wingham Wildlife Park

This one’s so obvious we almost feel like we’re cheating for including it as one of our ten tips. With a variety of animals big and small, not to mention an amazing play area, Wingham Wildlife Park is a family favourite. Whether the kids are fascinated by frogs and reptiles or in awe of the king of the jungle, you’ll find plenty of creatures to keep them wild at heart. Plus, for fans of the prehistoric, the Dinosaur Zoo provides an intriguing peek into the days when the t-rex ruled the land.
Wild thing

Penshurst Place

Yes, it’s a perfectly preserved manor house with some of the finest gardens in the county, but did you know Penshurst Place is also a top day out for children? With a toy museum (arguably the best kind of museum there is), woodland trails, bike hire and an adventure playground, this beautiful estate is a firm favourite for a historic day out. If you’re here in the summer time, be sure to take a turn around the maize maze, complete with clues along the way.
History in the making

Carroty Wood

Are you still struggling with kids with far too much energy and too little to do? Carroty Wood may have something to say about that! Enjoy adrenaline-fuelled family activity sessions, including climbing, abseiling and archery, so you and the kids can release your inner Katniss Everdeen and engage survival mode.
Survival of the fittest


As everybody’s favourite vintage theme park, this land of dreams needs no introduction. Of course you have a whole selection of vintage rides, including the big wheel, scenic railway and chair-o-plane, but there’s also the Roller Room, Octopus’s Garden play zone and plenty of brand new rides, including the Dream Catcher and the Dreamland Drop. Round up the family and head to Margate, because this is one dream you won’t want to wake up from.
Dreaming in Margate

Rare Breeds Centre

Little ones will love the farmyard feel of the Rare Breeds Centre and with plenty to keep them busy, you’ll love it too. 100 acres await, so make the most of your day with a trip through the butterfly tunnel, woodland walks and plenty of visits to meet the many animals that call it home.
A rare treat

Emmetts Garden

High up in the Weald of Kent you’ll find panoramic views across the Kent countryside at the National Trust’s Emmetts Garden, but what you really need to know is that it’s also a great place for the kids to let off some steam. Get stuck into outdoor adventure in the teepee and play area and let the kids tick off 50 things to do before they turn 11¾, and maybe tick one or two off yourself.
Outdoor adventure

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Historic Counties Day: Kent, May 26 was last modified: May 24th, 2019 by Thom Morris