Welcome To Historic Kent
With unique archaeological discoveries making it a key location for anthropological studies in England, Kent County definitely boasts historical particularities compared to the rest of the country's regions, especially regarding its reaction to the Norman Conquest. Its development abounds in remarkable deeds and personalities exhibiting commendable strength of character.
According to archaeological evidence, Kent has been inhabited by humans for 400 000 years, coinciding with the Palaeolithic Era, and possibly even longer. The earliest human remains were found at Swanscombe, actually constituting the very first remnants of human existence in England. Bone fragments were discovered at the Barnfield Pit as well as other nearby locations, along with rudimentary tools and animal skeletons, attesting that Homo erectus and later Homo sapiens dwelled in the area.
The Neolithic Era also left behind a significant number of important vestiges such as the Medway Megaliths, a multitude of chambered burial monuments marked by sarsen stone structures, some of which still stand today and others having been partially destroyed. Most of them are located by the river Medway, whereas others are scattered in the vicinity. Many burial chambers were desecrated by vandals over the years, yet remained in a satisfactory condition. The best preserved megalith in the area is known as the Coldrum Stones and others include Chestnuts long barrow, Addington long barrow (the last two being in close proximity of each other), Countless Stones and so forth.
The Roman invasions
When the first Roman invasion of England occurred, in 55 BC, Julius Caesar first set foot in Kent, an area occupied by various indigenous tribes which were relatively easy to defeat due to their lack of unity. He documented his victory in the journal known as Commentarii De Bello Gallico and described the Celtic and Belgic tribes he encountered. Nonetheless, the Romans did not establish a permanent domination of the region, nor did they do so the following year, when they returned, leaving as expediently as the first time. It wasn't until 43 AD that the Roman conquest really impacted on the country. After a century of trading between Rome and what we now refer to as England, Emperor Claudius decided to finally take over, by taking advantage of internal quarrels between princes (rulers of the various tribes). Again, his troops landed in Kent and Richborough was the starting point of their new raiding operation. After securing control over many parts of England, they first established a capital at Colchester, then gradually built Londinium (today's London) on the river Thames. Faced with the multitude of existing tribes, their domination was secured through force as well as alliance.
The Kingdom of Kent
After the Romans withdrew out of England, the Jutes, a people of Germanic origin, established an independent form of governance known as the Kingdom of Kent. During the independence period, the main settlements within the Kingdom of Kent (also referred to as Cantwara) were Dover, Canterbury and Rochester, the capital being Canterbury. For administrative purposes, the territory was separated into seven subdivisions known as lathes, which at the time were Eastry, Aylesford, Wye, Milton, Borough, Lympne and Sutton. This time is also linked to the arrival and spreading of Christianity in England, by Saint Augustine of Canterbury, a Christian missionary who first landed on the island of Thanet in 597 AD. The Kingdom of Kent dated from 449 AD to 686 AD, when it was taken over by Wessex. Then, in 725 AD, the region became a part of Mercia.
The Norman Conquest
After the Norman Conquest, Kent definitely had a different evolution compared to other English regions. When Duke William of Normandy sailed to today's England in 1066 and after defeating King Harold, headed towards London to claim the throne, his army had a long journey to carry out through Kent. He faced extreme hostility from locals and dealt with it prudently, which resulted in Kent proclaiming itself Invicta, meaning it had not been conquered. After seizing the throne and becoming known as William the Conqueror, he appointed his half-brother, Odo, as the Earl of Kent. Akin to his half-brother William, who was known in this region alone as William the Bastard, Odo (the Bishop of Bayeux) was intensely detested. He rapaciously seized vast lands for himself and his family and was portrayed using a colourful array of epithets, entirely negative, by those who left written testimonies of their time, such as chronicler monk Orderic Vitalis. Due to his unjust and oppressive behaviour, the people of Kent rebelled in 1067, which lead to Odo being forced to return some of his estates to their rightful owners. He was later imprisoned in 1082 for organising a military campaign abroad and degraded from his function, then released five years later, only to plan another attack on England's establishment and be banished from the country, retuning to his native Normandy. Although he only ruled Kent for a few months, he certainly left a long lasting impression.
The Middle Ages
In Kent, the first part of the Middle Ages were marked by long wars with France and sieges of its main castles, such as Rochester Castle, in 1215, and Dover Castle, in 1216-1217. Off shore battles were fought as well. There were troubled times as in 1337 the Hundred Year War started, whilst between 1248 and 1249, the Black Death (the plague) decimated nearly half of Kent's population. Over the next centuries, a few rebellions took place, the most notable being the one in 1381, lead by Wat Tyler, which did not succeed. A number of castles and mansions were built by aristocracy, and during the reign of Henry VIII, a few notable ones were erected.
The reign of Henry VIII was a time of radical change, which meant first of all replacing Catholicism with the new Anglican religion. That did not occur due to any popular movements, but surprisingly, in order to allow the king to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who could not produce a male son to inherit the throne. Henry VIII had no less than six wives, half of whom did not meet an agreeable fate, two of them being beheaded and one dyeing of septicaemia. His Catholic daughter Mary was crowned in 1553 and in her 5 year reign terrorised the entire population with a ruthless religious persecution, which made it common practice to burn people at the stake for their religious beliefs. Her sister Elizabeth, who followed as queen, restored Protestantism, expanded the country's dominions and had a deep impact on culture, which flourished during her reign. More castles and manors which survive to this day were built and in 1570, the first history of Kent was published by Lambarde.
In 1642 the Civil War started and was fought in three phases, between Royalists and Parliamentarians, the latter wanting to abolish monarchy and replace it with a Parliament based system. The whole country was in great turbulence and after Parliamentarians' repeated dominance, many Royalist revolts took place, not only out of an allegiance to the king (or better said, an aristocratic struggle to maintain certain privileges) but out of general discontent as well, mainly related to the new lifestyle being imposed upon people, which was based on utmost religious sombreness. In 1649, King Charles I was executed and the extended period of Parliamentarian rule began, which was not to end until 1660, when monarchy was restored. When Charles II returned from overseas, he first landed in Dover, where he spent the night in a mansion now known as the Restoration House, due to this event.
The 17th century was also dominated by external conflicts with France and the Netherlands, and the county of Kent was a crucial location, especially in terms of maritime warfare. A great number of war ships were built at the Chatham Dockyard in order to sustain conflicts at sea; some of their remains can be seen at the afferent museum today.
The Industrial Revolution and modern times
The 18th and 19th centuries soon followed, with their industrial breakthroughs, which in time brought on major changes in employment, production, lifestyle and travelling. Whereas for the social elites these changes were positive and only resulted in betterment in terms of their living standards, for the general population things did not evolve in such a smooth way, with childhood exploitation intensifying, which lead not only to precarious living conditions and trampling on human rights, but to enormous loss of life. Population growth however was rapid and towns such as Dover saw a very quick expansion. At the same time, Dover was being heavily fortified in order to withstand an expected French invasion. During the late 19th century, coal was found in Kent and a number of mines were opened, most of them to be later closed. Settlements were purposely built for miners, such as Elvington, Hersden, Aylesham and Mill Hill. Most miners did not originate from Kent but arrived from other regions instead, where this occupation had a longer tradition. Dover's military importance was again emphasized during the first and second World Wars, when it was under substantial attack and its population was often forced to hide in underground locations.
In this day and age, after intensive reconstruction and repairing of wartime destruction, Kent is moving forward, along with the rest of the UK, towards an elusive future. One thing which will never change is the treasuring of its long and turbulent history, which has left many traces and which locals and visitors alike can appreciate.
Quick Links To Useful Articles
The mansion itself resulted from the skilful merger of two existing constructions, either in the 16th or 17th century, a flawless process in terms of styling. The garden spreads across three quarters of an acre and is structured into many parts, some comprising exotic plants in artistically designed arrangements. The photo shows the front elevation of the house; with traditional features such as sash windows and traditional brickwork (such features can be found throughout Kent). Click Here To Read More
Built as early as 1341 for the mayor of London, in the village of Penshurst, and exceptionally preserved over the centuries, this mansion has passed through the hands of many aristocratic families, including the Sidney family, which held it for hundreds of years. Click Here To Read More
The vast number of aristocratic families inhabiting Kent over the centuries has left a rich legacy in terms of charmingly beautiful properties, decorated and maintained to very high standard, many of which are now open to the public. They are a display of traditional architectural styles as well as originality and tend to preserve extremely old art and memorabilia. Click Here To Read More
Swanscombe Heritage Park
A site of utmost importance for the quest of tracing England's human inhabitation as far back as possible, Swanscombe Heritage Park, with its archaeological site of Barnfield Pit, has attested human existence dating from the Stone Age era known as the Palaeolithic. The photo shows a competition winning design by landscape architects Mr Peter Greenstreet and Mr David Robinson (held on behalf of the Swanscombe Heritage Park). The eye catching hand-axe sculpture was fabricated by Mr Bob Hogben of BH Engineering and installed into the park in 2005. Click Here To Read More
Manston International Airport
Established for military purposes during World War I and formerly used by the RAF, the small airport located within the municipality of Manston, in the District of Thanet, it was given its present name and function in 1989 (although it still preserves its status as an emergency landing site). Commercial airlines have been operating there ever since, particularly for holiday travelling. Click Here To Read More