Traditions and folklore
At the heart of every culture, before the appearance of scholars and authors, there is folklore, complemented by myths and legends. Folklore is a reverberation of popular wisdom and an assortment of practices which provide communities with a certain identity. Whether it is passed down through generations verbally or in written form, it is always regarded as the starting point of all forms of artistic expression. Throughout its evolutional phases, Kent experienced the influence of many cultures, which shaped its cultural uniqueness.
By definition, legends are embellishments of real past occurrences, thus the creation of captivating stories around events which were actually simpler and less enthralling, in order to magnify the impact that these events have on any listener or reader. Kent has got quite a few legends of its own.
Invicta. Although the event which brought on the renowned motto certainly did happen, the proclamation of Kent as undefeated before William the Conqueror has generated a number of legends since its unfolding in 1067. For instance, some sources claim that in order to prepare for a confrontation with William's army, Kentish soldiers carried green branches, in order to mimic a moving forest rapidly coming towards the Normans. Then it is said that the soldiers put the branches aside and revealed that the moving vegetation was actually an army seeming prepared for battle. Whilst this legend is rather challenging in terms of its visual projection, it has been preserved for hundreds of years. A more believable account of the event is that William's army was exhausted after the Battle of Hastings and did not want to engage in another battle after such a short rest, fearing defeat.
The legend of St Augustine. The renowned story of St Augustine's revelation depicts him attempting to understand God by writing numerous volumes from his own knowledge. It is said that one day when walking on an African beach, meditating over the Holy Trinity, St Augustine met a child who was trying to move the entire sea into a small pit he had dug in the sand. It was then that St Augustine grasped the fact that akin to the boy's pit which could not hold the sea, his mind was too limited for such the understanding he was seeking. There are numerous legends involving St Augustine, usually creating an epical context for morally relevant conclusions.
The black dog. Although this would normally qualify as a haunting, there is little doubt regarding its truthfulness due to the sheer number of sightings, all of them having one thing in common - an ominous black dog always seeming to warn of an oncoming accident or misfortune. The dog was seen around Leeds castle on a number of occasions, yet is commonly seen in other locations as well, such as highways or motorways.
Any area on the planet which abounds in history, and implicitly in battles, courage, sacrifice and tyranny, makes up the perfect core around which ghost stories can be created, either emerging from someone's imagination or being transmitted from one generation to the next. Kent is no different, with a multitude of stories surrounding its historic sites and buildings.
Dover Castle, a supposedly haunted location, has been the focus of documentaries and television programs due to apparitions and unexplained noises experienced by its inhabitants. The strangest part of the castle is located underground, consisting of the Secret Wartime Tunnels. The spectres at Dover Castle seem to be missing body parts or to be just partially visible.
Margate Royal Theatre, dating from 1787, is another building of interest for those with a passion for this sort of energetic manifestations. It is said that everything from spectres to very loud voices can be encountered there. Two of the sightings are believed to be of the theatre's former manager and a suicidal actor.
Canterbury Cathedral, is said to have a few ghosts of its own, including a female servant who was buried alive for the murder of her employer and his lover by poisoning. Although most people have heard of this cathedral in the context of Thomas Becket's murder, there haven't been any reported sightings of his ghost. There have been, however, of the presumed ghost of another Archbishop.
Ightham Mote, a 14th century mansion located in Plaxtol, was the scene of the vengeful murder of Dame Dorothy Selby, who was responsible for the failure of the Gunpowder Plot against Cromwell's Parliament. It is said that her skeleton was found by some workers in a narrow hiding place where she had been confined and that her ghost remains in the house although attempts have been made to solve this issue.
Sweeps Festival. This event takes place every year in Rochester on the first weekend in May and is evocative to a tradition related to the historic trade of chimney sweeping. The tradition involves chimney sweepers rejoicing the arrival of the aestival season, when they were able to commence their sweeping. The event includes music and dancing and is also a celebration of spring, rooted in ancient pagan customs of nature veneration.
Whitstable Oyster Festival and Blessing of the Waters. Taking place in Whitstable, which is the most prominent oyster trading centre in England, the festival unfolds every summer, around St James Day, celebrated on the 25th of July. The timing can be explained by the fact that St James is considered the Patron Saint of the oyster trade in general.
Hop Hoodening. Yet another event which celebrates Kentish hop cultures, it is held every year at the beginning of September, in the city of Canterbury. This tradition is focused on hop harvesting and every time it includes the same ritual, involving a parade marching towards Canterbury Cathedral. There are participants with specific roles, costumes and dancers in a meticulously organised and yet jovial happening.