General history: Introduction

Pages 1-13

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1797.

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AMONG the different counties of England, few have been more enriched, both by art and nature, than the county of Kent. Besides the advantages it enjoys in common with its neighbours, this county has many peculiar to itself. Among which may be reckoned its situation, so well adapted for commerce and trade, and to secure it, as long as Britain remained divided into distinct principalities, from enemies on every side; which, with the natural bravery of the inhabitants, preserved it as an entire kingdom for near four hundred years.

The Kentishmen afterwards became so famous for their valor and intrepidity, especially in their encounters with the Danes, that the vanguard, or foremost rank in battle, was unanimously given to them, as the reward of their courage, whenever they engaged the common enemy with the rest of their neighbours. From their nearness and intercourse with Gaul, the inhabitants of Kent were far more civilized than those of any other part of Britain, as Cæsar writes in his Commentaries; and to this intercourse, as well as gentleness of manners, this county was indebted for the blessing it received, in having the Christian religion first established in it in the time of the Saxon heptarchy. Those noble rivers, the Thames and the Medway, bear their glorious burthens beyond what the world can shew besides, on their navigable streams, for many miles within its boundaries. Four of the docks of the Royal Navy of Great Britain are situated on their banks, and those rivers the stations of it. The customs and tenures of it are free, much beyond those claimed in any other part of this kingdom. It has the honor of having the Archiepiscopal See fixed within it, and its chief city the metropolitical city of all England, and of having another diocese still within its bounds. It has four of the antient Cinque Ports, and the Court of Shipway within it, and the Castle of Dover, so highly celebrated in history for its antiquity and great consequence to Britain: insomuch, that it was called, for its strength and superiority, The Lock and Key of the Kingdom.

To its situation, this county owes, in a great measure, that wealth and abundance which is so lavishly diffused over every part of it: the sea-coast, and the rivers Thames and Medway, furnish employments so various and lucrative to all ranks of people, and cause such an accumulation of trade and riches, that not only the adjacent, but the most inland parts partake of it. From their continued intercourse with foreigners of all nations, the inhabitants are more open and liberal minded than others, who seldom, if ever, find an opportunity of conversing beyond their neighbouring district, or with any but their own countrymen. This produces a well-bred hospitality and civility of manners among them, which extends itself to all degrees, and is so particularly taken notice of by all strangers. From their situation, the inhabitants enjoy most convenient and profitable markets for their commodities, which in general dispenses some portion of its advantages even among the lowest rank of people; and in this county there are very few, if any, such scenes of misery and wretchedness to be seen among the poor, as there are in many parts of England. Instead of which, a comfortable subsistance, and cheerful content is found in most of the meanest cottages. From the freedom of its tenures and customs, the lands throughout the county are shared by almost every housekeeper in it: by which means the Great are restrained from possessing such a vast extent of domains, as might prompt them to exercise tyranny over their inferiors: and every one's possessions being intermixed, there arises an unavoidable chain of interests between them, which entitles both one and the other to mutual obligations and civilities. From the establishments of the church in it, learning and religion is spread throughout it by the most eminent and distinguished men in the kingdom, who being likewise preferred to parochial cures in it, teach the pure doctrine of the gospel, and the principles of virtue and morality to all ranks in every village, to the great increase of good government and of society in general. The bravery of the Kentishmen in antient times is still inherited by the present generation of them: many shining examples of heroism, in the memory of every one, might be instanced, of those, whose noble actions, and whose courage, conduct, and activity, in their commands in the British army and navy, would have done honor to antient Rome; and there are many still advancing hastily to the like summit of reputation in both. Nor are those of a lower rank less conspicuous among their comrades; and though there is a freedom of spirit reigns in the breast of Kentishmen of every denomination, yet they nevertheless preserve among them a decent subordination; for there is no part of the kingdom, where the government of the realm, and the laws and magistracy of the country are more chearfully submitted to than in this county.

Such, among many others, which the reader will find particularised in the course of the ensuing work, are the advantages and peculiar circumstances, which have together concurred to raise Kent to that preeminence and fame throughout Britain, which the general voice of both antient and modern times has allowed it, and which, in the opinion of every one, it still continues justly to deserve.

Time has not yet deprived this county of its antient name; but as Cæsar, Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, Ptolemy, and others, call it Cantium, so the Saxons, (as Nennius tells us) named it Cantguar-lantd, i.e. the country of men inhabiting Kent. In the record of Domesday it is written, Chent, and by us at present, Kent. The most probable conjecture of the etymology of this name is from the situation of the place, the British land here extending itself with an angle, or large corner eastward towards France.

This county, thus situated in the south-easternmost part of Britain, over against France (from whence its nearest distance over the Channel is about twenty-four miles) is bounded on the north by the river Thames, (excepting that small part of it on the Essex side of the river, over against Woolwich,) and by the Channel; on the fouth again by the Channel, and the county of Sussex; and on the west by the county of Surry. Its length is about sixty-six miles from west to east, and its breadth from north to south about twenty-six miles, both being taken at a medium; and it is in circumference one hundred and seventy-four miles, or thereabouts. It is supposed by many to have extended antiently much farther westward than it does at present, nay, even to have had antient London, then situated on the hither or south side of the Thames, within its bounds. (fn. 1) Indeed it must be observed, that both Ptolemy, and Ravennas speak of London, as in Kent; and on the south side of the Thames, which Gale, in his learned comment on Antoninnus's Itinerary, solves thus: that probably a station of that name might be placed on the south side of the Thames by the Romans, for the protection and security of the conquests which they had made, before they overcame the Trinobantes, the place in which it was being now called St. George's Fields between Southwark and Lambeth, where many Roman coins, chequered pavements, and urns have been found, and where three Roman roads centered out of Kent, Surry, and Middlesex. This then is supposed to have been the Londinium meant by Ptolemy, and Ravennas, on the south side of the river, which became neglected after the Romans had subdued the Trinobantes, and driven the Britons farther north, and had settled themselves on the other side of the Thames. Having thus accounted for antient London's being placed on the south side of the Thames, I must add a few words on its having been described within the boundaries of Kent.

There is no doubt that before the landing of the Romans in Britain, the space of country between Deptford and the Thames, as high up as Lambeth, was a swampy marsh, great part of which was constantly overflowed by the tide, and as such, of little or no use, and indeed uninhabitable. This space then, with the channel of the Thames at its extremity, might be looked on, both by the Trinobantes and Cantiani, as a kind of barrier between them, which might mislead the antient geographers who supposed that the territories of the former being bounded by the Thames, and this space of country not belonging to them, must, therefore, of consequence, be part of the adjoining Cantiani; whereas, in fact, it belonged to, or, at least, was claimed by neither.

The Romans afterwards, to secure this barrier, drained as much of these lands as served their purpose, erected a station here, and made roads to it; but on their further conquests, removed to the other, or north side of the river, where London now stands. After which, neither of the above people claiming this district, it became, in process of time, reputed as part of the country of the Regni, who inhabited Sussex and Surry, in which last county it has continued to this time. Not content with the above acquisition, the inhabitants of Surry, even subsequent to the Norman conquest, seem to have encroached on the boundaries of the county of Kent. The parish of Deptford, having been, by all accounts, wholly within the latter, though now the former claims that part of it in which are the manor and seat of Hatcham, the manor of Bredinhurst, &c.

It has been the opinion of many of our most learned antiquaries, among whom are Camden, Somner, and Twine, that France and England, or Gaul and Britain, were antiently joined by an isthmus or neck of land, where the narrow passage is now between Dover and Calais, which many ages since, beyond the reach of any history, perhaps coeval with the general deluge, was, by the sea's violently beating upon it on both sides, worn away and broken through, whereby what was once an isthmus is now become a fretum, or narrow sea. (fn. 2) These learned men give us many reasons, which, if well considered, seem convincing that there was once such a conjunction. Among others, they urge the nearness of land between England and France, that is, from the cliffs of Dover, to the like cliffs lying between Calais and Boulogne; that these cliffs, on either side of the sea, lie just opposite one another, and are both of one substance, that is chalk and flint, the sides of both towards the sea appearing to have been broken off by violence, from some more of the same sort, which they had been joined to originally; that the length of them on one side of the sea, is answerable to the very like on the other, each reaching about six miles in length, and the distance between both not exceeding twenty-six miles, at which place the sea is, even at this day, much shallower than it is on either side of it. To which may be added, that there is a narrow ridge of sand in the sea between Folkestone and Boulogne, called the Riprapps, distant from Folkestone about ten miles, and lies S. W. and N. E. in length ten miles; it is a stony bottom, and has, at a low spring tide, not more than fourteen feet of water on it. Many of the fishermen at Folkestone have seen this ground, and touched it with a fifteen feet oar. Consequently many large ships have struck on it, and sunk directly in twenty-five fathom water close to it. This ridge runs away to the eastward at the back of the Goodwin Sands, and is there called the Falls, which often deceives the sailor for them; the distance between the bank called the Cliff, on the banks of Flanders and the Goodwin, is not above fifteen miles; a small space in a dark stormy night, and the Falls are between them both; and there is another ridge or bank, about six miles off Dover, called the Vane, on which is very little water at low spring tides; but both that and the Riprapps are providentially very narrow, and twenty-five fathoms water close to them. They dwell on the effects, which the great seas on both sides, beating continually with fierce impetuous tides on this isthmus, must have had in process of time, and they account for the parts where they discharged their waters before they had, by the destruction of it, made a free passage for them, and afterwards what lands were raised, and left dry, by the breaking down of it. All which is corroborated by instances of the like change in different parts of the world, and are, no doubt, strong presumptions in favour of this hypothesis.

It has been objected, that there is no mention made in any history of such an isthmus, or such a rupture in this place, which being an event so very remarkable, must have been thought worthy of being reported. Yet this need not be thought strange, considering, that in all probability, when this happened, and for a great length of time afterwards, these parts were little, if at all, inhabited. And when they were, the inhabitants (even supposing the tradition of such a matter to have remained among them, which is not very likely) were in so uncivilized and barbarous a state as afforded them no means of transmitting it to posterity. And we have no particular account of the British coasts, which might determine this question, earlier than the access of the Romans hither with Julius Cæfar.

There have been variety of opinions and conjectures among the learned, concerning the origin of the inhabitants of Britain, some deriving them from the Phenicians, and after them the Greeks, others from the Trojans, some think Britain to have been peopled by colonies from different places, and at different times, and others by Aborigines planted in it by the Divine Omnipotence. Which of these opinions comes nearest to the truth is not within the bounds of my present undertaking to discuss; it will be sufficient for me to observe, that the first knowledge we have of any inhabitants in this part of Britain, is from Julius Cæsar, whose Commentaries are the earliest description we have of this country.

At the time the Romans first invaded this island, under the command of that Emperor, which was about fifty-five years before the birth of Christ, Kent was, in general, inhabited by the Belgic Gauls, who had originally come hither for the sake of making war, and to plunder. This being accomplished, many of them, instead of returning home, settled here, and begun to cultivate the lands, (contrary to the custom of most of those who inhabited the inland parts of Britain, who lived on milk and flesh, got by hunting, and never sowed any corn,) retaining in general the names of those towns and places from whence they came, and at the time of Cæsar's being here they were become exceeding numerous. Their vessels, in which they made their short excursions, are said to have been very small, with their keels and ribs made of slight timber, interwoven with wicker, and covered with hides, which shews they undertook no long voyages; nay, in all likelihood they never ventured to sea beyond the coast of Gaul, as may be learnt from Cæfar de Bello Civili, lib. i. and from Lucan in these verses in his fourth book:
"Primum cana salix madefacto vimine parvam
"Texitur in puppim, cæsoque induta juvenco
"Vectoris patiens tumidum superemicat amnem.
"Sic Venetus stagnante Pado, fusoque Britannus
"Navigat Oceano."

Their towns or villages, were at that time, however, little more than a confused parcel of huts, which were built after the manner of the Gauls. Cæsar says, they had every material, for use and building, the same as in Gaul, except the fir tree and the beech, which shews how little he was acquainted with the face of the country. (fn. 3) They were placed at a small distance from each other and generally in the middle of a wood, the avenues of which were defended with ramparts of earth, or with the trees, which had been cut down to clear the ground, served them as a place of safety to retire to with their cattle, when they were apprehensive of incursions from their neighbours. They had great plenty of cattle, and made use of brass money and iron rings, which passed by weight. The climate was more temperate here than in Gaul, and the frosts not so intense. From their origin and their intercourse with the continent, the inhabitants of Kent (the usual landing-place from thence) were a far more civilized people than those of any other part of Britain, and their customs and manners were much the same as those of Gaul. The use of cloaths was scarce known in the island; none but the inhabitants of Kent, and the neighbouring coasts making use of any kind of covering, and these had only the skins of wild beasts carelessly thrown over them, not so much to defend themselves against the cold, as to avoid giving offence to the strangers who came to traffic with them.

The Britons in general used, by way of ornament, to make incisions in their bodies, in the shape of flowers, trees, and animals, which, with the juice of woad, they painted of a sky colour, that never wore out, and by this means they appeared more dreadful to their enemies in battle. The hair of their heads they wore very long, but shaved all the face, except the upper lip; they were tall in their persons, (fn. 4) and remarkably honest and ingenuous. They had some customs, especially one as to their marriages, which were greatly reprobated by other nations. This prevailed along time among them, though, in other respects, they grew much more civilized by their intercourse with the Romans when masters of this island. In general they lived to a great age, probably owing to their exercise, sobriety, and temperance, as well as the wholesomness of the climate, (fn. 5) The few particulars abovementioned are chiefly gathered from Cæsar's account of his expeditions hither, during which, however, he saw little of this country, and met such a warm reception from the brave inhabitants of it, much more so, it is believed, than he chooses to own. In confirmation of which, Lucan, in his second book, says—
"Territa quæsitis ostendit terga Britannis."

And Tibullus, in his fourth book—
"Invictus Romano marte Britannus."

Horace hints as much, calling the Briton
"Intactus Britannus."

Tacitus tells us, Cæsar did not conquer Britain, but only shewed it to the Romans; and Dion Cassius says, Cæsar acquired nothing in Britain, either to himself or Rome, but the glory of having made an expedition thither, which he greatly exaggerated in his letters sent to Rome on this occasion. He could therefore neither have time nor opportunity himself to observe much either of their customs or manners; indeed, what he has told us must, in general, be understood as relating to the inhabitants of Kent, the only part of Britain he can be said to be at all acquainted with; and as this is the only description we have of that time, we must be satisfied with it, and with what we find scattered in succeeding authors, who themselves, perhaps, knew but very little of the matter.

Two British druids

Though we know the Druids, as well among the Britons as the Gauls, had the care and direction of all religious matters, yet we have nothing certain transmitted to us concerning them in this island: nor can we form any idea of their religion, but by that of the Gauls, which Cæfar has given us some knowledge of; indeed, we could not expect it should be better known to us, considering the Druids committed nothing to writing, it being their custom to teach their disciples every thing by heart. The name Druid is derived from the word Deru, signifying in the British or Celtic language, an oak, like [Drus], in the Greek; and they acquired it not only because their usual residence was in groves among oaks, (a tree they had such a profound veneration for, that they never performed any of their ceremonies without some of the branches or leaves of it) but from their esteeming nothing more sacred than the misletoe, which grew on them. (fn. 6)

As the religion of this part of Britain may be learned from that of the Gauls, an idea of its government may likewise be formed the same way; for as the people of both countries had the same extraction, they had, very probably, the same form of government. From the earliest accounts, the Gauls were divided into several petty states, with a head, or chief, over each; some of these being more powerful than the rest, kept their neighbours in a sort of dependence; and one of them, upon great and imminent dangers, was, by the common consent of the neighbouring states, chosen commander in chief over them all, whose power ceased, as soon as ever the circumstance for which he was appointed was at an end. During his office he was considered as a sovereign magistrate, having power to put the laws in execution, and as captain-general of all their forces.

Like to this government was that of the Britons, which, in all likelihood, began in Kent, and thence spread itself over great part of this island. For the whole country, between the Channel and the Tine, was divided into seventeen petty states, each of which had its head, or chief. Indeed, Kent, when Cæsar invaded Britain, had four princes, or chiefs, in it, as will be shewn hereafter. At which time the command of the united forces of the Britons, to oppose the Romans, was, by common consent, conferred on Cassivelaun, whom Cæsar styles king of the Trinobantes, as it was afterwards, in the time of Claudius, on Charactacus, king of the Silures. These nations, or states, without doubt, depending on each other, no farther than necessity compelled them, had frequent quarrels and contests, of which we have not the least knowledge before Cæsar's time. (fn. 7) From thence to the period of this island's being freed from the dominion of the conquering Romans, the account of their transactions here, may, in some measure, be carried on, though there must occur several large breaks in the thread of it, which it is not possible to avoid, as we have so few authors who have treated on this subject.


  • 1. Camden's Brit. p. 215, 371. Verstegan, p. 150. Spelman's Works, part 1. p. 164, Heylin's Hist. p. 475.
  • 2. See the Letter from the learned Dr. Wallis, published in Phil. Trans. No. 275. Somner, by Battely, part ii. p. 251. Phil. Trans. No. 272. Twine De Rebus Albion, p. 8. et seq. Burt. on Anton. p. 18, 19. Verstegan, p. 95, 97.
  • 3. Cæsar de Bell. Gall. lib. v.
  • 4. Herodianus, lib. iii. cap. 14; Strabo; Diod. Sic. 1. 4; Tacitus; Solinus, 1. vii. c. 8.
  • 5. Cæsar Ib. Dion Cassius, lib. xxxix. lib. lxxvi. See Pomp. Mela, lib. iii. c. 6. Cæfar Bell. Gall. lib. vi. cap. 12. See note in Camden, p. xv.
  • 6. Plin. lib. xvi. cap. 44.
  • 7. Diod. Sic. lib. iv. Pomp. Mela, lib. iii. cap. vi. Tacitus in Vit. Agric.