Place in Focus - Kent

Place in Focus - Kent

Kent, one of the 'home counties’, is known as the 'Garden of England’ for its rich agricultural land, especially for orchards and hop fields

Place in Focus, Discover Your Ancestors

Place in Focus

Discover Your Ancestors

Kent, one of the ‘home counties’, is known as the ‘Garden of England’ for its rich agricultural land, especially for orchards and hop fields. Maidstone is its county town and historically Rochester and Canterbury have been cities. Major industries in the north-west of Kent have included cement, papermaking, and aircraft construction, but these are now in decline. The county also had a handful of coal mines.

Kent played an important role in the spread of Christianity, with St Augustine arriving in Thanet in 597 –he became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. The Kent people’s continued resistance against the Normans led to its designation as a semi-autonomous county palatine in 1067. During the medieval and early modern period, Kent played a major role in several of England’s most notable rebellions, including the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, Jack Cade’s rebellion of 1450, and Wyatt’s Rebellion of 1554 against Queen Mary I.

Kent’s location later meant that it was at the front line of the Battle of Britain during World War Two. East Kent was known as ‘Hell Fire Corner’ during the conflict. England has also relied on the county’s ports to provide warships through much of the past 800 years; the Cinque Ports in the 12th–14th centuries and Chatham Dockyard in the 16th–20th centuries were of particular importance to the country’s security.

The 18th century was dominated by wars with France, during which the Medway became the primary base for a fleet that could act along the Dutch and French coasts. The first Ordnance Survey map ever drawn was a one-inch map of Kent, published in 1801.

In the early 19th century, smugglers were very active on the Kent coastline. Gangs brought spirits, tobacco and salt to the county, and transported goods such as wool across the sea to France.

In 1889, the County of London was created and the townships of Deptford, Greenwich, Woolwich, Lee, Eltham, Charlton, Kidbrooke and Lewisham were transferred out of Kent and in 1900 the area of Penge was gained. In 1965 the London boroughs of Bromley and Bexley were created from nine towns formerly in Kent. Traditionally those hailing from west of the River Medway are ‘Kentish Men’, and those east of there ‘Men of Kent’.

Data provided exclusively to this magazine by, extracted from the site’s census collections, shows that Kent was not strongly affected by industrial expansion in the 19th century. In both the 1841 and 1901 censuses, the county’s occupations are dominated by agricul-tural labourers, but the prominence of fishermen is notably absent in 1901, matching the decline in that industry. Many soldiers were listed in 1841, suggesting perhaps the county’s role in national defence. By 1901, many traditional trades such as carpenter, baker and butcher have given way to a predominance of people working in domestic service. Between 1841 and 1901 the population more than doubled, from 454,000 to around a million.

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TheGenealogist’s data team has also analysed census records for the 20 most common surnames in the county. Those that stand out from the rest of the country, appearing in lists for both 1841 and 1901, include Baker, Martin, Chapman, White, King, Clark, Marsh, Harris, Russell and Turner. Young and Hills were also prominent in 1841, and Collins and Cooper in 1901.

Kent Archives has a major History and Library Centre in Maidstone. For local museums see here .

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