CANTERBURY BRANCH
KENT FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY

Home  Meeting Dates Outings
Navigation  Map+Directions Getting Started

Canterbury Churches

 East Kent Churches

Cemeteries

KENT: A COUNTY OF TWO HALVES

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 Roman's 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.

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 like Benjamin Franklin in his ode 'Men of Kent & Kentish Men' say 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. A tale that may have some truth in that the only English county to keep the inheritance laws of Gavilkind after the conquest was Kent.

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.

After the 1972 reorganisation of English counties Canterbury came under County administration. Kent County Council then administered almost the entire county except for a few places in the north of the county which went to Greater London in the reorganisation. 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.

Family historians should be aware that all Kent archives may not be 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, or the London Metropolitan Archives at Clerkenwell.

 Tricia Baxter, Secretary & Webmaster

David Wood, Branch Chairman

Page updated:  22 February 2016