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 Gallic Wars, his account of his military campaigns in northern Europe, 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 tidal range. 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 the Romans left our shores; returning under Claudius in 43AD to stay for almost four centuries.

The Ancient Britons did not have a written history and so we have little knowledge of what they called Canterbury. Although it was possibly Durovernum as this has linguistic roots to the Iron-Age tribes who lived on the British Isles before the Roman invasion. Duro roughly translated to fortified enclosure; vernum to marshy crossing with Alders. The first documentation of a name is in a 2nd century geography the Antoine Itinerary. In that the Roman name for Canterbury was Durovernum Cantiacorum.  Cantiacorum meant that the city was a Civitas Capital. A town where tribal leaders were trusted to rule their own people but with the addition of Roman advisors. Canterbury was the principle tribal capital with a second area of administration at Rochester which the Roman's named: Durobrivae Cantiacorum Durobrivae meaning fortified crossing with a bridge.

Kent's largest river is the Medway which divides the county east and west. Its source is in the High Weald Sussex. Its mouth flows in to the Thames estuary. Hasted wrote in his '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 fifth century 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 or 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 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 the Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham and the county has once again been split in two.

Family historians should be aware that archives in Kent may not be in one county archive and they should check which Archive they need as depending on the period the documents they seek could be at; Canterbury, Maidstone, Strood, or the London Metropolitan Archives at Clerkenwell.

Tricia Baxter, Webmaster

David Wood BA (hons.), Branch Chairman

Page updated:  09 May 2014