On the green at Biddenden stands a village sign depicting the Biddenden Maids – Siamese twins Eliza and Mary Chulkhurst, reputedly born joined at shoulder and hip some time in the 12th century. They lived for 34 years, and bequeathed 20 acres of land to provide an annual ‘dole’ for the poor; this, in the traditional form of bread and cheese, is still given to pensioners on Easter Monday, and commemorative biscuits showing the maids are distributed to onlookers. Many of the half-timbered cottages of Biddenden have been converted into antique shops or eating-places to cater for visitors, and the weavers’ houses and shops in High Street have now been declared Ancient Monuments. A fine medieval Cloth Hall survives, as do original pavements of Bethersden marble, which used to be quarried near here.
Several miles of sheltered, sandy bays made this resort popular in the Regency period and it remains so today. To the north stand the chalk cliffs and lighthouse of the North Foreland, with wide views over the Thames Estuary. Bleak House is now a Dickens Museum: it contains early editions of his books, pictures, photographs and some personal items. Nearby Dickens House (which also contains a museum) was immortalised as the home of Betsy Trotwood in David Copperfield, written while the author was living in Broadstairs. In June each year a Dickens Festival is held, when the townsfolk throng the streets in appropriate dress.
Dominating the narrow streets and ancient buildings, the incomparable cathedral, setting for many dramatic events in past centuries, stands at the heart of a city that still retains its ancient character. Parts of Canterbury are still enclosed within the medieval city walls, about half of which, built on medieval foundations, remains, as does the keep of the castle, which has defied periodic attempts over the centuries to demolish it.
Settlements existed here at the time of the Roman invasion, and the Romans built their regional centre, Durouemum, on this site. A well preserved Roman tessellated pavement can be seen beneath one of the shops in the Longmarket shopping precinct.
When St Augustine arrived in 597, he founded his cathedral here in 602, and thus the city became the centre of the Anglican Church. The present cathedral was founded by the Normans in 1070, but the nave had to be rebuilt in the 14th century, and the central tower (called Bell Harry), which is such a feature of Canterbury, was added in 1500. The earliest Norman work is to be found in the splendid crypt, but the majority of the cathedral, in particular the nave, completed early in the 15th century, is a glorious expression of Gothic architecture. Despite the ravages of World War 11, some magnificent stained glass remains. There is an American Trust for Canterbury Cathedral.
The most famous event that took place here was the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 by Henry II’s knights. Becket was immediately proclaimed a martyr and his shrine drew innumerable pilgrims to Canterbury, such as those immortalised by Chaucer in Canterbury Tales, until the reign of Henry VIII when it was destroyed. Many former archbishops are interred here, some in tombs of great splendour, as are Edward, the Black Prince, and Henry IV and his queen. Adjoining the cathedral was once a Benedictine monastery, the Cloisters of which remain. Nearby, around Green Court, parts of the monastery are incorporated in the buildings of King’s School, one of the oldest and foremost of English public schools.
When you can see Chilham through the crowds of people that go there, you can only stand and marvel; so much beauty, and so unspoiled. The village is built around a square, with the church at one end. Behind it, the Queen Anne rectory makes a nice contrast with the half-timbered Tudor and Jacobean houses nearby. In Chilham Castle grounds a falconer gives demonstrations at certain times in summer. Sir Dudley Digges built the castle and was buried in the church in 1639.
Cobham Hall, now a girls’ school, is one of the largest historic houses in Kent. The village is chiefly famous for its church, which contains an unrivalled collection of memorial brasses to members of the Cobham family. Owletts is a charming Jacobean house nearby, and the Leather Bottle, an interesting old public house, was featured by Dickens in his comic masterpiece, The Pickwick Papers.
Deal’s past importance as a Channel port is recalled by the many ships visible from the seafront as they hug the coast, avoiding the Goodwin Sands five miles offshore. A plaque on the front commemorates the place where Julius Caesar is said to have landed in Britain in 55 BC. The Time Ball Tower previously informed shipping of Greenwich Mean Time. The town has many narrow old streets, giving character to the former smuggling stronghold. Deal Castle, one of a chain built by Henry VIII to guard against Catholic invasion, was designed like a Tudor rose to give it maximum defensive power. Walmer Castle, Deal’s twin, also dates from the 16th century and is the official residence of the Warden of the Cinque Ports, an important group of five ports in the medieval period. Now the sea has receded and only Dover is now important.
At the end of the beautiful North Downs, famous for its white cliffs, Dover is an ancient port linking Britain with the continent. It was once the walled Roman town of Dubris, and the start of the Roman road, Watling Street. Later it was the chief of the Cinque ports, which, in return for special privileges, were expected to supply ships for the Royal fleet. The Kentish town is dominated by its castle, a largely Norman construction built on a Roman site, and incorporating the Roman pharos -the oldest stone lighthouse in Britain. A tunnel system under the castle walls was dug during the Napoleonic wars, and used as air-raid shelters in the last war. Near the castle is the restored Saxon church of St Mary in Castra; St Edmund’s Chapel near the Municipal Library is a rare surviving 12th-century wayside chapel. The Roman Painted House is famous for its wall paintings.
Dover has had many literary visitors passing through on their way to the continent. Byron spent his last two days in England here, waiting for a favourable wind which would enable him to sail to Europe, away from his creditors. Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans (1826), and another American, N P Willis, the journalist and poet, spoke highly of the comforts of Dover. In 1852, Wilkie Collins stayed with Dickens in Camden Close. Henry James had lodgings in Marine Parade, where he began The Bostonians.
Dover is famous for two historic channel crossings the first by Captain Matthew Webb, who in 1875 became the first cross channel swimmer. In 1905 Louis Bleriot landed here after making the first flight across the Channel. An aeroplane shaped granite memorial marks the site where he landed in North Fall Meadow.
This old smuggling port on the edge of Romney Marsh is now a holiday village with miles of beach, chalets and caravans. The famous Romney Hythe and Dymchurch miniature steam railway passes through here en route to Dungeness. A restored Martello tower is now a museum.
Around this little village is grouped a trio of interesting ancient buildings. The oldest is Lullingstone Roman Villa, which has a fine tessellated pavement. 12th-century Eynsford Castle is ruined, but Lullingstone Castle is still inhabited by descendants of the Peche family who owned the estate in the 14th century. There is af ine Tudor gatehouse, and the ‘castle’ (a Tudor manor house remodelled in the 18th century) has impressive State Rooms.
There is evidence of a Saxon village here in King’s Field and the Romans were later settlers. Once a flourishing port, its main claim to fame is the wealth of Tudor, Stuart and Georgian buildings, of which over 50 are listed for preservation. In the former Queen’s Arms, James II was held prisoner after his capture when he tried to flee the country in 1688. The Church of St Mary of Charity is partly Norman, partly early English in style with particularly fine misericords. The Chart Gunpowder Mills date from the late 18th century and are a reminder of the town’s importance as a centre of the gunpowder industry.
A holiday resort since the coming of the railways, Folkestone is now a ferry terminal, but has preserved its attractive old town with its picturesque harbour and cobbled streets, and has a beautiful clifftop promenade known as the Leas. The medieval church of St Mary and Eanswith, named after the granddaughter of Ethelbert, first Christian King of Kent, who established England’s first nunnery in AD 630, has a memorial window to William Harvey the Folkestone-born physician to James I, who discovered the circulation of blood.
The Warren, a landslip basin containing rare plants, fossils and the remains of two Roman villas, lies to the east of the town towards Dover. Dickens took a family holiday in what is now Copperfield House, and was visited here by Wilkie Collins. H G Wells wrote many of his most famous works when living at Spade House, Sandgate. Many of his contemporaries, including Henry James and George Bernard Shaw, visited him here. Between Postling and Hythe is Saltwood Castle, whereThomas a Becket’s murder was planned.
An industrial town on the Medway estuary, Gillingham is the largest of the Medway towns, sharing with its neighbour, Chatham, the former Royal Naval Dockyard, founded by Henry VIII. Exhibits in the Royal Engineers Museum in the suburb of Brompton include relics of GeneralGordon, killed in Khartoum in 1885.
From the reign of Henry II (1154-89) a castle could be built only with the King’s licence. In 1272 Sir Stephen de Penchester obtained permission from Edward I to convert his house to a castle. Further alterations were made by William de Hever in 1340. A century later Hever Castle, reinforced with portcullises and a drawbridge, became the home of the Boleyn family (family tombs can be seen in the church). It was here that Henry VIII courted his second wife Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth I. Early this century the American William . Waldorf Astor bought and restored the castle adding a mock-Tudor village, a 35-acre lake, an Italian garden with maze and Tudor-style flowerbeds. Astor later became a British citizen and received the title lst Viscount Astor of Hever.
A mellow seaside town, Hythe is one of the Cinque Ports and stands on the Royal Military Canal, built for defence in Napoleonic times. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway has its terminus here and a 1 mile north is Saltwood Castle. This was the stronghold from which Henry lI’s knights set out to murder Thomas Becket.
Brick-and-tile cottages are interspersed with half-timbered houses in and around the village square. Ightham is a corruption of Etheham (or Etha’s Ham) which was its original name until Norman times. The church of St Peter, which was largely rebuilt during the 14th and 15th centuries, boasts several brasses and sculptures. Also inside is a plaque commemorating one Benjamin Harrison, a local grocer who earned himself national recognition as an archaeologist. His nearby excavations included those of the Iron Age settlement at Oldbury Hill, an ancient camp located across the busy bypass at the end of Sevenoaks Road. The 120-acre site is roughly in the shape of a diamond. Some two and a half miles to the south is Ightham Mote, a delightfully preserved medieval country house built partly of stone, partly of timber.
Lamberhurst, its long main street crossing the River Teise, looks substantially as it has for hundreds of years. It is known for its flourishing vineyard. The ruins of Bayham Abbey, founded in the 13th century, are situated in the grounds of a modern house two miles to the west, and those of moated Scotney Castle, set in beautiful landscaped grounds lie to the south east. Owl House, the one time haunt of smugglers, is a small half-timbered house set in large gardens
Leeds Castle was named after Led, chief minister of a 9th-century King of Kent, Ethelbert IV. It stands on two islands in a lake formed by the River Len and was described by Lord Conway as ‘the loveliest castle in the world’ though the 12th century architects of the present structure were more concerned with its effectiveness as an impregnahle stronghold. It became known as ‘Lady’s Castle’ because of the number of Queens of England who occupied it: Eleanor and Margaret (the two wives of Edward l), Philippa of Hainhault (wife of Edward III), Catherine de Valois (Henry V’s queen) and Katherine of Aragon all lived here at various times, and Elizabeth I was held prisoner here before she was crowned. King Henry VIII made it an official Royal Residence. In the 17th century the castle was owned by Lord Culpeper, Governor of Virginia 1680 3. His grandson, 6th Baron Fairfax, left Leeds in 1746 and emigrated to a 5 million acre estate in Virginia. Later be employed the young George Washington as a surveyor and became his lifelong friend. In 1908 a member of the Virginia branch of the family successfully claimed his title and became the first American to take a seat in the House of Lords. Leeds Castle is now a conference centre, open to the public at weekends in winter and most afternoons in summer.
This busy little town, once on the coast but now standing three miles inland, is said to have the lowest rainfall in England; it also has the distinction of having given its name to the explosive lyddite, tested near here in the late 19th century. The fine 130ft tower of ‘the Cathedral of Romney Marsh’ still stands, despite bomb damage during the last war, and inside the church are 16th-century brasses and a 15thcentury screen.
Lympne was a coastal village until the sea receded, and the Romans built a fort here as part of their defences. Its ruins, known as Studfall Castle, stand about 300 yds from Lympne Castle, a fortified manor house which still retains its Norman appearance despite extensive restoration. The grounds offer wide views over Romney Marsh and across the channel to France. Port Lympne Zoo Park and Gardens lie just west of the village; the animals on view include Indian elephants, Siberian and Indian tigers, leopards, monkeys, wolves, rhino and bison. At the centre of the 15 acres of spectacular garden stands the mansion in whose library the Treaty of Paris was signed after World War I.
Maidstone has been an administrative centre since Saxon times; indeed the first trial ever to he recorded in England took place on Penenden Hleath. Maidstone’s geographical position made it a natural collecting point for the fruit, vegetables and hops grown in the Vale of Kent. Maidstone’s Domesday Book records milling, eel-fishing and salt crystallising among the town’s industries.
In the 18th century the English discovered that sea bathing was good for the health. The bathing machine was invented by a Margare Quaker named Benjamin Beale. Tom Paine, Keats and Mary and Charles Lamb were among those who stayed here. 20th-century Margate is often called the Blackpool of the South and has, in Dreamland, a full-scale funfair. Amidst all the modern entertainments, Margate preserves two historic buildings: Salmeston Grange, a restored medieval grange, and the Tudor House which contains the town’s museum. A plaque on Droit Building at the pierhead recalls the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II.
New Romney was one of the original Cinque Ports; but nature interfered in 1287, changing the coastline and leaving the town high and dry one mile from the sea. However, the upheaval indirectly produced Romney Marsh (important sheep farming country) and New Romney is the capital. There were once five churches in the town. Now there is only one: the parish church of St Nicholas, in which the mayor is still elected. The station is an important feature of that delightful mini-railway, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch. 2 miles north is St Mary in the Marsh where E Nesbitt, author of The Railway Children, is buried. In the same churchyard, Noel Coward sat while writing some of his plays; later he bought a 17th-century farmhouse, Goldenhurst, at nearby Aldington.
On the Green is what is thought to be the only remainihg quintain, or tilting pole, in England. The idea was to ride at the T-shaped pole and attempt to hit a revolving bar with a lance, as practice for jousting, without falling off. The sport is revived on May Day.
Old cottages and houses of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries are much in evidence in this delightful Kentish village, and serve as a fore taste for the glories of Penshurst Place.The oldest parts of the manor, which is set in beautiful gardens, date from the 14th century and the superb Baron’s Hall, roofed with chestnut beams, is also of this period. The state rooms are splendidly furnished and there is also a fascinating collection of old toys.
Some of the best-preserved Roman walls in England, 12ft thick and up to 24ft high, can be found here. They are part of the ruins of a 3rd-century fort which defended Rutupiae, the chief port of entry for Roman legions. From here Watling Street led to London and on to Chester. A museum houses an interesting collection of finds from the site.
Strategically placed on the lower reaches of the River Medway, Rochester has been inhabited since pre-Roman times, and was developed to guard the important crossing over the river, on the route between London and Dover. The Romans built a walled city here, later refortified by the Saxons in about AD 600. The town’s importance was recognised by William the Conqueror, who ordered a castle to be built to defend it, only the 113ft-high keep remains. Today the town is a busy port and industrial and commercial centre, whose older buildings are clustered round the cathedral and in the High Street. The cathedral, founded by St Augustine, was consecrated in AD 604, and became England’s second bishopric. The present building is mainly Norman, dating from 1080, with a fine north-west door and impressive west front.
Rochester has many associations with Charles Dickens, who lived at Gad’s Hill Place for many years until his death in 1870. The Charles Dickens Centre at Eastgate House, a fine late Tudor house in the High Street, contains a display of Dickens’ characters and makes clever use of sound and light to bring the displays to life. Many of the houses and inns in the town, including Eastgate House, feature in his novels, and a re-erected Swiss chalet from the garden of Gad’s Hill can be seen in the grounds. Also of interest is the museum, housed in the red brick Guildhall, built in 1687. It contains general collections of arms and armour, ship models, Victoriana and toys. Among the exhibits is a Staffordshire bust of George Washington.
Protected by a sea wall, this expanse of flat, sheep-grazed land, 17 miles long by 12 miles wide, has been reclaimed from the sea over centuries and lies barely above sea-level, drained by deep dykes. In the west and north, it is bounded by the Royal Military Canal, and its seaward fringe is crossed by the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch miniature steam railway. To the south are Walland and Denge marshes. Recently, tulip growing has become important in the area, but Romney Marsh is historically associated with smuggling. The principal town of the Marsh is New Romney.
One of the original Cinque Ports, Sandwich used to be an important naval base. Henry VIII built a castle (now gone) to safeguard his coastal defences. Since those days, nature through storm and tempest has reshaped the landscape and Sandwich is now two miles from the sea. It is a beautiful town with ample evidence of its former glory. The Barbican and Fishergate were both gateways to the town; St Bartholomew’s Hospital guesthouse is 15th century; Marwood Court was built in 1564; and St Clement’s church has a Norman tower. The 16th-century Guildhall in the Cattle Market has a museum that recalls local history. Nearby, the Royal St George is one of England’s most famous and exclusive golf clubs. Edward VIII (as Prince of Wales) and the late Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond) were both members of the club. Five miles west, Wingham has a line row of half-timbered houses.
Sevenoaks is a London commuter town said to derive its name from a group of seven oak trees which once grew here, now replaced by a group of younger trees. Sevenoaks public school was founded in the 15th century by Sir William Sevenoke, a foundling who assumed the name of the town and rose to become Lord Mayor of London. Cricket has been played on The Vine since the 18th century.
Sheerness stands on the north-western tip of the Isle of Sheppey at the point where the Medway meets the Thames. The dockyard, which Samuel Pepys helped to plan, was founded by Charles II, who also built the fort here. With the arrival of steam, Sheerness became a base where naval vessels could take on coal without continuing upriver to Chatham. Sheerness continues to be an important commercial port. South east, on the island at Leysdown on Sea, the Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, met with British counterparts, including CS Rolls of Rolls Royce, before World War I.
Sissinghurst Castle was built during the reign of Mary Tudor. During the Seven Years War (1756-63), by then in a dilapidated condition, it was used as a prison for captured French seamen. Later the buildings served as a workhouse, then as a farmhouse; eventually falling into disrepair. In 1930, the estate was bought by the writer Victoria Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson. They restored the gatehouse, parts of two wings, and created what must surely be one of the most beautiful gardens in Britain. Sissinghurst lies just north of Cranbrook, a particularly pretty Wealden town
Sittingbourne, on an inlet of the River Swale, used to be important to Britain’s paper making industry. The New Dolphin Sailing Barge Museum on Milton Creek Has an original sail~loft and forge, and collections of tiggers’ tools. There are often barges being restored.
In medieval times, when the River Rother was wider and deeper, Smallhythe was a prosperous port and shipbuilding centre. The harbour master’s house, now named Smallhythe Place, was the actress Ellen Terry’s home from 1901 until her death in 1928. In the parish church where she worshipped, the 15th-century font is set in an ancient millstone given by the actress. Her house now contains a theatrical museum, with items relating to Ellen and to her contemporary Sir Henry Irving, as well as to earlier representatives of the acting profession such as David Garrick an Sarah Siddons.
With its black and white timbered houses, it is one of the prettiest villages in the country. Reminders of its days of prosperity occur in the Dragon Hous (decorated with a frieze of dragons) near the village pump, and Chesenden – a wealden hall house. The church is often called ‘the barn of Kent’ due to the height of it’s wooden roof.
Thanet, Isle of
This flat coastal segment of north-east Kent, edged with chalk cliffs, is now an island in name only. Traditionally where the Saxons first landed, Thanet was then divided from the mainland by the Rivers Stour and Wantsum, which gave safe anchorage and access to the Thames Estuary. Thanet has three popular resorts -Broadstairs, Margate and Ramsgate. Minster-in-Thanet, once its leading town and trading centre, now secluded among its fruit farms, has one of Kent’s best parish churches: St Mary’s preserves Roman bricks, Norman work, and exemplary 15th-century choir stalls.
This prosperous market town at the navigable extremity of the River Medway, where it diverges into fordable streams, has been strategically important since Anglo Saxon and perhaps Roman times. The River Walk along the Medway, through willow-lined meadows, affords a fine view of Tonbridge Castle. Its Norman to 13th-century ruins, on a site defended since 1088, are substantial: the shell of the keep, curtain walls, round-towered gatehouse. Some of Tonbridge’s 18th century houses are built of castle stone.
This distinguished spa had its heyday among persons of fashion in the 18th century, though the waters can still be drunk. Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn both visited. Beau Nash left Bath to be master of Tunbridge Wells’ ceremonies in 1735. Its waters were first popularised over a hundred years earlier, by Lord North. Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria, came here after the birth of the future Charles II in 1630. This was when the building of the town began: until then, society had camped out, or lodged in neighbouring towns. The church of St Charles the Martyr was built between 1678 and 1696 in the baroque style, with fine ceilings and a wooden cupola. Tunbridge Wells’ oldest street is the Pantiles, started in 1700, an elegant arcade enhanced by lime trees; its Italianate pillars support diverse frontages and a music balcony. The tiles were laid because Princess (later Queen) Anne threatened not to return after her son slipped on the original walk. Flagstones have replaced all but a few of the tiles. The town’s life has many facets, the Museum and Art Gallery, orchestra, theatre, county cricket ground. Tunbridge Ware, mosaics of all kinds of local wood, was worked here from the end of the 17th century until the 1920’s.
Royal Tunbridge Wells has plenty of parks and gardens; and a fine common with outcrops of weathered sandstone rocks. Such rocks are typical of the area, the source of its mineral waters, and an attraction for climbers: the nearby High Rocks; the Toad Rocks on Rushall Common; Bowles Rocks, Bridge; Harrison’s Rocks, Groombridge; the Happy Valley.
The ruins of a 16th-century castle, probably built with stone taken from Rochester’s medieval walls, face the River Medway; Queen Elizabeth I reviewed the fleet here in 1581, and the castle saw action when the Dutch sailed up the river in 1667. The training ship Arethusa is now moored in the Medway. The Whittington Stone, named after the one-time Lord Mayor of London, marks the boundary rights of local fishermen.
This area of broken country between the North and South Downs, Kipling’s ‘wooded, dim blue goodness of the Weald’, was once part of the Forest of Anderida; today there are still wooded areas in which wild deer roam, notably the forests of St Leonards and Ashdown. Much of the British navy was built of oak from these woodlands, and the wood was also used to smelt Sussex iron, many of the hammer ponds that turned the waterwheels of the forges still existing. Much of the cleared land has been given over to orchards and to the hop fields, with their oast houses.
The birthplace of General Wolfe. The village contains two memorial statues, one to Wolfe and one to Churchill, who resided nearby at Chartwell from 1924 until his death. The parish church has a memorial window to Wolfe. Wolfe’s two residences are open to the public. Quebec House, Wolfe’s boyhood home, a largely 17th century house, contains many relics of the family and historical exhibitions of events such as the Battle of Quebec. Squerryes Court also contains many relics and a Wolfe Cenotaph stands in its beautiful gardens. Chartwell , two miles to the south of Westerham, has been arranged as a museum with rooms left exactly as they were used by Churchill. The house contains personal mementoes such as books, photographs, uniforms and a studio with many paintings by Sir Winston. The landscaped gardens are famous for their Australian black swans. Churchill’s honorary American Citizenship is displayed.
Norman influence is evident in West Malling, as it is in its twin Village of East Malling also. St Leonard’s Tower is all that remains of a Norman castle built of Kentish ragstone by Bishop Gundulf of Rochester in about 1090. Remains of the abbey include an 11th-century tower and a perpendicular gateway. The church again, with a Norman tower displays the Royal Arms of James II. The half« timbered Priest’s House dates from the 14th-century, and some fine 18th century houses exist in the area. The inn sign of The Startled Saint shows Spitfires in St Leonard’s halo, recalling the use of the nearby airfield in the Battle of Britain.
Long renowned for its oysters, the resort of Whitstable also offers fishing and bathing from a shingle beach and good yachting facilities. A spit of land known as ‘the Street’ juts about a mile and a half into the sea, providing a pleasant promenade at low tide. ‘The Castle’, a crenellated building dating mainly from the 19th century, has a 15th-century brick tower originally used as a look-out post, and its parkland is open to the public. Stevenson’s Invicta (now preserved at Canterbury) pulled a train on the Whitstable to Canterbury line – the first passenger line to be opened in 1830. The tunnel through Tyler Hill was the first railway tunnel to be built in Britain and the line was finally closed in 1953.
This quaint town, rich in interesting old buildings, was the birthplace in 1640 of the Restoration dramatist Aphra Behn. Wye College is part of the University of London and specialises in research to improve the standards of British farming; some of its buildings date back to the 15th century, and an old barn houses an agricultural museum. One mile to the north stands Olantigh Towers built in the 18th century, then rebuilt in the same style after being almost totally destroyed by fire in 1903, and now a summer venue for music festivals. A crown cut into the chalk of the Downs to the east commemorates the coronation of King Edward VII.