I F there is any English county which is entitled to
a distinct treatment as a Province in itself, it is the County of Kent. From the time of the first Roman expedition to Britain it has -constantly had a distinctive character assigned to it, and borne the impress of a distinctive civilization. That such would naturally be the case a glimpse at its geographical position will at once show. Constituting the south-eastern angle of the island of angles, commanding the estuary of the Thames at the point where its waters are lost in those of the German Ocean, and forming the southern coast line of that highway from the com- mercial capital of England to the sea for a great proportion of the distance; fronting boldly the open sea to the north, while to the east it approaches the mainland of Europe so closely as to suggest and support the idea of a primeval union, Kent is marked out emphatically as one of the great gateways of the island, while at the same time by its peninsular character it seems to be in a manner withdrawn from the rest of England into a sphere of its own, with special relations and special interests. Kent is bounded on the north by the estuary of the Thames, separating it from the counties of Middlesex and EssAt ; on the east by the German Ocean and the Straits of Dover ; on the south by the English Channel and the county of Sussex ; and on the west by the county of Surrey. Its form is irregular, the length of the northern boundary, from the neighbourhood of London to the North Foreland, being 64 miles in a straight line ; of its southern boundary, from the meeting of the three counties of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, to Dungeness, 43 miles ; of the eastern boundary, from the North Foreland to Dungeness, 38 miles ; and of the western boundary, from the neighbourhood of London to the junction of the three counties, 24 miles. Its area is estimated at 1,041,479 acres, and in size it is the ninth of English counties. "The whole county," says Mr. Halsted, "excepting the Marshes and the Weald (?) is a general cluster of small hills, two chains of which, higher than the rest, run through the middle of Kent from west to east, in general about eight miles distant from each other (though at some places much less), and extending from Surrey to the sea." The chalk range of the North Downs enters the county on the west side from Surrey, " not far from Westerham, and runs east north-east to the valley of the Medway river, between Maidstone and Rochester. On the eastern aide of the Medway, which entirely interrupts the chalk range, the Downs rise again, and run to the east south-east, to the coast near Folke- stone. This part of the range is divided into two parts by the valley of the Stour river. On the north side the Downs gradually subside towards the estuary of the Thames. The height of the chalk hills reaches, in some instances, an elevation of 642 feet above the sea. The cliffs near Dover are about 400 feet high. Dover Castle hill is 469 feet." To the north of the chalk range and extending to the Thames is the district of plastic clay overlying the chalk, while in the tongue of land between the Medway and the Thames, including the Isle of Grain and the Isle of Sheppey, the London clay overlies the plastic clay, as also along the coast between Whitstable and Reculver. Shooter's Hill, near Woolwich, is an insulated mass of London clay, about 446 feet high. The belt of land south of the North Downs, and between these and the southern or " ragstone " range of hills, is of chalk, marl, and greensand. The highest parts of this ragstone range are from 600 to 800 feet high, and overlook the valley watered by the Eden, the Medway (from Penshurst to Yalding), and the Bank. This valley is occupied by the Weald clay, and forms a belt ex- tending throughout the county from the border of Surrey to the edge of Romney Marsh, with an average breadth of five miles. The remaining part of the county, the narrow belt extending along the Sussex border, is of ironsand. The country thus gene- rally described has been divided by agricultural surveyors into eight districts—the Isle of Thanet ; the upland farms of East Kent; the rich flat lands in the vicinity of Faversham, and Sand- wich and Deal ; the hop-grounds, &c., of Canterbury and Maid- stone ; the Isle of Sheppey ; the upland farms of West Kent ; the Weald of Kent ; and Romney Marsh. The Isle of Thanet, the north-east angle of Kent, is formed by the river Stour and the water called the Nethergong. Its length is about nine miles and breadth five. This district is highly cultivated and very produc- tive land, chiefly arable, with a smaller proportion of excellent marshland. In its best arable portions the soil is of a deep sandy loam, the marsh being a stiff clay, mixed with sea-weed and small shells. Sheep and cattle find rich pasture on these marsh lands. The higher parts of the district are healthy, but those bordering on the marshes are subject to ague. The upland farms of East Kent include " an open and dry tract of land lying between the city of Canterbury and the towns of Dover and Deal, and another tract, enclosed with woods and coppice, extending from Dover by Eleham and Ashford to Rochester, and from the Isle of Sheppey to Lenham." This dis- trict includes a great variety of soils, the hop-grounds being but few, and the woodlands in this eastern portion of Kent being dispersed principally between the great road from Rochester to Dover, and the chalk bills from Folkestone by Charing to Detling. The wood is of ash, willow, and hazel ; or of oak, birch, and beech, according to the soil. The flat lands near Faversham, Sandwich, and Deal are very fertile, and almost entirely arable, the soils not differing much from those of the Isle of Thanet. The hop-grounds of Kent need scarcely more than an allusion, their picturesque appearance being among the best known features of the county. The hop-grounds are first specially men- tioned in the reign of Henry VI., and came into more general use in the reigns of IlenryVIIL and Elizabeth, but they must have been in some degree of cultivation at a much earlier period. The neighbourhood of Maidstone has obtained a reputation, besides hops, for apples, cherries, and filberts. The Isle of Sheppey, formed by an arm of the sea called the Swale, which is navigable, is about eleven miles in length and eight in breadth ; about four-fifths of the area is marsh and pasture land, the rest arable. The best cultivated tract of the upland farms of West Kent is betweeen Rainham and Dartford, parallel to the great range of chalk hills. The soil on the top of these hills is a cold, stiff, flinty clay. The surface of the district between these hills and the borders of the Weald and confines of Surrey is very diversified by hill and dale, and fruitful. The gravelly soil about Dartford and Blackheath forms excellent garden grounds. There are large, though diminishing, waste common lands in this district, besides extensive grazing lands. The district called the Weald of Kent stretches along the south side of the county from Romney Marsh to Surrey. Once it formed part of the great Anderida Forest, but though its woodland character is still to a con- siderable extent preserved, it has lost the right to be considered a forest district. The general aspect is cultivated and cheerful. The surface (though flat in comparison with most of the coun- try) is a succession of low hills. The soil is generally clay. Among trees oaks predominate. Romney Marsh, on the southern coast, with the adjoining marsh lands of Welland Marsh and Denge Marsh and part of Guildford Marsh form a district about fourteen miles long and eight broad, Romney Marsh containing 23,925 acres, and the other three 22,666. In this most unhealthy district there are few trees, the divisions being formed by dykes and water-courses. Cattle and sheep—the latter a peculiar breed — are found here in great numbers. " The green, cattle-dotted plain, with its gleaming water lines, is not without its own beauty, when overlooked from the adjoining heights, often presenting singular effects of light." Numerous churches are scattered over it. It was at an early period fenced in from the sea by walls, and the repair of the walls and the drainage is now vested in the lords of 23 adjoining manors, called the ' Lords of the Marsh' With the exception of these marshlands and those along the Thames, no part of Kent can be said to be level. Altogether, the inland scenery of Kent yields to that of no county in England, and surpasses most in picturesque variety, and a cheerful and bright beauty of a peculiar and eminently characteristic kind.
Old Fuller says of it that in some parts " health and wealth are at many miles' distance, which in other parts are reconciled to live under the same roof—I mean abide in one place together." And accordingly the county has been divided into three districts-1. That of health without wealth, viz., the higher part of the Downs. 2. That of wealth without health, including part of the tree- covered Weald and the Marshes. 3. That in which health and wealth are combined, including by far the greater part of the county, but especially the valley of the Medway from Maidstone to Tunbridge, and parts of the country about Canterbury. The climate, in some parts mild and genial, is in others rendered colder by the east wind, to which they are necessarily much exposed. This wind, however, is not without its sanitary advantage in removing superfluous moisture. The air may in general be described as light and fresh. The county is well watered by many streams. The great waterway is the Medway, which, rising in Sussex, between East Grinstead and Crawley, and flowing east- ward, enters Kent near Ashurst. Swollen with the drainage of the Weald of Sussex, it is joined at Penshurst by the Eden, which rises near Godstone, in Surrey. From this point it becomes navi- gable, and flows east north-east to Tunbridge, forming on its way two or three islands. Hence it flows east by north to Yalding, in the Weald, where it is joined by the Teyne or Teise, and the Beult (whose sources are in North Sussex and the Weald of Kent). Thence winding much, but tending on the whole northwards, the Medway passes through an opening in the greensand hills, and by Maidstone and Aylesford, through a great opening in the North Downs, and by Rochester and Chatham into the estuary of the Thames at Sheerness. It is navigable for more than forty miles, and the tide flows up to Maidstone Bridge, large ships being able to ascend to Rochester Bridge. Various arms of the river penetrate the marshes which run inland for a considerable way in the vicinity of its banks. The river Stour has two main branches, the Greater Stour and the Lesser Stour. The Greater Stour, formed by two streams which unite at Ashford, turning to the north-east, passes through a depression in the North Downs, and flows by Canterbury to the neighbourhood of Sarre, in the Isle of Thanet. Here it parts into two branches, the one falling into the estuary of the Thames near Reculver, and the other into Pegwell Bay, below Sandwich. The Lesser Stour rises near Lymirge, about three miles north from Hythe, and flowing to
Barham, and skirting Barham Downs, passes to Bridge, near Can- terbury. Here, making another bend, it joins that arm of the Greater Stour which falls into Pegwell Bay. The arms of the Stour were once a channel called the Wantsinne, into which several other streams fell, and which was once three or four miles in breadth. In Bede's time it had diminished to three furlongs. In Henry VIH.'s time it was still navigable for ships of considerable burden. But subsequently the northern branch to Reculver became almost dried up, and a fresh cut was made to restore the water line, but this latter is not navigated. A Royal Military Canal was formed along the edge of the Romney Marsh, from near Hythe, during the invasion panic in the time of the First. Napoleon.
A considerable portion of the coast line is low, on the level of the marsh lands. The northern side of the Isle of Sheppey is upland, the cliffs rising about ninety feet above the water. The marshes terminate east of the Swale, "and the coast again. rises to some height in clayey cliffs, which extend to Reculver, where a flat forms the western line of the Isle of Thanet." In Thanet the cliffs (chalk) again commence, and continue along the- coast to Pegwell Bay. The point called the North Foreland is. betweenMargate and Ramsgate, in this part of the coast line.. A low coast again continues from Pegwell Bay to Widmer Castle, near Deal, where the chalk cliffs recommence, and continue round the South Foreland to Sandgate, between Folkestone and Hythe. Between Folkestone and Dover an undercliff has been formed by the cliff falling forwards towards the sea. The coast line from Hythe• extends by Romney Marsh, south-west to Dungeness, and thence• westward to the borders of Sussex. Opposite to the coast from• the Isle of Thanet to the South Foreland lie the Goodwin Sands,. ten or eleven miles long by three or four miles broad. They are divided into two parts by a narrow channel; and another sandbank,. called the Brake, lies between the north-eastern extremity of the Goodwin and the shore, and is about five miles long. The princi- pal roadsteads of Kent are the Downs, an anchorage sheltered by the Goodwin Sands, about eight miles in length and six in breadth,. the rendezvous of the shipping on their passage inwards or out- wards between the Thames and the English Channel. To the- north of the Downs are the " Small Downs," a roadstead sheltered' by the Brake sandbank. The sea has made considerable changes during the course of centuries and in historical times in the con- figuration of the coast of Kent, and the character and extent of these changes are not always easy to determine. But enough. particulars remain, in connection with the fortunes of certain towns, to remind us of the vicirsitudes of the coast of Sussex, and to give a living interest to these natural transmutations of land and water. Such is the general picture of the pleasant County of Kent.