Man of Kent or Kentish Man? Why, Man of Kent, I said.
I was born at All Saints’ Hospital, Chatham, and brought up in the village of Borstal and therefore from the east side of the River Medway. That made me a Man of Kent. All those denizens of Strood and beyond were Kentish Men, right?
No, wrong. Well, maybe.
The trouble all started in August, 2004, when Mr David Carruthers, of Westmount Avenue, Chatham, wondered about the origin of Rainham Mark, the area on the A2 near the former Belisha Beacon pub. He asked: Why was it called this?
Why mark? Was this a boundary mark? Perhaps a line separating two parishes? Deep in the foggy recesses of the Rayner mind, I could recall a theory that made it much more important than this.
Lo and behold, a couple of days later, while sifting through a pile of old newspapers, I came across a feature in a bygone Medway News that gave voice to a controversial theory: “The River Medway has long been regarded as the line of division between Men of Kent and Kentish Men, but the true position of the line might be a couple of miles east, at Rainham. Along the London road at Rainham is a small hamlet, now part of the town itself, known as Rainham Mark.
“Here once stood an ancient boundary stone, near the Hops and Vine pub — formerly the Belisha Beacon — and since replaced by a milestone that, traditionally, marks the division of Kent into its east and west zones.
“No written proof survives to bear the story out, but all stories handed on to us by folklore have some basis in fact and, if true, then many generations of people who thought themselves to be Men of Kent are really Kentish Men.
“The origins of this curious division between the inhabitants of Kent is similarly unknown, but it is thought to date from the early years following the departure of the Romans, when England was settled by various peoples from the European mainland.
“While much of the county, including west Kent, was settled by the Angles and Saxons, a race known as the Jutes — of similar descent from the Germanic area of Europe – had already made east Kent their home.
“They regarded themselves as a separate kingdom with their own laws and customs. The Jutes called themselves Kentings, believing that they were the real Men of Kent and retaining many of their customs until quite late into the Middle Ages.
“They were responsible for introducing the system of inheritance known as gavelkind, whereby all descendants of a deceased person shared the property and belongings equally. In Saxon law, the eldest child inherited. The Saxons and Jutes, of course, have long been integrated, but this curious division remains, although now held in question, to remind us of our cherished past.”
An expert steps in…
It was a convincing case. Then stepped in an expert — Freddie Cooper, the former Mayor of Gillingham and a specialist on that borough’s history…
He quoted Edward Hasted, whose definitive history of Kent was published in 1798. “The whole of this parish,” Hasted wrote of Rainham, “is in the Division of East Kent which begins here, the adjoining parish of Gillingham, westward, being wholly in that of West Kent”.
Mr Cooper commented: “That doesn’t leave any room for misinterpretation and is how it remained until 1 April, 1929, when Rainham was transferred, despite protest, from the administration of Milton Rural District Council to that of Gillingham Borough Council, who coveted the areas of wide open spaces for expansion.
“Until then Rainham had its own parish council and covered an area bounded by the river to the north from a point near to Sharps Green to a boundary stone which was then just south of the present M2 to the east of Maidstone Road.
“The boundary to the east was South Bush Lane and Otterham Creek, that to the west the ancient municipal and parliamentary boundary at Rainham Mark. This is the important line of demarcation and is fairly easily defined over much of its length, as it runs south from the river on a line about 100 yards to the east of Twydall Lane to the A2. It then jags further eastwards near the social club building.
“The boundary then runs south from Rainham Mark along the fence line of the back gardens on the western side of Edwin Road and then through East Hoath Wood to Durham Road.
“This was marked by several stones and I understand that one at the back of 50 Edwin Road still remains. It then runs south again on the line of Springvale until it appears to divide the plot occupied by the church in Drewery Drive. From there it goes due south with a few jags to the boundary stone at the entry to Bredhurst.
“I have various reports when Rainham parish councillors performed beating of the bounds ceremonies and I went on one in 1953 with Gillingham Council. But most of the definitive points of reference have long since gone, although some of the stones remained until the post-war development.”
Dennis does his homework (and not just mine)
So that seemed to prove it. The boundary is not the river but Rainham Mark. I found it a bit unsettling — and I wasn’t the only one. One loyal reader, a gent in his early nineties, walked in to the Medway News office, then at 12 New Road Avenue, and confessed to the lovely Kim, the cheery face in reception: “For 90-odd years I’ve always thought I was a Man of Kent. This has come as a bit of a shock, but I expect I’ll just have to get used to it.”
Physical evidence then came in from Dennis Chantler, then of Edwin Road, Rainham. (Dennis, it must be recorded, was a helpful chap in his and my youth. He was my father’s apprentice at Elliott Automation, Rochester, and a whiz at maths. He often helped my father do my maths homework.)
Dennis wrote: “I can not only confirm the boundary stone behind number 50 Edwin Road (and indeed see it from my bathroom window) but add another boundary stone which at the northern end of the woods behind our properties.
“These woods are owned by an Edwin Road resident. My wife and I and the owner’s son were walking in these woods a few weeks ago and we saw the stone which was marked with a broad arrow, which probably dates back to the time when all this land was Ministry of Defence property.
“The two stones side by side are at the north end of the woods and are in some dense undergrowth. The one on the right doesn’t appear to have any markings but the one on the left has W and D [for War Department] with the arrow between and underneath is No 162.
“The single stone is in the garden of number 50 Edwin Road and the owner kindly gave me permission to photograph it. This one is lovingly cared for by my neighbours but has suffered the ravages of time. The W can be seen but the D is lost as is the last digit of No 16 … maybe a 1 or a 3? I am also told that every place the boundary line changed direction it would be marked by one of these stones.”
Dennis adds: “Much of the woods was chestnut and used to be coppiced, cut up and used as pit props in the Kent coal mines. This ceased when the link road was built and factories put up in Courteney Road. Since then, what is left of the woods is the subject of a tree preservation order which bans the chopping lopping or topping of said trees.”
The final word from city historian
A final word on the Men of Kent/Kentish Men controversy: FF Smith in his History of Rochester quotes a glossary by the Rev Samuel Pegge in 1735 on the subject: “A Man of Kent and a Kentish Man is an expression often used but the explanation has been given in various ways. Some say that a Man of Kent is a term of high honour while a Kentish Man denotes but an ordinary person. Others contend that the men of west Kent are Men of Kent while those of East Kent are only Kentish Men.
“Others contend that the phrase is merely a ‘distinction without a difference’.”
So now you know. Care to comment?