Mark my words: are you really a Man of Kent?

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?

Rochester & Strood
Medway villages
Medway at war
Crimes that Shocked the Medway Towns

23 thoughts on “Mark my words: are you really a Man of Kent?”

  1. Have to admit that I have not followed the whole discussion on man of Kent etc, but I always thought the distinction was to do with north and south of the river Medway. I am, having been born south of the river, a man of Kent, as is my wife and both my sons – Chatham, Rochester, Margate and Ashford respectively. My daughter is, however, a Kentish maid having been born north of the river in Maidstone. I’m sure this point has been made previously but thought I’d mention it!

  2. So let me get this straight. I was born in Asquith Road, Wigmore, does this make me a Man of Kent (which I thought I was) or a Kentish Man?
    Thank you so much for this very interesting article.


    1. Thanks for writing. Try looking on Google Maps. I reckon you’re a Man of Kent whichever way you in interpret the boundary.

      all the best


  3. My great aunt and uncle, by the name of Barden, ran the Man of Kent pub at Rainham. I was always told I was a maid of Kent (like the holy maid of Kent from Canterbury fame). I guess you can tell where the pubs are. I don’t suppose you will find a Man of Kent pub north of the river?

    1. The Holy Maid of Kent, also known as the Holy Nun of Kent, was born Elizabeth Barton in 1506; in 1525, she began having visions after she fell ill in the house of her master in Aldington, near the Romney Marshes.
      She was said to have clairvoyant visions of ‘events occurring far distant’ and of souls in the afterlife. Word of her predictions reached Archbishop William Warham in Canterbury, and he sent an episcopal commission to investigate her. It concluded that she was ‘neither unorthodox, nor a dissembler’, and she was carried in triumph to the nearby chapel of Court-le-Street, where she had a convulsive fit and was miraculously cured of her condition.
      Soon after, Elizabeth became a nun in the Benedictine convent of St Sepulchre’s in Canterbury. Bishop John Fisher of Rochester attested to her piety and she was presented to many powerful figures, including Cardinal Thomas Wolsley, and ultimately King Henry VIII, who approved of her prophecies, which warned against the heresy of Lutherism and rebellion against the king.
      Her fate was sealed when Henry wanted to obtain an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who had failed to provide him with a male heir, and sought to seize control of the church from Rome. Elizabeth spoke against the English Reformation and began prophesying that if Henry remarried, he would soon die and she had seen the place in Hell where he would go.
      Initially, Henry found it difficult to get rid of Elizabeth because she had a huge following throughout England, so he undermined her reputation with the help of agents who spread rumours that she was engaged in sexual relationships with priests and suffered from mental illness.
      In 1533 she was forced to confess that she had fabricated her prophecies and the next year was hanged at the Tyburn with five of her supporters, including four priests. Her head was put on a spike on London Bridge.

  4. Although I don’t get too worked up about my origins, I am a Kentish man and my story is of a fanatical wish for me to be born in the right part of Kent.
    My mother was in a nursing home in Rochester awaiting my birth just after the war. Just before her waters broke, my father’s relatives put her in a taxi and transported her to a nursing home in Frindsbury.
    As soon as I was born and cleaned up my mother and me were transported back to the nursing home in Rochester where my mother continued her convalescing!
    You might ask, why wasn’t my mother put in the nursing home in Frindsbury in the first place? The answer is I don’t know. By the time I got around to chasing up the answer to that question my grandfather had died and my father was too infirm to remember!

    1. I am the complete opposite of Bob. My male precedents are all Kentish men having lived in North Kent (Gravesend out to Fawkham) traced back to 1650. I, however, was born in a nursing home in Rochester, and thought, as such, that I was a Man of Kent. It now seems that I am also a Kentish Man!

  5. The distinction between the two halves of Kent goes back to the 7th century when West Kent was part of the (East Saxon) Kingdom of Essex and East Kent was the (Jutish) Kingdom of Kent. Essex eventually lost control of its bit.

  6. I was always led to believe by the old men that I knew as a child that East of Rainham Mark -Men of Kent, hence name of the pub at the junction of Otterham Quay lane and the A2. West of Rainham Mark-Kentish Men.

  7. I always thought I was a Kentish Lass given Man of Kent pub in Tonbridge is north of the Medway and Tunbridge Wells used to have The Kentish Yeoman.

  8. Fascinating clarification – thanks for all that information. Especially impressed with Dennis Chantler’s contribution, an old school pal from over fifty years ago at Temple. Legend Dennis!

  9. Phew, I always considered myself a Man of Kent being born in Rainham, South of the Medway but never realised how close to it as I was born in a bungalow on the EAST side of Edwin Road! A very interesting article!!

  10. How confusing this all is. I was born at Canada House (Naval maternity hospital) Gillingham in 1952 and although being transferred to my father’s posting at Nuneaton, Warwickshire, shortly after have always relished being a Man of Kent. Both my parents were from Gillingham, (see below) reinforcing this view, and I have always believed that the boundary was the centre of the Medway making those to the London side Kentish Men, or Maids, and rest of us Men and Maids of Kent.

    Of course the river travels from the Surrey border eastwards before turning north towards the Thames which it reaches at the Hoo Peninsula, making references to east, west, north or south rather dependent on the location. One small point, Gillingham is merely a small hamlet on a hill overlooking the Strand with its own High Street and I believe that “Gillingham” as now known should rightly be known as New Brompton.

    I think that the confusion came after the railway station was built and the centre of commerce probably moved to be near it. I take this from a late 19th-century map while I was investigating the local rail set-up. I hope that this is not too controversial and would welcome further comment.

  11. Hello to all who frequented the Saturday night Drill Hall Dance in Watling Street Gilingham in the 50s and 60s. Gillingham James Street, Skinner Street Schools, in the 40s and 50s, Rainham Orchard Street, Rochester Technical school in the 50s.
    Fond memories of the Yank Navy coming up James Street heading off to London no doubt, when us kids would greet them with ‘Got any gum, chum?’
    The British Army and Navy would make their first port of call. The two pubs were, whose name I cannot recall, at the top of James Street. I have a vivid memory of the various cap badges and colours of Red, Blue and Grey Army and Marine Servicemen. My Dad, a navy man, would bring out lemonade an Smiths crisps.
    I will leave it at that in case nobody is reading this.

  12. It’s to do with what diocese you came under, Canterbury or Rochester. Rochester was Kentish Man Canterbury was Man of Kent. Rochester covered all the Medway Towns and further west to London (this included Rainham) all the rest was Canterbury. Hope this helps I’m Kentish Man born in Chatham.

  13. great info and will be looking for the stones dad was born in the men of kent pub so can is sure to be a man of kent!and now lives in edwin road so has only just stayed in the boundary!!!

  14. I was born at All Saints’ Hospital, Chatham, and my early years spent in the village of Borstal, until we moved to Margate. Are we Men of Kent or not? I am confused.

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