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The heart of Kent

PUBLISHED: 11:27 10 January 2016 | UPDATED: 11:27 10 January 2016

The Heart of Kent

The Heart of Kent

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

2016 is International Map Year and to celebrate, Kent Life will take a picture of the centre of Kent every month for a year to mark the changes.

We often refer to the ‘heart of the county’ but have you ever stopped to think: where exactly is that? Somewhere around Maidstone you’d think, but just how do you work it out precisely?

Determined to find out, Kent Life approached Canterbury Christ Church University, where Peter Vujakovic, Professor of Geography, and John Hills, Research Fellow and Geographic Information Systems expert in the School of Human and Life Sciences, took up the challenge .

As a geographer, Peter’s main areas of 
teaching and research are in cartography, landscape change, and biogeography (ecology with maps). The Kent Life project has extra, personal resonance for Peter as well, who tells us: “My father, a ‘displaced person’ in the Second World War, was nursed by my mother in the sanatorium in Lenham in the late 1940s.”

This is his conclusion on the centre of Kent.

Pinpointing the centre

“Imagine cutting out a map of Kent and trying to balance it on a pin. When it is perfectly balanced, you would have found the county’s centre of gravity.

The centre is found at TQ 902 514 on the OS map, just to the south east of Lenham, and on the Stour Valley Walk. This is based on the map of Kent with Medway. Another option could be to calculate the centre Kent based on its population (which pulls the centre of gravity towards Medway), and results in a centre at TQ 868 596, close to Bicknor (south of Sittingbourne).”

TQ 902 514

Now we know the spot, which falls neatly by the rail line and between the M20 and the A30, Kent Life’s chief photographer Manu Palomeque will return to the scene at approximately the same time every month to record the minutiae of change.

There is a small group of trees in the landscape (less than 100m from the spot), and woods at a further distance of about 0.5km and the rail embankment directly behind, which should give us potential for some interesting images of plants and animals, especially pollinators.

1959 map

The map featured this month is an extract of the Geological Survey of Great Britain published in 1959 at the scale of one inch to the mile.

The geographical centre of Kent falls over one of the most exciting areas, geologically speaking, in the county. It is here that the chalk is exposed and forms the sweep of the North Downs, with its steep scarp slope here facing to the south west. This is the band of rock that forms one of Kent’s most iconic features, the White Cliffs of Dover. It is into this chalk that the massive memorial cross to the war dead of the World Wars is carved just outside the village of Lenham, which sits near the centre of the map.

The chalk was originally formed in a shallow sea during the time of the dinosaurs, and is just one of a series of layers of relatively soft rock that makes up this part of Kent. It is the youngest rock at this location, despite being formed between about 60 and 100 million years ago. A layer of clay with flints, a superficial ‘drift’ deposit, overlies the chalk to the north of the map.

The chalk overlies other, older deposits of Cretaceous age, including the Gault Clay and Greensand. These form the lower-lying terrain to the south, along which the railway and now the M20 run. This low-lying area, known as the Holmesdale, has long been a region of human occupation, with archaeological evidence from prehistoric times onward.

The land rises again to form the Chart Hills, of the Lower Greensands and then the on to the Low Weald on the Weald Clays.

It is from these Cretaceous beds, a little further to the east, that one of the most famous dinosaur finds of the Victorian period was made. An iguanodon fossil was discovered by WH Bensted, and ‘Iggy’ as the specimen is popularly known, is now housed in Maidstone Museum.

Geological maps were to become an important part of Britain’s industrial success. The first map of the whole of England, Wales and Scotland was made by William Smith in 1815; recently made famous by Simon Winchester’s popular book The Map that Changed the World.

Smith, a blacksmith’s son, was a self-taught surveyor, who began his map based on his knowledge of rock strata and the fossils they contain that he observed while working on the canals that criss-cross our country.

His work was inspirational in developing our understanding of geological time and was the basis for all future geological survey, of which this extract is an example. His map helped those involved in the mining industry to exploit these resources better - the resources that made Britain the first industrial nation.

Extract: Geological Survey of England and Wales 1:63,360, Sheet 288 (1959).

A high resolution image of the 1966 reprint, with a key to the geology, can be accessed at
2015-6 is International Map Year (supported by the UN). This extract and short article is the first of several throughout the year that celebrate the mapping of Kent’s landscape. Each will explore the significance of maps and mapping for our county by focusing on different historic and contemporary maps, each positioned on the geographic centre of Kent.

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