Heart of Kent

PUBLISHED: 08:55 03 May 2016 | UPDATED: 08:55 03 May 2016

The heart of Kent

The heart of Kent

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

In our fifth visit to the centre of our county in International Map Year, we look at the origins of the place names in this region.

And see you, after rain, the trace

Of mound and ditch and wall?

O that was a Legion’s camping-place,

When Caesar sailed from Gaul.

- From Puck’s Song, Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem celebrates different events in British history and the traces they have left on the landscape. The Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans have all left their mark and helped to create the unique tapestry which we see before us in the landscape today.

There are clues to the past in ditches, mounds and tracks. The pattern of streets and villages, the shape of the fields, the distribution of woodlands and the boundaries between different areas are all significant. So too are place names.

Kipling understood in a deeply meaningful way how places have been shaped by history and he opens our eyes to a wonderful story which we can all enjoy and celebrate.

This month’s map extract shows just one small area in the heart of Kent. It portrays a landscape that has been shaped over thousands of years by different groups of people according to their needs. At the top (north) of the map are the chalk hills which make up the North Downs.

Moving down the page towards the south the land drops away sharply in the scarp above Lenham to a lowland area of heavy but fertile clay. Further south again another band of rock appears. This is the Greensand belt which has furnished the stone for many local churches and is the region’s best natural building material.

The geology is reflected in the place names. Flintbarn, for example, provides a clue to the chalk strata. Stone Hill, Stonebridge Hill and Sandway all indicate the greensand belt. The railway, A20 and ancient Pilgrim’s Way run diagonally along across the map following the clay vale and the line of the scarp.

So does the little stream which rises just to the east of Lenham called the Stour, which probably simply means ‘river’ or ‘water’ in the language of the Celts who once used to live in this area.

A closer look at the map reveals that several names focus on plants and creatures. Cuckoo Wood, Swallow Hill, Swan Street and Lark Hill are all to do with birds. Warren Street suggests rabbits and Foxen Farm hints at the animals which depended on them; Brockton Farm may well be linked to badgers.

Oaken Pole Wood tells us not only about the trees but also about the traditional activities associated with this once thickly wooded area. It also contains scattered deposits of ironstone which yielded the raw material for Roman and medieval industry. Small furnaces and glass works were once scattered across the forests.

Places with ‘hurst’ as part of their name suggest a link with this industrial 
heritage. ‘Hurst’ means ‘a wood from which timber was taken’ and large quantities of timber would have been needed to create charcoal. In the map extract, you can find Hurst Wood just south of Swan Street.

The suffixes and prefixes in many Kentish names reveal fascinating historical links. Names containing ‘den’, ‘ton’ or ‘ham’ all probably date back to Anglo-Saxon times. ‘Den’ indicates a wooded pasture which would have been used for grazing pigs, ‘ton’ an enclosure and ‘ham’ 
translates as a homestead or village. Lenham appears in early historical records as ‘Leanaham’. Leana was a man’s name, so ‘Leanaham’ must have originally meant Leana’s village.

Names can tell us a lot about the landscape and its cultural and historical heritage, but they can also mislead. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and historians recognise there may be multiple interpretations. However, most names provides a clue to the past and learning about their origins can enrich your understanding of your area.

Kipling knew how the dimpled tracks, the ancient mills, red oxen and ‘stilly woods of oak’ formed a unique tapestry that everyone could see and read. Next time you open a map, spare a thought for what the place names might mean. You never know what you’ll find out.

Dr Stephen Scoffham is author/consultant for Collins school atlases and a Visiting Reader in Sustainability and Education at Canterbury Christ Church University.

w

More from Out & About

From its literary links to its cricketing history, this riverside town has plenty of surprises to discover

Read more

There may not be the usual crowds this summer, but we can still look ahead to our return to one of Kent’s favourite seaside destinations - Whitstable

Read more
Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Picnic baskets at the ready because we have gathered 10 of the best places to enjoy a picnic in stunning rural Kent

Read more

As the world slows down, we turn our eyes to the skies in search of the best places to watch some celestial wonders this summer

Read more
Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Margate is Thanet’s trendiest seaside town so we selected some things to do, see and eat when visiting

Read more

Here are 12 places that may have flown under your radar before but are well worth seeking out

Read more

Kent is blessed with fine and indeed famous country houses, but over the decades has lost as many of its grander houses as it retains. A new book by Martin Easdown reveals 120 examples that have simply disappeared

Read more
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Take our quiz to see if you can decipher the town or place in Kent from the emojis

Read more
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Enjoy three of Kent’s best and most loved cycle rides which take in lots of the county’s beautiful coastlines

Read more

We look ahead to the end of lockdown and to a quiet seaside resort we can’t wait to visit again – Herne Bay

Read more
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook


Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Most Read

Latest from the Kent Life