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The reasons behind the names of Kent's towns

The rich history of the county can be seen in the naming of its towns, with influences from Celtic tribes, Roman invaders and royal favour.

Kent comes from the Celtic word 'kantos' meaning 'rim' or 'border', referring to Kent's position on the coast.

Kent Land's historic mention in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Kent Land's historic mention in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Ashford

In the Domesday Book, a survey commissioned after the Norman conquest, Ashford is recorded by its original Saxon name 'Essetesford'.

There are two main theories as to what this means. The 16th century writer Philpot believes the name came from the Old English 'æscet' suggesting the town was named after ash trees near a 'ford' or a shallow part of the river. A 16th century historian called Lampard believed Essetesford referred to "a ford over the river Eshe or Eshet", the tributary of River Stour.

Canterbury

Canterbury was originally the settlement of a Celtic tribe called the Cantiaci, which inhabited most of modern day Kent during the iron age.

River Stour in Ashford. Picture: Geograph
River Stour in Ashford. Picture: Geograph

In the first century, it was renamed Durovernum Cantiacorum by Roman invaders to mean 'stronghold of the Cantiaci.'

The city they built was later inhabited by a Jutish settlement, who renamed it 'Cantwareburh', Old English for 'fortified town (burgh) of the people (wara) of Kent (cant).'

Dover

Dover was first recorded in its Latin form as Portus Dubris while it was a Roman port in the first century.

Some believe this referred to a port on the River Dour, a name is derived from the Celtic word 'dwfr', meaning 'water'.

Folkestone

It is believed Folkestone meant 'Folca’s stone' when the town was first established in the 7th century. A 'stone' was historically known as a meeting place for local people, though who 'Floca' is remains a mystery.

Though, it was not until the 19th century that the spelling of Folkestone was decided, as the Earl of Radnor and lord of the manor decided to standardise the spelling of town names.

Maidstone

Similar to Folkestone, Maidstone's name is thought to refer to a meeting place. Saxons in 975 referred to the area as 'de maeides stana' and 'maegdan stane', which is thought to mean 'stone/meeting place of the maidens'. This could be referring to the nearby megalith Kit's Coty House.

Kits Coty House could possibly be the meeting stone in Maidstone's name. Picture: Geograph
Kits Coty House could possibly be the meeting stone in Maidstone's name. Picture: Geograph

The name developed further after being recorded in the Domesday Book as Medestan/Meddestane, then into Maidstone in 1610.

Medway

Medway was named after its river, Saxon for middle ('med') river ('way' or 'wey'). This could have something to do with the divide between the Kentish Man/Maiden west of the river and Man/Maiden Of Kent to the east, due to each area being under the jurisdiction of a different bishop in 604.

Gillingham

The town is said to be named after a notable Saxon warlord who was known for leading his warriors into battle screaming and shouting.

He was called Gyllingas, from the Old English 'gyllan', meaning 'to shout'. As the word 'hām' means 'home of' and 'ingas' means 'the people of', Gillingham is the 'home of the people of Gyllingas.'

Medway means 'middle river' in Saxon. Picture: Geoff Watkins
Medway means 'middle river' in Saxon. Picture: Geoff Watkins

Rochester

The town's original Roman name was Durobrivae, which could be translated to 'stronghold by the bridge.' Though we have Rochester Castle standing by the bridge now, archaeologists have found no evidence of a stronghold in the area during the 1st century.

An alternative explanation is Durobrivae could be the latinisation of the Celtic word Dourbruf, meaning 'swift stream'.

However, the reason why Rochester has its name today is because of a clerical error. The name recorded as Durobrivis in 730 was pronounced 'Robrivis'.

Saint Bede, an author known as "The Father of English History", mistook Durobrivis to mean 'Hrofi's fortified camp' and recorded the area as Hrofæscæstre. This developed into Rochester by 1610.

Chatham

The Domesday Book records the town as Ceteham. Many believe the Celtic word for forest ('ceto') and home ('hām') has become Chatham, 'the home of the forest.'

However, because Chatham's landscape has closer resemblance to a river-valley, some speculate the first half of the name comes from the Old English word 'catu' meaning 'basin' or 'valley.'

Strood

In the Textus Roffensis (Annals of Rochester), written between 1122 and 1124, the town was named 'Strodes.' It is believed the Old English word 'strōd' refers to a 'marshy land overgrown with brushwood' in the book Place Names of Kent by Judith Glover.

The last oak standing after the Great Storm of 1987 in Knole Park, Sevenoaks Picture: Geograph
The last oak standing after the Great Storm of 1987 in Knole Park, Sevenoaks Picture: Geograph

Sevenoaks

The Saxon name 'seouenaca' can be translated to seven ('seofon') oaks ('ac'). This refers to seven oak trees which stood in Knole Park near a small Chapel in the year 800.

The seven oaks of Sevenoaks have been replaced many times. In 1902, seven oaks were planted on The Vine cricket ground to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII. Six of these were blown down in The Great Storm of 1987, after which seven more oaks replaced them.

Thanet

There are a few theories about the origin of Thanet's name. One argues it comes from the Celtic word 'tan', meaning 'fire' or 'bright', and 'arth', meaning 'height'. This lead to speculation of an ancient beacon or lighthouse was positioned on the coast there.

A more outlandish theory by Isidore, Archbishop of Seville, states Thanet was named after the Greek word for death, 'thanatos'.

The scholar wrote in Etymologiae: "an island of the ocean separated from Britain by a narrow channel... (was) called Tanatos from the death of serpents; for while it has none of its own, soil taken from it to any place whatsoever kills snakes there."

The chalybeate spring in the Pantiles was said to have healing qualities Picture: Geograph
The chalybeate spring in the Pantiles was said to have healing qualities Picture: Geograph

Royal Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge

In 1606, Dudley Lord North and a courtier to King James I, was staying in Eridge hoping the country air might aid against his illnesses. He discovered chalybeate spring and, after drinking from it, became convinced it had healing properties when his health improved.

This soon became a get-away spa for rich visitors and the area was named Tunbridge Wells due to its proximity to Tonbridge.

Tonbridge and Tunbridge come from the Old English words 'tun' for manor and 'brycg' for bridge, suggesting it was named after a manor with a bridge. It could also be named after a bridge belonging to someone with the popular Saxon name Tunna.

Tunbridge Wells was given its royal status in 1909, which King Edward VII bestowed on the town for its popularity with the royal family. There are only two other areas in the England with royal status.

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