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Are you a Kentish Man or a Man of Kent and which side of the Medway is the best place to be?

Kentish Man or Man of Kent? The titles divide the county in two and their origins stretch way back to the dim and distant past.

We tasked reporter Rhys Griffiths with trying to uncover the story behind this east-west distinction.

The River Medway has traditionally divided the Men of Kent and the Kentish Men. Picture: Martin Apps
The River Medway has traditionally divided the Men of Kent and the Kentish Men. Picture: Martin Apps

Let's start with something on which we can all surely agree. It is indeed a privilege to reside in a place as splendid as Kent, with its historic towns, its glorious countryside and its magnificent coastline.

Unfortunately, this may be the only point of unanimity in this entire piece, because the moment one begins to explore the origins of the divide between the Men and Maids of Kent and the Kentish Men and Maids, the less certain things become.

Let's begin with the point on which there seems to be greatest consensus. The easiest way to decide on which side you fall is to take a map of Kent, locate the meandering River Medway as it winds from Weald to sea, and then identify if you were born to the east or west.

If you originate from the east of the Medway, tradition has it you are a Man or Maid of Kent. From the west? Then you, my friend, are a Kentish Man or Kentish Maid. Case closed? If only.

While the River Medway divide is the most commonly cited distinction between the two camps, other theories have been put forward over the years.

Canterbury Cathedral is an icon of the east of the county
Canterbury Cathedral is an icon of the east of the county

Some suggest the village of Rainham Mark - named after a boundary marker which apparently divided east and west Kent - is the actual line down which the division is made.

And how could the English fail to get the question of class in there somewhere? It has also been written that in 1735 the Reverend Samuel Pegge said the two names were more a social status, saying a Man of Kent is a term of high honour, while a Kentish Man "denotes but an ordinary man".

It appears that above all else the Men of Kent may have been the greater propagandists, because one tale also tells of how the tribes of the east of the county refused to allow William the Conqueror to pass through without allowing them to retain certain old rights and privileges.

This story takes us right back to years following the retreat of the Roman empire from the shores of this land jutting out between the North Sea and the English Channel.

It is widely held that invading tribes who came after the Romans - led by the legendary brothers Hengist and Horsa - settled in what we now know as Kent, with the Anglo Saxons occupying what we now think of as west Kent while the Jutes settled to the east of the Medway.

The imposing Dover Castle was built by the Normans in the years after the 1066 invasion
The imposing Dover Castle was built by the Normans in the years after the 1066 invasion

For centuries that followed, these Germanic peoples ruled over Kent and much of the country, establishing their own laws and customs, until in 1066 the Normans came from across the Channel in a new wave of invasion.

Legend has it that, possibly on his way to Dover to return to his native Normandy, William was prevented from passing unhindered through East Kent by representatives of the Men of Kent.

Symbolically they are said to have held out a branch or a sword, and told William to choose - treaty or war.

In opting for the branch he is understood to have offered both the Men of Kent and the Kentish Men the retention of certain rights and customs if in return they would accept him as their King.

Historians have argued this is why a system for passing on a deceased persons estate to all heirs, known as Gavelkind, continued to be used in Kent when in the rest of the realm all went to the eldest son.

The beaches of Thanet are popular with locals and visitors alike
The beaches of Thanet are popular with locals and visitors alike

The legend of William choosing to accommodate the peoples of Kent rather than meet them in battle is also understood to have led to the county's adoption of the motto Invicta, which means unconquered in Latin.

But whichever story you prefer as the origin of the county's divide, the friendly but passionate rivalry between the Men of Kent and the Kentish Men is likely to go on for some time yet.

The view from the east

Reporter Rhys Griffiths is a proud Man of Kent, and here's why he is convinced the east of the Medway is the only place to be:

When asked to write a few words on the relative merits of the east and west of the county, I'll admit to feeling a slight sense of trepidation. Would I really be brave enough to speak the truth?

Towns like Folkestone have seen their ups and downs through the years. Picture: Alan Langley
Towns like Folkestone have seen their ups and downs through the years. Picture: Alan Langley

As a Folkestone boy, there's simply no doubt in my mind - to be a Man of Kent is truly an honour. Canterbury Cathedral, Britain's oldest brewery, the White Cliffs of Dover, the beautiful beaches of Thanet, the wild expanse of Romney Marsh and Dungeness. Kent in all its magnificence is to be found on this side of the Medway.

That's not to say life's always been easy in this part of the county. The rise of package holidays killed the bucket-and-spade breaks to our resorts, the 1980s saw the mines close and tragedy strike the Herald of Free Enterprise, and ports such as Ramsgate and Folkestone have lost their links to the continent.

But we're a tenacious bunch, and a spark of artistic and entrepreneurial creativity (fanned by some of our friends Down From London) is bringing new life to towns such as Deal, Margate and Folkestone.

West Kent can be picture-postcard pretty, its Garden of England produce is second to none and the wines are world beating.

But as more and more people from beyond these parts are now discovering, it's probably best seen from a train window as you speed towards where the real action's at.

The county town Maidstone is divided by the River Medway
The county town Maidstone is divided by the River Medway

The view from the west (ish)

Reporter Rebecca Tuffin may in the strictest terms be a Maid of Kent, but as a Maidstone girl she's happy to stand up for the west of the county:

The River Medway slices right through the centre of Maidstone, with the east side greedily grabbing the majority of the County Town's buzz - the best pubs, clubs, eateries - even though it already has most of Kent's other big towns and famous beaches under its belt.

But for those who enjoy the quieter side of life, west Kent is a rather splendid place to be.

Head up to Hever Castle or Ightham Mote and after a good hour of marching across the rich green grass, the wind blowing through your hair, you'll forget all about the east's busy, bustling streets and instead long for nothing more than a pint of ale and a roast dinner in a dimly-lit, flagstone-floored tavern.

Who needs bargain stores and arcades when you can come face-to-face with huge, antlered deer at Knole Park or watch flocks of birds drift through the sky as the sun sets at the remote Cliffe Pools?

Is west best or is the east the place to be? Let us know in the comments

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