East Kent and West Kent are one-time traditional subdivisions of the English county of Kent, kept alive by the Association of the Men of Kent and Kentish Men: an organisation formed in 1913. The division may have risen from the ethnic differences approximately 1,500 years ago between the Jutish settlement of the east of the county and the Saxon presence in the west, although its origins are somewhat obscure. Residents of East Kent, those living East / south of the River Medway, are called 'Men (or Maids) of Kent', as opposed to residents of West Kent, who are known as 'Kentish Men' or 'Kentish Maids'.
East Kent had its own Quarter Sessions based in Canterbury until 1814, when the administrations of East and West Kent were merged. East Kent, which corresponded roughly to the Diocese of Canterbury, consisted of the three lathes: Lathe of St Augustine, Lathe of Shepway and the upper division of the Lathe of Scray.
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.
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, albeit now held in question, to remind us of our cherished past.
F F 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.
Places in East Kent include:
- BBC - Kent Places - Man of Kent or Kentish Man?
- Lewis Topographical Dictionary of England, Vol. II, 1831