Kent's intriguing facts
We may be experts when it comes to our historic and vibrant county, but even we’re regularly astonished by some of the new facts revealed to us about Kent. While we could go on for days reeling off facts about our magnificent county (its 350 miles of coastline or the fact that we have more conservation areas than any other county in England), what we really want to share with you are some of those little known facts that have truly wowed us. The kind of gob-smacking facts that you can whip out at a quiz to save the day. Ready to get learning? Read on.
What does one of the White House’s presidential desks have to do with Kent? A great deal, because The Resolute Desk, the desk that currently resides in the Oval Office and has served all but three US Presidents since 1880, was made from timbers from HMS Resolute and crafted at the Joiner’s Shop at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham as a gift from Queen Victoria herself. What’s more, in 2009 a matching pen holder was crafted in that same joiner’s shop from timbers salvaged from HMS Gannet (which can still be visited at the Historic Dockyard Chatham) and given as a gift to President Barack Obama.
How did Penshurst Place come to be owned by Henry VIII? In 1519 the then owner of Penshurst Place, Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, hosted a great welcome to the visiting King Henry VIII, lavishing the staggering sum of £2,500 (over £1 million in today’s money) on the event. Unfortunately this astonishing display of wealth may have led King Henry to see Buckingham as a threat and, two years later, found an excuse to have him tried and executed as a traitor.
Yes, the National Fruit Collection is held right here in Kent and in fact we can go one further than that, because it’s the world’s largest fruit collection. 4,000 trees can be found at Brogdale, all part of an international project, which aims to protect plant genetic resources. But what we unashamedly love it for are the Insta-worthy cherry blossom views and picnics during Hanami, not to mention the regular fruit festivals and orchard walks. Well, we are the Garden of England, after all…
The Garden of England
So, where does that name come from, we hear you ask. It all starts with well-known royal, King Henry VIII whom, upon eating a bowl of cherries in Flanders, ordered that Britain’s first cherry orchard be planted in Teynham, Kent. The county was chosen for its fertile soil, perfect for fruit and hops, and the ultimate inspiration for King Henry VIII coining Kent the Garden of England. Now you know.
We’ve all heard of it and we’ve all seen it on Instagram (endless views and wide skies), but did you know Dungeness is the largest shingle beach in Europe? It therefore may come as some surprise that around one third of the UK’s plant species can be found among the pebbles of Dungeness! Whether you choose to stop off for the views, the Instagram opportunities or the incredible natural habitats, Dungeness is a pretty intriguing spot to visit.
Home to the very cathedral where the murder of Thomas Becket occurred more than 850 years ago, Canterbury is STEEPED in history. From housing some of the finest stained glass in the country in Canterbury Cathedral, to being home to St Martin’s, the oldest working parish church in England, and St Augustine’s Abbey, the burial place of the Anglo-Saxon kings of Kent, The Canterbury World Heritage Site alone is packed with facts. While we can’t possibly begin to share them all, we can tell you history heroes that you’ll be in for one historic weekend in Canterbury.
You’ll have definitely seen the palatial colonnaded walks of Royal Tunbridge Wells known as the Pantiles before, but do you know the tale behind the area’s name? The story goes that in 1698 Princess (later Queen) Anne visited the area for its Chalybeate Spring, only for her much-loved son to slip on the unpaved walkway. Princess Anne was so upset by the incident she gave £100 to pave the area with small clay tiles that were baked in a pan (have you put it together yet?). The result was a more civilised place to stroll, a social centre for the town and of course, that rather unusual name.
We often talk about Shepherd Neame’s brewing heritage as Britain’s oldest brewer, its iconic cask beers and exciting new craft ales, but we’ve probably not mentioned its role as a temporary jail before. In 1688 King James II was caught trying to flee to France and avoid William of Orange during the Glorious Revolution. The upshot was the unfortunate king ran aground in Faversham and was held prisoner at the brewery by the town’s mayor. While we much prefer spending our time at the brewery touring and tasting, we’ve got to admit this little piece of history will add a thrill to our next visit.
Castles and historic houses
While we can’t say we’ve counted them all, it’s said that Kent holds more castles and historic houses than any other county in England, and we’re certainly not going to argue. From the former homes of statesman (we’re looking at you, Chartwell), to great cliff-top fortifications that have witnessed everything from Roman rule to World War Two operations (you guessed it - Dover Castle), these homes and forts have been so much more than romantic backdrops, but don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of those too. The loveliest castle in the world title goes to Leeds Castle, Hever Castle was once home to Anne Boleyn and her ill-fated romance, Lullingstone Castle has its very own vibrant world garden, and Penshurst Place has been the filming location of everything from Wolf Hall, to the Other Boleyn Girl and the Secret Garden. Trust us, we really could go on, but we think it’s far better you discover it all for yourself.
With so many castles and historic houses, it’s no surprise we’ve got some serious royal connections in Kent, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that it’s also home to the country’s only royal harbour. King George IV gave the harbour its title in 1821 after frequent visits to the town to see Sir William Curtess. The king was so impressed by the warm welcome he received that he gave the harbour its royal status and the honour of flying the Royal Standard three times a year. While we can’t promise royalty when you visit, we can promise a warm welcome, not to mention plenty of alfresco dining, harbour-side restaurants and café culture to pass the day away.
Remember when we mentioned Penshurst Place’s revered filming links? We haven’t even scratched the surface, because Kent just happens to be the most filmed county outside of London! Ready? The Historic Dockyard Chatham can be seen in Call the Midwife, Bridgerton and the Crown. Dover Castle unsurprisingly had a starring role in Dunkirk, and can also be seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Wolf Hall. While just along the shore, St Margaret’s Bay and Kingsdown were both featured in Bond films in a nod to Ian Fleming’s home in St Margaret’s Bay. Love a bit of Pride and Prejudice? Of course you do. The Bennet family home in 2005 film starring Keira Knightley was none other than Groombridge Place in Tunbridge Wells. Honestly, we’ve got a lot more we could share, but we’ll leave it there for now.
You’ve probably heard of the author, but did you know that he featured Rochester more times in his writings than any other town aside from London? While the capital has changed a great deal since Dickens’ time, the town of Rochester is recognisable from the pages of Dickens’ works, with its cobbled streets, independent shops and towering cathedral. At home in Rochester and holidaying in Broadstairs, Dickens certainly considered himself a fan of the county, so we reckon his time here was probably the best of times.
You’ll no doubt have heard and watched the Disney favourite, Pocahontas at some point (Colours of the Wind, anyone?), but we’re here to reveal the truth about the Native American Princess. Born as the daughter of the influential chief Powhatan, Pocahontas met John Rolfe when she was held captive by the English to encourage peace talks with her father. Pocahontas later married Rolfe (nope, not John Smith), and made the voyage to England where she was akin to royalty in London society. Pocahontas, then named Rebecca, was to return to Virginia in 1617, but became ill aboard the ship and was taken ashore at Gravesend, where she later died and was put to rest at St George’s Church. Today a talking statue in the graveyard marks this legendary figure.
The Battle of Britain was fought high above Kent and the skies over the English Channel during the summer and autumn of 1940, so it’s fitting that the clifftops overlooking the Channel are home to the Battle of Britain Memorial to The Few. The Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall lists the names of all those known to have taken part in the Battle of Britain. The Wing building is home to the high-tech Scramble Experience, which gives visitors a taste of what life was like to be one of the Few in 1940.
Live music, a vibrant arts scene and that sensational Harbour Arm, Folkestone is one of our favourite cultural hotspots in Kent, but did you know it was the world’s first music town, following in the footsteps of music cities across the world such as Nashville, Melbourne and Seoul? Music legend Jimi Hendrix famously played in Folkestone in 1966, performing live with musician and Folkestone resident Noel Redding. Visitors can see a blue plaque on the wall of the former Prince Albert Hotel in Rendezous Street commemorating the occasion.
Darren Clarke, Ben Curtis, Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle…the list of Champions to have lifted the Claret Jug on Kent’s coast is a lengthy one (running to 16 names to be exact). With Championships held at Royal St George’s, Prince’s and Royal Cinque Ports, it’s no surprise these three courses are revered as some of the best in the country. With the 149th Open set to be held in 2021 at Royal St George’s, we’ll wait with bated breath for the 17th champion.
Martinis and more in Maidstone
In the late 1700s Maidstone was producing 5,000 gallons of quality gin every week! The production levels were so high that Maidstone gin was sold in nearly every town and village in the country. New distillery on the block Maidstone Distillery is now open and recapturing the glory days of Maidstone's distilling heritage with their George Bishop London Dry Gin and Ranscombe Wild Small Batch Gin.
Known for its beautiful bays and sea views, you may not know that Herne Bay is also known far and wide for its fossil heritage. This area has seen fossil discoveries of national and international importance, including Dawn Horse, a 50+ million year old antecedent of the modern horse! A cast of that very fossil can be found at Herne Bay's seaside museum, while the original rests in the Natural History Museum.
Did you know that Kent is one of only five places in the whole of the UK with wild beavers? Europe’s largest rodent, who tragically became extinct in the UK in the 16th century, can be found along the riverbanks of the Kentish Stour. Two families of Norwegian beavers were released into the enclosed area of Ham Fen Nature Reserve, near Sandwich but the river also accommodates wild beavers with evidence of gnawed branches, feeding piles and regular sightings. Canoe Wild offers guided Sunset Wildlife Tours with the dusk paddle presenting an opportunity to see the beavers for yourself.
Other fun facts about beavers include, Beavers have a third transparent eyelid that helps them see underwater and they can remain underwater without breathing for up to 15 minutes and swim up to 5 mph.