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Kent is one of the oldest counties, having been a kingdom in Saxon times. (See Kent, kingdom of.) It has always been of great importance because of its strategic position as gateway to the continent. It is comparatively little known, since the millions who pass through it hurl themselves towards the ferries or the tunnel.

The shire was defined by the Thames and its estuary to the north and by the coast to the south and east. The border with Sussex followed the rivers Teise and Rother, and the western border with Surrey was largely the watersheds of the rivers Ravensbourne, Darent, and Medway. The north downs running from west to east end in the chalk cliffs of Dover. There has been considerable silting of the coast: the Isles of Grain, Sheppey, and Thanet are now united to the mainland, while many once flourishing ports and harbours such as Lydd in the south-west are now miles from the sea.

In pre-Roman times, the inhabitants were the Cantiaci, a group of tribes who offered serious resistance to Caesar's two expeditions. The name Cantium goes back at least to the 4th cent. bc and seems to be of Celtic origin, meaning border or coastal land. The main Roman port was Richborough (Rutupiae), where the ad 43 expedition landed, and where there remains a remarkable Roman lighthouse. A major road ran from the port to Canterbury (Durovernum) and crossed the Medway at Rochester (Durobrivae), before reaching London. It was later known as Watling Street.

In the middle of the 5th cent., the area was overrun by Jutish settlers and a kingdom established. Æthelbert pushed Kentish power to its height, occupying London and taking control of the East Saxons. He converted to Christianity and founded the sees of Canterbury (597) and Rochester (604). Later kings of Kent found it difficult to sustain their independence against powerful neighbours and fell under the domination, first of Mercia, then of Wessex. Kent became a subkingdom or province and, at length, a county. In the 9th cent. the region suffered severely from Viking raids but there was little Scandinavian settlement.

Kentish society had a number of unusual features. The shire was divided into five large divisions or lathes and then into more than 60 small hundreds. The local custom of gavelkind supported equal inheritance and Kentish men had a reputation for independence. How dangerous this could be to governments was demonstrated in the Peasants' Revolt (1381), Cade's rising (1450), and Wyatt's rebellion (1554). As late as the 1720s, Defoe commended the sturdy Kentish yeomen, ‘the graycoats’, who could turn any election and were treated by the gentlemen with great respect. The east–west division of the shire, hinted at by the establishment of two bishoprics, continued strongly. There was a convention that representation in Parliament should be shared between east and west and JPs normally exercised their authority only in their own half. Quarter sessions were at Canterbury for east Kent, Maidstone for west Kent.

By Domesday in 1086, Dover had developed as an important borough, along with Canterbury and Rochester. Also of significance were Romney, Hythe, and Sandwich, subsequently recognized among the Cinque Ports, and given special privileges in exchange for heavy defence responsibilities. The close association with the continent after the Norman Conquest brought the shire considerable prosperity, and more came with the development of the royal dockyards. By 1801 the largest towns in the shire were Deptford (17,000), Greenwich (14,000), and Chatham (10,000). Production for the ever-growing London market encouraged orchards, market gardens, hop-fields, and the rearing of sheep and cattle. Whitstable was renowned for its oysters. But as the remorseless growth of London continued, the balance of population in the county shifted to the north-west. Lewisham with 4,000 people in 1801 had 174,000 in 1921; Deptford had risen to 119,000, Plumstead to 76,000, Bromley to 68,000. Another rapid development was Gillingham with 95,000. In 1888 Kent lost a slice of London suburbia to the new London County Council, and in 1965 Erith, Bromley, Bexley, Chislehurst, and Orpington were moved out into the Greater London Council. Neither the Local Government Act of 1972 nor the Banham commission report of 1994 proposed any changes in the county, but Medway (Chatham, Gillingham, Rochester) has been made a unitary authority.

J. A. Cannon

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Kent, county (1991 pop. 1,485,600), 1,525 sq mi (3,950 sq km), SE England. It lies between the Thames estuary and the Strait of Dover. The county town is Maidstone, and the county is divided into 12 administrative district: Sevenoaks, Dartford, Gravesham, Tonbridge and Malling, Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells, Swale, Ashford, Canterbury, Shepway, Thanet, and Dover. The Isle of Sheppey is separated from the north coast by the narrow Swale channel. The chalky North Downs cross the county from east to west, and to the south lie the fertile Weald and Romney Marsh. The Medway, the Stour, and the Darent are the chief rivers.

The region, largely agricultural, is a market-gardening center. Crops include fruit, grain, and hops. Sheep and cattle grazing, fishing, and dairying are also prevalent. One of London's "Home Counties," Kent is increasingly important industrially because of the encroachment of the London urban area into its western portion. Since Great Britain's entry into the European Community (now the European Union) in 1973, warehousing has emerged as a growing enterprise. Paper, pottery, brick, cement, chemicals, and beer are manufactured, and there is shipbuilding and oil refining.

Because of its strategic location on the path to the Continent through Dover, Kent has been important throughout English history. Julius Caesar landed at Kent in 55 BC, and Roman roads crossed the county. In 597, St. Augustine founded a Christian mission near the Canterbury cathedral. Kent was one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. In the Middle Ages many religious houses were established in the old kingdom of Kent, and Canterbury became the goal of numerous pilgrims such as Chaucer described in the Canterbury Tales. The region was intimately associated with the rebellions of Wat Tyler, Jack Cade, and Sir Thomas Wyatt. The coast was heavily fortified during the two World Wars. In 1974, Kent was reorganized as a nonmetropolitan county.

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Kent County in se England, s of the Thames estuary and nw of the Strait of Dover; the county town is Maidstone. Roman settlement began in ad 43. It later became an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, and remained a separate kingdom until the 9th century. Apart from the North Downs, the area is mainly low-lying. It is drained by the rivers Medway and Stour. Cereals, hops, fruit, and vegetables are grown, and sheep and cattle are reared. Dover, Folkestone and Ramsgate are ports. There are Norman cathedrals at Canterbury and Rochester. Industries: paper making, shipbuilding, chemicals, brewing. Area: 3732sq km (1441sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.) 1,317,900.

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Kent:1 Industrial city (1990 pop. 28,835), Portage co., NE Ohio; settled in 1805 as Franklin Mills, combined with Carthage and renamed as Kent 1863, inc. as a city 1920. Machinery and processed foods are made there, and there is a liquid-crystal research center. The city is the seat of Kent State Univ., where four young people were killed by Ohio National Guardsmen during a 1970 protest of the Vietnam War. 2 City (1990 pop. 37,960), King co., W central Wash., near Puget Sound; inc. 1890. Located in a fertile agricultural area, the city has numerous food and dairy processing plants. Manufactures include chemical, metal, paper, and plastic products and electrical and transportation equipment. Kent additionally has a large aerospace industry and is a regional distribution center. The city and its population grew in the 1980s and 90s along with the developing Seattle metropolitan area.

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Kent one of the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, probably covering much the same area as the modern county of Kent in SE England. (See also Garden of England at garden.)
Man of Kent a native or inhabitant of the county of Kent living to the east of the River Medway; distinguished from a Kentish man, a native or inhabitant of Kent living west of the River Medway.