Interesting Kent facts
Famous Sussex People
Did you know that the very first white roadlines were painted on the London to Folkestone Road at Ashford, in 1914? As all too often the Americans got there first – or at least claim to - Michigan having it seems experimented with the idea in 1911. It was not until 1918 that further such projects were tried elsewhere in Britain.
Did you know that the lych gate at St George’s Church Beckenham is reputed to be the oldest in England and dates from the 13th Century? A lych gate with its little pitched roof adds a definite tone to a churchyard, but it was not originally for decoration – lych is from the Saxon word for corpse: bodies for burial would be brought in their shrouds to shelter beneath the gate’s roof, from which point the priest would take control of the rest of the funeral.
Did you know that John Buchan began writing The 39 Steps while staying in Broadstairs? He was bedridden with a duodenal ulcer and needed to take his mind off the pain. The steps leading from villa to beach which give the book its title and denouement are supposedly based on 78 steps at North Foreland, though why he halved the number is unclear: euphony, his habit of taking them two at a time, or his 39th birthday party taking place at a relative’s villa adjacent to the steps have all been suggested.
Did you know that although he hated his time there as a boy Somerset Maugham had his ashes scattered at the King’s School Canterbury? His schooldays were not his happiest – French was his first language, his English still prone to error and thus ridicule; and the deaths of his mother from TB and father from cancer before he reached his teens left him with a bad stammer, again subject to mockery by thoughtless school-fellows.
Did you know that the village of Chiddingstone near Sevenoaks is unique in that with the exception of church and castle it is entirely owned by the National Trust? Its Tudor architecture has meant the settlement regularly attracts film crews: Elizabeth R used it for obvious reasons; other productions partly shot there include A Room with a View and a version of Wind in the Willows.
Did you know that St Edmund’s in Dover is the smallest church in Britain still in regular use? The chapel was built in 1262 to serve pilgrims arriving in Dover en route to Canterbury to worship at the shrine of St Thomas Becket .
Did you know that Matthew Webb , the very first person to swim the English Channel, left from Dover in 1875 ? It took almost 22 hours. He became a huge celebrity, and like many such could not face his fame waning: in 1883 he tried to boost it with another feat – attempting to defeat the rapids below Niagara Falls. He came second and is buried in the town.
Did you know that Fordwich is the smallest town (by population) in Britain, and has the smallest town hall? It was once much more significant as the port of Canterbury. An annual link with that past occurs when its Mayor-Deputy (the office of mayor there having ended in the late 19th century) hands over the grand sum of 6s 8d to the Mayor of Sandwich, payment for its part in the Cinque Ports system.
Did you know that Pocahontas was buried in Gravesend? The Native American Princess famous for sparing Captain John Smith’s life in Virginia married colonist John Rolfe, and with a dozen others of her tribe she and Rolfe voyaged to England in 1616, meeting James I. Sadly she died of TB when on board a ship off Gravesend about to return to the Americas. She was buried in that town, the whereabouts of her grave long ago lost.
Isle of Sheppey
Did you know that the world’s first aircraft factory was opened on Sheppey by the Short Bros in 1909? They began by building Wright Flyer aircraft there.
Did you know that here on May 2 1909 John Moore-Brabazon became the first Briton to fly in an aeroplane? His flight was just 500 yards, made in a French-manufactured Voisin ‘Bird of Passage’ aircraft. Brabazon quickly thereafter gained the first UK pilot’s licence, and in 1941 the pioneer, soon to become Lord Brabazon of Tara, became Minister of Aircraft Production.
Did you know that Leeds Castle near Maidstone is sometimes referred to as Ladies’ Castle because so many Queens of England have lived there? Eleanor of Castile and Margaret of France, Edward I’s two wives; Philippa of Hainault the wife of Edward III; Catherine de Valois, Henry V’s spouse; Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII (or not, your view in his reign depending on survival instincts); and even his daughter Elizabeth, the future Queen, all resided at the lovely castle at one time or another.
Did you know that in 1532 Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn spent their honeymoon at Shurland Hall, Eastchurch - just outside Sheerness? Plague had hit London, and Henry was en route to Calais and a summit with Francis I, hoping to gain his support in ‘the King’s Great Matter’. The three day visit nearly bankrupted owner Sir Thomas Cheyne as the royal couple were accompanied by a retinue of 300, all of them to be fed, entertained and doubtless particularly expensively provided with drink.
Did you know that the only church in the world that can boast all its stained-glass windows were created by Marc Chagall is All Saints in Tudeley near Tonbridge? The artist was originally commissioned in the early 1960s to commemorate the daughter of Sir Henry d’Avigdor-Goldsmid, who had died in a boating accident. Chagall took as his inspiration Psalm 8, verses 4 to 8. He then continued with the project, the last magnificent window installed in the medieval building in 1985, the year of Chagall’s death.
Did you know that the first motor show in Britain (and possibly the world) was held on October 15 1895 in that rather racy spot Tunbridge Wells? The event, organised by the local mayor, took place on the Agricultural Showground there. It boasted a grand total of five vehicles, one of them a Peugeot belonging to Mayor David Salomons, but still attracted the gentlemen of the press and several hundred visitors.
Famous Kent people
Alec McCowen | Alfred Deller | Alfred E Coppard | Alfred Whitehead | Algernon Sidney | Anna Atkins | Anne Boleyn | Aphra Behn | Billy Rootes | Brenda Blethyn | Carol McGiffin | Cecil Powell | Christopher Longuet-Higgins | Christopher Marlowe | Christopher Smart | Dame Antoinette Sibley | David Frost | David Gower | David Harvey | David Jenkins | Denis Healey | Derek Barton | Donald Lynden-Bell | Edward Heath | Edwin Arnold | Ethelbert | F Tennyson Jesse | Fiona Phillips | Francis Smith | Francis Walsingham | Frank Muir | Freddie Laker | Frederick Forsyth | Geoffrey Rootes | George Gipps | George Grote | George Rooke | George Young | Gertrude Hermes | Graeme Clark | H G Wells | Hattie Jacques | Henry Hardinge | Jack Dee | James Wolfe | Jodie Kidd | John Arthur Robinson | John Littlewood | John MacGregor | John Wallis | Joseph R Ackerley | Joss Stone | Kate Bush | Kate Lawler | Katherine Hamnett | Kathleen Courtney | Keith Richards | Kelly Brook | Kelly Holmes | Lionel Johnson | M R James | Mackenize Crook | Malcolm Campbell | Mary Martin | Michael Powell | Mick Jagger | Nigel Farage | Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) | Orlando Bloom | Paul Oakenfold | Pete Tong | Peter Blake | Peter Lilley | Peter Quennell | Pixie Lott | Quentin Blake | Richard Bennett | Robert Bridges | Robert Fisk | Robert Leigh-Pemberton | Sidney Keyes | Siegfried Sassoon | Sir Eric Rideal | Sir Henry Tizard | Sir Philip Sidney | Stanley Hooker | Stephen Hales | Steve Backley | Thom Gunn | Thomas Linacre | Tom Ransley | Trevor Howard | Tyrone Guthrie | Vita Sackville-West | Wally Hammond | William Caxton | William Harvey | William Hazlitt | William Penney | William Pitt (The Younger) | William Ridge | Zandra Rhodes |Read visitor reports on this area