The Kent History Tree

The History Tree public artwork is an 8m tall polished stainless steel sapling, sculpted to depict life through all seasons. The sculpture rises up the wall of the Kent History and Library Centre, and is the creation of artists Michael Condron and Anne Schwegmann-Fielding.  The public artwork continues across the building frontage with an array of metal and smalti mosaic leaves, ranging from bright Spring greens to Autumnal reds and browns.

At the foot of the sculpture is a paved “shadow” tree, extending across the paving. Its 44 metal leaves are engraved with text, images and handwriting to reflect the history of Kent and the thoughts and memories of its people. These stories were gathered by Anne and Michael through a programme of art workshops across the county, inspired by material from the Kent Archive and Libraries.

Here are some of the stories that inspired the leaves, let us know which is your favourite.

Dreamland, Margate

The revival of Margate’s Dreamland in recent years has led many of us to think of the park as it was. Since 1920 for those holidaying in Margate this has meant a trip to Dreamland, although there have been rides there since the 1880s. Documents in the archive show that in the 1930s the owners of Dreamland, the Iles family, were dreaming big.

Document R/U148/3/1 describes plans for café to seat 500 people, plus an orchestra, a ballroom and a 2,200 seater cinema. While a café with an orchestra may not be what today’s punters are expecting, it shows how the Iles family were striving to make Dreamland “a building of which the whole town can be justly proud”.

Outside the Kent History and Library Centre you’ll find a History Tree leaf for Dreamland that describes a woman meeting her husband for the first time coming back from Dreamland. What special memories do you have of trips to Dreamland?

Birds of Kent

Kent is known for its rich diverse birdlife inhabiting woodland, marsh, the seashore and parklands. But, did you know that there are birds with Kent or Kentish places in their names. Can you name any?

There’s the Sandwich Tern, named by John Lathan in 1787, who at one time worked as a Physician in Darenth. The Dartford Warbler first described from two birds shots on Bexley Heath in 1773. And, the Kentish Plover: you would be lucky to see one of these in Kent. Could it be that because Mrs Beeton published a tasty recipe on how to cook them?

Kentish placenames

Most names of towns and villages in Kent were coined in the Old English language, over a thousand years ago. These are very old words, and have evolved in their pronunciation and spelling, just like the rest of the English language.

The famous street sign near Eastry is the source of a many place-name joke. Ham comes from Old English hamm which means ‘an enclosure’, ‘land in a river bend’. Sandwich is from OE sand meaning ‘sand’ or ‘sandy’ and wic meaning ‘harbour’ or ‘trading centre’.

Discover more about the origin of Kent place-names, field names and personal names using the archives and library at Kent History and Library Centre.

Kentish cherries

Kent has long been associated with the growing of cherries. William Lambarde mentions cherry orchards in his Perambulation of Kent, which was published in 1576. He wrote that he knew of nowhere else where such quantities of cherries were grown (U47/48/Z1).

“But as for Ortchards of Aples, and Gardeins of Cheries, and those of the most delicious and exquisite kindes that can be, no part of the Realme (that I know) hath them, either in such quantitie and number.”

Cherries continue to be grown for cultivation across the county. Brogdale Collections near Faversham celebrate the blossoming of cherry trees in the style of the Japanese, with their own Hanami festival. Beautiful blossoms can be seen on trees now, telling us we will not have long to wait for delicious Kentish cherries to enjoy.

Iggy the Iguanodon

Have you ever looked closely at the Coat of Arms for Maidstone? What’s that green creature on the left hand side? It’s Iggy the Iguanodon.

Iggy’s bones were found in a quarry in Queen’s Road area of Maidstone in 1834, by W H Bensted. Iggy was an ‘articulated bird-hip’ dinosaur, who once roamed Maidstone foraging for plants.

Some of you may remember the article published by the Kent Messenger, who claimed that the bones of Iggy’s girlfriend have been found whilst digging the foundations for the Kent History and Library Centre.

Hellfire Corner

Kent is used to being a front line county at times of war in Europe, most recently in the Second World War, when its population in some places suffered heavy casualties from the air and from the ground across the Channel.

The ferocity of the dog fights and of the shelling, over and onto Britain’s frontline coastal towns, gave rise to the name ‘Hellfire Corner’ to describe the area around the coast, including the towns of Dover, Folkestone and Ramsgate.

How the local authorities dealt with these problems can be viewed in both the Dover and Folkestone borough collections, as well as Kent County Council collections, at the Kent History and Library Centre.

Kentish apples

By the end of the 19th century Kent had over 25,000 acres of apple orchards. Its climate and soil make it the perfect place to grow a hearty stock of fruit, and the close proximity to London meant that a market was always close at hand.

In recent times Kent has become home to the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale, which holds 2,300 varieties of apple. Although the orchard trade has slowed, dwarfed by large commercial growers, orchards continue to thrive in the county between Sittingbourne and Canterbury and the south of Maidstone.

The archives at Kent History and Library Centre contain evidence for orchards throughout the county, including those long since disappeared – as references in documents going back to the Middle Ages and on a wide variety of maps.

The Blessing of the Sea, Margate

Since the early 1960s on Epiphany ( 6 January) Margate has hosted the Blessing of the Sea, a Greek Orthodox celebration of the baptism of Christ.

Margate was chosen because of the large Greek Cypriot community living in the town. Each year after a church service, a colourful procession led by a piper, leaves the church of St Michael the Archangel and heads towards Marine Sands. Once the procession reaches the beach, doves are released, prayers given and a decorated cross is thrown into the sea (which is then retrieved by a young diver and handed back to the Archbishop).

Wihtred, King of Kent

This charter, issued by Wihtred, king of Kent, is the oldest document at the Kent History and Library Centre and possibly the oldest in any English county record office. (U140)

By this charter Wihtred exempted all the churches and religious houses in Kent from taxation, provided they continued to show respect and obedience to his descendants. There is a long list of witnesses, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Rochester, and four abbesses were also present.

The charter is written in Latin, using a number of Old English letter forms. It is dated 699, but is thought to be a 9th century copy of a lost original.

Brewing in Kent

Kent boasts Britain’s oldest brewer (Shepherd Neame). As the garden of England, with hops, barley and pure water in abundance, the county has been brewing and selling beer for many centuries.

And Kent recently gave the World the Micropub movement, when the tiny Butchers Arms opened in Herne, near Herne Bay, a few years ago.

Kent History and Library Centre holds archives for some venerable Kent breweries including Frederick Leney & Sons Ltd, George Beer & Rigden Ltd, and Dover Brewery Co, (U3555). These include plans and photographs of brewery-owned pubs. We also hold licensing archives back to the 18th century and earlier: great for discovering the names of inns and hostelries and their licensees!


Sevenoaks is home to Knole Park and Historic House, surrounded by the North Downs and the Vale of Holmesdale. Did you know it started life as a refuge for pilgrims who were travelling between London and Dartford?

Its modern name is derived from two Old English words: seofon, meaning ‘seven’, and āc, meaning ‘oak tree’. The town has always been strategically placed alongside the two main highways, creating the ideal market spot. It allowed the people of Sevenoaks to earn a living from their produce and generated a huge wealth for the town, a reputation that still exists today.

The ancient market tradition is still upheld every Wednesday, and on every second Friday you can visit the farmer’s market. Why not pop down to take part in a piece of history?

Sir Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820) was a British naturalist, botanist and avid plant collector. He is credited with introducing to the Western world the eucalyptus, acacia, and the genus named after him, Banksia. Approximately 80 species of plants bear his name.

Banks sailed with Captain James Cook on the HMS Endeavour (1768–1771), visiting Brazil, Tahiti and, after 6 months in New Zealand, Australia, returning to immediate fame. As President of the Royal Society and advisor to King George III on the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, he was instrumental in making Kew the world’s leading botanical gardens.

Banks advocated British settlement in New South Wales and colonization of Australia, as well as the establishment of Botany Bay as a place for the reception of convicts, and advised the British government on all Australian matters. He was the leading founder of the African Association and a member of the Society of Dilettanti which helped to establish the Royal Academy.

We have, in our archive, a diary of watercolours of Bank’s discoveries (U951/Z33), as well as his correspondence to other contemporaries of his age (U1590/C144).

Sweet smells of Maidstone

This is a trip down memory lane for one local resident: “When I moved into Maidstone in early 1980s I was immediately aware of the smells of Maidstone.”

The smell of the hot paper coming from the Tovil paper mills and the sweet enticing smells of peppermint and other delights from the Sharps toffee factory (later part of Cadbury Trebor Bassett) on the banks of the Medway. They were part of our lives during the first few years of living in Maidstone – the intensity of the smells depending on the wind direction!

Sadly, by the end of the 1980s the majority of the paper mills had closed – their legacy now reflected in the names of the new housing developments built where the mills once stood – Albert Reed Gardens, Allnutt Mill Close, The Spillway.

The sweet factory finally closed in 2000 and now Maidstone smells like any other town!  Do you remember where Sharps toffee factory was located?

Harriet Quimby

Harriet Quimby (1875-1912) was the first woman to fly an aeroplane across the English Channel. She was an early aviation enthusiast and had been the first woman to obtain a U.S. pilot’s licence. Her historic flight took place on 16 April 1912.

The leaf shows her in the cockpit of her Bleriot monoplane shortly before take-off, putting on her flying gauntlets and looking uncharacteristically sombre. She flew from Whitfield Aerodrome, near Dover, at 5:30am and just 59 minutes later landed on the beach near Hardelot. Sadly, she was killed in a flying accident a few weeks later, on 1 July.

The Goodwin Sands

The Goodwin Sands are a sandbank almost 10 miles in length off the coast of Deal and Ramsgate. They have long been associated with dangerous travel for ships and their crew due to treacherous and unpredictable shifting sand. Throughout history the Sands have been responsible for the wrecking of thousands of ships with massive and tragic loss of life.

But did you know that the Goodwin Sands also have a sporting history? At low tide the sandbank reveals itself and in 1824 the first cricket match was held there. This was deemed blasphemous at the time, and lacking in respect for those who had lost their lives to the Sands. Since then occasional risky cricket matches have been held on the Goodwin Sands, with the last known match played in 2003.

Find out more about cricket at Goodwin Sands by borrowing a copy of Kent’s Strangest Tales: a very curious history by Martin Latham from your nearest library.  Turner painted cricket on the Goodwin Sands, the artwork is now held at Yale Centre for British Art.

Shell Grotto, Margate

Margate’s Shell Grotto is a subterranean spectacle featuring passageways, a rotunda and altar room all covered in mosaics comprised of an estimated 4.6 million shells. The shells are arranged in panels of patterns, the designs of which are as enigmatic as the origins of the structure itself.

Although the Grotto lies less than 6 feet below the surface, prior to its chance discovery in 1835 by the local schoolmaster, James Newlove, there was no local knowledge of its existence. There have been many theories regarding the Grotto’s construction since it was opened to the public in 1838, and debate continues about its original purpose: was it a pagan temple? A meeting place for a secret sect? Or a 19th century folly?

The manuscript diary of Lucy Sophia Daniel, (U2666/F1), which was compiled in 1844 and is now held at the Kent History and Library Centre,  includes an account of a visit to the ‘Marine Cave’ grotto and expresses interest at the ‘profound mystery’ about its purpose and construction that was already current at this date.